OF all the considerations in which fallen man is interested, there are none of greater magnitude than that presented in the above text. Man, as a fallen sinner, cursed by the holy law, and doomed to a perpetual and eternal death by the inflexible justice of the immutable Jehovah, is deeply concerned in the investigation of this momentous subject. With rapid strides the sons of men are hurrying through this mortal state of existence, at the termination of which we are to launch into the everlasting reality of our final destiny. With earnest solicitude for the knowledge of the truth, and with ardent prayer for light from the Sun of Righteousness, whose refulgent beams alone are sufficient to illuminate our depraved, bewildered and perverted understandings, let us seriously enquire into the scriptural ground of a sinner's justification before God.
It would be a reflection on the character of the thrice holy God, to suppose that he would save a sinner in his sins, or without a complete justification, based upon a righteousness commensurate with the utmost demand of law and justice; and as we are by nature destitute of saving faith, and “he that believeth not is condemned already, and the wrath of Go4 abideth on him,” the question returns, How should man be just with God? That there is indeed a way the scriptures; abundantly demonstrate, and the fact is perhaps universally admitted; but the how presents a mystery into which the angels desire to look, and it can hardly be a matter of surprise that men should entertain various opinions on this sublime subject. Had we access to all the knowledge on this. subject of the learned and wise men of this world, it could by no means lead us into the mystery; for the sovereign God has hidden these things from the wise and prudent of our race, because so it has seemed good in his sight. But blessed forever be his name, he has revealed it to babes. Therefore, while human wisdom and knowledge utterly fail, divine revelation unlocks the cabinet of the eternal world. The Lion of the tribe of Judah prevails to look upon the book, to open the seals thereof, and by his Holy Spirit to disclose the sacred contents, in which a full development of the way of a sinner’s justification before God is made. Leaving all human speculations on the subject, then, to the book of revelation let us apply, and look alone to the holy oracle to settle the point which ever has, and still does, involve the professing world in conflict and disputation, viz: How should man be just with God? Here from the mouth of God may we be informed whether justification or salvation be of God or of men; whether of grace or of works; or jointly of men and of God, or by grace connected with works. Whether this mongrel system can be sustained by the bible or not, nothing can be more certain than that it is a very popular doctrine in this our day. That God is the grand or efficient cause of justification, that works are the grand or efficient means, that men are the efficient agents who employ the necessary works or means, and that grace has no more to do in the justification of a sinner than to help man perform his part. Under the impression that this is the plan of life and salvation, we see men setting themselves about the work in great earnest, inventing and trying many projects to move upon God to save sinners, and to induce sinners to consent to be saved, to induce God to lay aside his own, and adopt their plan; we see a number of men engage by agreement to occupy different rooms, but simultaneously to pray for some unregenerated individual on whom they have engaged to bestow their united efforts. Monthly concerts of prayer for specific objects are horns of the same beast; contrivances to prevail on God to do the will of man. Let us not be understood to speak against prayer, or even social prayer meetings, whether monthly, weekly or otherwise; the abomination we wish to detect and expose is that of previously agreeing upon – may we say, an assault upon the throne of God – by covenanting that they will not give the matter up, until the Lord complies with their requests. Now christians are aware from revelation that they know not how to pray as they ought, but the Spirit helpeth their infirmities, and maketh intercession for them with groanings which they cannot utter. Hence as they know not, they cannot agree beforehand how they will pray, or for whom in particular they will supplicate the throne of, grace. When God is graciously pleased to pour out upon them the spirit of grace and of supplication, then they open their mouths wide in prayer, and the Spirit indites their petitions, for the Spirit knoweth what is the mind of God, and maketh supplication for such things as God designs to bestow; even as our Lord has informed us that they who worship the Father, must worship him in spirit and in truth.
To move upon the unconverted or dead sinner, protracted meetings, anxious benches, and a great variety of other machinery have been brought into requisition but with as little success as their attempts to induce the holy One to vary from his fixed purpose of grace and salvation. The entire brood that pass among men for benevolent institutions are birds of the same feather, and all respond to the popular creed before mentioned, viz: God is the cause, works are the means, men are the agents, and grace a name for nothing.
But we digress. We proposed to leave the speculations of men, and come directly to the fountain of truth, the bible, and there ask, How should man be just with God?
And first, we enquire, is justification of God or of men? Let the bible answer. “Who shall lay any thing to the charge or God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” - Rom. viii. 33. “That he (God) might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” - Rom. iii. 26. “Moreover, whom, he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called them he also justified.” - Rom. viii. 30. Here then our first. question is settled forever; it is God that justffieth. “Neither is there salvation in any other.” - Acts iv. 12.
We next enquire, Does God justify the sinner by his grace freely, or for and in consideration of their works? To the bible again. “Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.” - Rom. iii. 24. See also Titus iii. 7. Can it be possible for any one to be justified freely by the grace of God, and yet in some sense by works after all? What saith the scripture? “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” - Gal. ii. 16. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God. Now to him that worketh (read this, ye workmongers) is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” - Rom. iv. 2, 5. “Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” - 2 Tim. i. 9. And again, if we could possibly make it appear consistent with scripture that a sinner could be justified by works, his salvation must in that case depend on his evil, not on his good works; for the apostle expressly declares, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” - Titus iii. 5.
But once more we enquire, May not a sinner’s justification depend jointly on works and on grace? Let the bible answer. “ And if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace; but if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.” - Romans xi. 6.
Seeing, then, that justification is of God and not of men, that it is of grace and not of works, the conclusion is inevitable that all the modern schemes, plans, efforts, labors, &c., of pious or impious men, are abortive and vain, and that the only ground on which we are at liberty to hope for justification with God, is that which wholly excludes works, and is from the foundation to the top-stone exclusively of grace, which is through the blood and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the stupendous plan of grace which provides for the justification of God’s elect, Christ and his people are identified in an indissoluble union. He, as their head, representative and surety, has voluntarily pledged himself in the covenant of life and peace, to present them holy and without blame before his throne at the last day. Hence all their responsibility to law and justice devolved on him; all their sins were charged to his account, and all being summed up, were laid on him. Isa. liii. 6. “And he bare them in his own body on the tree. He was delivered up (to law and justice) for their offences, and raised again for their justification.” - Rom. iv. 25. “By one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified,” (or set apart to him.) - Heb. x. 14. Thus, as the representative of his people, and their surety to the law, he was numbered with the transgressors, (Isa. liii. 12.) that is, law and justice viewed him in this relation as the debtor, delinquent or transgressor; for on no other ground could justice smite the Shepherd. Zech. xiii. 7. But standing here in the law room and place of his people, his soul was poured out unto death. Isa, liii. And so having fulfilled the divine law in his life, he bore its tremendous penalty in his death, and having paid the utmost farthing, and completely and eternally cancelled all that stood against him, on his people’s account, he burst the confines of the tomb, in glorious conquest over sin, death and hell, arose to live forever, and hold the keys of hell and death, and in his resurrection brought life and immortality to light, and by his knowledge justified many, having borne their iniquities. Isa. liii. 11. Thus in his resurrection from the dead, our Lord re vealed himself as the way, (John xiv. 6.) and the only way in which it was and is possible for man to be just with God, for he himself is “God with us.” - Matt. i. 23. God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit. 1 Tim. iii. 16. And inasmuch as he who had become sin for us, or who bore our sin, had cancelled the demands of justice, had risen, and was justified in the spirit, by virtue of his obedience, by his blood and righteousness as his people’s representative, his people were justified with him, and in him, and by him, and through him. The relation which he bore to his people rendered it impossible that he should be justified alone; his people were justified with him. Hence, as he is God with them, they are just with him; they were crucified with him; (Gal. ii. 20.) dead with him. (Rom. vi. 8.) And as he promised the church, by the mouth of the prophet, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise,” (Isa. xxvi.. 19,) they are risen with him, and in every nation they that fear God and work righteousness are accepted with him. Acts x. 35. And it is his will that all that the Father hath given him shall be with him where he is, (John xvii. 24,) and he shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.
The great question then is answered, and the only way that man can be just with God is brought to light in the gospel; for vain is the help of man.
“No blood of birds, nor blood of beasts,
Nor hysop branch, nor sprinkling priest,
Nor running brook, nor flood, nor sea,
Could wash our dismal stain &way.
Jesus, my God, thy blood alone
Hath power sufficient to atone;
Thy blood can make me white as snow -
No legal works could cleanse me so.”
NEW VERNON, N. Y.,
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 1
Pages 197 – 203