Biblical Doctrine, Plainly Stated

By William S. Plumer, 1875


I. However much men are divided on the doctrine of justification, they generally seem united in their views of its importance. The Scriptures say much on the subject. It is the leading doctrine of the Epistle to the Romans, and of the Epistle to the Galatians. It is brought forward in the book of Genesis, in the Psalms, and in the last chapter of the Bible.

II. All men are just or unjust. All are saints or sinners; all are godly or ungodly; all are the children of God or the children of the wicked one; all are justified or condemned. All are now in favor with God, or they are out of his favor.

III. I have never seen a better definition than this: "Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sin, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone." This is true and clear.

IV. No man is by nature justified. We are all by nature the children of wrath, even as others. Eph. 2:3. "There is none righteous, no not one." Romans 3:10. The law speaks as it does, "that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God." Romans 3:19. So sad is our case, that "we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities like the wind have taken us away." Isaiah 64:6. Such is the uniform testimony of God's word.

V. Justification is the opposite of condemnation. Throughout the Scriptures these are spoken of as opposite states. Deut. 25:1; Job 9:20; Proverbs 17:15; Matt. 12:37; Romans 5:18. Whatever condemnation is, justification is the opposite; and every man is in one or other of these states.

VI. As no man is justified by nature, so no man is justified by his own works. If any shall do all that is commanded them, they are still bound to say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty." Luke 17:10. No man can do more than his duty, and so the exact performance of present duty cannot cover past sins. The Scripture is clear: "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight." "A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ." "No man is justified by the law in the sight of God." Romans 3:20; Gal. 2:16; 3:11. Angels never sinned. They are justified by law. Until man sinned he was justified by law. This way does not now suit us: "Cursed is everyone that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Gal. 3:10.

VII. God alone justifies. None else can do it. None has power to do it. It is one of God's highest rights. It is his peculiar privilege. He is the Justifier. Romans 3:26. It is God who justifies. Romans 8:33. God is Judge of all the earth. When he condemns, men are lost. When he justifies, none can condemn.

VIII. Man's justification is all of grace, undeserved kindness, unmerited mercy. "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Romans 5:6. "God commends his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8. "When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son." Romans 5:10. Paul says expressly that God "justifies the ungodly." Romans 4:5. That is, in justifying a sinner, the Lord looks on him as in himself lost, guilty, undone. No other scheme would suit us sinners, or be to us good news.

IX. An essential part of justification is the pardon of sin—all sin, original, actual, sin of omission, sin of commission, open sin, secret sin. Pardon and forgiveness are the same thing. By Jesus Christ "all who believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses." Acts 13:39. In God's Word much is said of the pardon of sin, such as casting it into the sea, casting it behind the back, blotting it out, burying it, washing it away, forgetting it, covering it, not imputing it, taking it away, etc. When pardon comes at all it is complete: "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1. The grace shown in the pardon of men's sins is without a parallel.

X. Those who are pardoned are also accepted in the Beloved. Eph. 1:6. These two things are never separated, though we distinguish between them. The great prophet who foretold the finishing of transgression, making an end of sins, and making reconciliation for iniquity, also speaks of bringing in everlasting righteousness. Dan. 9:24. It was a chief desire of Paul that he might "win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ." Phil. 3:8, 9. One of the prophetic names of Christ was, 'The Lord Our Righteousness. Jer. 23:6. "By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." Romans 5:19. Christ is "of God made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." 1 Cor. 1:30. God "has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." 2 Cor. 5:21.

XI. Thus the justification of the believing sinner is complete. Very many times remission is said to be by his blood. Zech. 9:11; Matt. 26:28; Romans 5:9; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Heb, 9:12, 14, 22; 10:9, 20. Very often we are said to be accepted by the righteousness, the obedience of another. These two things are often happily united in Scripture. Paul says, "Even as David also describes the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputes righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." Romans 4:6-8. This justification is complete and irrevocable, and is followed by salvation. Romans 8:32-39. Christ's righteousness is imputed, counted, reckoned to his people for their justification before God. Romans 3:21, 22; 4:3-6, 8-11.

XII. We are made partakers of salvation, and are justified by the righteousness of Christ through faith; even "the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all those who believe." Romans 3:22. Compare Romans 4:14, 16, 18, 24; 5:1.

XIII. The greatness of God's mercy in the justification of sinners is beyond all man's powers of estimation. It will be a theme of thanksgiving in the ages of eternity. It is celebrated in heaven itself. Rev. 5:9-14.

XIV. The wisest thing any sinner can do is to accept from the heart God's Son, and God's way of saving man. "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes." Romans 10:4. And "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." 1 Cor. 3:11. Oh that all would believe!

XV. If these things are so, some may ask, "What, then, was the purpose of the law" Gal. 3:19. The answers are clear:

1. By the law is the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20.

2. Justified men need a rule to direct their steps.

3. The law is in many cases useful in restraining men's corruptions.

4. Right views of the law show us our ill desert, and so lead us to behave meekly and humbly under afflictions.

5. God has so arranged the plan of salvation that a loving obedience to the precepts of the law meets with divine acceptance and a gracious reward. "We know that the law is good, if a man uses it lawfully." 1 Tim. 1:8.