William Nicholson, 1862
"Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Romans 3:24
A principal part of the epistle to the Romans is occupied on the great doctrine of justification by faith, a doctrine that was ever precious to Paul, and will ever be so to all who are experimentally acquainted with it.
The Apostle dwells at length upon the sinful and guilty condition of man. He states, with great cogency of argument, the total inability of man to extricate himself from exposure to everlasting perdition, and declares that salvation is alone to be found in the death and resurrection of Immanuel. "Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
I. Man Needs Justification.
This necessity for justification will appear, if we consider:
1. That man is a transgressor. God is the great Lawgiver — his law is holy, just, and good, and binding upon all. But it is evident from the statements of Scripture that all have broken this law, and insulted the authority of the Most High. Read the description, Romans 3:10-19, 23; Job 15:14; Psalm 14:2, 3, etc.; Isaiah 53:6.
Transgression is connected with impurity. The heart of man is impure, deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. The fountain is corrupt — and the streams are impure. Man's intemperance, profanity, licentiousness, and every evil work — all proceed out of his corrupt heart. "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time!" Genesis 6:5
2. Man, as a sinner, is arraigned at the bar of Divine justice, scrutinized, examined, found guilty, and condemned to suffer the penalty due to all transgressors of God's holy law. While the sinner lives, he is under the curse or sentence of the law; it all lies against him, and if he dies without having condemnation removed, the sentence already declared will be executed by Divine justice upon him. What this sentence will be, we learn from Romans 2:5, 6, 8, 9, and 6:23; Matthew 22:11-13. "Then he will say to those on his left: Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!" Matthew 25:41
3. From this view of the subject it is evident that "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in God's sight." All are transgressors . . .
however distinguished in life,
however lofty their stations in society,
however moral their lives,
however amiable their dispositions, etc. etc.
It is undeniable that there are degrees of vice and virtue; there are upright and honest men, whose word might be taken for any amount, and we admire this kind of moral excellence. But before God they are even as others — all are equally guilty, lost, and ruined by transgression!
If man could now begin a life of perfect purity, his past unforgiven sins, and uncancelled guilt, would still insure his future condemnation, though he might become as holy as a seraph!
Man cannot justify himself. The ceremonial law cannot justify him, Hebrews 10:4. Nor can the moral law, for it demands perfect obedience. The sentence pronounced by that law is irrevocable, or else what becomes of . . .
the moral character of the Lawgiver,
his righteousness in promulgating such a law,
his purity in permitting the existence of evil,
and his truth in violating his word.
"Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." Galatians 2:16
II. The Nature of Justification.
1. It consists in being accounted just before God. It supposes a law by which we have been tried, and an acquittal from the charges of that law, and consequently there is no longer an exposure to condemnation. "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" Romans 5:1. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" Romans 8:1.
But no practice of legal courts can give us a full view of this subject. A man accused of crimes there, is found to be innocent; the charges 'are not substantiated, and his justification follows as a matter of course. Or if he is found guilty, he may be pardoned, though he cannot be justified; and in consequence of the establishment of his guilt, he will ever be branded as a guilty man.
2. The justification of a sinner is always connected with the pardon of sins, and implies that he has been really guilty.
3. Justification implies more than pardon. As great as is the blessing of pardon, justification is a greater blessing. "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses." Acts 13:38-39
Justification not only implies that the sinner is free from all law-charges, but that he is to be regarded and treated as an innocent being — as though he had never sinned! Hence the triumph of the Apostle, Romans 3:25, 26; 8:33, 34.
It has therefore not only respect to past transgressions, but includes,
4. Justification implies a saving interest in all the blessings of the new covenant, and a title to life and glory everlasting. "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life!" Titus 3:4-7
III. The Procuring Cause of Justification:"The redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
The term "redemption" implies a price paid for the deliverance of captives. The incarnation, life, and death of Christ were the vast price paid to the justice of God for our redemption. "In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins!" Colossians 1:14.
All that the law, and the circumstances of the sinner, required — Jesus gave. The law demanded purity of nature; and a heart which, from its' purity, loved the law. "Your law is in my heart." "Such a high priest meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens!" Hebrews 7:26
The law demanded perfect obedience to all its requirements. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." James 2:10
The law demanded a satisfactory atonement for human guilt. And for this Jesus was qualified. He was divine — see his dignity before he came, and learn it from the numerous statements of Scriptures. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and on the cross he shed his precious blood. He was accepted by God. Justice was satisfied, etc. Now we recognize him as our Redeemer, Ransomer, Sacrifice. See Isaiah 53:4, etc.; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 3:18.
IV. The Manner in Which Justification Is Given."Freely by his grace."
The moving cause of our justification is not any moral excellence on the part of man, but the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. That redemption originated in the boundless mercy of God. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich!" 2 Corinthians 8:9. We are justified freely by his grace. The apparent repetition in the text serves to mark the idea more strongly.
The word "freely" denotes the entire lack of all merit in man; it might be literally rendered "without a cause." It is not your devotions, your worship, your alms, your morality, your integrity, or your holy tempers and dispositions — that can justify you before God. This will appear evident if we consider,
1. That the contrivance of salvation required Infinite wisdom. It originated in the Infinite mind.
2. The execution of it required Infinite love and power. John 3:16.
3. The justification of sinners is always represented by the sacred writers as being an act of God's free grace, Romans 4:16; Galatians 2:21; Romans 11:6; Ephesians 2:8, 9.
4. Heaven itself, to which justification gives a title, is the free gift of God, Luke 12:32; Romans 6:23; Jude 21.
V. Lastly. The Instrumental Means of Justification Is Faith."Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses!" Acts 13:39. "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ!" Romans 5:1
The exercise of faith implies,
1. A deep conviction that we need justification.
2. A knowledge of the method by which God justifies, as stated in the text.
3. A cordial belief and trust in Christ for pardon and justification. Faith regards Christ as a substitute, bearing the penalty, enduring the curse, etc., etc.
1. Admire the wonders of sovereign grace and redeeming love!
2. Let the justified prove themselves to be such by good works. "But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?" James 2:18-20, etc.
3. Beware of a self-righteous spirit.