What is justification?

Watson WednesdaysWednesdays with Watson is a weekly reading taken from my favorite Puritan writer, Thomas Watson.  This week’s selection is taken from A Body of Divinity.

Justification is an act of God’s free grace, whereby he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

Justification is the very hinge and pillar of Christianity. An error about justification is dangerous, like a defect in a foundation. Justification by Christ is a spring of the water of life. To have the poison of corrupt doctrine cast into this spring is damnable. It was a saying of Luther, “that after his death, the doctrine of justification would be corrupted.” In these latter times, the Arminians and Socinians have cast a dead fly into this box of precious ointment. I shall endeavor to follow the star of Scripture, to light me through this mysterious point.

What is meant by justification?

It is verbum forense, a word borrowed from law-courts, wherein a person arraigned is pronounced righteous, and is openly absolved. God, in justifying a person, pronounces him to be righteous, and looks upon him as if he had not sinned.

What is the source of justification?

The causa, the inward impellant motive or ground of justification, is the free grace of God: “being justified freely by his grace.” Ambrose expounds this, as “not of the grace wrought within us—but the free grace of God.” The first wheel that sets all the rest running is the love and favor of God; as a king freely pardons a delinquent. Justification is a mercy spun out of the affections of free grace. God does not justify us because we are worthy—but by justifying us makes us worthy.

What is the ground, or that by which a sinner is justified?

The ground of our justification is Christ’s satisfaction made to his Father. If it be asked, how can it stand with God’s justice and holiness to pronounce us innocent—when we are guilty? The answer is, that Christ having made satisfaction for our sins, God may, in equity and justice, pronounce us righteous. It is a just thing for a creditor to discharge a debtor of the debt, when a satisfaction is made by the surety.

But how was Christ’s satisfaction meritorious, and so sufficient to justify?

In respect of the divine nature. As he was man he suffered, as God he satisfied. By Christ’s death and merits, God’s justice is more abundantly satisfied than if we had suffered the pains of hell forever.

Wherein lies the method of our justification?

In the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us. “This is the name whereby he shall be called, Jehovah Tzidkennu, the Lord our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6) “He is made to us righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30). This righteousness of Christ, which justifies us, is a better righteousness than the angels; for theirs is the righteousness of creatures, this righteousness is of God.

What is the means or instrument of our justification?

Faith. “Being justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1). The dignity is not in faith as a grace—but relatively, as faith lays hold on Christ’s merits.

What is the efficient cause of our justification?

The whole Trinity. All the persons in the blessed Trinity have a hand in the justification of a sinner.…God the Father is said to justify. “It is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8:33). God the Son is said to justify. “By him all that believe are justified” (Acts 13:39). God the Holy Spirit is said to justify. “But ye are justified by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). God the Father justifies, as he pronounces us righteous; God the Son justifies, as he imputes his righteousness to us; and God the Holy Spirit justifies, as he clears up our justification, and seals us up to the day of redemption.

What is the end of our justification?

The end is, (1.) That God may inherit praise. “To the praise of the glory of his grace” (Eph. 1:6). Hereby God raises the everlasting trophies of his own honor. How will the justified sinner proclaim the love of God, and make heaven ring with his praises!

(2.) That the justified person may inherit glory. “Whom he justified, those he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). God in justifying, not only absolves a soul from guilt, but advances him to dignity: just as Joseph was not only loosed from prison, but made Lord of the kingdom. Justification is crowned with glorification.

Are we justified from eternity?

No, for, (1.) By nature we are under a sentence of condemnation (John 3:18). We could never have been condemned, if we were justified from eternity.

(2.) The Scripture confines justification to those who believe and repent. “Repent, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Therefore their sins were uncancelled, and their persons unjustified, until they did repent. Though God does not justify us for our
repentance, yet not without it. The Antinomians erroneously hold, that we are justified from eternity. This doctrine is a key which opens the door to all licentiousness; for what sins do they not commit, so long as they hold they are justified whether they repent or not?

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