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THE GRACE OF GOD IN THE JUSTIFICATION OF THE BELIEVER.
ROMANS iv. 4, 5.
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace,
but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justificth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
The apostle, in these words, teaches us, that the reward of eterhal life comes to fallen men, not in a way of works, but in a way of faith; and that consequently it is of grace, not of debt. He makes a distinction between him who worketh, and him who, working not, believeth in God who justifieth the ungodly. To the former, he says, the reward is reckoned of debt, not of the latter faith is imputed for justification; and if this is of faith, then it is by grace.
There are several things in the text, which are worthy of our attention.
I. The apostle's meaning, in the distinction between works and faith, will properly be the subject of our first enquiry.
To deny the necessity, or to exclude the influence of works in our salvation, cannot be his intention ; for this would be contrary to the uniform tenor of his doctrine in all his writings. Though we are not saved by works; yet he says, we are created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God hath ordained, that we
should walk in them.” This he constantly affirmy, “that they who have believed in God, ought carefully to maintain good works.” Works of piety to God, and of righteousness to men, are in their nature obligatory, and can no more be dispensed with, than our relation to God as creatures and dependents, and our relation to men as fellow-creatures and brethren, can be dissolved If we are to love God with all our hearts, we are to serve him with a willing mind. If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we are to do good to them as we have opportunity. Love to God will prompt us to obey him, for this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. Charity to men will excite us, in our various relations, to render to every one his due; for all the law is fulfilled in this one precept, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” To talk of being saints, believers, converts, or regenerate, without a regard to good works, is the same absurdity, as to talk of pleasing God without doing his will-of going to heaven without a heavenly temper-of being godly without likeness to God-or christians without an imitation of Christ.
The gospel lays as much weight on good works, as on faith. It considers the former as the fruits of the latter, and as what render it perfect. By him, therefore, who worketh not, but believeth in God, the apostle cannot intend one, who, living in the neglect of good works, relies on the mercy of God to justify him, and thus expects to be saved by his faith. Such a man as this never has believed in God.
Farther; When Saint Paul excludes works, he must have some other meaning, than merely to exclude the merit of works; for, in this view, he might as well exclude faith; there being no more merit in the one, than in the other. Faith, in distinction from works or from the deeds of the law, is made a term of our justification. “We are justified by faith without the deeds of the law." To say that we are justified without the merit of these deeds, certainly does not amount to the apostle's design; for this is to say no more than what may be said of faith and every other grace. Even an innocent being can merit no reward from his Maker. After every work which he has done, he is an unprofitable servant. From the justice of God he can elaim no more, than an exemption from positive evil; or such an existence as is, on the whole, desirable. If he receives a complete and everlasting reward, he receives it from the goodness, not from the justice of God; for justice is not bound thus to reward him. Now if an innocent being merits nothing by his works of righteousness, much less does a guilty creature merit pardon in this life, and eternal glory in the next, by his repentance of sin, and faith in the mercy of God. So that, in regard to merit, there is no room for the opposition which the gospel makes, between faith and works.
By him that worketh, then, in distinction from him that believeth, the apostle must intend him who performs those works which denominate him completely righteous in the construction of the law; or him who obeys the law perfectly without defect, or transgression. He is said to work in the sense of the law, who works as the law requires. And the law, in the nature of it, requires perfection. For a law to allow transgression is a contradiction. Thus far, it would cease to be a law. The Divine law enjoins every virtue, and forbids all unrighteousness; and it condemns, without any intimation of mercy, every one who continues not in all things written therein to do them.
To him who thus works, if such a one could be found to him who thus perfectly obeys God's perfect law, the reward is reckoned, not of grace, but of debt—not as bestowed according to the gracious plan of the gospel, but as due according to the strict tenor of the law, which says, “ The man who doth the things required, shall live by them.” If a man perfectly obeys God, he may, from the purity and equity of the Divine character and government, conclude that he shall be treated as innocent and righteous. He is in no danger of punishment, for he deserves none; and he seeks no pardon, for he needs none. Whatever good is by promise annexed to obedience, all this is his due-he is entitled to it-he has no occasion for that faith, which looks to God as justifying the ungodly, for he is righteous in himself. He stands approved on the foot of his own works. He needs no justification, for he never was under condemnation.
This is the man intended, when the apostle speaks of him who works in distinction from him who believes. Whenever works are opposed to faith, and excluded from a concern in our salvation, such works are meant as the law requires—such as import perfection. These are not, and cannot be, the terms of our justification ; for we have no such works. If we had them, we should need no justification. If we never had offended, in heart or life, our own righteousness would be our defence; we should have no occasion for the righteousness of another. “By the deeds of the law,” says the apostle, “shall no flesh be justified, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” We cannot be justified by the deeds, which the law requires, for we have not done these deeds; but we must be justified by that faith, which rests on the mercy of God to pardon the ungodly. The apostle does not reject the deeds of the law, because he disapproves them, but because they are not to be found; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. If then they are saved, it must be on the ground of a better and more perfect righteousness than their own. For,
II. We observe, in the text, they, whom God justifies, are called the ungodly. They have broken God's law.
In the qualified sense of the gospel, they cannot be called ungodly at the time when they are justified; for no sinner is pardoned and accepted without repentance toward God and faith toward Christ; and these imply the denial of ungodliness and worldly lusts. But they are called ungodly with respect to the. time past; for it is only past sins which pardon cancels. And they may still be called ungodly in construction of law, for in many things we all offend; and if we say, we are perfect, that will prove us perverse. Believers, then, are not justified for the good works which they have done ; but they are justified from their evil works for the sake of that which Christ has done. This matter our apostle has clearly explained in the preceding chapter. " There is none righteous; no, not one. All have sinned. The whole world has become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified.” How then?—“They are justified freely by God's grace, through the redemption which is in Christ, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past.” To justify is to admit to favour and treat as
righteous one who has been a transgressor. In this sense God justifies the ungodly, or remits sins that are past.
But then it must be observed,
III. The justified person does not retain his ungodly temperhis evil heart of enmity and unbelief; for, the apostle says, “ He believes on God.” “He is justified by faith.” His faith is imputed for righteousness. The prophet says, "The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and to them who turn from ungodliness in Jacob.”
The faith which justifies, respects God, not merely as the Supreme Ruler and righteous Judge of the world; but especially as a God of mercy, who pardons the guilty and justifies the ungodly. Viewing him only in the former character, the conscious sinner would sink into despondence. It is by faith in him, in the latter character, as a God gracious and merciful, forgiving iniquities, transgressions and sins, that we are encouraged to draw near to him, and excited to obey him. “He who cometh to God, must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” It is the goodness of God which leads us to repentance. It is by the mercy of God that we are persuaded to present ourselves to him. It is by hope that we draw near to him, and by hope that we are saved.
As God exercises his forgiving mercy to sinners through the righteousness of Christ, so faith in God, as justifying the ungodly, includes faith in Christ, through whose righteousness the ungodly are justified. Faith ultimately respects God, the Almighty Parent, of whom are all things; but it immediately respects Christ the Mediator, by whom we draw near to God, and obtain acceptance with him. “ We are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, and by him we believe in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, that our faith and hope might be in God.” Hence faith in God, and faith in Christ are promiscuously used in the gospel, and alike made the term of our acceptance. Christ says to his disciples, “ Ye believe in God; believe also in me.”
This faith supposes a conviction of sin; it is accompanied with a godly sorrow for sin ; and it produces works of righteousness. No man will apply to God, as justifying the ungodly, until he is