It is evident, therefore, that the righteousness of Christ, a righteousness which is of God, prepared by Him for us, is the ground of our justification.
We may say indeed that Christ is the Justified One par excellence, and His justification is the justification of all the elect and of all that believe on His name.
To understand this, we must above all remember that Christ is the Son of God, the only begotten God, that is in the bosom of the Father. On this confession rests the whole of the truth concerning all our salvation, and particularly, concerning our justification. If Christ is not very God, if He is not the God of our salvation Himself, and the very foundation of our salvation, the truth concerning justification must be without any ground at all. But He is God. He is God of God, co-eternal with the Father and with the Holy Ghost. And He came into our flesh, into our human nature. In fact, in the likeness of sinful flesh He, the Lord, Who is above the law, came under the law. He came in the place of men, He became a sinner, and must function as a sinner. He, the Son of God in human nature, came to obey God perfectly. Even that was an act of His own. He freely performed that act. He was not of necessity born as a son of Adam; he freely assumed our flesh and blood. What is more, coming under the law, He entered into the state of sinners. He was not a sinner. The guilt of Adam could not possibly be imputed to Him for the reason that He was personally the Son of God. He was not a human person, but in His Person He was the Son of God. And to the Person of the Son of God the guilt of Adam could not possibly be imputed. The corruption of the human nature could not touch Him either. For He was conceived by the Holy Ghost. He was holy and righteous in His human nature. He knew no sin. But He entered into the state of sinners. He took the legal position before God of a sinner. He assumed the responsibility for sin. In that state it became His obligation to pay the penalty for sin. He must not merely suffer the punishment for sin, which is death. He must actively pay for sin. He must cancel the debt of sin, if, in the state in which He voluntarily entered, He was to be justified. And to cancel that debt He must satisfy the righteousness of God. This satisfaction could only consist in an act of love. For man must love God with all his heart and mind and soul and strength: That is the demand of the law, of the law of God. And that demand remains unalterable. Hence, when Christ, the Son of God, assumed the form of a servant and entered into the state of man, He was obliged to keep that law of love. And when, as the Servant of God, He entered into the state of sinners, it was His calling to love the Lord His God even in His wrath, even when in the hour of judgment God poured all the vials of His wrath and indignation over His head. This is what Christ did. He did so all His life on earth. In the state of a servant, and that too, in the state of sinners, He functioned before the face of God in perfect righteousness and holiness and in perfect obedience. He never faltered. Step by step, as the shadows of death and of the wrath of God deepened, He remained obedient. And finally, He entered into deepest death and desolation and became obedient even unto the death of the cross. Even into the depth of hell all the righteousness of God against sin He perfectly fulfilled. He satisfied for sin.
It is evident, therefore, that the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is God’s own Word concerning His justification, and, therefore, our justification. For that resurrection from the dead of the Son of God in the flesh is God’s sentence that His Servant is justified, and that we are therefore justified in Him. This is the meaning of Scripture in Romans 4:25: “Who was delivered for our transgressions, and was raised again for our justification.” Christ went into death, not for His own, but for and with our sin. He knew no sin, but He was made sin for us. Never could He have been raised from the dead if He had not fully atoned for the sin and transgressions of His own, of whom He was the legal head. He would have been swallowed up by death. But God, by raising Him from the dead, gave Him testimony that as the head of His people He was perfectly righteous. Hence, we are righteous in Him. And therefore, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Word concerning our justification. See also Rom. 10:9: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
As therefore we consider the whole concept of justification, which has its meritorious ground in the obedience and death of Christ and has its divine testimony in the resurrection of Christ, we may note the following steps in the idea and concept of justification.
First of all, we certainly may speak of our justification from eternity. We certainly are justified in the decree of election from before the foundation of the world. About this truth there was at one time a dispute in Reformed churches. Some, evidently afraid of overemphasizing the counsel of God, maintained that we could speak only of justification by faith, and, therefore, of justification in time. They denied eternal justification. But it is very clear that this cannot possibly be correct. It certainly is true that in His eternal counsel God has ordained Christ as Mediator and as the head of all the elect. And therefore, it must be true that God knew the elect in Christ as justified from all eternity. The elect do not become righteous before God in time by faith, but they are righteous in the tribunal of God from before the foundation of the world. God beholds them in eternity not as sinners, but as justified sinners, and therefore as perfectly righteous, as redeemed and justified in Christ. Thus also we read in Numbers 23:21: “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.” See also Romans 8:29, 30, where we read the well-known words: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” This means, of course, that in the counsel of God from all eternity the people whom God gave to Christ were partakers of eternal salvation. The Conclusions of Utrecht, 1905, settled this matter as follows: “Concerning the second point, the eternal justification, Synod declares that this expression itself does not occur in our Confession, but that on that account it may not be disapproved any more than the expression covenant of works, and such like, which are simply theological terms; that it is incorrect to say that our Confessions know only of a justification out of and through faith, seeing that both the Word of God inRomans 4:25 and our Confession in Article 20 emphatically speak of an objective justification sealed in the resurrection of Christ, which, in order of time, precedes subjective justification; and further, as concerns the case itself, all our churches heartily believe and confess that Christ in the counsel of peace has given Himself from eternity as surety for His people, and has taken their guilt upon Himself, even as He thereupon, through His suffering and death on Calvary gave Himself a ransom for us and reconciled us with God, while we were still enemies, but that it must be maintained just as definitely, on the basis of the Word of God and of the Confession, that we personally become partakers of this benefit only by a true faith: reason why the Synod earnestly warns against every presentation of the matter which either denies the eternal surety of Christ for His elect or the demand of a true faith to become justified before God in the tribunal of the conscience.” This, therefore, is what we mean by justification from eternity.
Secondly, this justification is realized in time and historically grounded in the death of Christ. Christ died for all the elect. He atoned, once and forever, for all the sins of those whom the Father has given Him from before the foundation of the world. Hence, in the hour of judgment on the cross they all are justified objectively forever. Their sins can never be imputed to them any more. And they have a right to eternal life. On the cross, more than nineteen centuries ago, the debt of the sins of all the elect was paid; and they are righteous before God.
In the third place, in the resurrection of Christ the elect have God’s own assurance of justification. For even in His glorious resurrection they are all in Him; and with Him they have been raised, and therefore justified. This is plain from passages like Ephesians 2:4-6: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Fourthly, this justification is declared in the gospel. For the gospel is the declaration of the righteousness of God for all the elect, so that in the gospel we have our legal citizen’s papers in the eternal kingdom of God.
In the fifth place, we receive this righteousness by faith only; not indeed as if faith were another ground for our justification, and not indeed as if faith were a condition which, on our part, we must fulfill in order to be justified, but simply as the means whereby we are engrafted into Christ, and therefore become partakers of all His benefits, also of the benefit of justification. Of this we must presently say more.
In the sixth place, finally we shall be justified publicly, before all the world, in the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, when our righteousness in Christ shall be universally revealed and recognized and our public adoption unto children and heirs shall take place. This we have in Scripture, as, for instance, inRom. 8:23: “And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”
When God therefore realizes the justification of the ungodly, He appears both as a righteous and just Judge, in as far as He certainly renders a perfectly just verdict, but also as a gracious God and Father, in as far as He realizes everything that is necessary to the rendering of this just judgment in favor of His elect children.
As to the content of this justification, we must remark the following. In the first place, justification implies the complete forgiveness of sins. In justification we are perfectly acquitted in the judgment of God from all guilt and sin and death. For thus we read in the Scriptures: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Eph. 1:7. In the second place, justification implies the adoption unto children, including the granting of all the rights of children, also the right to the eternal inheritance. For thus we read in Galatians 4:4-6: “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God bath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” And finally, justification implies an eternal righteousness, a righteousness that can never be lost and that gives us the right to eternal life. In this the excellency of this righteousness is evident, even in distinction from the righteousness of Adam in the state of rectitude. Adam too was righteous, that is, he was without sin; and therefore, he too was worthy of life. He did live. And in the way of obedience he would no doubt have continued to live. Nevertheless, his life was earthy, not heavenly. Never could he have been found worthy of that higher state which the Bible calls eternal life and which could be attained only through the death of the Son of God. And not only was it impossible for Adam to have attained to that higher glory in the heavenly tabernacle, but it was even equally impossible for him to merit it. But Christ only is worthy of the resurrection, is worthy of life eternal.