That was a grave question that was propounded by one of the ancients to the patriarch Job more than three thousand years ago, "How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?" And as it has lost none of its interest by the lapse of centuries we may fittingly inquire, (1) Is there such a thing as justification with God? Evidently Bildad the Shuhite (Job 25) would have inclined to a negative answer; for he proceeds, in language not a little pathetic, "Behold even to the moon, and it shineth not; yea, the stars are not pure in his sight. How much less mortal man, that is a reptile? and the son of Adam, who is a worm?" And if we turn to the words of the psalmist David, we find (Ps. 143:2) that he speaks in a similar strain, "Enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." Happily we live in the meridian light of the New Testament; and as we consult its pages we are at no loss to discover the true answer to our question. That wonderful third of Romans that stops every mouth, and proves every man guilty before God, adds further, that by "deeds of law shall no flesh be justified in His sight." We are consequently forbidden to marvel that the Shuhite of patriarchal days, and the psalmist in Israel's palmier times, should alike - knowing nothing beyond the flesh and the law - conclude there was no justification before God. For us, on the contrary, how blessed it is to find that when the apostle summarily describes man's condition and guilt in the brief words, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," it is but a preparatory clearing of the ground for the gracious assertion that follows in the same breath, "Being justified freely by His grace." We read also in Gal. 3, "The Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen." And again, in Rom. 8, "Whom He called, them He also justified." These then being God's words, we need not multiply proofs that there is such a thing as justification before God.
Let us now inquire, (2) Who is the justifier? In the nature of things justification involves a justifier. Who then is this justifier? Again we turn to Rom. 3, and in verse 26, read those blessed words, "To declare, at this time His (God's) righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." So also in Rom. 8:30, "Whom He (God) called, them He also justified." God, then, is the Justifier, and the importance of this can scarcely be overstated; for whom He justifies must be justified indeed! It is no fallible work, marked and marred by human imperfection, but an altogether divine thing of incontestable and immutable value for eternity. The magnitude and grandeur of this piece of divine truth fired the heart of the apostle when he exclaimed, "It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?"
We prefer as our next inquiry, (3) Who are they who are justified? For if there be such a thing as justification, and, as we have found, God Himself the Justifier, it is of importance for us to understand whom He justifies. Again we turn to Rom. 3:26, and read there the conclusive words, that He is "the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." Nothing could be more plain. It is the believer, and the believer only, whom God justifies. We do not hesitate to say that no person can possibly know what it is to be justified who is not a believer in that blessed One - the Man of Calvary once, but the Man of Glory for ever! But perhaps it will be answered, that in the next chapter we read of God justifying "the ungodly." Perfectly true, but not in his ungodliness; for it instantly adds, "his faith is counted for righteousness," from which it is clear that the word describes his state up to the time when he became a believer, and accordingly - not as then ungodly, but as then a believer - God justified him. This word "ungodly" then describes man's state by nature, and that is fully unfolded in the fifth chapter, where three expressions are used descriptive of our natural condition. In the sixth verse, "without strength;" in the eighth verse, "sinners;" and in the tenth, "enemies." The first of these terms is negative, man is powerless for good works; the next is positive, he is practically an evil worker, a sinner; the last is worst of all, he has a heart whose inmost springs are at enmity with God. This was clearly proved when Christ was here on earth; for God Himself was manifest in the flesh, and dwelt among us in perfect love to man, and was hated without a cause. He was the song of the drunkard, and for His love they gave Him hatred. Such is man! Nevertheless, blessed for ever be His name, "By Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." Such is God!
But it is time we address ourselves to the question, (4) What is justification? Refer, please, to Rom. 4:3 for God's answer to our inquiry: "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." Again, in verse 5: "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." And also in verse 9: "Faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness." The simple answer then is that justification is judicial righteousness; in other words, God's accounting or adjudging us to be righteous before Himself - on what ground we shall see by-and-by. At present we must be clear as to the thing itself, and would emphatically impress upon the reader's mind this simple, but profoundly important truth, that justification signifies the being accounted by God and before God to be judicially righteous, which is the positive, absolute, and changeless standing of the believer now and eternally. This and this only is justification. Thus it is not merely pardon or forgiveness, which is rather of a negative character, but a positive state of accomplished and ever-subsisting righteousness in Christ before God that we are already brought into by God's own act, as the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.
Here let it be noted, parenthetically, that Scripture gives no support to the thought that Christ's practical righteousness in His holy, blameless life on earth, than which nothing down here was ever so divinely perfect in moral beauty, is accredited to our account for justification. That He magnified the law, and put honour upon it in His own person, is fully admitted; but nothing found in Scripture gives countenance to the mistaken notion that this was impute to us; in other words, to the theological dogma of "imputed righteousness." The Scriptural doctrine of righteousness imputed signifies, if Scripture alone is to determine, simply and solely that we are accounted to be righteous apart from law-keeping as to the principle of it (Rom. 3:21), and apart from works of any kind practically. (Rom. 4:5.) It is our judicial standing, which is signified by this imputation of righteousness, and upon this ground alone, that "we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead" (Rom. 4:24); the character of it being, not that law-keeping (which was never really required of Gentile), or other good works done by Christ, are put to our account, which would be to make the life of Christ a vicarious thing, and thus utterly to disturb and distort His relations to God - but that as to sin and death and judgment, "as He is" (the glorified Man in the presence of God), "so are we in this world." This is the scriptural doctrine of the imputation of righteousness, and beautifully exhibits the divine character of our justification.
Further, let us inquire, (5) What is it by which we are justified? Romans 4:25 teaches that Jesus our Lord was raised for our justifying; Romans 5:1, that we are justified on the principle of faith; and, verse 9, that we are justified in the power of His blood. Each of these verses helps us to gather up an answer. In its intrinsic character our justification is according to the value of the blood of Christ to God; by that alone are we justified Godward; and according to its priceless worth is the character of our acceptance and standing in His holy presence. But looked at manward, it is by faith; i.e. we get it on that principle and not on the principle of works. And practically we are not, and cannot be, justified until faith has been exercised by us. Thus we read in the peculiarly incisive language of Romans 4:5, "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Accordingly Abraham, undistinguished for works but pre-eminent for his faith, is presented as the pattern of a justified man. Again, it is in direct connection with resurrection - the resurrection of Christ. He was raised, we read, for our justification; and unless we have part in His resurrection we are not justified. God is our Justifier, and the risen Christ in His presence is our representative in justification, the expression of that state of ever-subsisting accomplished righteousness in which we are set as God's justified ones in virtue of His death. (2 Cor. 5:21.)
Lastly, let us ask, (6) What are the results of it? The verses we were just now looking at supply the final answer. First, our sins (offences) are all gone; for the One who was thus raised had been delivered for them; i.e. on account of them and for their putting away, and He having been raised up they can no longer have a place before the God who has righteously dealt with them, that He might be just, and yet have the joy of being Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. Second, having been justified, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace is eternally established. between us and Himself! Third, "Being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him." The first has to do with the past, for my sins were blotted out by His blood; the text with the present, for it is now that I have peace with God; and the last with the future, for the wrath is the wrath to come; and I am assured, on divine testimony, that I am so cleared before God, and so accepted and established in love, that I am entitled to "have boldness in the day of judgment." (1 John 4:17.)
How wonderful in every point of view is our justification before God! The Lord give us a truly scriptural apprehension of it, "to the praise of the glory of His grace wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved." W. Rickards. (Derby).