Such is, evidently, the implication of the Scripture in: “Who was delivered for our transgressions, and was raised again for our justification.” Christ, we must remember, 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 our transgressions and satisfied the justice of God. He would have been swallwed up of death. But God, by raising Him from the dead, gave Him testimony that, as the head of His people, He was righteous, and therefore we are righteous in Him. Hence, the resurrection of Christ is the Word of God concerning our justification. And: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be salved.” .
And this righteousness of God in Christ is an eternal righteousness, worthy of eternal life. Adam in the state of rectitude was righteous, too. He was without sin. And therefore he, too, was worthy of life. And he did live and, in the way of obedience, he would, no doubt have continued to live. But his life was earthy, and 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. Not only was it impossible for Adam to have attained to that higher glory in the heavenly tabernacle, but it was equally impossible for him to have merited it. But Christ is worthy of the resurrection,of life eternal. He is the Son of God in human nature. And He humbled Himself deeply, into death and hell, in perfect obedience of love. Hence, if was entirely according to the justice of God that, in the same measure that He humbled Himself He should be highly exalted and attain to the state of immortality and eternal glory. Such is the teaching of: “Who being in the form of God, thought it no robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Christ’s righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and in Him we are worthy of eternal life.
This righteousness is imputed to us. The Catechism explains, that we are righteous only through faith in Jesus Christ, “so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me.” The question is: how is this imputation possible? Is there not rather a double injustice involved in this reckoning of Christ’s righteousness to us? Christ, the innocent, the perfectly righteous, is condemned to death and hell; and we, guilty sinners, go free and are considered worthy of eternal life. Would not such imputation, in any human court of justice, be considered the height of injustice? How then can God justify the ungodly by simply imputing a righteousness which is not ours, but which Christ hath obtained for us, to them? In this connection we must remember that Christ and His people are before God a legal corporation of which He is the Head and all His people are the members. This corporation was established by God Himself in His eternal election. We are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.. In the same way Adam is the head of all mankind in the legal sense of the word. In that capacity he sins for all, and in him we are all condemned. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” And again: “For the judgment was by one to condemnation.” And again: “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” . From all these passages it is plain that there was a legal relation between Adam and the human race, so that they formed a corporate body of which Adam was the head and all men are the members. The same is true of Christ and the elect. In this respect Adam is the figure of Him that was to come. . And the apostle Paul, in the same chapter, draws a parallel between Adam as the head of all mankind and Christ as the head of the elect. If through the offence of one many be dead, the grace of God and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, has therefore abounded unto many; and the free gift is of many offences unto justification; and “as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” . Hence, in His death Christ stands before God as the head of all the elect. He suffers and dies on account of our transgressions, and is raised on account of our justification. (In the original we have here dia with the accusative, and, therefore, the preposition for should, strictly speaking, be rendered on account of.) According to this relationship of Christ and His people, it is according to perfect justice that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us.
Hence, we can distinguish several steps in our justification.
First of all, we can speak of our justification from eternity. We 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 to overemphasize the counsel of God, maintained that one could speak only of justification by faith. They denied eternal justification. The Conclusions of Utrecht settled this matter as follows: “Concerning the second point, the eternal justification, Synod declares that this expression itself does not occur in our Confessions, 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 inand 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 Confessions, 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.”
And this is correct.
We do not become righteous before God in time, by faith, but we are righteous in the tribunal of God from before the foundation of the world. God beholds us in eternity, not as sinners, but as perfectly righteous, as redeemed, as justified in Christ. Hence, we read in: “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.” And in Isaiah 49:16: “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” And in : “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.”
And this is, indeed, the comfort of faith. Faith in Christ takes hold upon eternity, and knows that there is no condemnation, that there never was condemnation for them whom God hath justified.
Secondly, this justification is objectively realized and historically grounded in the death of Christ. Christ died for all the elect. He atoned, once and forever, perfectly 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 are all justified forever. Their sins can never be imputed to them anymore, and they have a right to eternal life. More than nineteen centuries ago the debt of their sins was paid, and they are righteous before God.
Thirdly, in the resurrection of Christ they, the elect, have God’s own assurance of justification. For even in His glorious resurrection they are in Him, and with Him they are risen.
Fourthly, this justification is declared in the Gospel. For, the Gospel is the declaration of the righteousness, so that, in the Gospel, we have our legal citizens’ papers in the eternal Kingdom of God.
Fifthly, we receive this righteousness by faith only, not indeed as if faith were another ground for our justification, but simply as the means whereby we are ingrafted into Christ, and become partakers of all His benefits. About this question we must say more in the next chapter, in connection with question sixty-one.
And, finally, we shall be justified 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 will take place.