The Course of Faith, or
The Practical Believer Delineated


By John Angell James, 1852

Faith in Relation to JUSTIFICATION

A pardoned criminal who had been once condemned by the laws of his country to an ignominious death—is an affecting and interesting object to look upon. To see him walking abroad, in the full possession of liberty, who had so recently been loaded with fetters in a dungeon; enjoying the light of heaven—after having been shrouded with darkness, relieved only by the few straggling rays that came through the iron gratings of his cell; surveying the beauties of creation—in place of looking on the cold, dank walls of his prison-house; rejoicing in the consciousness of freedom and life—in lieu of brooding over the gallows and death; delighting in the society of his family and friends—in exchange for the sullen converse of fellow-criminals and jailers; feeling, in short, that he was again a citizen, with all his rights and privileges, as a man and a member of the community—after having been stripped of them all. What a change of circumstances! What an ineffably delightful reverse! How many reflections does it excite! We think of his past sin and misery in his felon's character—of the mercy of the sovereign in reprieving him—of his own felicity in being spared—of his gratitude to his pardoner—of his future obligations to perform the duties of a good citizen.

There, in that case, is the representation, and but a faint one too, of the situation of every real Christian. He too was a sentenced criminal—but now is a pardoned criminal. He has sinned and been condemned—but has repented, has believed, and is pardoned. His forfeited life has been restored. The fountain of mercy has been opened to him; a reprieve has been bestowed. From an enemy, an outcast, and a criminal against God—he has become a friend, a servant, a child, of God. What a transition—how wondrous in itself! How much more wondrous in the method of accomplishing it! THAT we now proceed to consider.

What is justification? This is an unspeakably momentous question. The term itself suggests this; its ordinary import is deeply important. It implies guilt—and expresses pardon. Its importance is learned also from the large space it occupies and fills on the page of Scripture. The most valuable of all Paul's epistles, I mean that to the Romans, and also the one to the Galatians, were written to unfold it. No one can understand the New Testament, or the gospel scheme of salvation, who does not comprehend it. Immense consequence then attaches to the question, What is that justification, which is the subject of apostolic teaching?

Justification is not any change in our moral nature—that is regeneration. Justification is a change of our relation to God. Nor is it our being made personally just, for it is admitted we remain sinners, and we cannot therefore be both personally righteous and unrighteous at the same time. Nor is it any impression or persuasion on our own minds that we are justified. It is not uncommon for a certain class of religionists to speak of their having been justified at such a time and place, when all they mean is, that then and there they obtained a sense of pardon.

Justification is not anything which according to the Popish and Puseyite notion takes place in and by baptism. It is not effected at the font through the priestly ministrations of the priest, when as we are told, the guilt of original sin is taken away by the sacramental grace conferred with the baptismal fluid. The New Testament conveys no such notion as this.

Justification, we say at once, is substantially the same as pardon. The two words convey the same, or nearly the same idea. The apostle appears to use them convertibly, where he says– "However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him." Rom. 4:5-8. "In these verses," says Wardlaw– "the forgiveness of iniquity, the covering of transgression, the non-imputation of sin, are evidently considered as amounting to the same thing with the imputation of righteousness; and this also is the same as justifying the ungodly—for David is represented as describing under one set of phrases the blessedness which the apostle expresses by the others." Still, as the apostles in the language of the New Testament so generally employ the word justification rather than the word pardon, there must be some reason for this, which I think is to be found in the two following considerations.

First—The word justification, while it means pardon, is used to convey the idea of the method by which this pardon is bestowed; that is, pardon in a way of righteousness. So that the word embraces both the blessing and the way of its bestowal, according to the demands of the law.

Secondly—It denotes a general and permanent state of pardon, and not merely a particular act. By justification we are brought into a new and permanent relation—a state of favor with God. Justification is our introduction into this abiding condition; so that though pardon may be needed, and may be granted to us in this state from day to day; justification cannot be said to be repeated day to day. By justification we pass from the state of an enemy into that of a child. In this view of it, it is equivalent with adoption, and in this condition we may and do receive the paternal forgiveness day by day, though not the judicial clearance. Justification is the act of the judge relieving us from the sentence of condemnation, and bringing us into a state of favor; and subsequent acts of pardon are the expressions of the father, in passing by our transgressions. Still we repeat, the two terms mean substantially the same thing—justification is pardon. They are certainly never enumerated together as two distinct blessings. We never read of pardon and justification. I know it has been common with some of the old divines to represent them as distinct; to consider justification as given to us on the ground of Christ's active obedience, and pardon on the ground of his passive obedience, or sufferings unto death. No such distinction, however, is made by the apostles. There is no need for our being more minute in our distinctions than these inspired men. Our being introduced into a state of pardon through the atonement of Christ, is justification.

It has been usual to call this a legal transaction—a proceeding in a court of law. Perhaps it would be more correct to consider it as an exercise of royalty—the putting forth of kingly prerogative, in extending mercy to a rebellious subject—the act of the executive in the Divine government in reprieving a criminal out of regard to something done to satisfy public justice.

Such, then, is justification—the opposite to condemnation—the act of God's boundless mercy in forgiving all the transgressions of the penitent believer, for the sake of the atoning sacrifice of his beloved Son; and restoring the once guilty transgressor to the favor of God, and the hope of eternal life. Well might David in a kind of rapture exclaim– "Blessed," or as the abruptness of the original more emphatically expresses it– "O, the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord imputes not iniquity, whose transgression is forgiven, and whose sin is covered!"

In considering this subject accurately and fully, four things are to be taken into consideration:

1. The meaning of justification, or the blessing it designates, pardon.

2. The ground on which justification proceeds—the death of Christ as an atoning sacrifice for sin.

3. The source from which justification flows—the mercy of God.

4. The instrumental cause or means of justification—faith in Christ.

In this present chapter, we have to do with the latter, or the connection of faith with our justification.

If we are to be pardoned in a righteous way—it is plain we cannot be forgiven on the ground of a righteousness of our own, for we have not a speck of righteousness. None but a perfect obedience could be accepted by the law, as the ground of justification; and if we had that to offer, there would have been no sin, and therefore no need of pardon. Where there is no sin—there can be no forgiveness. Up to the time of his justification, the sinner is supposed to have been living in sin, and therefore has no works at all to offer as a satisfaction to Divine justice, on the ground of which he can be received into a state of favor. Hence the reiterated declaration– "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight—for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Rom. 3:20. "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Rom. 3:28. "To him who works not—but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Rom. 4:5. "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law—for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." Gal. 2:16. "Not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephes. 2:9. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done—but according to his mercy he saved us." Titus 3:5. In all these passages, and in others that might be quoted, it is most distinctly and emphatically declared, that justification does not proceed on the ground of our works.

There is but one other ground on which righteousness can proceed, and that is FAITH. And this is as explicitly declared as that other. To quote all the passages of God's Word on this subject would be needless. In addition to those already given we may introduce the following. "The just shall live by faith." Rom. 1:17. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Rom. 5:1. "By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves—it is the gift of God." Ephes. 2:8. "It is of faith, that it might be by grace." Rom. 4:16. It is, then, impossible not to see the high place which faith occupies in the business of our justification. But what is this place? What is its office? How does it justify?

We may put this first of all negatively, and show how faith does NOT justify.

Faith does not justify of and by itself, as an act of our mind—as that for the sake of which, viewed in the light of a meritorious cause, God grants us forgiveness of sins. It is by faith, not for faith, we are justified. There is an expression which looks as if faith itself, as an act of ours, constituted our justifying righteousness. "For what says the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." Rom. 4:3. "We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness." Rom. 4:9. "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God—and therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness." Rom. 4:20-22. Now it might seem to an ordinary and unreflecting reader, that the apostle intended by this mode of expression to convey the idea that Abraham's faith, of and by itself, constituted his righteousness—that his strong confidence in the Divine testimony was accepted in lieu of works, and as tantamount to a complete obedience to the Divine law. This is the view which Luther seems to take in his celebrated commentary on the epistle to the Galatians. But if this be true in reference to Abraham, it is equally true in reference to all believers who are his spiritual seed, and their faith is also their righteousness. And if this be true, it will appear that as faith is an act of ours—and so a work of ours—and we are justified by works after all. True, it may be said, this is only a mental work. No matter, it is still a work. This, on general principles, makes it clear that the apostle could not intend that believing was accepted instead of doing, and constituted that righteousness on the ground of which Abraham was justified.

The preposition rendered in our translation "for righteousness;" might and should be rendered "unto righteousness." By believing on Christ as God's righteousness, or God's method of justification, a man becomes truly righteous—comes into the state of a righteous or justified man. We have the preposition so rendered in several places where the same subject is discussed. "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation." Rom. 1:16. "Even the righteousness of God which is unto all those who believe." Rom. 3:22. "For with the heart man believes unto righteousness." Rom. 10:10. This is the signification of the phrase in the verse before us, which should have been translated in the same way. The expression "unto righteousness" is elliptical, and signifies "unto the receiving" of righteousness, or in order to his becoming righteous. In the different French translations the meaning of the original is properly expressed– "a justice;" that is to say, unto righteousness. And in the same way in the Vulgate– "ad justitiam," to or towards righteousness.

That faith itself, as an act of our own mind, is not the justifying righteousness, is demonstrably evident from the very phraseology of many passages that speak of belief and righteousness in the same place; "Even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all those who believe." Rom. 3:22. Here righteousness is supposed to be one thing and faith another. Righteousness is what we need in order to justification; faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, as testified in the gospel, is the means through which we receive this righteousness.

Our believing then, is not the righteousness—but is the means by which we become righteous. Can language more explicitly show that righteousness and faith are two different things for two different purposes, though both are enjoyed by the same people, and both equally necessary? In like manner the apostle says– "For with the heart man believes unto righteousness." Rom. 10:10. Here it is necessarily implied that faith is not righteousness—but that it is the means through which we receive righteousness. Nothing can be a greater corruption of the truth than to represent faith itself as accepted instead of righteousness, or to be the righteousness that saves the sinner. (See Haldane's Exposition of the Romans.)

Nor are we to understand that faith justifies us, as a mere condition of pardon, in the same way as repentance is a condition of pardon. God requires in the man who would be forgiven and restored to his favor—sincere contrition and confession, and the forsaking of his sins– "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Isaiah 55:7. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." 1 John 1:9. Now these things are conditions of pardon, yet we cannot with propriety and precision say– "We are justified by confession, sorrow, and repentance." Justification is the office and business of faith. There is a fitness, not indeed a meritorious one—but a natural one; that is, a fitness in the nature of believing, to accomplish this great end—our justification before God. For observe the nature of faith—it is "the confidence of things hoped for." We remark then that,

1. Faith believes our NEED of justification. It credits the testimony of God concerning our condemnation by the law. No man will concern himself at all about pardon until he is convinced of sin. Here is its first exercise, to believe that "all the world has become guilty before God." "That all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." That we are "all by nature the children of wrath," that this curse of God upon sin is no slight one—but an everlasting separation from his presence. It is only by a belief of God's Word we know what sin is—in its nature and consequences. Reason may discern that all is not right with us—that there is some disorder in the soul; but it knows nothing of the cause, the virulence, or the extent of the malady. It is revelation that lays open all this to us, that discovers to us our entire corruption; that shows us our alarming state, and our dreadful need of spiritual recovery.

Here then is the first lesson which faith learns, and a most humbling one it is—that we are in a fearful state of condemnation, by the law we have broken—that we are exposed to the wrath to come, to the bitter pains of eternal death—and that we need instant and adequate relief. True, this is not at this stage, saving faith; and if this were all a man believed, he would never be saved by it. Many do thus believe in the law, who never go on to believe the gospel, and have nothing more than the faith of devils—who believe and tremble. But though this is not itself a saving act, yet it precedes it. A man must believe he is lost—before he will be concerned about being saved.

2. By faith the sinner looks out of himself—away from himself, for the GROUND of his justification. This is faith's second step, or office. It turns away our attention from ourselves. As long as a man is only looking into himself, to discover what he can find there, to stand between him and the God whom he has offended—he has not a particle of true faith in him. While he is saying, What can I DO, he is turning away from the gospel testimony. Here we must recur to what has been already said—that faith is objective in its nature. It turns its eye outward, not inward. Its consideration is not what it can draw out of the soul—but what it can draw into it. When Noah was called to be saved from the waters of the deluge, he was to look away from his own resources; when the manslayer fled from the avenger of blood, he was called to look away from his own means of defense; when the serpent-bitten Israelites were saved from the venom of the poisonous serpents, they were called to look away from their own skill in the art of healing; when the cripple that lay at the beautiful gate of the temple asked alms of Peter and John, he was called to look away from his own misery and destitution. Precisely thus it is with the sinner seeking justification, he must look away from himself; and it is the especial business of faith, to lead him away from himself.

If justification were by works, he must be intent upon himself—look into his soul—calculate his resources—measure his ability. This is the course of multitudes—until they come to have a clearer view of God's way of saving them. Their whole attention is concentrated on themselves, they think of nothing but themselves. But when taught by the Spirit of God, all is changed, they now see and feel that they are nothing, and can do nothing for their own justification. They find they are in debt by millions, and have nothing to pay; that they are condemned by the law, and have no means of averting the sentence; that they are hungry and have no bread; sick and no medicine. This is a glorious achievement of faith, to reveal to the sinner his utter poverty and helplessness—to strip him of all his proud self-sufficiency and independence—to bring him to a deep sense of his helplessness and hopelessness.

But let it be still remembered, he is not even when brought thus far, arrived at the point of safety. He may believe all this, and perish after all. This is faith—but of a vague, general, incomplete nature; and if it stops here, it would not constitute a real reception of the gospel.

3. Faith confides fully and unhesitatingly in Christ. It not only sees there is no righteousness any where else—but it sees there is righteousness alone in Christ. Faith not only leads a man to look away from self—but to look to Christ. Noah not only looked away from his own resources—but he looked to, entered into, the ark with confidence, for he believed God's word. The manslayer not only looked away from his own strength—but looked to the city of refuge, and fled to it with confidence of safety. The serpent-bitten Israelites not only looked away from their own skill in the art of healing—but looked to the brazen serpent with confidence. The cripple not only looked away from himself—but gave heed to Peter and John, expecting with confidence to receive alms. In all these cases, there was confidence, reliance, expectation—in short, a true, firm belief of the reality and sufficiency of the promised relief. Not only a sense of need and of utter helplessness and hopelessness in themselves—but an assured, hopeful, peace-giving dependence upon the provision of God's mercy in Jesus Christ.

So it is with him who really credits the gospel—he looks away from self, and concentrates all his attention upon Christ. There is in his mind such a belief of the Divine testimony concerning him, as leads him by an act of the will, to commit his soul with perfect confidence into the hands of Christ! Such a confidence not only renounces the sinner's own righteousness—but receives and depends upon Christ's! It not only says– "I cannot be accepted for my own works," but– "I can be accepted in the beloved." In turning away from self, and rejecting all self-righteousness—it does not stand in blank desolation, in ignorant solicitude, in hopeless despondency—looking here and there in vain for a tower of help. But it sees direct before its eye the cross of Christ rising up in all its grandeur and glory, as the sole means of reconciliation with God! It hears the voice of love and mercy issuing from it– "Look unto me and be saved!" It feels hope, springing up within the bosom, of acceptance with God, and exultingly exclaims– "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance—that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners!" "He is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him." "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded he is able to keep that which I now commit to him." This—this is faith—justifying faith—saving faith; committing the soul to Christ—confidence in Christ.

Thus the soul goes outside of itself—into Christ. It is thus united to him; and in virtue of that blessed union, obtains an interest in all that is in him, for the salvation of his people. Now, the merit of Christ's obedience unto death, passes over to the account and benefit of the person who is thus brought into vital union with him. Now, the member receives all the vital influence of the Divine Head to which it is joined. Now, the branch derives the life of the true vine into which it is grafted. Now, the stone receives the support of the sure foundation on which it rests.

These are your doings, heaven-bestowed faith! These are your triumphs and your trophies—precious faith, wondrous gift of God! The prison door has been broken open—the fetter has been struck off from the condemned criminal—the sentence of death has been cancelled—the royal clemency has been bestowed—and the pardoned man, redeemed by sovereign grace, walks abroad, singing as he goes– "There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus! Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God!"

We are now prepared to see the force, as well as the meaning, of the apostle's language already quoted– "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace." Rom. 4:16, and also of the parallel passage– "By grace you are saved through faith." Ephes. 2:8. GRACE means free favor on God's part—as opposed to debt. What is owed in the way of justice, cannot possibly be given in the way of grace.

Salvation is all of grace from beginning to end. It is grace viewed as a whole, and grace in all its details. Election is of grace. Regeneration is of grace. Sanctification is of grace. Preservation is of grace. Justification is of grace. So says the apostle– "That being justified freely by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." Titus 3:7. How clearly and impressively does grace appear in this method of our pardon, and reception into the favor of God—by the mere belief of Divine mercy—the mere act of confiding ourselves into the hands of Christ. That one act of confidence makes and marks the wondrous transition from a state of condemnation—to a state of justification! No lengthened service carried on through a series of years—no toilsome pilgrimages—no bodily macerations—no munificent offerings—no ascetic performances—no lofty moralities—no rigid self-denials—in which the mind may boast, and say– "See what I have done to merit the favor of God!"

No! Nothing of the sort– "ONLY BELIEVE" is the language of Christ. Can there be anything less meritorious—anything which more clearly demonstrates that it is all of grace, than this unmeritorious condition of our acceptance with God? And yet, can anything more honor God? What confidence in his truthfulness, mercy, and love, does that act of committal imply. To throw ourselves upon his promise, whatever may have been the number and aggravation of our sins—even at the last hour—it may be after a long life began and continued in crime, like that of the penitent thief upon the cross—to believe that God's mercy can and will reach us there—to be confident that—

"The guilt of twice ten thousand sins
One moment takes away!"

O what a triumphant confidence in the mercy of God, and the efficacy of the Savior's blood! It exalts God as high—just as it lays the sinner low!

But here we just stop to meet and remove an objection. "How," say some– "can justification be of grace, if it is granted to us for the sake of an atonement? Does not the idea of a satisfaction to God's justice, destroy the idea of free favor?" Not at all. If the atonement were made by the offender himself enduring the full penalty of the law, his deliverance would be a matter of right, and there would be no grace in it. Or if the sufferings of another could avail for the offender, and he himself were to provide the substitute, and it were a substitute which the injured party were under any obligation to receive, and could not honorably or equitably refuse—his deliverance in that case also might be matter of right, and there might be no grace in it. Or, if God were by any consideration of justice obliged to provide a substitute, and to send his Son to die as an atonement for us, grace would be excluded.

But when the whole scheme was a matter of pure Divine benevolence—when God might have punished the sinner in his own proper person, and not have allowed of substitution at all—when he freely gave Him up to die upon the cross for us—and when this was in no sense designed to render him appeased—but only to harmonize his mercy with his justice, grace is as rich, as full, as free, as if no atonement had been necessary. No, grace shines out, a thousand times brighter through the medium of the cross, than it would have done without it. How rich, how wonderful that mercy, which, when there seemed no way for its consistent manifestation except by the death of Christ– "Spared him not—but freely gave him up for us all." The cross of Jesus, while it is the meridian glory of Divine justice, is no less the noon-tide splendor of Divine mercy also.

The view we have taken of justification enables us to correct some errors which have been entertained upon the subject. We see the preposterous absurdity of the antinomian notion of eternal justification. A believer, they say, is justified from all eternity, because he is elected to this state. On this principle he was created from all eternity. This is such an utter confusion of God's purposes and his acts, that it is a wonder such an offspring of human folly should ever have existed. If we are justified by faith, how can we have been justified before it?

Equally erroneous are they who would in any sense hold the 'merit of human actions' in the sight of God, as is the case with the Roman Catholic Church. The following are the decrees of the Council of Trent, the last General Council of the Roman Catholic Church, and therefore the perpetual law of that apostate religion– "If anyone shall say that men are justified either by the imputation of Christ's righteousness alone, or only by the remission of sins, to the exclusion of grace and charity, which is poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit, and which is inherent in them; or that the grace by which we are justified is the favor of God alone—let him be accursed!"

"If anyone shall say that the good works of a justified man, are in such sense, the gift of God, that they are not also his worthy merits; or, that he being justified by his good works, which are wrought by him through the grace of God, and the merit of Jesus Christ, of whom he is a living member, does not really DESERVE increase of grace, eternal life, the enjoyment of that eternal life, if he dies in a state of grace; and even an increase of glory—let him be accursed!"

Such, and so awful and daring, is the contradiction of that dreadful religion—to the plain letter and pervading spirit of the Word of God. This is the corner-stone in the foundation of that huge fabric of falsehood and error!

Perhaps it will be thought by some that the language of the apostle James, in which he seems to contradict Paul, sustains the doctrine of the church of Rome. In reply to this we say, if both were inspired, there can be no real contradiction between them. There must be a medium to be found somewhere. True it is that Paul says– "A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law;" and equally true that James says– "That by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." It will be noticed at once by any reflecting mind that the two apostles have two different classes of people in view. One of them—the class to whom Paul addresses himself, consisted of the Judaising zealots who perverted the gospel by insisting upon the works of the law as the ground of justification. The other class—to whom James addressed himself, consisted of those who abused the doctrine of justification by faith alone, to sanction the neglect of duty and the performance of good works. And moreover, as the two writers deal with two classes of people, so they discuss two subjects—Paul is speaking of the justification of a sinner—James the justification of a Christian. Paul uses the word justification in its own generally accepted meaning of receiving the sinner into a state of favor and acceptance with God—James uses it in application to the Christian in the sense of his being approved as a believer. Paul shows how a man becomes justified—James shows the necessity of works to prove the reality of his faith, or to demonstrate that a man is a believer. So that there is no contradiction—but the most entire harmony between them; and neither Paul nor James affords any countenance to the fundamental and destructive error of the Church of Rome—that the pardon of a sinner is by the works of the law.

But the view given of justification by faith reveals also the Puseyite error of baptismal justification. This, as we have already hinted, is a commonly received opinion among the Tractarian party, that the grace communicated by priestly hands in baptism, conveys remission of sins—as well as regeneration. Yet is it somewhat difficult to conceive how sins can be remitted before they are committed, if we except original sin. I submit with deference whether baptismal justification is not necessarily implied in the sponsorial service of the Church of England, as performed in the baptism of infants. In that service the sponsor personates the child, and believes for, or in the name of, the infant. The child believes thus by proxy; in other words, he exercises faith through his representative. Now the Word of God assures us that faith and justification are ever united; consequently the infant is in all cases justified as well as regenerated in baptism. The priest obtains and confers regeneration, while the sponsor obtains and confers justification. At least, this is how it strikes me.

How have men by their traditions made void God's ordinances. In what clouds and darkness have they veiled his glorious doctrine of justification by faith. How have human systems been thrust between the sinner and the cross, and the eye which should see nothing but the latter, has been made to rest upon the former; and the poor benighted soul is left on the way to eternity to stumble over the errors which have been cast in his path by those who should be his guide to everlasting life.

How much does this great fundamental Protestant Christian doctrine deserve our attention. This was the means by which apostles converted the world in the beginning of the Christian era. It was the perversion of this truth which called forth that terrible anathema of the apostle– "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be accursed." Gal. 1:8, 9. Why these thunder claps of holy indignation—why these lightning flashes of excited zeal—but to terrify and blast, and strike dead the man who would pervert the doctrine of justification, which Paul thus identifies with the gospel of Christ.

The apostle while he sets open the gate to anyone who would come to the tree of life with simple faith, places this cherub with a flaming sword to repel the daring intruder who would approach to cut it down and plant the 'poisonous tree of error' in its place. This was the doctrine with which Luther, more than by any other means, effected the Reformation of the sixteenth century. This was the doctrine so dear to our Puritan and Nonconformist forefathers; a doctrine which I fear some among us begin to think belonged rather to a Puritan age, than it does to our own. In the religious sentimentalism—in the superstitious formalism—in the subjective mysticism—in the speculative theology—in the demand for, and homage to, talent and genius, which characterize our age, there is a danger of this glorious truth being lost sight of. Protestants, in some instances, are growing tired or ashamed of their Protestantism. The descendants of the Puritans are casting aside their Puritanism; not merely its uncouth phraseology, its scholasticism, its bad taste, and its formal creeds—but its substantial doctrines, its vital piety, and its earnest devotion. The next step in this declension is for Christians to outgrow their Christianity.

We have a modern subjectivity rising up which, as we have already remarked, aims to substitute an intuitional consciousness for simple faith, and to give us an inward light, in place of the objective glory of the Sun of Righteousness. Men are casting off the old nomenclature of the Bible, and with the terminology, will soon give up the theology which it expresses. We are not advocates for much that is antiquated in the divines of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. But still how much of sound theology, of apostolic doctrine, of Scriptural truth, is found under that old-fashioned dress. The noble thoughts and lofty views of such men as Luther and Melancthon, Calvin and Knox, Cartwright and Ainsworth, Howe and Owen—are not to be set aside as worthless and childish—men who studied the Bible in circumstances which, if not so favorable as our own for critical exegesis, were eminently conducive to their obtaining large and comprehensive views, deep experience, and earnest life—men to whom it was likely the secret of the Lord, the mind of the Spirit—would be largely imparted. Let us then hold fast the substantial truths which those men held, not indeed because they held them—but because they are the true sayings of God.

There are not only certain doctrines we cannot part with—but certain terms in which they are expressed, which we must ever retain; and among these is that grand and glorious word, or rather phrase, JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH. O, may there be none among us, to whom, in these modern days, this great Protestant truth when sounded forth from the pulpit begins to savor of an antiquated Puritanism, and who would think that they were retracing their steps to the age of the Covenanters, if found reading or writing a treatise on this momentous topic.

How can the sinner now live—how can the believer now walk, except by faith? The holiness, justice, and mercy of God; the authority of the Divine law; the nature of sin; the mediation of Christ; justification; sanctification– remain upon the pages of revelation like the sun, and the moon, and the stars upon the skies of heaven; and the mountains, and the rivers, and the seas, and the valleys upon the earth—the same through all the changes of society, and all the revolutions of time. The piety of that age will depart, in which justification by faith and sanctification by the Spirit, cease to be the life of men's souls. These are the bread of life, and like the bread of our bodies, though it may be a little improved in the preparation, more separated from the chaff and more finely kneaded, yet must it be the same wheat, however the grinding and winnowing of it may be altered for the better.

How fully, how satisfactorily, and how delightfully does this subject answer the great question, which in all ages has perplexed the troubled conscience, agitated the anxious heart, and baffled the ignorant judgments, of the human race– "How shall man be just with God?" To find an answer to this question all sorts of devices have been invented. Even the heathen have had dim notions of guilt, which have struck their scorpion-stings into their bosoms, for they knew that– "They did things worthy of death." Mysterious presentiments of judgment to come, equally intolerable, inscrutable, and unmitigable, have harrowed up their soul, and forced upon them the solemn inquiry– "What can we bring to the Lord to make up for what we've done? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and tens of thousands of rivers of olive oil? Would that please the Lord? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for the sins of our souls?" Micah 6:6-8. And they have answered the question according to the suggestion of their own fears; and hence the long train of bloody rites, penances, and sacrifices, which superstition has invented, and the idolatrous nations have practised—but without any other effect, than to make them still more guilty and more miserable.

But no sooner do we open the Scriptures of truth, and consult the oracle of God, than all this ignorance is removed from our mind—the yearnings of our heart are satisfied—the perturbations of our conscience are calmed—and we are restored to peace and hope by that wondrous language– "We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-- he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." Romans 3:24-26. There the great and solemn problem is solved—solved in a way that dissipates every fear, and sets the anxious heart at rest. There God appears as just to himself, as he is merciful to us—while he forgives all our sins, receives us to his favor, and treats us as righteous. O, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, in that wondrous scheme, of which the cross is the center and the symbol. Man, though a sinner, just with God; yet at the same time, the law magnified—moral government upheld in all its perfection—and God's attributes of truth, holiness, and justice, no less conspicuously manifested, nor less brightly glorified, than his mercy.

How happy is, or might be, the justified man. What melody, passing all the power of music, whether of earth or heaven, is there in those words already quoted– "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Peace with God now; the glory of God hereafter; and the present rejoicing of hope in prospect of the wondrous, ineffable, inconceivable, future! Such privileges are too deep to sound with mortal lines—too dark, through excessive brightness, to view with feeble sense. It not only does not yet appear what we shall be—but what we are. We can as little comprehend all the present, as we can know all the future. What language can help us to draw out all the privileges contained in that one word– JUSTIFICATION; that one phrase– AN HEIR OF GOD; that one blessing– PEACE WITH GOD?

O you that read these pages—are you justified? Have you good reason to believe that this is your state? Then rejoice—what could worlds of wealth do for you in the way of making you richer or happier than you are? How little—how base—how insignificant—how valueless—do all the objects of human ambition or avarice appear, when put beside these spiritual blessings in heavenly things and places in Christ Jesus. And what are all your sorrows, your cares, and your losses—when viewed in the light of this happy condition? Tell me of your poverty and many privations—I will reply, "Yes, but then, think of your justification!" Tell me of your disappointed hopes and blasted schemes– "Yes, but think of your justification!" Tell me of your change of circumstances and the painful contrast of the present with the past, and all that you once expected for the future– "Yes, but think of your justification!" Tell me of your friends departed, and your now lonely and desolate condition, "Yes, but think of your justification!"

Thus to every tale of want or woe, where that tale comes from the lips of a believer in Christ—I will bring up that one sweet, soothing melody for the troubled spirit– justification by faith! Cast whatever we may into the scale of our afflictions—it is but the small dust of the balance, when set over against this one eternal weight of blessedness that fills the other scale. He who is really pardoned, received to God's favor, delivered from the wrath to come, and entitled to eternal life, should be ashamed to imagine that there is or can be a tear in the eye, which this blessing cannot wipe away—or a pang in the heart, which it cannot assuage. A pardoned criminal—a man just delivered from the prison and the gallows, and raised to the hope of some future glory and honor which are but just before him, may not be supposed to think much of a few present privations and inconveniences– everything is mercy to him. Such, believer, is your condition; and in addition to this, you are going on from the peace of God now—to the glory of God hereafter! This is your song now in your weary pilgrimage– "Grace, grace!" At every step renew that sweet melody! Soon, even that blessed song will be dropped, for one more blessed still, and you will go through eternity, singing– "Glory, glory!"