It’s a new year but I want that old time religion!
John Gill explains the heart of the Gospel – the doctrine of justification:
Justification is an act of God’s free grace, whereby he clears his people from sin, discharges them from condemnation, and reckons and accounts them righteous for the sake of Christ’s righteousness, which he has accepted of, and imputes unto them. Some very excellent divines have distinguished justification into active and passive.
Active justification is God’s act, it is God that justifies;
passive justification is the same act, terminating on the conscience of the believer;
active justification is strictly and properly justification,
passive justification is improperly so;
active justification precedes faith,
passive justification is by faith.
Again, justification may be considered either in foro Dei, and so it is an eternal, immanent act in God: or in foro conscientiae, and so it is declarative to and upon the conscience of the believer; or in foro mundi, and so it will be notified to men and angels at the general judgement.
The Everlasting Covenant of Redemption
God the Father is the contriver of the scheme and method of our justification; he was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses; (2 Cor. 5:19) he drew the model and platform of it, which is Nodus Deo vindice dignus. It would have remained a puzzling question to men and angels, how should man be just with God? had not his grace employed his wisdom to find out a ransom, whereby he has delivered his people from going down to the pit of corruption; which ransom is no other than his own Son, whom he sent, in the fullness of time, to execute the scheme he had so wisely formed in his eternal mind which he did by finishing transgression, making an end of sin
, making reconciliation for iniquity, and bringing in an everlasting righteousness; which righteousness, being wrought out by Christ, God was well pleased with, because hereby his law was magnified and made honourable; and, having graciously accepted of it, he imputes it freely to all his people, and reckons their righteous on the account of it.
God the Son, as God, is the co-efficient cause of it, with his Father. As he has equal power with him to forgive sin, he also has to acquit, discharge, and justify from it. As Mediator, he is the Head and Representative; in whom all the seed of Israel are justified; as such, he has wrought out a righteousness, answerable to the demands of the law, by which they are justified; and is the Author and Finisher of that faith, which looks unto, lays hold on, and apprehends that righteousness for justification.
God the Holy Ghost convinces men of the weakness, imperfection, and insufficiency of their own righteousness to justify them before God; he brings near, and sets before them, the righteousness of Christ, and works faith in them to lay hold on it, and receive it; he intimates to their consciences the justifying sentence of God, on the account of Christ’s righteousness, and bears a testimony to and with their spirits, that they are justified persons; and hence the saints are said to be justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God; (1 Cor. 6:11) but this testimony of the Spirit is not so properly justification in itself, as an actual perception of it, before granted, by a kind of a reflex act of faith, as Dr. Ames expresses it. Now this is the part which Father, Son, and Spirit, severally bear in justification: the Father has contrived it, the Son has procured it, and the Spirit applies it.
One Last Thing
It is an act of God’s free Grace: Being justified freely by his grace. (Rom. 3:24) It was grace that resolved on, and fixed the scheme and method of justification: and which called and moved Christ to engage as a surety for his people; and which sent him, in the fullness of time, to work out a righteousness for them. And then it was grace in God to accept of this righteousness for them, and to impute it to them, and bestow faith on them to receive it; especially will all this appear to be free grace, when it is considered that these persons are all by nature sinners, and ungodly ones; yea, many of them the chief of sinners.
It is universal and not partial. All God’s elect are justified, and that from all things, as in our text, that is, from all their sins, and are freed from all that punishment which is due unto them. The whole righteousness of Christ is imputed to them; by being hereby justified, they are perfect and complete in him.
It is an individual act, which is done at once, and admits of no degrees. The sins of God’s elect were laid at once on Christ, and he made satisfaction for them at once. God accepted of Christ’s righteousness, and imputed it at once unto his people, who all have their sins and transgressions forgiven at once. The sense of justification, indeed, admits of degrees: for the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; (Rom. 1:17) but justification itself does not. There are several fresh declarations, or manifestations, or repetitions of the act of justification; as at the resurrection of Christ; and again, by the testimony of the Spirit to the conscience of the believer; and last of all, at the general judgement, before men and angels. But justification, as it is an act of God, is but one, and is done at once, and admits of no degrees; and is not carried on in a gradual and progressive way as sanctification is.
It is equal to all, or all are alike justified. The same price was paid for the redemption of one, as for another; and the same righteousness is imputed to one, as to another; and, like precious faith, is given to one, as to another though not to all in the same degree, yet the weakest believer is as much justified as the strongest, and the greatest sinner as the smallest. Though one man may have more sanctifying grace than another, yet no man has more justifying righteousness than another.
It is irreversible and unalterable. It is according to an immutable decree, which can never be frustrated. It is one of God’s gifts, which are without repentance: it is one of the blessings of the covenant of grace, which can never be broken. The righteousness by which the saints are justified is an everlasting one; and that faith, by which they receive it, shall never fail: And though a righteous man may fall into sin, yet he shall never fall from his righteousness, nor shall he ever enter into condemnation, but be eternally glorified.
Justification, though it frees persons from sin, and discharges them from punishment due unto it, yet it does not take sin out of them. By it, indeed, they are freed from sin, insomuch that God sees no iniquity in them to condemn them for it. Though he sees and beholds all the sins of his people, in articulo providentiae, in respect of providence, and chastises them for them; yet in articulo justificationis, in respect of justification, he sees none in them; they being acquitted, discharged, and justified from all. Nevertheless sin dwells in them For there is not a just man upon earth that liveth and sinneth not. (Eccl. 7:20)
It does not destroy the law, nor discourage a careful performance of good works. It does not destroy the law, or make it void; no, it establishes it; for the righteousness by which we are justified, is every way commensurate to the demands of the law; by it the law is magnified, and made honourable. Nor are persons, by this doctrine, discouraged from the performance of good works; for this doctrine of grace teaches men, That denying ungodliness, and worldly lusts, they should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. (Titus 2:11, 12) To conclude: If your souls are under the powerful and comfortable influence of this doctrine, you will, in the first place, bless God for Jesus Christ, by whose obedience you are made righteous: You will value his justifying righteousness, and make mention of it at all proper times; you will glory alone in Christ, and will give the whole glory of your justification to him; and will be earnestly and studiously desirous of having your conversations as become the gospel of Christ, and this truth of it in particular.