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2d, It is to sustain or declare a person innocent and righteous, according to law. Justification is a forensic or law term, borrowed from courts of judicature among men, in which a person accused and arraigned is pronounced righteous, and in court openly absolved by the judge. In such a court, the judge, instead of making the pannel just or guilty, according to the evidence on which the judgment is given, only sustains and declares him to be so. This is either to justify or to condemn, and it is always the act of a judge : nor is it the act of a judge simply, but of a judge sitting in judgment. A judge, upon surveying the exculpatory evidence in his chamber by himself, may intentionally and in his own mind absolve a person who is afterwards to be tried before him ; and yet he does not absolve him in law, until he pronounce the sentence in open court, and order it to be intimated to the pannel. That justification before God is a juridical act, declaring a person righteous in law, is evident from its being in Scripture opposed to condemnation ; which is not the infusing of sin into one, but the passing of a sentence upon him, according to his demerit. To justify, then, is to declare one just upon a legal ground. “Let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified.” “Declare thou, that thou mayest be justified,” Isa. xliii. 9, 26.
3d, They who are justified before God are considered previously as sinners and ungodly. They are viewed as sinners. “ While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” Rom v. 8. They are also considered as ungodly. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly," &c. Rom. iv. 5. If Adam had continued in innocence and perfect obedience, he and all his posterity should have been justified or declared righteous, according to the tenor of the first covenant, without supposing them to have been sinners or ungodly. But since in the first Adam and in our own persons we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God, we cannot now be justified, without being previously considered as sinners and ungodly. We are to consider none as justified, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, but such as are previously supposed to be sinners in the first Adam and themselves. The persons whom God justifies are previously sinners and ungodly ; but they do not continue such: the grace of God which hath appeared in their justification teaches them to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, in progressive sanctifica tion.
4th, They are to be considered as previously condemned in law on account of sin.—The elect, as well as others, were all laid under a sentence of condemnation in the first Adam ; for they were considered as guilty before God.
“ That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God," Rom. iii. 19. “ It is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them,” Gal. iii. 10. To be under the curse or condemning sentence of the law, and under the guilt of sin, which is a liableness to eternal punishment, are the same. Indeed, if those whom Christ represented as their Surety had not been considered as under the curse in the first Adam, there would have been no occasion for his becoming a curse for them, as he did, Gal. ij. 13.; or for his becoming sin for them, that they might be made the righteousness of God in him. They are all to be considered, then, as condemned already ; actually sentenced by the law as a covenant to eternal punishment as due for sin. And were sinners not considered as already under condemnation, they could not be partakers of a justification which includes absolution from such a sentence as a necessary part of it. There would be no need to absolve from condemnation, by reversing the sentence of it in justification, if the persons justified had not been previously condemned.
5th, They are all to be regarded as objects of God's · electing love, and as the seed of Israel. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified.” All the seed of the first Adam were laid under condemnation for his first sin; and it is only the spiritual seed of the second
Adam that inherit justification for his everlasting righteousness. They only by faith receive the gift of right
None, therefore, are to be regarded as justified persons, but those who are the objects of electing love. “ Whom he did predestinate, them he also called ; and whom he called, them he also justified,” Rom. viii. 30.
6th, They must be viewed as persons vitally united to Christ. It was in union with the first Adam that they were condemned ; and it is only in union with the second Adam that they can be considered as justified. « In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified.” Though the elect sinner has no righteousness of his own to produce as the ground of his justification, yet upon his union with Christ he has communion with him in his righteousness, and on this ground is pronounced righteous in law.
Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness.” Justification necessarily depends upon union with Him who “is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth,” Rom. x. 4.
7th, Justification is an act passed in the court of heaven upon a believing sinner, and not a work wrought in him.It is an act passed in an instant, never to be repeated, and not a work carried on by degrees. Like the sentence of a judge, it is completed at once, and is as perfect the moment it is passed as ever it will be.
" Then they shall justify the righteous,” Deut. xxv. 1. If the sinner be not perfectly justified, he is not justified at all. If he be under the guilt of eternal wrath but for one sin, he is as effectually condemned by the sentence of the law as if he were under condemnation for all his sins. Justification is incapable of degrees like sanctification : it cannot be repeated unless you could suppose that a justified person were to fall under condemnation every time he committed a new sin, or, that one could be both justified and condemned at the same time. But the Scripture expressly informs us, that he who heareth Christ's word, and believeth on Him that sent him, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation. John v. 24.
8th, Lastly, Justification before God is very different from justification before men.-To be justified in the sight of God, is to be judicially acquitted and declared righteous at his tribunal. It is to have the sentence of condemnation reversed, and the sinner's title to eternal life pronounced by the mouth of Him who is justice itself. But to be justified before men, is to have our pretensions to true religion justified by a holy and consistent deportment. A man is justified before God, solely for a perfect righteousness imputed, before men, by an imperfect righteousness inherent. It is by holiness of heart and of life that one's pretensions to union with Christ can be justified or made good be. fore the world. Of the former, the apostle Paul speaks when he says in Rom. iii. 28. “ Therefore we conclude, that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” It is of the latter that the apostle James speaks, chap. ii. 24. when he says, “ Ye see, then, how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Though it is by the surety-righteousness of Jesus Christ, apprehended by faith alone, that the sinner's person is justified in the sight of God, yet it is by an holy practice, that his character can be justified before men.
II. I am now to consider the causes of a sinner's justification before God.
1st, The Author or efficient Cause of it is God." It is God that justifieth,” Rom. viii. 33. And again, “ Seeing it is one God which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith,” Rom. iii. 30. It is the sole prerogative of Jehovah to acquit and justify the believing sinner. It is he whom the sinner has times without number offended ; and it is his law that the sinner has transgressed, and his authority on which he has trampled. He is the supreme Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy, and whose judgment is always according to truth. It is he only who imputes righteousness, who sets the believer free from every ju. dicial charge, and pronounces his title to eternal life. It is he also to whom the debt of perfect obedience and of infinite suffering is due. But which of the Persons of the glorious Trinity is it that justifies ? All the three adorable Persons are concerned in this grand affair. Considered as one God, they all unite in justifying. Considered in relation to the method of redemption, in which each of them sustains a distinct character, God in the person of the Father, justifies in respect of original and judicial authority. “To declare at this time, I say, his righteousnesss, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus," Rom. iii. 26. The Lord Jesus Christ, as the Servant of his Father, justifies in respect of the exercise of that authority. “By his knowledge shall my righteous Servant justify many," Isa. liii. 11. The Holy Spirit justifies, as he not only applies the righteousness of Jesus Christ to the believing sinner, but as he pronounces the sentence of justification both in the court of heaven and in the court of conscience. “ Butấye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God," 1 Cor. vi. 11. Besides, the eternal Father sends his beloved Son to fulfil a justifying righteousness; the Son fulfils this as the grand condition of justification ; and the adorable Spirit testifies of it to the awakened sinner, and demonstrates his right of access to it by the gospel-offer. Thus the Three-one God justifies, and none on earth or in hell shall ever be able to reverse the sentence. When He acquits in judgment, there is no superior tribunal to which an appeal can be made.
2d, The moving cause of a sinner's justification is grace, rich and sovereign grace.--In respect of God, justification is an act of unmixed favour, of entire grace. In respect of the sinner, it is absolutely free, suspended on no personal worth. Both of these the apostle Paul mentions in this cheering expression, “ Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," Rom. iii. 24. In respect of God, justification is by his grace; it originates in the richest grace, the freest love; it springs from the most unspeakable, the most trans