JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH NECESSARY TO THE HONOUR OF GOD, AND THE HAPPINESS OF MAN
Rom_4:16. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.
TO many the doctrines of the Gospel appear mere arbitrary appointments; and justification by works seems as much entitled to our approbation as justification by faith alone. But the doctrines of the Gospel are grounded on absolute and indispensable necessity: we are shut up to them: we have no other ground of hope. After man had fallen, it was not possible that any law should be given him whereby he might regain his lost happiness. If such a law could have been devised, God would have given it in preference to the plan of salvation provided in the Gospel; as St. Paul tells us; “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law [Note: Gal_3:21.].” But a Saviour was necessary; and justification by faith in him was necessary, indispensably necessary,
For the honour of God—
It is surely meet that God should have the undivided honour of all that he has done—
[He has made the universe for the express purpose of glorifying himself in the works of his hands [Note: Rev_4:11.]; and both the celestial and terrestrial bodies reflect upon him the honour due unto his name [Note: Psa_19:1.]. In the various dispensations of his providence also God has respect to his own glory, “upholding all things by the word of his power,” and ordering all things, even from the rise and fall of empires to the preservation of a sparrow, or the falling of a hair from our head [Note: 1Sa_2:6-8. Isa_45:5-7.].
But, if in the works of creation and providence God have all the glory, shall he not much more have it in the work of redemption? Who first devised that wondrous work? The counsel of peace was between the Father and the Son from all eternity [Note: Zec_6:13. Eph_3:9.]. Who prevailed upon the Father to give his only Son out of his bosom to be our surety and substitute, and to accept his vicarious sacrifice in our behalf? All this was the result of God’s “eternal purpose which he purposed in himself,” “according to the counsel of his own will, and to the praise of the glory of his own grace [Note: Eph_1:9-12; Eph_3:10-11.].” We may further ask also, How is it that this salvation is imparted to the souls of men? Do men attract his notice first by their own superior merits? or do they of themselves begin to seek his favour? Does not God in every instance prevent them with the blessings of his goodness; and of his own good pleasure give them “both to will and to do [Note: Php_2:13.]?” Now all this exercise of love and mercy is intended by God himself to shew to the whole universe “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus [Note: Eph_2:7.].” Is he then, or is he not, to have the glory of this work? Is it meet, that, when he gives all, and his creatures receive all, the crown should be taken from his head, and be placed on the head of those, who, but for the superabundance of his grace, must all have perished like the fallen angels? We think that, however prejudiced any may be against the doctrine of justification by faith alone, it is impossible for them not to see, that man has no right to invade the prerogative of the Most High, and that “God cannot, consistently with his own honour, give his glory to another [Note: Isa_42:8.].”]
But, if man’s salvation be in any measure by works, God will not have all the glory of it—
[“Therefore is salvation by faith, that it may be by grace.” Were it in any measure by works, it would become “a debt, and not a reward of grace [Note: ver. 4.].” Let but the smallest part of our reward be claimed as a debt, and there is an end of God’s honour as the sole Author of our salvation. Man will have a right to boast: indeed he cannot but boast: he cannot but say, I paid a price for this benefit: whether the price be equal in value to the benefit conferred, is nothing to the purpose: it was the price demanded; and the man who pays this price may claim the benefit, as having performed the terms on which that benefit was suspended. To suppose that salvation can be of faith and of works at the same time, is absurd; the two are incompatible with each other: “if it be of works it cannot be of grace;” and “therefore it is of faith, that it may be by grace [Note: Rom_11:6.].”]
But justification by faith alone is yet further necessary,
For the happiness of man—
If justification were by works, “the promise would be sure” to none—
[Consider what must be done to secure the promised benefit: First, such a number of good works must be performed as shall be sufficient to purchase the remission of all our past sins. But who shall ascertain what measure of them shall suffice? or who, if it were ascertained, shall perform them? Next, such a number of good works must be performed as shall suffice to purchase eternal happiness and glory. And who shall tell us the amount of these that is required? or who will undertake to pay the price? Whatever is paid to purchase mercy for other acts, must need no mercy for itself: and how many of such acts can you produce? Nay further; it must be not only a perfect work, but a work of supererogation: for if it be a work that has been enjoined, you are still only “an unprofitable servant; you have done no more than was your duty to do.” What store of such works have you wherewith to purchase heaven? But you will say, that God has mitigated the demands of his law, and is now satisfied with imperfect obedience. I ask, Where has he done so? and What is the measure of imperfection which he allows? Can you answer this? Can any human being answer it? But, for argument sake, you shall fix your own standard; you shall fix it where you please; and you shall be judged by nothing but your own law. Suppose that you have now fixed it; Have you from the beginning observed in all things your own law? Have you come up truly and habitually to your own standard? if not, you must be condemned out of your own mouth. Reduce the law to any thing you please, to sincerity, if you choose it; and I then ask, Are you sincerely abstaining from every thing which you believe to be evil, and doing every thing which you believe to be pleasing unto God, from day to day, from month to month, from year to year? Are you willing to found all your hopes of salvation on this? and are you content that all the promises of mercy shall for ever fail you, if in any one instance you ever have been, or ever shall be, defective in your performance of these conditions? Will you look to this method of salvation to “make the promise sure?” Alas! there is no man that ever could, or ever can, stand on such a ground as this.]
But justification being by faith alone, the promise is sure to all—
[To all who truly believe in Christ the promise is infallibly sure, whatever be their nation, their character, their attainments, their circumstances. The Jew and the Gentile are here perfectly on a level [Note: Rom_3:29.]: nothing is conceded on account of circumcision; nothing is withheld on account of uncircumcision: the righteousness of Christ shall be equally on the one or the other the very instant they believe in Christ [Note: Rom_3:22.]. Nor will it make any difference whether they have been more or less sinful in times past. The blood of Christ is as sufficient to cleanse one, as another: the very man that nailed our Saviour to the cross, or that pierced his side with the spear, may be as effectually delivered from his guilt, as any other sinner in the universe, provided he really and truly look to the Lord Jesus Christ to save him: for “all that believe, are justified from all things [Note: Act_13:39.].” Moreover, babes in Christ have the promise as sure to them, as the young men or fathers have. Salvation is not suspended on the strength of our faith, but its reality; not on the time that it has been exercised, but on the simplicity and sincerity with which it is exercised. Hence St. John says, “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake [Note: 1Jn_2:12.].” It is not said here, that their sins shall be forgiven, when they have attained such an age; but, that they are even now already forgiven to them, notwithstanding their infantine weakness and insufficiency. We must go further still, and say, that, though the believer should be in the very article of death, and have no time left him for the performance of good works, yet should the blood of Christ, sprinkled by faith, cleanse him from all sin; and the righteousness of Christ, apprehended and applied by faith, shall justify him perfectly before God. The penitent thief had reviled our Saviour on the cross, no less than the impenitent one: yet, the very instant he cast himself on the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, he was accepted; and our Lord himself said to him, “This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” The promise being made to all who believe, it is as sure to the believer, as the power and veracity of God can make it.]
To improve this subject, we shall,
Guard the doctrine from abuse—
[That the doctrine of justification by faith may be abused, is certain: for so it was in the days of St. Paul himself [Note: Rom_6:1; Rom_6:15.]. But truth is not therefore to be renounced because it may be perverted; but we must, as Paul himself did, hold fast the truth, and rescue it from those perversions to which it is exposed.
We have stated with all possible plainness, that we are to look for our justification solely by faith, without the smallest dependence on any works of our own. But are we therefore at liberty to neglect good works? or can our final salvation be secured without them, where an opportunity is afforded for the performance of them? Assuredly, in their place, good works are as necessary as faith itself: only we must take care not to confound their respective offices. The use of faith is, to apprehend Christ; and the use of good works is, to glorify Christ. In no other way can Christ be apprehended, than by faith; and in no other way can he be glorified, than by good works [Note: Joh_15:18.]. Now God has clearly pointed out the way in which his people must walk: and it is only by walking in that way that they can arrive at the mansions prepared for them [Note: Eph_1:4; Eph_2:10.]. It is necessary therefore that we should cultivate all Christian virtues, adding one to another throughout their whole extent: and it is by this course of action that we are to “make our calling and election sure [Note: 2Pe_1:10-11.].” Here we would particularly remind you, that the very same word which is used in my text by St. Paul in reference to faith, is used by St. Peter in reference to works
.]. And how are we to explain this? Are we to set the two Apostles against each other? No: they are easily reconciled: the one is speaking of faith as securing an interest in the promises; and the other is speaking of works as the appointed road in which we are to walk, and which alone will lead us safely to the kingdom of heaven. As, on the one hand, without faith we can never be united unto Christ, or be partakers of his righteousness, so, on the other hand, if it produce not obedience, our faith will be of no more avail than the faith of devils. And this is exactly what St. James tells us [Note: Jam_2:14-20.]; as also does St. Paul in this very epistle, where he says, that “to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, God will give eternal life [Note: Rom_2:7.].” If the Apostle therefore did not contradict himself, neither are we to consider the other Apostles as contradicting him, but only as affirming, that in their place good works are necessary, no less than faith is in its place. Behold then, whilst we maintain with all steadfastness the doctrine of justification by faith, we declare to all that the King’s highway is the way of holiness [Note: Isa_35:8.], and that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord [Note: Heb_12:14.].”]
Commend it to your cordial acceptance—
[If you sought for nothing but present comfort, methinks you should without hesitation embrace the doctrine of salvation by faith. For at what comfort can a man ever arrive, who seeks salvation by his works? How can he ever get satisfaction on the subjects on which all his happiness depends? How can he know what is sufficient for his acceptance, and whether he has done what under his circumstances is sufficient? And, if he can never attain the knowledge of these things, in what sad uncertainty must he be held all his days respecting the final salvation of his soul! And is it not a fearful thing to stand on the brink of eternity, and not to know whether we be going to heaven or to hell? The doctrine of justification by faith presents a clear and definite idea to the mind. Doubtless, in the lower stages of the divine life, there may be considerable suspense even there; because a person may not be certain that his faith is so simple and entire as it ought to be: but still he has a definite object in view, namely, to cast himself wholly upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and to rely altogether upon him: and, though he may not have an assured confidence of his acceptance in Christ, he knows, that it is as impossible for a man who flees to Christ to perish, as it is for God to lie: and this conviction is a source of unbounded consolation to his soul [Note: Heb_6:17-19.]. In this conviction he has “an anchor for his soul, both sure and steadfast [Note: Here is the same
.];” an anchor which shall enable him to ride out in safety all the storms which either the world or Satan can raise against him.
But present comfort is but a secondary consideration. The question is, What will avail us at the day of judgment? What will secure to us the promise then? God has told us, that he has appointed salvation to be by faith for this very end. Will God then, who has declared, that, if we believe not on his Son we are condemned already, and that his wrath abideth on us; will he, I say, reverse his sentence in favour of those who have proudly rejected the salvation which he offered them? This cannot be. Let me therefore entreat all to renounce all dependence on their own works, as Paul did on his [Note: Php_3:9.]; and to seek salvation in that adorable Emmanuel, of whom it is said, “In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and in him shall they glory [Note: Isa_45:25.].”]