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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles

Chapter 43 - Romans 4:3-5 - How Did Abraham Get His Righteousness? Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles by Bonar, Horatius


Justification by faith is a very old doctrine,—one of the oldest dogmas on record. It is as old as Abraham; as old as Abel. The patriarchs knew it well, and lived thereby. It was as believing men that they were justified. The old pagans had not so much as a glimpse of this. It required a divine revelation to communicate even the idea or possibility of it, much more the actual thing.

The apostle goes back to Abraham for his illustration of this free justification, and reminds us that his faith was counted for righteousness, that is, his believing was reckoned instead of his working, in the great question of acceptance. He took God at His word, and in thus honouring Him, "pleased God." Hence the apostle thus strongly puts the matter,—"To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."

I. Who justifies? "It is God that justifieth." The Judge, the Lawgiver, is the Justifier. Self-justification is as useless as it is impossible. To acquit myself is of no avail, unless the law and the lawgiver do the same. I must have my sentence of acquittal or justification from God Himself. It is only His verdict that can satisfy me now, or can avail me in the day of the great reckoning. "Not guilty" from my own hips or from man's lips, will profit nothing; "not guilty" from His lips is altogether sufficient; I need no more to set my soul at rest, and to give me peace of conscience, tranquility of soul.

II. What sort of justification does He give? Man's ideas of justification are vague and low; we must recognize God's thoughts upon the question. His justification is,—

(1.) Righteous. The adjustment of the question between us and God is a righteous adjustment. Its basis is righteousness. Nothing but this would satisfy God or ourselves, or make us feel safe in accepting it in our dealings with a holy God. This righteousness is secured by the full payment of the penalty by a surety or substitute. He does what we should have done; He suffers what we should have suffered; He lives our life, He dies our death, He descends to our grave. Thus He exhausts the penalty, and so makes justification a righteous thing; and our justification is that of men who have suffered the law's full penalty for our sins; our pardon is that of men who, in the person of their substitute, have undergone all that they deserved eternally to undergo. The Just One suffering for the unjust makes the justification of the unjust a just and righteous thing.

(2.) Complete. It extends to our whole persons; to our whole lives; to every sin committed by us. The whole man is justified. It is no half-pardon, no semi-acceptance, that we receive, but something complete and divine; perfect as God can make it; so perfect as to satisfy conscience here, and to stand the test of the judgment seat hereafter. Nothing in us or about us that goes to make up our character as sinners, is left unjustified.

(3.) Irreversible. No second verdict can alter our legal position. God is not a man that He should lie. Pardoned once, then pardoned forever. "Who is he that condemneth?" "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?"

(4.) Divine. It is a justification worthy of God; a justification which shall place the justified on a far higher level than the first Adam stood upon; a justification which can only be likened to that of the Son of God Himself when He rose from the dead, being "justified in the Spirit" (1 Timothy 3:16).

III. For whom is it? For the ungodly. Yes; for such alone. Righteousness for the unrighteous is that which the Righteous One came to bring. In this matter of pardon and acceptance, the principle is not, "To him that hath shall more be given, but to him that hath nothing shall all be given. It is not partial or incipient godliness that attracts this justification to an individual. The only fitness or qualification is our need, our ungodliness, our unrighteousness, total and complete, without one particle of goodness or deservingness. It was for the ungodly that Christ died. It was for the ungodly that this righteousness was provided; and he who thinks to have it on any other footing save that of simple need or in any other character save that of unrighteousness or ungodliness, cannot possibly obtain it. The "good news" which we bring concerning this righteousness is that it is for the ungodly,—for the ungodliest; and he who would qualify or explain away that word ungodly, subverts and denies the whole gospel of the grace of God.

IV. How we get it. By believing. In accepting God's testimony to the righteousness,—in crediting His word concerning this justification,—we are justified at once. The righteousness becomes ours; and God treats us henceforth as men who are righteous, as men who, on account of the righteousness which has thus become theirs, are entitled to be dealt with as righteous, out and out. Of Abraham it is said, "His faith was counted for righteousness"; that is, God counted this believing man as one who had done all righteousness, just because he was a believing man. Not that his act or acts of faith were substituted as equivalent to work, but his believing brought him into the possession of all that working could have done. Thus, in believing, we get the righteousness. Our believing accomplishes for us all that our working could have done. The apostle's words are very bold, and the comparison between the working and believing which they embody, brings out the great distinction between man's thoughts and God's, man's ways and God's, "To him that worketh not, but believeth." We are so apt to mix up the two together, the believing and the working, the believing and the feeling, that it is needful to have a strong statement like this thoroughly to clear up our thoughts, and to prevent confusion. The expression here, "believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly," is another way of expressing the truth, "believing in the Lord Jesus Christ"; for it points us to God, who laid our sins upon His Son, that by this bearing of them, in the person of a divine surety, God might be just, and the Justifier of him who believes.

Come and be justified, is His message to the sinner. Credit my testimony, and be freely pardoned! For our gospel is not, "Do this" or "that," but, Come, reap the fruits of what another has done. Come, and, without working, or waiting, or praying, or feeling, enter into the complete justification of him who believeth!