The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness

William S. Plumer, 1853

"We believe it is through the grace of our
 Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11

The Office of FAITH in Justification

The Scriptures abound with assertions that our justification is by faith. Thus Habakkuk says: "The just shall live by faith." Chapter 2:4. We are at no loss for the sense of this passage; for we have an inspired interpretation of it given by Paul. Indeed it seems to have been a very favorite text with him. He quotes it in Romans 1:17, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38. But we may go further back than the days of Habakkuk, even to the time of Abraham. Of him we read: "Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness." Gen. 15:6. This passage is no less celebrated than that already quoted. It is also divinely interpreted by the inspiration of God in Romans 4:1-6, Gal. 3:6-14.

Upon the first part of Romans 4 Beza well says: "From this single example of Abraham, as deservedly selected from among all the fathers, the apostle intended to draw a conclusion, which would necessarily take in all believers. And that he might do this fairly, he intimates at the very entrance of the question, that he did not propose Abraham as one of the number of believers, but as the father of the Church; that he might properly reason from the father to his children, the foundation of which he lays in the thirteenth verse. In whatever way Abraham, the father of believers was justified, in the same must all his children (that is all believers) be justified; but Abraham was not justified, and made the father of the faithful, by any of his own works, either preceding or following his faith in Christ, as promised to him; but merely by faith in Christ, or the merit of Christ by faith imputed to him for righteousness. Therefore all his children become his children and are justified, not by their works, either preceding or following their faith; but by faith alone in the same Christ, who was at length to come; and thus they are at present justified, and shall be to the end of the world," And so "those who are of faith, shall be blessed with faithful Abraham." Gal. 3:9.

Indeed the Scriptures are very explicit on this point: "A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ." Gal. 2:16. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5:1. "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." Gal. 3:24. "You stand by faith." Romans 11:20. "God shall justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith." Romans 3:30. Many other texts are no less clear.

But what is the meaning of the expression "we are justified by faith?" How are we justified by faith? Why are we never said to be justified by other Christian graces? Humility is an excellent grace, much commended in Scripture, and puts us where we ought to be—in the dust. Meekness bears the outrageous wrongs heaped upon us, with pity and forgiveness, and so makes us like Christ, who was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent—so he opened not his mouth. Hope is an anchor to the soul, both sure and steadfast, and being lively, animates the soul in all times of trial. Love with her broad mantle covers the faults of others, fills the world with the fame of her deeds, and never fails. Penitence sits at the feet of Jesus, and bathes them with its tears. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life to depart from the snares of death.

Excellent as all these graces are, yet it is nowhere said in Scripture that a man is justified by the fear of God, by charity, by penitence, by hope, by meekness, or by humility. But he is often said to be justified by faith. God does not put this honor upon faith because it is greater than other graces, for it is not. 1 Cor. 13:13. Love is greater. So are all graces, which shall flourish forever. But the reason why faith justifies—is because it receives Christ. In the language of the Bible, to receive Christ is to believe on him. "To as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to as many as believed on his name." John 1:12. The hand of the beggar receives the loaf, which charity offers him, and so he is fed by his hand and not by another member of his body. To believe in Christ is in Scripture said to be "looking to him." Isaiah 45:22, Heb. 12:2. Now although he who looks, may have all his other senses, and in other respects they may be of eminent use to him, yet he sees only with his eyes.

Faith is the vision of the new-born soul. It looks back thousands of years. "Through faith we understand that the worlds were made." It looks forward also thousands of years "Abraham rejoiced to see my day and he saw it and was glad." And as the dying Israelite looked to the brazen serpent and was healed, so de perishing sinners look by faith to Jesus and are saved. They look and live. Faith is a reliance upon testimony; and saving faith has special regard to the testimony of God concerning his Son. Even to men we extend our belief of their word in certain circumstances. "If we accept the testimony of men, God’s testimony is greater, because it is God’s testimony that He has given about His Son. (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. The one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given about His Son.) And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life." 1 John 5:9-12. So that he, who believes he has need of a Savior and credits this testimony of God, does rest the whole weight of his salvation here and not elsewhere. He takes Christ as his sole, sufficient Redeemer.

Faith justifies us only as it receives Jesus Christ as "the Lord our Righteousness." It takes the robe of righteousness which he has wrought, and puts it on, and so hides the nakedness of the soul. The Westminster Confession says: "Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner, by the Spirit and word of God; whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability of himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness therein held forth, for the pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation." Hall says: "The spiritual hand whereby we receive the sweet offer of our Savior is faith; which in short is no other than an affiance in the Mediator. Receive peace, and be happy; believe, and you have received." Usher says: "Justifying faith consists in these two things, in having a mind to know Christ, and a will to rest upon him. Whoever sees so much excellency in Christ, that thereby he is drawn to embrace him as the only Rock of salvation, that man truly believes to justification." Others very well represent the office of faith when they say that by means of it a union is formed between Christ and believers.

Thus Luther says: "Faith unites the soul with Christ as a spouse with her husband. Everything which Christ has, becomes the property of the believing soul; everything which the soul has, becomes the property of Christ. Christ possesses all blessings and eternal life—they are thenceforth the property of the soul. The soul has all its iniquities and sins—they become thenceforward the property of Christ. It is then that a blessed change commences: Christ, who is both God and man, Christ who has never sinned, and whose holiness is perfect, Christ the Almighty, and Eternal, taking to himself, by his nuptial ring of faith, all the sins of the believer, those sins are lost and abolished in him; for no sins dwells before his infinite righteousness. Thus, by faith, the believer's soul is delivered from sins, and clothed with the eternal righteousness of her bridegroom, Christ. O happy union! the rich, the noble, the holy Bridegroom takes in marriage his poor, guilty and despised spouse, delivers her from every evil, and enriches her with the most precious blessings. Christ, a King and a Priest, shares this honor and glory with all Christians. The Christian is a king, and consequently possesses all things; he is a priest, and consequently possesses God, and it is faith, not works, which brings him all this honor. A Christian is free from all things, above all things, faith giving him richly all things."

Should any be startled at such expressions as "he possesses God," let them consider the import of these words: "You are my portion, O Lord." Psalm 119:57; "God is our refuge and strength." Psalm 46:1; "I am the Lord your God," and many such expressions of Scripture. On the other hand how many scores of times does God call the saints, "my people," "the lot of my inheritance," "my redeemed," "my love," etc. "All grace flows from Christ united to the soul, as all life flows from the soul united to the body." This union between Christ and believers shall never be broken. It is in perpetuity as to all its blessed consequences.

From all that has been said, it is very evident that there is no merit in our believing, though by believing we become savingly interested in the merits of Christ. If faith itself, the act of believing, were the ground of our acceptance, it would certainly be works, even the work of faith. And as no man's faith is absolutely perfect—we would then have justification by a work full of imperfection. Faith is indeed the instrument, but not the ground of salvation; the means, but not the cause of our justification. If faith itself were the ground of our acceptance, it would be our Savior, and it would be entitled to all the glory of our salvation. And as faith is an act of the soul, each man would then be entitled to the full honor of his own salvation; and instead of boasting being excluded, as Paul says (Romans 2:27,) all heaven would be filled with it, and each man would have a right to say that he came there by his own act, merit and virtue. And where then would be the glory of Christ? His reward would consist in nothing. Those, who should be saved, would owe him nothing. They would have saved themselves.

To be justified by faith itself as the ground of acceptance would surely be to be "justified by works of righteousness, which we had done." But Paul says this is impossible. The faith, by which a soul is united to Christ, is itself the gift of God, and a gift, which never could have been bestowed but for the finished work of Christ. That it is a gift from God is declared in Matt. 16:16, 17, in John 1:13, in Romans 12:3, in Eph. 2:8, in Phil. 1:29, and in many other places. The Savior is expressly called "the author and finisher of our faith." Heb. 12:1. Again it is expressly ascribed to God's Spirit: "The fruit of the Spirit is faith." Gal. 5:22. How then could itself be any just ground of acquitting the guilty, and of taking the undeserving into the favor of God? Faith makes no atonement for sin. Faith even when genuine is not in any case perfect and blameless. Should we have no better righteousness than this in which to appear before God—his holy eye would behold rips in every part of it. So that the Scriptures ascribe even our believing to the amazing kindness of God.

In Acts 18:27, men are in so many words, said to have "believed through grace." These general views of the subject are common to all evangelical Christians. The Augsburg Confession says: "Christ is given for a Mediator to us, and this honor is not to be transferred unto our works. When therefore we do say that 'we are justified by faith,' we do not mean that we are just for the worthiness of that virtue; but this is our meaning: that we do obtain remission of sins and imputation of righteousness by mercy shown us for Christ's sake. But now this mercy cannot be received but by faith. When Paul says, 'Faith is reckoned for righteousness,' he speaks of a trust and confidence of mercy, promised for Christ's sake; and his meaning is, that men are pronounced righteous, that is, reconciled, through mercy promised for Christ's sake, whom we must receive by faith.

Now the novelty of this figurative speech of Paul, 'We are justified by faith,' will not offend holy minds, if they understand that it is spoken properly of mercy, and that herein mercy is adorned with true and due praises. For what can be more acceptable to an afflicted and fearful conscience in great griefs, than to hear that this is the commandment of God, and the voice of the Bridegroom, Christ Jesus—that they should undoubtedly believe; that remission of sins, or reconciliation, is given unto them, not for their own worthiness, but freely, through mercy, for Christ's sake; that the benefit might be certain." The Confession of Helvetia says: "Because faith does apprehend Christ our righteousness, and does attribute all to the praise of God in Christ, in this respect justification is attributed to faith chiefly because of Christ, whom it receives, and not because it is a work of ours. For faith is the gift of God. Now, that we do receive Christ by faith, the Lord shows in the sixth chapter of John, where he puts eating for believing, and believing for eating. For as by eating we receive food, so by believing we are made partakers of Christ."

The Confession of Bohemia speaking "of true justification of faith" says: "This faith properly is an assent of a willing heart to the whole truth delivered in the gospel, whereby man is enlightened in his mind and soul, that he may rightly acknowledge and receive for his only Savior, his God, and Lord Jesus Christ, and upon him, as on a true rock, he may build his whole salvation; and love, follow and enjoy him, and repose all his hope and confidence in him." "But the lively and never dying spring of justification is in our Lord Jesus Christ alone—whose saving works give salvation." The Confession of Belgia says: "True faith does embrace Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and seeks for nothing besides him." "He, who by faith possesses Jesus Christ, has also perfect salvation." "Yet to speak properly, we do not mean that faith by itself, or of itself, does justify us. Faith is only the instrument, whereby we apprehend Christ, who is our righteousness. Christ therefore himself is our righteousness, which imputes all his merits unto us."

The London and Philadelphia Baptist Confessions, the Confessions of the Savoy, Cambridge and Boston, and the Confessions of Presbyterian Churches generally in Great Britain and America agree in saying, "Faith receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the sole instrument of justification; yet is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith—but works by love." Some of the old writers quaintly say, "We are justified by faith solely, but not solitary." Leighton says: "True it is, that this faith purifies the heart, and works holiness, and all graces flow from it. But in this work of justifying the sinner, it is alone, and cannot admit of any mixture, as Luther's analogy is, 'Faith is as the bride with Christ in the bed-chamber alone, but when she comes forth, has the attendance and train of her graces with her.'"

The Synod of Dort says: "To as many as truly believe, and through the death of Christ are delivered and saved from sin and condemnation—this benefit comes from the sole grace of God, which he owes to no man, given them in Christ from eternity." The Welch Calvinistic Methodists' Confession says: "It would be as improper to attribute the righteousness of Christ to faith itself, as to attribute the light of the sun to the medium through which it is transmitted to us." Further testimonies are needless. How clear and harmonious is God's way of saving sinners! And how safe is it to follow him in all things! Holiness no less than bliss, follows a true faith. "Reliance is the essence of faith. Christ is the object of faith. The word is the food of faith. Obedience is the proof of faith. True faith is a depending upon Christ for salvation in the way of obedience—as he is offered in the word." Well may all give thanks for such a gift. It is the pledge of salvation. "Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."