[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)
"If any man be in Christ," says Paul, "he is a new creation: old things have passed away; all things have become new." By the special favor of God, Jesus Christ "is made unto us wisdom, justification, sanctification, and redemption." Hence, as saith the Prophet, "In him shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and in him shall they glory." "He that boasteth," therefore, "let him boast in the Lord."
What, then, is justification, the first fruit of the heavenly cluster of Divine graces? It is, indeed, a trite but a true saying, that the term justification is a forensic word; and, therefore, indicates that its subject has been accused of crime, or of the transgression of law. It also implies that the subject of it has not only been accused and tried, but also acquitted. Such, then, is the legal or forensic justification. It is, indeed, a sentence of acquittal announced by a tribunal, importing that the accused is found not guilty. If convicted, he can not be justified; if justified, he has not been convicted.
But such is not justification by grace. Evangelical justification is the justification of one that has been convicted as guilty before God, the Supreme and Ultimate Judge of the Universe. But the whole world has been tried and found guilty before God. So that, in fact, "there it none righteous; no, not one." Therefore, by deeds of law no man can be justified before Cod. "For should a man keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." He has despised the  whole authority of the law and the Lawgiver. It is, then, utterly impossible that any sinner can be forensically or legally justified before God, by a law which he has in any one instance violated.
If, then, a sinner be justified, it must be on some other principle than law. He must be justified by favor, and not by right. Still it must be rightfully done by him that justifies a transgression, else he will be liable to the charge of injustice to the law and the government. This is the emergency which must be met by evangelical justification. The mission and mediation of the Messiah was primarily to meet this emergency; though, indeed, he has done much more than to meet it. Evangelical justification is, therefore, a justification by favor as respects man; and it has been made just also on the part of God, by the sacrifice or obedience unto death of his Son. Still it must be regarded as not a real or legal justification. It is, as respects man, only pardon, or forgiveness of the past; but the pardoned sinner being ever after treated and regarded as though he were righteous, he is constituted and treated as righteous before God. He is as cordially received into the favor and friendship of God, as though he had never at any time offended against his law. This, then, is what is peculiarly and appropriately called "evangelical justification." Still, legally contemplated, God, in fact, "justifies the ungodly." And so teaches the apostle Paul.
Still every one of reflection will enquire, how can the justification of the ungodly be regarded as compatible with the justice, the purity, the truthfulness of God? How can he stand justified before the pure, and holy, and righteous peers of his celestial realm--the hierarchs and princes of heaven? This is, indeed, to very many, a profound mystery. And "great," truly "is the mystery of godliness." Standing at this point, and viewing it in all its bearings, heaven is always in rapture, while contemplating this new and grand and glorious revelation of the manifold wisdom of God. It is, however, a revealed mystery. One there is, and was, and evermore will be, who, by his obedience to that violated law, even unto death, has so magnified and made honorable that law and government, as to open a channel through which truth, righteousness, and mercy can harmoniously flow together and justify God, while justifying the sinner, by pardoning him and then treating him as though he never had sinned against his throne and government.
His death was, therefore, contemplated as the one only true, real, and adequate sin-offering ever presented in this universe, in the presence of God, angels, men, and demons, that does for ever justify God in justifying man. It will forever silence all demur, and fill the universe--heaven and eternity, with the praise of the Lord. Hence, in perfect harmony with all the types of the law, the oracles of the  prophets and the promises and covenants of God, he is truly, rightfully, and with the emphatic seal of God, surnamed--"JEHOVAH OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS." Therefore, as with Isaiah--"By the knowledge of him shall my righteous servant justify many whose iniquities he shall have borne."
How then is it dispensed? or rather, how is it received and enjoyed? "It is through faith," says Paul, "that it might be by grace," to the end, that the promise of eternal life "might be sure to all the seed;" whether by nature, Jews or Gentiles. It is through faith, and not on account of faith, as though there was in faith some intrinsic merit.
It is worthy of remark, that if faith were a work of the head or of the heart, or of both, possessing inherent and essential merit, it would be as much a work to be rewarded as any other exercise of the understanding or of the heart. Love is said "to be the fulfilling of the whole law," and covetousness is called idolatry. Were then justification to be founded on faith, hope, or love, as works of the understanding or affections; it could be no more of grace than any other blessing received on account of anything done by us or wrought in us.
Hence, in the evangelical dispensation of justification, it is in some sense connected with seven causes. Paul affirms, that a man is justified by faith. (Rom. v. 1; Gal. ii. 16; iii. 24.) In the second place, he states that "we are justified freely by his grace" (Rom. iii. 24; Tit. iii. 7). In the third place, on another occasion he teaches that "we are justified by Christ's blood" (Rom. v. 9). Again, in the fourth place, he says that "we are justified by the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of our God" (I. Cor. vi. 11). To the Galatians, in the fifth place, he declares that "we are justified by Christ" (Gal. ii. 16). In the sixth place, Isaiah says "we are justified by knowledge" (Isa. liii. 11). And James, in the seventh place, says "we are justified by works" (chap. ii. 21). Thus, by Divine authority, faith is connected as an effect, in some sense, of seven causes, viz.: Faith, Grace, the Blood of Christ, the Name of the Lord, Knowledge, Christ, and Works. May it not, then, be asked why do so many select one of these only, as essential to justification? This is one of the evidences of the violence of sectarianism.
Call these causes or means of justification and they may severally indicate an influence or an instrumentality in the consummation of this great act of Divine favor. He that assumes any one or two of them, as the exclusive or one only essential cause of a sinner's justification, acts arbitrarily and hazardously rather than discreetly or according to the oracles of God. We choose rather to give to them severally a Divine significance, and consequently a proper place in the consummation of evangelical justification. We feel obliged to use the same reason and discretion in ascertaining the developments of  this work of Divine grace, that we may employ in searching into the works of God, in nature and in moral government. How many agents and laws of nature co-operate in providing our daily bread? Suns rise and set, moons wax and wane, tides ebb and flow, the planets observe their cycles, morning, noon, and night perform their functions, the clouds pour their treasures into the bosom of the thirsty earth, the dews distil their freshness on the tender blade, and the electric fluid unobserved, in perpetual motion, as the anima mundi, ministers to life in every form of vegetable, animal and human existence.
Why, then, to reason's ear should it sound discordant, or to reason's eye appear uncouth, that, in the scheme of redemption and regeneration, God's instrumentalities should be as numerous and as various, yet as co-operative as those in outward and sensible nature?
Again, let us survey the works of man to man, his modes and forms of action in the consummation of some grand scheme of human benefaction. Take, for example, that philanthropist, who, standing on the sea-shore, descries a ship-wrecked crew clinging to a portion of the wreck tossed to and fro among the foaming billows of an angry sea. He calls to his son, and commands him to seize a boat and hasten to their rescue. He obeys. Cheerfully he plies the oars, and fearlessly struggles through many a conflicting wave, till he reaches the almost famished and fainting crew. He commands them to seize his arm and let go the wreck, and he will help them into his boat. They obey, and all aboard, he commands them to grasp each his oar and co-operate with him in seeking the port of safety. They cheerfully co-operate and are saved.
The spectators and the narrators of this scene, form and express very different views of it. One says, the perishing crew were saved by a man on the shore; another, by his son; another, by a boat; another, by getting into a boat; another, by rowing themselves to shore; another, by a favorable breeze.
They all told the truth. There is no contradiction in their representations. But a philosopher says, they were saved by all these means together. Such is the case before us.
These means may be regarded as causes co-operating in the result, all necessary, not one of them superfluous. But some one of them to one person, another to a second person, another to a third person, and another to a fourth, appears more prominent than the others; consequently, in narrating the deliverance, he ascribes it mainly to that cause which, at the time, made the most enduring impression on his own mind.
But the calm, contemplative thinker thus arranges these concurrent causes. The original or moving cause was the humanity and kindness of the father, that stood on the shore and saw them about to perish.  His son, who took the boat and imperiled his life, was the efficient or meritorious cause. The boat itself was the instrumental cause. The knowledge of their own condition and the kind invitation tendered to the sufferers was the disposing cause. Their consenting to the condition was the formal cause. Their seizing the boat with their hands and springing into it was the immediate cause. And their co-operative rowing to the share was the concurrent and effectual cause of their salvation.
Had any one of the apostles been accosted by captious, inquisitive and speculative partizans for a reconciliation of all he had said, or that his fellow laborers had said in their narratives, or allusions to particular persons, scenes, or events happening in his presence, or under his administration of affairs; had he been requested to explain or reconcile them with what he, or others of equal authority, had, on other occasions said, or written, concerning them, doubtless in some such way he could, and would have explained them. Indeed, in the common experience of all courts of enquiry and tribunals of justice, where numerous statements are made on questions of facts, by a single witness, and still more when a plurality are examined, such diversified representations are made rather to the confirmation than to the detriment or disparagement of the import, or the credibility of these statements. How often, and by how many cavillers have the Four Gospels been subjected to such ordeals, on such pretenses? But who has yet found good reasons to disparage or discredit these narratives on account of such assaults or misunderstandings?
No question agitated since the era of Protestantism has occupied so much attention, or concentrated a greater amount of learning and research, than the question of justification by faith; not, indeed, because of the inherent difficulties of the subject, but because of the defection and apostacy of the papal hierarchy--and the thick pall of darkness and error with which it had enveloped the whole Bible. One extreme generates another. Hence the terminology of the most orthodox schools on this subject is neither so Scriptural nor so intelligible as the great importance of the subject demands.
To harmonize the seven statements found in the Bible, on this subject, we know no method more rational or more Scriptural than that indicated in the illustration given. We are pardoned and treated as righteous, or in other words, we are justified by the grace of God the Father, as the original and moving cause; by Christ his Son, and by his blood, or sacrifice, as the meritorious cause; by faith and knowledge as instrumental causes, by our convictions of sin and penitence as the disposing cause; and by works as the concurrent or concomitant cause. This, however, as justifying God in justifying us. "You see," said the apostle James, "how faith wrought by works," in the case  of Abraham, when he offered up his son upon the altar; "and by works his faith was made perfect." Indeed, true faith necessarily works; therefore, a working faith is the only true, real, and proper faith in Divine or human esteem.
Faith without works is no more faith than a corpse is a man. It is, therefore, aptly by high authority regarded as "dead." Faith alone, or faith without works, profits nothing. But as Romanists taught works without faith, Protestants have sometimes taught faith without works. The latter quote Paul, and the former quote James, as plenary authority. But the two apostles have fallen into bad hands. Paul never preached faith without works, nor James works without faith. Between these parties the apostles have been much abused.
Controversies generate new terms or affix new ideas to words. The question between Calvin and Arminius--or between their followers, is not the identical question between Paul and the Jews, or James and nominal Christians.
The works of the law and the works of faith are as different as law and gospel. Works, indeed, are to be considered as the embodiments of views, thoughts, emotions, volitions, and feelings. They are appreciable indications of the states of the mind, sensible exponents of the condition of the inner man. For example, he that seeks justification by the works of the law is not in a state of mind to be justified by the blood of Christ, or by the grace of God; he is ignorant of himself, ignorant of God; consequently, too proud of his powers to condescend to be pardoned or justified by the mere mercy and merits of another. Rich and independent in his views of himself, he can not think of being a debtor to the worth and compassion of one, who contemplates him as ruined and undone for ever. He is too proud to be vain, or too vain to be proud of himself. In either view he can not submit to the righteousness of faith. For this purpose, Paul says of the Pharisaic Jews, "They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God," or to that righteousness which God has provided for the ungodly.
On the other hand, the works of him that is justified by faith are exponents of an essentially different state of mind. He is humble, dependent, grateful. Feeling himself undone, ruined, a debtor without hope to pay, he sues for mercy and mercy is obtained; he is grateful, thankful, and humble before God. In this view of the matter, to justify a man for any work of which he is capable, would be to confirm him in carnality, selfishness and pride. But convinced, humbled, emptied of himself, and learning, through faith in the gospel, that God has provided a ransom for the ruined, the wretched, and the undone, he gladly accepts pardon through sovereign mercy, and humbles himself  to a state of absolute dependence on the merits and mercy of another. Justification by faith in Christ is, then, the embodiment of views in perfect harmony with truth--with our condition, with the whole revealed character of God, and necessarily tends to humility, gratitude, piety, and humanity, while justification sought by works as naturally tends to pride, ingratitude, impiety, and inhumanity.
Such being the true philosophy of justification by faith, and of justification sought and supposed to be obtained by works of law, we need not marvel that the God of all grace after having sent his Son into our world to become a sacrifice for us--to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification, should have instituted faith in him--in his death, burial, and resurrection; as the means of a perfect reconciliation to himself, commanding us not only to cherish this faith in our hearts, but exhibit it by a visible death to sin; a burial with Christ to sin, and a rising again to walk in a new life, expressed and symbolized by an immersion in water into the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, not as a work of righteousness, but as a mere confession of our faith in what he did for us, and of our fixed purpose to walk in him. Hence it is the only suitable institution to such an indication, as being not a moral work of righteousness, but a mere passive surrendering of ourselves to die, to be buried, and to be raised again by the merit and aid of another.
Baptism is, therefore, no work of law, no moral duty, no moral righteousness, but a simple putting on of Christ and placing ourselves wholly in his hand and under his guidance. It is an open, sensible, voluntary expression of our faith in Christ, a visible embodiment of faith, to which, as being thus perfected, the promise of remission of sins is Divinely annexed. In one word, it is faith perfected. Hence, when Paul exegetically develops its blessings, he says--"But you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our Lord."1 Thus justification, sanctification, and adoption--the three most precious gifts of the gospel, are evangelically connected with faith in the Lord Jesus, and baptism into his death.
The immediate baptism of the first converts, after faith is satisfactorily explained in this view of it; three thousand, in one day, believed and were baptized. The jailor and his family were enlightened, believed, and were baptized the same hour of the night. Paul himself, so soon as he had recovered from the influence of the supernatural brightness which deprived him of sight, and before he had eaten or drank any thing, was commanded, without delay, to be forthwith baptized. "And he arose and was baptized." Baptism, with them, was the perfecting or confession of their faith. The Ethiopian Eunuch,  on his journey in the desert, is as striking an example of this as are the cases named. It was "putting on Christ," as their righteousness.
Baptism, without faith, is of no value whatever; for, in truth, baptism is but the actual and symbolic profession of faith. It is its legitimate embodiment and consummation. And whatever virtue there is in it, or connected with it, is but the virtue of faith in the blood of Christ applied to the conscience and to the heart. The burial in water is a burial with Christ and in Christ. "For in him shall all the seed of Israel," the believing children of Abraham, "be justified," and in him, "and not in themselves, shall they glory." It is, then, the sensible and experimental deliverance from both the guilt and the pollution of sin; and for this reason, or in this view of it, believing penitents, when inquiring what they should do, were uniformly commanded by the ambassadors of Christ to be "baptized for the remission of sins," as God's own way, under the New Institution, of receiving sinners into favor, through the death, burial, and resurrection of his Son, into whose name especially, as well as by whose mediatorial authority, they were commanded to be, on confession, buried in baptism.
Salvation, in the aggregate, is all of grace; and all the parts of it are, consequently, gracious. Nor do we, in truth, in obeying the gospel, or in being buried in baptism, make void either law or gospel, but establish and confirm both.
Harbinger, 1851, p. 318-325.
|Alexander Campbell. "Justification." The Millennial Harbinger 22 (June 1851): 318-325.|
|NOTE: From his Christian Baptism: With Its Antecedents and Consequents. Bethany, VA: Alexander Campbell, 1851. Pp. 277-285.|
[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)