Once again we come to a Thursday and with it another edition of Reading Classics Together. This week we come to one of the best chapters of all in John Murray’s great work Redemption Accomplished and Applied.
This week’s chapter deals with the amazing doctrine of justification. And here you can’t help but sense that Murray could write book after book on the topic. Trying to distill the beauty of justification into a short chapter must have been quite a challenge to him. Yet he did an amazing job of it.
He begins by writing about the question that plagues human beings: how can man be right with God? “It is not simply, how can man be just with God, but how can sinful man be just with God? In the last analysis sin is always against God, and the essence of sin is to be against God. The person who is against God cannot be right with God. For if we are against God then God is against us. It could not be otherwise. God cannot be indifferent to or complacent towards that which is the contradiction of himself. His very perfection requires the recoil of righteous indignation. And that is God’s wrath.” This is a serious problem, of course, but one that troubles very few people for few stop to consider the gravity of their offense against God. “This is the reason why the grand article of justification does not ring the bells in the innermost depths of our spirit.” This is why, when you share the gospel, so often you see no heartfelt response to it. Until a person understand his offense against God, he cannot understand his need for a Savior.
If we are to appreciate what Christ has done, “our thinking must be revolutionized by the realism of the wrath of God, of the reality and gravity of our guilt, and of the divine condemnation. … The question is really not so much: how can man be just with God; but how can sinful man become just with God? The question in this form points us to the necessity of a complete reversal in our relation to God. Justification is the answer and justification is the act of God’s free grace.”
Looking at justification in common usage (outside the Bible) Murray says it is “a declaration of pronouncement respecting the relation of the person to the law which he, the judge, is required to administer.” Justification, then, is forensic. “It has to do with a judgment given, declared, pronounced; it is judicial or juridical or forensic.” He looks quickly to regeneration again, saying “Regeneration is an act of God in us; justification is a judgment of God with respect to us. The distinction is like that of the distinction between the act of a surgeon and the act of a judge. The surgeon, when he removes inward cancer, does something in us. That is not what a judge does–he gives a verdict regarding our judicial status. If we are innocent he declares accordingly.” Murray says that “the purity of the gospel is bound up with the recognition of this distinction.” This means that justification is and remains the article of the standing or falling Church.
The question now arises, how can God declare a person to be righteous when that is so evidently not the case? How can a sinful, defiled man who is at enmity with God be declared righteous by God? “The peculiarity of God’s action consists in this: that he causes to be the righteous state or relation which is declared to be.” So God not only declares righteous but he first makes righteous. “What God does in this case is that he constitutes the new and righteous judicial relation as well as declares the new relation to be. He constitutes the ungodly righteous, and consequently can declare them to be righteous.” He says further, “Justification is therefore a constitutive act whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to our account and we are accordingly accepted as righteous in God’s sight.” And he offers these beautiful, soul-stirring words: “God cannot but accept into his favour those who are invested with the righteousness of his own Son.” First God makes a man righteous through the work of Christ and then he declares what is now the reality–that this man is, indeed, righteous.
Murray wants to ensure that the reader understands the role of faith in all of this. He says that the Bible “speaks always of our being justified by faith, or through faith, or upon faith, but never speaks of our being justified on account of faith or because of faith.” In other words, faith itself is not the righteousness that God accepts. “If we are to find the righteousness which supplies the basis of the full and perfect justification which God bestows upon the ungodly we cannot find it in anything that resides in us, nor in anything which God does in us, nor in anything we do. We must look away from ourselves to something which is of an entirely different sort in an entirely different direction.” And, of course, we must then look to Christ. We find that the righteousness is his and that faith is a free gift of God, given so we can and must believe in him.
Let me close with just a couple of other great quotes. “That we are justified by faith is what engenders hope in a convicted sinner’s heart. He knows he has nothing to offer. And this truth assures him that he needs nothing to offer, yea, it assures that it is an abomination to God to presume to offer.” And finally, “No one has entrusted himself to Christ for deliverance from the guilt of sin who has not also entrusted himself to him for deliverance from the power of sin.” As goes the guilt, so goes the power. Praise God!
What a great chapter this was. There is no doctrine more precious to me than the doctrine of justification and this chapter stirred my heart as it told of the great love and mercy of God in justifying even a sinner like me.
For next Thursday please read the next chapter–“Adoption.”
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.