Rom_3:24-26. Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
THE whole plan of the Gospel takes for granted that we are in a lost and helpless condition. Its provisions are suited to such, and to such only. Hence the Apostle proves at large that “we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” and then he states, in the plainest and strongest manner, the method which God has proposed for our restoration to his favour.
The words of the text will lead us to shew,
The way of a sinner’s justification before God—
The manner of our justification is here plainly declared—
[There seems indeed a senseless tautology in the expressions of the text; but the words “freely,” and “by grace,” are of very different import, and are necessary to convey the full meaning of the Apostle.
We are justified “freely,” that is, without any cause for it in ourselves
. See Joh_15:25. in the Greek. And for the truth of the assertion, see Tit_3:5.]: no works before our justification, no repentance or reformation at the time of our justification, no evangelical obedience after our justification, are at all taken into the account. There is no merit whatever in any thing we ever have done, or in any thing we ever can do. Our justification is as independent of any merit in us, as was the gift of that Saviour through whom we are justified.
Our justification also springs from no motive in God, except his own boundless “grace” and mercy. When speaking merely after the manner of men, we say, that God consults his own glory: but, strictly speaking, if the whole human race were punished after the example of the fallen angels, he would be as happy and as glorious as he is at present: just as the sun in the firmament would shine equally bright, if this globe that is illuminated by it were annihilated. We can neither add to, nor detract from, God’s happiness or glory in the smallest possible degree. His mercy to us therefore is mere grace, for grace sake.]
Yet it is of great importance to notice also the means by which we are justified—
[Though our justification is a free gift as it respects us, yet it was dearly purchased by our blessed Lord, who “laid down his own life a ransom for us.” There was a necessity on the part of God, as the moral Governor of the world, that his justice should be satisfied for our violations of his law. This was done through the atoning blood of Jesus; on which account we are said to be “justified by his blood,” and to he “redeemed to God by his blood.” The Father’s grace is the source from whence our justification flows; and “the redemption that is in Christ” is the means, by which God is enabled to bestow it consistently with his own honour.
In this view the text informs us, that “God hath set forth his Son to be a propitiation, or mercy-seat [Note:
. See Heb_9:5. the Greek.], through faith in his blood.” The mercy-seat was the place where God visibly resided, and from whence he dispensed mercy to the people, as soon as ever the blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled before him [Note: 2Co_5:19.].” But that typical mercy-seat is accessible no more: Christ is now the true mercy-seat, where God resides, and from whence he dispenses all his favours of grace and peace. God requires, however, that we should come with the blood of our Great Sacrifice, and sprinkle it, as it were, before him, in token of our affiance in it, and as an acknowledgment, that we hope for mercy only through the blood of atonement.]
But in our contemplation of this subject, we are more particularly called upon to shew,
The justice of God as displayed in it—
God had exercised “forbearance” and forgiveness towards sinners for the space of four thousand years; and was now, in the Apostle’s days, dispensing pardon to thousands and to myriads. That, in so doing, God acted consistently with his own justice, the Apostle here labours to establish: he repeats it no less than thrice in the short space of our text. We shall therefore shew distinctly, how the justice of God is displayed,
In the appointment of Christ to be our propitiation—
[If God had forgiven sins without any atonement, his justice, to say the least, would have lain concealed: perhaps we may say, would have been greatly dishonoured. But when, in order to satisfy the demands of justice, God sends, not an angel or archangel, but his only dear Son, and lays on him our iniquities, and exacts of him the utmost farthing of our debt, then indeed the justice of God is “declared,” yea, is exhibited in the most awful colours. The condemnation of the fallen angels was indeed a terrible display of this attribute: yet was it no proof of justice in comparison of that more conspicuous demonstration which was given of it in the death of God’s co-equal, co-eternal Son.]
In requiring us to believe in him as our propitiation—
[God wills that every one should come to “Christ” as a propitiation through faith in his blood, or, in other words, should express his dependence on that blood that satisfied divine justice. As the offender under the law, when he put his hand upon the head of his sacrifice, confessed his own desert of death; and as the high-priest, when he sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices before the mercy-seat, confessed that the hope of all Israel was derived from that blood [Note: Lev_16:2; Lev_16:14.]; so when we look to Christ as our sacrifice, or approach him as our mercy-seat, we must carry, as it were, his blood with us, and sprinkle it on our consciences before him, as an acknowledgment that by the justice of God we were deservedly condemned, and that we have no hope of mercy except in such a way as will consist with the immutable rights of justice. Thus it is not sufficient for Christ to have honoured divine justice once by enduring its penalties; but every individual sinner must also honour it for himself by an explicit acknowledgment, that its demands must be satisfied.]
In pardoning sinners out of respect to this propitiation—
[That sinners are justified through Christ, may well appear an act of transcendent mercy: but it is also an act of justice; and the justice of God is as much displayed in it, as it would be in consigning sinners over to everlasting perdition. It is not an act of mercy, but of justice, to liberate a man whose debt has been discharged by a surety. But when Christ has paid our debt, and we, in consequence of that payment, claim our discharge, we may expect it even on the footing of justice itself. And whereas it is found, that no living creature ever applied to God in vain, when he pleaded Christ’s vicarious sacrifice, it is manifest, that God has been jealous of his own honour, and has been as anxious to pay to us what Christ has purchased for us, as to exact of him what he undertook to pay on our behalf: so that his justice is as conspicuous in pardoniny us, as it has been in punishing him.]
How certain is the salvation of believers!
[That which principally alarms those who stand before a human tribunal, is an apprehension that justice may declare against them. But there is no such cause for alarm on the part of a believer, seeing that justice is no less on his side than mercy. Let all then look to Christ as their all-sufficient propitiation, and to God as both “a just God and a Saviour.” Then shall they find “that God is faithful and just to forgive them their sins [Note: 1Jn_1:9.],” yea, is “just in justifying all that believe.”]
How awful will be the condemnation of unbelievers!
[While they slight the united overtures of mercy and justice, what do they but arm both these attributes against them? Now, if they would seek for mercy, justice, instead of impeding, would aid, their suit. At the last day, how will matters be reversed! When justice demands the execution of the law, mercy will have not one word to say in arrest of judgment, but will rather increase the vengeance by its accusations and complaints. Let this be duly considered by us, that we may actively glorify God as monuments of his saving grace, and not passively glorify him as objects of his righteous indignation.]