'Being justified freely by his grace' (Rom. 3:24).
Question: What is justification?
Answer: It is an act of God's free grace, whereby he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us, and received by faith alone.
Justification is the very hinge and pillar of Christianity. An error about justification is dangerous, like a defect in a foundation. Justification by Christ is a spring of the water of life. To have the poison of corrupt doctrine cast into this spring is damnable. It was a saying of Luther, 'that after his death the doctrine of justification would be corrupted.' In these latter times, the Arminians and Socinians have cast a dead fly into this box of precious ointment.
I shall endeavour to follow the star of Scripture to light me through this mysterious point.
I. What is meant by justification?
It is verbum forense, a word borrowed from law-courts, wherein a person arraigned is pronounced righteous, and is openly absolved. God, in justifying a person, pronounces him to be righteous, and looks upon him as if he had not sinned.
What is the source of justification?
The causa, the inward impellant motive or ground of justification, is the free grace of God: 'being justified freely by his grace.' Ambrose expounds this, as 'not of the grace wrought within us, but the free grace of God.' The first wheel that sets all the rest running is the love and favour of God; as a king freely pardons a delinquent. Justification is a mercy spun out of the bowels of free grace. God does not justify us because we are worthy, but by justifying us makes us worthy.
What is the ground, or that by which a sinner is justified?
The ground of our justification is Christ's satisfaction made to his Father. If it be asked, how can it stand with God's justice and holiness to pronounce us innocent when we are guilty? The answer is, that Christ having made satisfaction for our fault, God may, in equity and justice, pronounce us righteous. It is a just thing for a creditor to discharge a debtor of the debt, when a satisfaction is made by the surety.
But how was Christ's satisfaction meritorious, and so sufficient to justify?
In respect of the divine nature. As he was man he suffered, as God he satisfied. By Christ's death and merits, God's justice is more abundantly satisfied than if we had suffered the pains of hell for ever.
Wherein lies the method of our justification?
In the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us. 'This is the name whereby he shall be called, 'Jehovah Tzidkennu, 'the Lord our Righteousness' (Jer. 23:6). 'He is made to us righteousness' (1 Cor. 1:30). This righteousness of Christ, which justifies us, is a better righteousness than the angels'; for theirs is the righteousness of creatures, this of God.
What is the means or instrument of our justification?
Faith. 'Being justified by faith' (Rom. 5:1). The dignity is not in faith as a grace, but relatively, as it lays hold on Christ's merits.
What is the efficient cause of our justification?
The whole Trinity. All the persons in the blessed Trinity have a hand in the justification of a sinner: opera Trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa. God the Father is said to justify. 'It is God that justifieth' (Rom. 8:33). God the Son is said to justify. 'By him all that believe are justified' (Acts 13:39). God the Holy Ghost is said to justify. 'But ye are justified by the Spirit of our God' (1 Cor. 6:11). God the Father justifies, as he pronounces us righteous; God the Son justifies, as he imputes his righteousness to us; and God the Holy Ghost justifies, as he clears up our justification, and seals us up to the day of redemption.
What is the end of our justification?
The end is, (1) That God may inherit praise. 'To the praise of the glory of his grace' (Eph. 1:6). Hereby God raises the everlasting trophies of his own honour. How will the justified sinner proclaim the love of God, and make heaven ring with his praises!
(2) That the justified person may inherit glory. 'Whom he justified, them he also glorified' (Rom. 8:30). God in justifying, not only absolves a soul from guilt, but advances him to dignity: as Joseph was not only loosed from prison, but made lord of the kingdom. Justification is crowned with glorification.
Are we justified from eternity?
No: for, (1) By nature we are under a sentence of condemnation (John 3:18). We could never have been condemned, if we were justified from eternity.
(2) The Scripture confines justification to those who believe and repent. 'Repent, that your sins may be blotted out' (Acts 3:19). Therefore their sins were uncancelled, and their persons unjustified, till they did repent. Though God does not justify us for our repentance, yet not without it. The Antinomians erroneously hold, that we are justified from eternity. This doctrine is a key which opens the door to all licentiousness; for what sins do they care not to commit, so long as they hold they are ab aeterno justified whether they repent or not?
II. Before I come to the uses, I shall lay down four maxims or positions about justification.
 That justification confers a real benefit upon the person justified. The acquitting and discharging of the debtor, by virtue of the satisfaction made by the surety, is a real benefit to the debtor. A robe of righteousness, and a crown of righteousness, are real benefits.
 All believers are alike justified: justificatio non recipit magis et minus. [Justification does not apply to some more than to others.] Though there are degrees in grace, yet not in justification; one is not justified more than another; the weakest believer is as perfectly justified as the strongest; Mary Magdalene is as much justified as the Virgin Mary. This may be a cordial to a weak believer. Though thou hast but a drachm of faith, thou art as truly justified as he who is of the highest stature in Christ.
 Whomsoever God justifies, he sanctifies. 'But ye are sanctified, but ye are justified' (1 Cor. 6:11). The Papists caluminate Protestants; they report them to hold that men continuing in sin are justified; whereas all our Protestant writers affirm, that righteousness imputed, for justification, and righteousness inherent, for sanctification, must be inseparably united. Holiness indeed is not the cause of our justification, but it is the attendant; as the heat in the sun is not the cause of its light, but it is the attendant. It is absurd to imagine that God should justify a people, and they should still go on in sin. If God should justify a people and not sanctify them, he would justify a people whom he could not glorify. A holy God cannot lay a sinner in his bosom. The metal is first refined, before the king's stamp is put upon it; so the soul is first refined with holiness, before God puts the royal stamp of justification upon it.
 Justification is inamissibilis; it is a fixed permanent thing, it can never be lost. The Arminians hold an apostasy from justification; to-day justified, tomorrow unjustified; to-day a Peter, to-morrow a Judas; today a member of Christ, to-morrow a limb of Satan. This is a most uncomfortable doctrine. Justified persons may fall from degrees of grace, they may leave their first love, they may lose God's favour for a time, but not lose their justification. If they are justified they are elected; and they can no more fall from their justification than from their election. If they are justified they have union with Christ; and can a member of Christ be broken off? If one justified person may fall away from Christ, all may; and so Christ would be a head without a body.
Use one: See from hence, that there is nothing within us that could justify, but something without us; not any righteousness inherent, but imputed. We may as well look for a star in the earth as for justification in our own righteousness. The Papists say we are justified by works; but the apostle confutes it, for he says, 'not of works, lest any man should boast' (Eph. 2:9). The Papists say, 'the works done by an unregenerate man indeed cannot justify him, but works done by a regenerate man may justify.' This is most false, as may be proved both by example and reason.
(1) By example. Abraham was a regenerate man; but Abraham was not justified by works, but by faith. Abraham 'believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness' (Rom. 4:3). (2) By reason. How can those works justify us which defile us? 'Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags' (Is. 64:6). Bona opera non praecedunt justificationem, sed sequuntur justificatum: good works are not an usher to go before justification, but a handmaid to follow it.
But does not the apostle James say that Abraham was justified by works?
The answer is easy. Works declare us to be righteous before men, but they do not make us righteous before God. Works are evidences of our justification, not causes. The only name graven upon the golden plate of Christ our High Priest must be, the Lord our Righteousness.
Use two: Of exhortation. (1) Adore the infinite wisdom and goodness of God that found out a way to justify us by 'rich grace and precious blood.' We were all involved in guilt; none of us could plead not guilty; and being guilty, we lay under a sentence of death. Now that the judge himself should find out a way to justify us, and the creditor himself contrive a way to have the debt paid, and not distress the debtor, should fill us with wonder and love. The angels admire the mystery of free grace in this new way of justifying and saving lost man (1 Pet. 1:12), and should not we, who are nearly concerned in it, and on whom the benefit is devolved, cry out with the apostle, 'O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!'
(2) Labour for this high privilege of justification. There is balm in Gilead; Christ has laid down his blood as the price of our justification; and he offers himself and all his merits to us, to justify; he invites us to come to him; he has promised to give his Spirit, to enable us to do what is required. Why then, sinners, will ye not look after this great privilege of justification? Why starve in the midst of plenty? Why perish when there is a remedy to save you? Would not he be thought to be distracted, who having a pardon offered him, only upon the acknowledgment of his fault, and promising amendment, should bid the prince keep his pardon to himself; for his part, he was in love with his chains and fetters, and would die? Thou who neglectest justification offered thee freely by Christ in the gospel art this infatuated person. Is the love of Christ to be slighted? Is thy soul, is heaven worth nothing? Oh then look after justification through Christ's blood!
Consider (1) The necessity of being justified. If we are not justified, we cannot be glorified. 'Whom he justified, them he also glorified' (Rom. 8:30). He who is outlawed, and all his goods confiscated, must be brought into favour with his prince before he can be restored to his former rights and liberties; so, we must have our sins forgiven, and be brought into God's favour by justification, before we can be restored to the liberty of the sons of God, and have a right to that happiness we forfeited in Adam. (2) The utility and benefit. By justification we enjoy peace in our conscience; a richer jewel than any prince wears in his crown. 'Being justified by faith, we have peace with God' (Rom. 5:1). Peace can sweeten all our afflictions, it turns our water into wine. How happy is a justified person who has the power of God to guard him, and the peace of God to comfort him! Peace flowing from justification is an antidote against the fear of death and hell. 'It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth' (Rom. 8:33, 34)? Therefore labour for this justification by Christ. This privilege is obtained by believing in Christ. 'By him all that believe are justified' (Acts 13:39). 'Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood' (Rom. 3:25). Faith unites us to Christ; and having union with his person we partake of his merits, and the glorious salvation which comes by him.
Use three: Comfort to the justified. (1) It is comfort in case of failings. Alas! how defective are the godly! they come short in every duty; but though believers should be humbled under their defects, they should not despond. They are not to be justified by their duties or graces, but by the righteousness of Christ. Their duties are mixed with sin, but that righteousness which justifies them is a perfect righteousness.
(2) Comfort in case of hard censures. The world censures the people of God as proud and hypocritical, and the troublers of Israel; but though men censure and condemn the godly, yet God has justified them, and as he has now justified them, so at the day of judgment he will openly justify them, and pronounce them righteous before men and angels. God is so just and holy a judge, that having once justified his people he will never condemn them. Pilate justified Christ, saying, 'I find no fault in him;' yet after this he condemned him; but God having publicly justified his saints, he will never condemn them; for 'whom he justified, them he also glorified.'