Excluding Our Righteousness (Buchanan)

James Buchanan Collection (2 vols.) When it comes to justification, the terms “the righteousness of God” and “his righteousness” are very important (Rom 3:21-22, 2 Cor 5:21, etc.).  These phrases have to do with the fact that an ungodly sinner is not justified by his own righteousness, but by the righteousness of Another that is given by grace alone and received by faith alone.  James Buchanan explained this well (I’ve divided the paragraphs to make it easier to read):

…This righteousness is called ‘the righteousness of One,’ and ‘the obedience of One’—expressions which serve at once to connect it with the work of Christ, and to exclude from it the personal obedience of the many who are justified.

It is called ‘the free gift unto justification of life,’ and ‘the gift of righteousness,’ to show that it is bestowed gratuitously by divine grace, and not acquired by our own obedience.

It is called ‘the righteousness which is of faith,’ or ‘the righteousness which is by faith,’ both to distinguish it from faith itself, and also to contrast it with another righteousness which is not received by faith, but ‘sought for as it were by the works of the law.’

It is called ‘the righteousness of God without the law,’ to intimate that, while it was ‘witnessed by the law and the prophets,’ and while, as ‘a righteousness,’ it must have some relation to the unchangeable rule of rectitude, it was above and beyond what the law could provide, since it depends, not on personal, but on vicarious obedience.

And it is called the righteousness ‘which God imputes without works,’ to show that it is ‘reckoned of grace,’ and not ‘of debt,’—that ‘God justifies the ungodly’2 by placing this righteousness to their account,—and that He makes it theirs, because it was wrought out for them by Him, ‘who was delivered for their offences, and rose again for their Justification.’

All these expressions relate to one and the same righteousness—the only righteousness which God has revealed for the justification of sinners — they are all applicable to the vicarious righteousness of Christ — and they serve, by their very diversity, to exhibit it in all its various aspects and relations, and to exclude every other righteousness from the ground of our pardon and acceptance, since there is no other to which all these terms can possibly be applied.

In the next section, Buchanan moves on to prove this related point:

This righteousness —being the merit of a work, and not a mere quality of character —may become ours by being imputed to us, but cannot be communicated by being infused; and must ever continue to belong primarily and, in one important respect, exclusively to Him by whom alone that work was accomplished.

James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867), 319–320.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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The Whole Curse Spent on Him (Bunyan)

Justification by an Imputed Righteousness One of the wonderful and comforting truths of the Christian faith is the fact that a sinner is justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  This truth is full of hope, peace, joy, happiness, and assurance.  One aspect of justification is what Scripture teaches about Christ suffering the curse of law-breaking in the place of his people (Gal. 3:13).  John Bunyan gave an excellent explanation of how Christ suffered the curse in our stead and completely freed us from it by doing so:

As we are said to suffer with him, so we are said to die, to be dead with him; with him, that is, by the dying of his body. ‘Now, if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him’ (Rom 6:8). Wherefore he saith in other places, ‘Brethren, ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ’; for indeed we died then to it by him. To the law that is, the law now has nothing to do with us; for that it has already executed its curse to the full upon us by its slaying of the body of Christ; for the body of Christ was our flesh: upon it also was laid our sin.

The law, too, spent that curse that was due to us upon him, when it condemned, killed, and cast him into the grave. Wherefore, it having thus spent its whole curse upon him as standing in our stead, we are exempted from its curse for ever; we are become dead to it by that body (Rom 7:4). It has done with us as to justifying righteousness. Nor need we fear its damning threats any more; for by the death of this body we are freed from it, and are for ever now coupled to a living Christ.

 John Bunyan, Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 304.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Three Great Acts of Imputation (Machen)

 The Westminster Shorter Catechism, summarizing the biblical teaching on the topic, says that all mankind sinned in Adam, “and fell with him in that first transgression.”    Because Adam was in a covenant situation, our representative, his trespass led to our condemnation (Rom. 5:18).  How does this work?  How come I bear the guilt for Adam’s sin?  J. Gresham Machen explained this very well in The Christian View of Man.  Note how he ties it in with the gospel:

…I should just like to point out to you that if it is impossible in the nature of things for one person to bear the guilt of another person’s sins, then we have none of us the slightest hope of being saved and the gospel is all a delusion and a snare.  At the heart of the gospel is the teaching of the Bible to the effect that Jesus Christ, quite without sin himself, bore the guilt of our sins upon the cross.  If that be true, then we cannot pronounce it impossible that one person should bear the guilt of another person’s sins.

The Apostle Paul insists upon this analogy in the latter part of the fifth chapter of Romans.  In that part of that chapter we find set forth the great Scripture doctrine that is called the doctrine of imputation.

That doctrine, if you take it as the Bible sets it forth as a whole, involves three great acts of imputation.  First, Adam’s first sin is imputed to his descendents.  Second, the sins of saved people are imputed to Christ.  Third, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to saved people.

When the Bible teaches that the sins of saved people are imputed to Christ, that means that Christ on the cross bore the penalty rightly resting on saved people.  He was not deserving of death; he had not sinned at all.  Yet he suffered as though he had sinned.  God treated him as though he had sinned, although he was not a sinner.  The sin for which he died was not a sin that he had committed; it was our sin that was imputed to him.

So when the Bible teaches that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to saved people, that does not mean that the saved people are then actually righteous.  On the contrary, they are sinners.  But they receive the blessed reward of life which Christ’s righteousness deserved.  Christ’s righteousness is not actually theirs, but it is imputed to them.

So that’s what we mean when we talk about being justified by faith alone!

J. Gresham Machen, The Christian View of Man, p. 215-216.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Power of the Gospel (Hodge)

Select Sermons of Charles Hodge On November 20, 1842 Charles Hodge gave a chapel message to the students at Princeton Seminary.  It was on Romans 1:15, where Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… (NASB).  In this chapel message Hodge did an excellent job highlighting the power of the gospel.  Here’s one excerpt worth reading:

…the Gospel is adapted to secure the salvation of men because it, in the first place, reveals a righteousness suited to their necessities. This is the reason which the apostle himself assigns. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation because therein is revealed the righteousness of God. It is plain from other passages in his epistles that by “righteousness of God,” he means a righteousness which is from God, which he gives, and which is available at his tribunal. It is opposed to our own righteousness and declared to be his gift. The Gospel therefore is effectual to salvation because it makes known, offers, and confers a righteousness which secures our justification and reconciliation with God. This is the grand source of its power without which all their excellencies would be of no avail.

If it left us still under the curse of the law, if it disclosed no method by which we can obtain the forgiveness of sins, it could not be effectual to the salvation of sinners. Its disclosures of the infinite holiness and justice of God; of the spirituality and extent of his law; of the necessity of perfect obedience in order to justify the nation, would but drive us to despair. But revealing as it does a method by which God can be just and yet justify the ungodly, it is exactly suited to our necessities. The righteousness which it presents is absolutely perfect, it meets and answers all the demands of the law; it, fully satisfies the justice of God; it satisfies the demands of conscience, it satisfies all the interests of the moral government of God. And instead of endangering the welfare of holy beings, it in the highest degree exalts their blessedness by its display of the manifold grace and wisdom of God.

It is with unspeakable delight that the sinner sensible of his guilt acquiesces in a plan of salvation which thus honours God; which thus sustains the divine law, and which, while it humbles and saves himself, ministers to the blessedness of all holy beings. He sees that there is now no reason why the believing sinner should be punished. All the ends of punishment are answered far more effectually by the atoning righteousness of Christ than they could ever have been by his own perdition. Being justified by faith he has peace with God, through the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather that has risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.’ ‘There is no condemnation to him that is in Christ Jesus.’ To such a man they [the ends of punishment] can be a rational source of disquiet. [But] God has forgiven him, his Saviour ever lives to intercede for him, and by that intercession to secure him from all fatal evil and the enjoyment of all necessary good.

Charles Hodge, “Not Ashamed,” in Select Sermons of Charles Hodge (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Denial of All Our Own Righteousness (Witsius)

Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain In his book on the controversies surrounding law, gospel, and grace in England around the year 1700, Herman Witsius (d. 1708) gave an excellent defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, based on God’s grace alone.  At one point he talked about the errors of legalism, the Judaizers, and non-Christian views.  Following those paragraphs, he wrote this:

All these errors together, Paul impugns and confutes: proving, at large, that there is none, neither Gentile, nor Jew, who by any work done, either according to the law of nature, or the law of Moses, or devised by men themselves, can acquire, either in whole or in part, an immunity from punishment, and a right to life and salvation: but that with the denial of all our own righteousness, all these things must be sought in Christ alone, to whom we are not united but by faith.

He then noted the righteousness of God as Paul talked about it in Romans 1:16-17.  Here are  his comments:

Now this righteousness is from faith. It is revealed, offered, and conveyed by the gospel, as the hand of God exhibiting it: it is accepted by faith, as the hand of the soul apprehending it. Further, it is so from faith, that it is also to faith. It is from faith, whereby I believe the testimony of God the Father concerning his Son, and the life which is in him; whereby I draw near unto him, that I may claim the right of the sons of God; whereby, I flee to him as the strong-hold of my salvation; whereby, in summary, I receive him to be my Savior.

But why was it necessary that the righteousness which is from faith should be revealed by the gospel? For this reason, because neither Gentiles nor Jews have any righteousness of their own, by which they can obtain expiation of sins and a title to life.   …Further, this righteousness is not placed in the observation of the duties prescribed by the gospel, as if that were not obtained by it, …for we are said to be justified freely, without any cause of justification being in us.   But it is placed in the grace of God, and in the redemption which is in Christ, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood. In fine, all things tend to this, that the glory of our salvation should be wholly transferred to God and Christ, and our boasting entirely banished.

 Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 82.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Making the Legalist in Us Squirm (Luther)

 Martin Luther’s comments on Galatians 4:3 will make the legalist in us squirm.  But they will also help explain what “Christ alone” means for the guilty conscience:

The law does tell me to love the Lord my God, but it does not enable me to do so or to lay hold of Christ.

I do not say this in order that the law should be despised; nor does Paul intend this. It should be held in great esteem. But because Paul here is dealing with justification, he has to speak of the law as something contemptible and odious, for justification is poles apart from the law. We cannot speak contemptuously enough of the law when we are dealing with this matter. When the conscience is in this conflict, therefore, it should think of nothing and know nothing except Christ alone. The law should be completely removed from sight, and the promise of Christ alone embraced. It is easy to say this, but in times of temptation, when the conscience is struggling with God, it is the hardest of all things actually to do. When the law accuses you, terrifies you, reveals to you your sin, threatens your soul with the wrath of God and eternal death, then you need strong faith in Christ, as if there had never been any law or sin, but only Christ, grace, and redemption. You need to be able to say, “Law, I will not listen to you. The time has come for me to be free, and I will not put up with your tyranny any longer.”

Martin Luther, Galatians, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 198.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Are Our Good Works Accepted by God? (Boston)

 The Bible teaches that a sinner is justified by faith alone apart from works (e.g. Rom 3-4).  One question the Christian might ask in light of “faith alone” is this:  “How can any of our works be accepted by a holy God since there is so much sinfulness in even best of them?”  Thomas Boston (d. 1732) asked that question, and answered it this way:

Answer 1. In point of justification they are not, nor cannot be accepted; that is, our persons cannot be accepted as righteous for our works, since they are not legally perfect, perfect in every point. In the way of the covenant of works, the work was first to be accepted for its own sake, as absolutely perfect; and then the person for the works’ sake. So that whosoever seek by their works to be accepted of God, they go back to the covenant of works; and must either bring works every way perfect, or be rejected; and because they cannot do such works, “therefore by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified,” Gal. 2:16.

Answer 2. In point of sanctification the good works of the justified may be accepted; that is, one’s person being accepted, his works may be accepted, being evangelically perfect, though not legally; being perfect in parts, though not in degrees. For in the way of the covenant of grace, the person is first accepted in Christ, and then his work though imperfect. Hence it appears,

(1.) That to a person’s being accepted of God in Christ, there is no working, but believing required; Mark 5:36. For till the person be accepted of God in Christ, he can do no acceptable work. He can yield no savory fruit till he be ingrafted by faith in Christ.

(2.) That the way to bring sinners to good works, is to bring them to Christ in the first place by faith, that they may be justified and accepted in him. Men may be made proud legalists otherwise, but not evangelical Christians; whited sepulchers, but still full of rottenness.

(3.) That there is very good reason why the good works of unbelievers are rejected, because they are imperfect; and yet the good works of believers are accepted, though they be imperfect….

The Westminster Confession (16.6) says it in a similar way:

“The persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight, but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.”

The above quote is from Thomas Boston, (1852). The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Discourses on Prayer. (S. M‘Millan, Ed.) (Vol. 11, pp. 131–132). Aberdeen: George and Robert King.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015