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ROMANS iii. 24.--Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemp
tion that is in Christ Jesus.
The first of those benefits which the called do partake of is justification, which is the great relative change made upon them, bringing them out of the state of condemnation, wherein they are born, and live till they come to Christ. In the text we have,
1. The persons justified, sinners, viz. believing in Christ. It is the justification of a sinner that the apostle speaks of, as is implied in the connection, ver. 23, 24. ' For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God: being justified freely by his grace ; but believing, ver. 26.—the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.'
2. The party justifying, God the judge of all, his grace. It is God's act to justify a sinner.
3. The manner and moving cause, freely by his grace. It is done freely, without any thing of ours done by us to procure or merit it; and it flows from God's grace or free favour to undeserving and ill deserving creatures.
4. The material and meritorious cause, the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. He has paid the price and ransom whereby the sinner is set free.
The text affords this great and important doctrinal note, viz.
Doct. The justification of a sinner before God is of free grace, through the satisfaction of Christ.
In discoursing from this subject I shall shew,
II. What are the parts of justification.
1. I shall shew what it is to justify a sinner, in general, in the scripture-sense. Justification and sanctification are indeed inseparable. In vain do they pretend to be justified who are not sanctified; and in vain do they fear they are not justified, who are sanctified by the Spirit of Christ, 1 Cor. vi. 11. But yet they are distinct benefits, not to be confounded, nor taken for one and the same.
Justification is not the making of a person just and righteous, by infusing grace or holiness unto him. But it is a discharging him from guilt, and declaring or pronouncing him righteous. So it is a law-term taken from courts of judicature, wherein a person is ac
cused, tried, and after trial absolved. Thus the scripture opposeth it to accusation and condemnation, Rom. viii. 33, 34. · Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth: Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us,' Dent. xxv. 1. ' They shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.' And so it is declared to be a sin to justify the wicked, Prov. xvii. 15. not to make thein righteous, but to pronounce them righteous. Hence it follows, that,
1. Justification is not a real change of the sinner's nature, but a relative change of his state. The change of the sinner's nature, from sin to holiness, is inseparably annexed to it : but it is only the bringing him out of the state of condemnation, and setting him beyond the reach of the law, as a righteous person, which is an unspeakable benefit.
2. Justification is an act done and passed in an instant in the court of heaven, as soon as the sinner believes in Christ; and not a work carried on by degrees. For if a sinner be not perfectly justified, he is not justified at all, If a man were accused of ten capital crimes, if one of them be fixed upon him, he is condemned, and must die. And hence also, though one may be more sanctified than another, yet no believer is in the sight of God more justified than another, since the state of justification is not capable of degrees.
II. I proceed to shew what are the parts of justification.
These are two, the pardoning of sin, and the accepting of the sinner's person as righteous. This double benefit is conferred on the sinner in justification. That we may the more clearly take up this matter, we must view the process of a sinner's justification. And here,
First, God himself sits Judge in this process, Psal. ix. 4. Thou sattest in the throne judging right. He gave the law; and as he is the Lawgiver, Bo he is the Judge of all the earth. Men may justify themselves, Luke x. 29. and others may justify them : but what does it avail, if God do not justify them? for only he has the authority and power to do it, Rom. viii. 33. It is God that justifieth.' Many a man looking overly into his own state and case, passes a very favourable sentence on himself, and his way may be so blameless before the world, that others must judge him a righteous man too; but the judgment of God comes after, and reverses all. And he only can justify authoritatively and irreversibly. For,
1. He only is the Lawgiver, and he only has power to save or to destroy, and therefore the judgment must be left to him, Jam. iv. 12. The case concerns his honour and law, and must be tried at his
tribunal; and whoever takes it in hand, he will call it to his own bar.
2. To him the debt is owing, and therefore he only can give the discharge. Against him the crime is committed, and he only can pardon it. Accept us as righteous who will, if he do it not, who gave the law of righteousness, it is nothing, Mark ii. 7.
Secondly, The sinner is cited to answer before God's judgmentseat, by the messengers of God, the ministers of the gospel, Mal. iii. 1. Every sermon an unconverted sinner hears, is a summons put into his hand to answer for his living in a state and course of sin. He is told he has broken God's law, and he must go to God and see what he will answer, and what course he will take with his debt. But, alas ! for the most part sinners are so secure, that they sit the summons, slight it, and will not appear.
But that is not all. Some keep themselves out of the messenger's way; either they will not come at all, or very seldom to the public assemblies where the summons is given, Heb. x. 25. But the leaving of the summons there will hold in law before him that sends them, and the dust of the messenger's feet will be sufficient witness to the execution, Matt. x. 14. Some never read the summons, they never once seriously consider or apply to themselves the word preached. They hear it as if they heard it not, it never sinks into their hearts. Others tear the summons in pieces; their hearts, like Ahab in the case of Micaiah, rise against the word and the bearer of it, and they hate both, as speaking no good of them. Some affront the messengers, and sometimes lay violent hands on them, Matth. xxii. 6. And thus some sit the summons all their days, and never appear till death bring them under his black rod, before the tribunal in another world, where there is no access to justification or pardon. But God suffers none of his elect to do so always.
Thirdly, The Lord the Judge sends out other messengers, and they apprehend the sinner, lay hands on him to carry him, whether he will or not, before the judgment-seat, and oblige him to abide his trial. And these are two, the Spirit of bondage, and an awakened conscience, John xvi. 8, 9. Prov. xx. 27. These will catch the man, and hunt him till they find him out, when they have got their order, Jer. ii. 27. They apprehended Paul when going to Damascus, and left him not till he appeared, and submitted himself. But it is not always so.
Some that are apprehended get out of the messenger's hands, and make their escape unhappily. When they are catched, they are unruly prisoners, they struggle and wrestle, and strive against the Spirit, and their own consciences, Acts vii. 51. they go no farther with them than they are dragged
They get the mastery at length over their conscience, break its bonds, and stifle its convictions, and so grieve and quench the Spirit, that they get away to their own ruin; like Cain, Saul, Felix, &c. But none of God's elect ever get away altogether.
Fourthly, Then the elect soul is infallibly sisted at length before the judgment-seat. The Spirit of bondage and the awakened conscience apprehend him afresh, and bring their prisoner in chains of guilt unto the bar trembling, and he can escape the trial no longer, before a holy God, Acts xvi. 29, 30. Then what fear, sorrow and anxiety, seize the prisoner's soul, while he sees a just Judge on the throne, a strict and severe law laid before him, and he has a guilty conscience within! And he must undergo a trial for his life, not the life of the body only, but of soul and body for evermore. These things may seem idle tales to some; but if ye have not experienced the reality of them, ye shall do it, or dreadful shall the judgment after death be to you.
Fifthly, Then the indictment, or criminal libel, is read in the ears of the trembling sinner before the Judge, and that by the law, which manages the accusation so as the pannel shall stand speechless, Rom. iii. 10—19. Every one of the ten commands accuse him of innumerable evils and transgressions. His omissions and commissions are laid in broadband before him ; his sins of heart, lip and life, and the sin of his nature, are all charged upon him, and that with their several aggravations. And sentence is demanded against the pannel, according to justice, and agreeable to the law, Gal. iii. 10. 'Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.'
Sixthly, Then the sinner must plead guilty or not, to the indictment. Indeed, if he were innocent, he might plead not guilty, deny the libel, and thereupon he would be justified. But, alas ! this plea is not for us poor sinners. For, (1.) It is utterly false, Rom. iii. 10. Eccl. vii. 20. Jam. iii. 2. And, (2.) Falsehood can never bear out before God's judgment-scat. There is no want of evidence to prove all. Conscience within is as a thousand witnesses, and will testify against the sinner. The Judge is omniscient, and there is no concealing of our crimes from him. Therefore this plea will not do, Rom. iii. 20. The sinner then must needs plead guilty, confess the libel, and every article of it, acknowledge the debt, and every article of it, though he is utterly unable to pay, Rom. iii. 19.
Seventhly, The sinner being convicted by his own confession as guilty, is put to it to plead, What he has to say why the sentence of death eternal should not pass against him, according to law and justice, and why he should not be hauled from the judgment-seat to
execution. Here, what shall he plead at this awful period of time, where his state for eternity is just upon the turning point? Shall he plead mercy for mere mercy's sake, casting himself down at the Judge's feet? Justice interposes betwixt mercy and the sinner, and pleads that the Judge of all the earth must do right, that he cannot prostitute his honour for the safety of rebels, but must magnify the law, and make it honourable. The truth of God interposes, and says, the word is already gone out of the Judge's mouth, and must be accomplished, That without shedding of blood there is no remission. Whither shall the sinner turn now? Can the saints help? No; they cannot spare any of their oil. Can angels do nothing? No; their united stock would not be sufficient to clear the debt. The sinner then must die the death, and sink under his own burden, if help come not from another quarter. So,
Eighthly, The formerly despised Mediator, the great Advocate at this court, who takes the desperate causes of sinners in hand, and expedites them, offers himself now, in this extremity, to the sinner, with his perfect righteousness, and all his salvation. The sinner embraces him with heart and good-will, enters into the covenant, by faith lays hold on him, renounces all other claims, and betakes himself to his alone merits and suretyship. Now is the sinner united to Christ, and by virtue of that union has communion with him, particularly in his righteousness, and so stands before God in the white raiment of the Mediator's righteousness. Now has the sinner a plea that will infallibly bring him off.
He pleads, he is guilty indeed; yet he must not die, for Christ has died for him. The debt was a just debt; but the Cautioner has paid it, and therefore he craves up his discharge. The law's demands were just; but they are all answered already, both as to doing and suffering. The soul is now married to Christ; and therefore, if the law or justice want any thing, they must seek it of the IIusband, and not of her, seeing the soul is thereby put under covert. Therefore the convicted believing sinner gets in under the covert of the Mediator's blood, which stands open in that court; and there stands and pleads against all that law or justice can demand, that he must not die, but be graciously acquitted.
Lastly, Hereupon God the great Judge sustaining the plea passes the sentence of justification on the sinner, according to the everlasting agreement that passed betwixt the Father and the Son, Isa. liii. 11. The pannel gets the white stone and new name, and so is for ever set beyond the reach of condemnation, Rom. viii. 1. This is excellently described by Elihu, Job xxxiii. 22, 23, 24. 'Yea, his soul draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers. If