Thoughts Upon the Date of Justification

     Gospel justification is an act of the gracious will of God, by which the elect are constituted completely and immutably just, or righteous, in Christ Jesus, by the imputation of his righteousness to. their persons. Union with the glorious Mediator is the basis upon which it rests; as no man is justified who is not united to him, so no man is unjustified who is united to him. We have no authority whatever in the Holy Scriptures, to say either that a person who is not in him is righteous, or that one who is in him is unrighteous: it is in him that all the seed of Israel are justified; because in him they have righteousness. 

     Justification is an article of the utmost importance, because an article in which both the honour of God, and the felicity of his people, are deeply interested, and firmly united; we should, therefore, neither think of it with indifference, nor treat it with lightness; but contemplate it with the greatest solemnity, and discuss it with the utmost care. No part of it is trivial; all the circumstances attending it are of moment:-of such moment, that the omission of but one of them would have entirely changed the nature of the wondrous scheme-would have diminished both the glory arising from it to God who justifies, and the bliss which it affords to man who is justified. 

     The dates of very important human transactions are, in general, of considerable consequence, therefore particular regard is paid to them; and when such transactions are made public, accurate specifications of their dates appear. Now, as no transactions, which are human and earthly, are equal in importance to those of the Most High; as among all his wonderful works, no one makes a more noble figure upon the scale of importance, than this of justification; and as the same infallible wisdom which formed the scheme of it, superintended its publication, we cannot give a moment's indulgence to the thought, that in the mirror of divinely inspired revelation, its date is attended with obscurity. 

     It is affirmed above, that union with Christ is the foundation of justification; by this position we must abide until force-force of evidence, that it is erroneous,-compels us to retreat. Now to the law and to the testimony. "Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us righteousness."

     The same glorious person who has fixed us in Christ, has made him our righteousness. Who will undertake to prove that he did not do both at the same instant? But more will be said upon this subject in its proper place; my present business is, to inquire after the date of our union with the Saviour, and when that is ascertained, we shall soon perceive, whether time or eternity marks the date of our justification.

     Some divines of high respectability, have represented the union of the elect with Christ, as commencing with their faith in him; and others have considered faith as the efficient cause of this union, affirming that it unites them to him. Though I hope always to pay all due respect to men of learning, of talents, and of eminence in the church of Christ, yet I cannot persuade myself to place implicit confidence in them, and to embrace what they advance, without proving it by the scriptures of truth; and having brought the above sentiments to this test, and maturely considered them, I confess, that, to me, they appear erroneous. 

     It is, I think, evident beyond all contradiction, that union with Christ has the precedence of faith in him; and the subsequent arguments, each of which is founded upon scripture, will, it is hoped, support this sentiment. 

     No sinner can truly believe in God our Saviour, prior to his regeneration. Living faith is the effect of spiritual life, but no unregenerate person has spiritual life; therefore, no unregenerate person has living faith. The accuracy of this argument is evinced by the words of our Lord: "he that liveth and believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live. "Here spiritual life is the antecedent, faith the consequent, and eternal life the promised portion of the man who lives and believes. Again, as faith and hope are kindred graces inseparably connected, and as the one cannot exist without the other, they must arise from the same principle; and as men are begotten again by the Father of mercies to a lively hope, they must be also begotten again by him to a lively faith; there must be a divine operation in the soul, before there can be either power or inclination to believe; or else faith would be of ourselves, and the following scriptures would be untrue: "Thou hast wrought all our works in us." It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do.  "The faith of the operation of God. "The fruit of the Spirit is faith." 

     Antecedent to any gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, the divine almighty agent by° whom the work of faith is begun and carried on with power, there must be a communication of him, from the head of the church, in whom it hath pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell: all fulness of the Holy Ghost, as well as of grace and of glory. It would not be consonant to either scripture or reason, to say that the work of grace is begun in any man before the Spirit of grace is communicated to him. We learn from the divine pages, those infallible oracles, whose voice is decisive, and from whose authority there can be no appeal, that sinners dead in trespasses and sins, are represented under the striking emblems of bones dead and dry, and that the divine Spirit, figuratively called wind and breath, must really blow upon them, and enter into them, before they can live spiritually; that to convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, the Spirit of truth must come; that the gracious Redeemer, for the very purpose of making his words known to the simple, pours out his Spirit upon them; that the Comforter, in order to guide us into all truth, to testify of Christ, to take of his and shew it unto us, and to diffuse his divine delights through our sorrowful souls, must be with us, must be in us; that the children of God, that they may know their adoption, and cry abba, Father, have the Spirit of the Son sent into their hearts; and that before the unbelieving, impenitent, and prayerless, can believe, repent, and pray, the Spirit of grace and supplication is poured out upon them. Is it possible to resist, with effect, the profusion of evidence which is poured in upon us, by prophets, by apostles, and by the Lord of both? No, we are compelled to believe, confess, and declare, that the divine Spirit must be imparted by Christ to his people, and that he must really dwell in them, prior to their regeneration. Reason too, ever in unison with the divine pages, declares that when and wherever a work of any kind is performed, the agent who performs it must be present. 

     The man who formed this sheet of paper upon which I now write was present, at the time when, and the place where it was made; had be been absent, he could not have been the maker of it. Nor, in the nature of things, can the Holy Spirit be the author of 'any gracious operation in the soul of man, unless he be present there. And as previous to the work of the Holy Ghost in the highly favoured vessels of infinite mercy, there must be a communication of him to them, so prior to any such communication there must be a union between them, and the illustrious person, by whom he is gratuitously imparted.

     Christ is styled the vine, and his people are called the branches; he is denominated the head, and they are termed his body. This is figurative language, and the figures which are here introduced, being selected, from the almost infinite variety of the boundless store of nature, selected by that wisdom which framed the universe; invented the numberless species of creatures; formed every figure in the animal and vegetable worlds; endued the various creatures with their respective qualities; gave laws to universal nature, laws which no power inferior to omnipotence can change; and appointed that astonishing series of causes and effects, which runs all through the endless race of beings which his hands have made;  I cannot imagine, that there is any error in the choice of them, or that they are inadequate to the divine design in employing them which design was nothing less, than to shew the reality, the nature, and the effects, of that amazing union, which there is betwixt himself and his people. The branch is one with the vine, and the body is one with the head, but not more truly so than Christ and his people are one. The branch, in consequence of its union with the vine, receives from its sap, life, vigour, foliage, and fruitfulness; and the body through union with the head derives from it life and influence: just so the people of God receive the Holy Spirit, divine life, vigour, influence, fruitfulness, and beauty, from Jesus Christ, the true vine and their ever-living and all glorious head.

     Without union there could be no communication of sap and life to the branch, nor of sense and influence to the body. In philosophy it would be deemed quite inaccurate to say, that the branch independent of, and before the commencement of its union with the vine, while it lay withered, dead, and dry, at a distance from the vine received from it a supply of sap, by which means it was raised to vegetable life, and endued with prolific power, and that the fruit which it brought forth united it to, and made it one with the vine. Why then should it be thought accurate in theology, to say, that antecedent to their union with Christ the elect receive the Holy Spirit from him, in consequence of which they live and bear fruit, and that by the fruit which they bring forth they are united to him?

     We frequently hear that faith unites us to Christ, and that we become one with him by faith. Prayer is not faith a fruit which is brought forth by persons who are born of God; a fruit of the divine Spirit produced in them, by his regenerating power and fructifying grace? Is it then correct; is it not rather absurd, unscriptural, untrue to say, that it unites us to him who says, "as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in me; for without, or severed from me, ye can do nothing?"  Our Lord, in these words, plainly shews, that our fruit is not the cause of our union with him, but the effect, and that our union with him is the cause of all the gracious communications which we receive from him; all the delightful communion which we have with him; and all our spiritual fruitfulness toward God. We are first united to him by a free act of stupendous, matchless love; then we receive the Holy Spirit from him; then we are regenerated, according to his eternal purpose, "who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will;" and then we bring forth the fruit of faith, and all other fruit connected with it. In this order the only wise God proceeds to make his chosen people fruitful; to humble the pride of man, and to display the riches of his own stupendous wisdom and love. In this divine procedure, all is order, all is harmony, all is beauty. Here the ineffable lustre of eternal wisdom and love meets our eyes, and commands our adoring admiration. Yet in this, as well as in other branches of his inimitable conduct, the Supreme stands corrected by his creatures, who, both in their ideas, and their language, entirely invert this order; and very gravely assure us, that we first believe, and then our faith becomes the efficient cause of our union with Jesus: thus the cause is changed into the effect, and the effect into the cause; while the dark veil of human confusion conceals divine order and beauty from our view.

     Perfectly satisfied that union with the head of the church is a precious privilege which exists prior to faith, regeneration, and the impartation of the divine Spirit; we should still proceed in our enquiries after the precise date of it. With the divine records, those infallible guides in our hands, we may advance in our researches beyond the utmost boundaries of time, and enter into eternity; may pry, without presumption, into those mysterious deeps, which, during eternal ages, lay concealed in the infinite mind of the Almighty, but are now made known to the sons of men, in the holy volume of inspiration. Here we read the ancient thoughts of our heavenly Father thoughts of love and peace, of pardon and salvation. Here we view, recorded, with un-impeached integrity, and minute exactness, those amazing transactions of the Godhead, in which all human salvation is found; and from which, as from an immense ocean of delight, flow all those ample streams of strong consolation, which gladden the heirs of promise, in this vale of temptation and distress. Here we are told, that we were chosen by the Father of mercies in Christ Jesus; that we had grace given us in him; that a promise of eternal life was given us by him who cannot lie; and that all this was done before the foundation of the world. In the detail of these eternal transactions; we behold the date of our union with God, the Son, written in characters the most legible. Upon what ground shall we resist this evidence of the eternity of our union with the Saviour; or by what means shall we invalidate this divine proof of eternal interest in him?

     Chosen in him, blessed in him, made partakers of grace in him, in eternity; and yet no union with him, no interest in him till the arrival of certain periods of time. It cannot be if we were chosen in him in eternity, we were then united to him, and made one with him; and if we were eternally blessed with all spiritual blessings in him, we must have been eternally interested in him. A title to the riches of his fulness is founded upon interest in him; interest in him is established upon union with him; and union with him stands upon election in him. God, in his infinite wisdom, and absolute sovereignty, has joined these things together; let no man endeavour to put them asunder. Again, as the love of God to his people centres in Jesus; as he does not love them but as in him considered; and as he loved them before the foundation of the world, they must have been in him before the foundation of the world. Moreover, as Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, in all his covenant relations to his church; and as he is now her head and representative, he must have been so before the commencement of time, and she must have been one with him from of old, from everlasting. As in the natural womb, the head and the members are not conceived apart, but in union with each other, so Christ and the church were conceived in the eternal mind, as head and body in perfect union. In that glorious act of sovereign grace, election; head and members were chosen for each other: were chosen as one. 

     But the elect fell in Adam. Granted: but did they fall out of Christ when they fell in him? No, he who sanctified, choose, or set them apart for himself, preserved them in him to be called. So that although they suffered much by that awful event, they still stood firm in Christ, and their interest in the special love and favour of God, in him, continued immutable. 

     To conclude this part of the subject; God, according to his sovereign good will and pleasure, and for his own everlasting praise, did, at once, fix his unchangeable love upon his people; choose them in Christ; firmly unite them to him; and make them one with him. Divine eternal love was the impulsive cause, and is the everlasting bond of this blissful union: we may therefore say of Christ and his church, from everlasting to everlasting they are one.

     And now we have found the date of our union with Christ, we are not far from that of our justification in him; for union with him, and justification in him are kindred blessings in the closest connexion, and incapable of separation. They are effects of the same cause, are granted to the same persons, and are stamped with the same date. Let my opponent prove the contrary if he can. But to shew how a person can be in Christ, and be, notwithstanding, unjustified will, it is thought, be a task too difficult for him to perform. All who are united to him are the righteousness of God in him; and if of God we are in him, he of God is made unto us righteousness. 

     Justification is a simple act of the divine eternal mind, or the absolute determination of God not to impute sin to his people, and to place the righteousness of Christ to their account. Deny the eternity of this determination, and where is the immutability of deity? Can it be said, with truth, that new resolutions are formed in the mind of God, and yet that he is unchangeable? Surely not, for in that very moment in which he forms a new design, mutability attaches to his character, and his glory is tarnished. Let us then be careful, not to maintain a favourite notion at the expense of our Maker's glory. He is the Lord; he changes not. His thoughts, his counsels, his purposes and decrees, are, like the perfections of his nature, without the shadow of a change. 

     Eternal justification has been termed eternal nonsense. But why this odious epithet? Is it thought absurd that a person should be justified before the commencement of his existence? Why then not think it absurd, that a person should be elected prior to his existence? There is no more absurdity in the former than there is in the latter: that as well as this, being a pure act of the divine will. 

     Sanctification, indeed, requires the real existence of the person to be sanctified; because that is a work performed in him by an act of Almighty power; but justification, being an act of the divine will passed in a man's favour, and concerning his eternal state, it no more requires his existence when it is passed, than that act of the same sovereign will which appointed Cyrus to release the captive Jews required his existence, when he was ordained to that work: it is, therefore, audacious impudence to call it eternal nonsense.

     The apostle Paul speaks of justification and election as in the closest connexion. "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. "Here he represents the elect as justified; does he speak of all the elect, or only a part of them? Doubtless of the whole; for had he spoken of a part only, he would certainly have specified the part intended. He does not say, who shall lay anything to the charge of a part of the elect, or those of the elect who believe? It is God that justifieth them; though that would have been a truth; but who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect; without either limitation or distinction; intimating that all the elect are justified, and that they are justified as persons elected. Now if they are justified as God's elect, their justification must be eternal; because they were his elect in eternity. It will be difficult to find a justified person who is not elected, and it will be no less difficult to find an elect person who is not justified in the sight, and in the account of God. 

     The same wise and holy apostle informs us, that '° God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. "Now when was he in Christ doing this? Perhaps, some will reply, when Christ was suspended upon the cross; when he poured out his soul unto death; and when he made atonement for sin; then the Father was in him reconciling the world of his people to himself. What, not before? Pray what was he doing when he set up his Son from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was; when he laid help upon him, who is mighty to save; when the council of peace was between him and that Mighty One; and when he made the everlasting covenant of grace with him? Was he not then reconciling his chosen to himself? Did he not then appoint his beloved Son to bear all the sins, which they should in time commit; and to be the Lord their righteousness? Did he not then transfer the sins of his people, from them to him; and impute his righteousness to them? 

     If it be said that he then purposed to do these things, but did not actually do them; it will be said in reply, that purposing and doing are the same with God, when a simple act of his will only is concerned, and an operation of his might is not employed. The non-imputation of sin and the imputation of righteousness, are not acts of his power, but merely of his will; therefore, his purpose not to impute sin, is the non-imputation of it; and his determination to impute righteousness, is the imputation of it. If then God was in Christ in eternity, purposing, decreeing, or determining, never to impute the sins of his people to them, but to charge them upon Jesus, and always to impute his righteousness to them, it must follow that their sins were never imputed to them, but always stood to the account of the Mediator; and that his righteousness was eternally imputed to them; unless repentance were found in the Almighty, and he relinquished his purpose, and nullified his decree: things utterly incompatible with a mind infinitely remote from the shadow of a change. 

     Again, we read, that-Jesus was made the surety of a better testament. "By the better testament, the apostle means the covenant of grace. Of this Jesus is called the surety. But why the surety of it? Because when it was made between him and his Father in eternity, he engaged his heart to draw nigh unto the Father, to offer himself to him as the surety of his people, to bear their transgressions, and fulfil all righteousness in their stead: which perfectly corresponded with the Father's will, and met his highest approbation. Being accepted by the Father as surety for all the elect, and bound by his own voluntary engagement to be responsible for all their iniquities, and to perform that obedience which the divine law required of them; and thus, at once, to give the most ample satisfaction to divine justice, magnify the law, and make it honourable, and rear everlasting honours to every divine perfection, all their crimes became his, and his obedience became theirs. Nor are these views of the subject at all inconsistent with reason; for it is well known by almost every one, that if a person, possessing ability, offers to become surety for one who is insolvent, proposing to pay out of his own personal estate, the whole of his debt, and to give his creditor full satisfaction; if the creditor accepts him for the debtor, and receives from him a legal bond, there is a real transference of the debt, from the debtor to the surety; and to the debtor there is a transference, equally real, of the payment to be made by the surety; so that the surety absolutely stands debtor to the creditor, as really as if he had himself contracted the whole debt; and the debtor is fully discharged from the imputation of the debt, and from all obligation to payment, or to suffer for non-payment: he is completely exonerated, all his obligations devolve upon his surety, and to him only the creditor looks for satisfaction. We must, therefore, relinquish every just idea of the eternal suretyship engagement of Christ, and conclude that the apostle, when he called him the surety of the better testament, made use of words which were foreign to his ideas, if we deny eternal justification. 

     Moreover, it is written, "God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither bath he seen perverseness in Israel."  Though these words were uttered by a wicked man, yet God put them into his mouth; therefore there is a sense in which they are strictly and literally true. That there is, and always was, iniquity in the people of God, cannot be denied; and that he, with the eyes of his omniscience, always beheld it, must be confessed. How then bath he not seen it in them? Let us view them as eternally chosen in Christ, and standing in him from everlasting; let us consider their sins as imputed to him, and his righteousness as imputed to them, when he became their surety; let us consider the divine Father as beholding them in their covenant head, and spotless representative before the worlds were made; and then we shall not be at a loss for a true comment upon this surprising portion of the holy writ; but we shall clearly see how it is strictly true, that God bath not, at any time, seen with the eyes of his holiness and justice, iniquity in Jacob, nor perverseness in Israel. Eternal justification is the only key to this text; none beside can open it without depreciating its excellency, and eclipsing its glory, and rendering its verity doubtful. 

     Having stated my views of the subject to which you object, I would submit to your consideration the subsequent answers to your objections.

Topics: Hyper-Calvinism Gospel Distinctives
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