The Confession of Faith: A commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith
SECTION 1: THOSE whom God effectually calls he also freely justifies,(1) not by infusing righteousness into them but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience, to them, as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them,(2) they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.(3)
SECTION 2: FAITH, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness is the sole instrument of justification;(4) yet it 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.(5)
(1) Rom. 8:30; 3:24. (2) Rom. 4:5-8; 2 Cor. 5:19,21; Rom. 3:22, 24, 25, 27, 28; Titus 3:5,7; Eph. 1:7; Jer. 23:6; 1 Cor. 1:30,31; Rom. 5:17-19. (3) Acts 10:44; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 2:9; Acts 13:38,39; Eph. 2:7,8. (4) John 1:12; Rom. 3:28; 5:1. (5) James 2:17,22,26; Gal. 5:6.
We come now to the sections which instruct us on the nature and reality of justification.
1.All those, and only those, whom God has effectually called he also freely justifies, that this is so is proven by the following: (1) From the express declarations of Scripture: "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified." Rom. 8:30. (2) From the fact that effectual calling and justification are both necessary in order to salvation, and are both essential steps in the execution by God of his own immutable and infallibly efficacious decree of election. (3) From the fact that only those who truly believe are justified, and only those who are regenerate can truly believe.
2. As to its nature, this justification is a purely judicial act of God as judge, whereby he pardons all the sins of a believer, and accounts, accepts, and treats him as a person righteous in the eye of the divine law. This includes two subordinate propositions: (1) Justification is a judicial act of God, whereby he declares us to be conformed to the demands of the law as the condition of our life; it is not an act of gracious power, making us holy or conformed to the law as a standard of moral character. The Romanists use the term "justification" in a vague and general sense, as including at once the forgiveness of sins and the infusion of grace. Socinians, and those who teach the moral influence theory of the atonement, regard justification as meaning the same as sanctification; that is, the making a man personally holy. The true sense of Justification, stated above, is, when taken in its connection with faith, the grand central principle of the Reformation, brought out and triumphantly vindicated by Luther. That it is true is proved-
(a) From the universal meaning of the English word to justify, and of the equivalent Greek word in the New Testament. They both are alike always used to express an act declaring a man to be square with the demands of law, never to express an act making him holy. (Gal. 2:16; 3:11.)
(b) In Scripture, justification is always set forth as the opposite of condemnation. The opposite of "to sanctify" is "to pollute" but the opposite of "to justify" is "to condemn." (Rom. 8:30-34; John 3:18.)
(c) The true sense of the phrase "to justify" is clearly proved by the terms used in Scripture as equivalent to it. For example: "To impute righteousness without works"; "To forgive iniquities"; "To cover sins." (Rom. 4:6-8.) "Not to impute transgression unto them." (2 Cor. 5:19.) "Not to bring into condemnation." (John 5:24.)
(d) In many passages it would produce the most obvious nonsense to substitute sanctification (the making holy) for justification (the declaring legally just); as, for instance: "For by the works of the law shall no flesh be sanctified"; or, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are sanctified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." (Gal. 2:16; 5:4.)
(e) Justification and sanctification are set forth in Scripture as distinct graces-inseparable, alike necessary, yet distinct in their nature, grounds and ends. 1 Cor. 6:11.
(2) Justification is not mere pardon; it includes pardon of sin, and in addition the declaration that all the claims of law are satisfied with respect to the person justified, and that consequently he has a right to all the immunities and rewards which in the covenant of life are suspended upon perfect conformity to the demands of law. Pardon (a) Relaxes the claims of law, or waives their exaction in a given case. (b) It is an act of a sovereign in the exercise of pure prerogative. (c) It is free, resting upon considerations of mercy or of public policy. (d) It simply remits the penalty of sin; it secures neither honors nor rewards.
On the other hand, justification (a) Is the act of a judge, not of a sovereign. (b) It rests purely upon the state of the law and of the facts, and is impossible where there is not a perfect righteousness. (c) It pronounces the law not relaxed, but fulfilled in its strictest sense. (d) It declares the person justified to be justly entitled to all the honors advantages suspended upon perfect conformity to all the demands of law. The truth of this proposition is proved-
(a) From the uniform and obvious meaning of the words "to justify." No one ever confounds the justification of a person with his pardon.
(b) Justification rests upon the full satisfaction of divine justice Christ has worked for the elect. It is a judicial declaration that the law is satisfied- not a sovereign waiving of the penalty.
(c) The Scriptures declare that our justification proceeds upon the ground of a perfect righteousness. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." (Rom. 10:3-9; 1 Cor. 1:30.) The essence of pardon is that a man is forgiven without righteousness. The essence of Justification is that a man is pronounced to be possessed of righteousness, which satisfies the law. We are "made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor. 5:21.) Justification is paraphrased as "not imputing sin"; as "imputing righteousness without works." (Rom. 4:6-8.)
(d) The effects of justification are much more than those of pardon. The justified have "peace with God," assurance of salvation (Rom. 5:1-10); "inheritance among them which are sanctified" (Acts 26:18).
3.Justification proceeds upon the imputation or crediting to the believer by God of the righteousness of his great Representative and Surety, Jesus Christ. L. Cat., q. 70: "Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone." (Compare also L. Cat., q. 77; and S. Cat., q. 33.)
Arminians hold that for Christ's sake the demands of the law are graciously lowered, and faith and evangelical obedience accepted in the place of perfect obedience as the ground of justification. Our Standards and all the Reformed and Lutheran Confessions teach that the true ground of justification is the perfect righteousness (active and passive) of Christ, imputed to the believer, and received by faith alone. S. Cat., q. 33. This is proved-
(1) Because the Scriptures insist everywhere that we are not justified by works. This is affirmed of works in general-of all kinds of works, natural or gracious, without distinction. (Rom. 4:4-8; 11:6.)
(2) Because the Scriptures declare that good works, of whatever kind, instead of being the ground of justification, are possible only as its consequences: "For sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace"; "But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." (Rom. 6:14; 7:6.)
(3) Because the Scriptures declare that the obedience and suffering-i.e., perfect righteousness or fulfillment of the law-by Christ, our Representative, is the true ground of Justification: "Therefore, 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." (Rom. 5:18,19; 10:4; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9.)
(4) Because the Scriptures affirm that this righteousness is imputed to the believer in the act of justification. The phrase "to impute sin" or "righteousness," in its scriptural usage, signifies simply to set to one's account, to lay to one's charge or credit as the ground of judicial process. Our sins are said to have been laid upon Christ (Isa. 53:6,12; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:24), because their guilt was so charged to his account that they were justly punished in him. In like manner Christ's righteousness is imputed, or its rewardableness is so credited to the believer that all the covenanted honors and rewards of a perfect righteousness henceforth rightly belong to him. (Rom. 4:4-8; 2 Cor. 5:19-21.) For the usage of the Hebrew and Greek equivalents of "imputation" (see Gen. 31:15; Lev. 7:18; Num. 18:27-30; Mark 15:28; Luke 22:37; Rom. 2:26; 4:3-9; 2 Cor. 5:19).
This doctrine of our Standards is that of the whole Protestant body of the Reformed and Lutheran Churches.
Calvin says in his Institutes, b. 3., ch. 11., s. 2: "A man will be justified by faith when, excluded from the righteousness of works, he by faith lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and, clothed in it, appears in the sight of God, not as a sinner, but as righteous." The Heidelberg Cat., q. 60: "How art thou justified in the sight of God? Only by a true 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."
Lutheran Form. of Concord: "That righteousness which before God is of mere grace imputed to faith, or to the believer, is the obedience, suffering, and resurrection of Christ, by which he for our sakes satisfied the law and expiated our sins. . . . On which account his obedience . . . is imputed to us; so that God, on account of that whole obedience . . . remits our sins, reputes us as good and just, and gives us eternal salvation."
4.That the essential and sole condition upon which this gracious imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the believer proceeds is, that he exercises faith in or on Christ as his righteousness, or ground of acceptance and justification. Faith is here called the "condition" of justification, because it is an essential requisite, and necessary instrument whereby the soul, always treated as a free agent, appropriates the righteousness of Christ, which is the legal ground of justification. That faith in or on Christ, and no other grace, is always represented in Scripture as the necessary instrument or means of justification, is proved, (Gal. 2:16; Rom. 4:9; Acts 16:31.) That faith is the instrument whereby the soul apprehends the true ground of justification in the righteousness of Christ, and is not itself, as Arminians pretend, that ground, is proved-
(1) Because, as above shown, the vicarious obedience and suffering of Christ is that ground.
(2) Because faith is "a work," and Paul asserts that justification on the ground of works is impossible. (Rom. 3:20-28; Gal. 2:16.)
(3) Because faith in or on Christ evidently rests upon that which is without itself, and from its very nature is incapable of laying the foundation for a legal justification.
(4) Because the Scriptures constantly affirm that we are justified "through" or by means of faith, but never on account of or for the sake of faith. Rom. 5:1; Gal. 2:16.
5.This faith itself is not our own, but a gracious gift of God. (Eph. 2:7,8; Acts 14:27.)
6.While it is faith alone, unassociated with any other grace, which is the sole instrument of justification, yet it is never alone in the justified person, but when genuine is always accompanied with all other Christian graces. To our doctrine of justification the famous passage in James 2:14 is often objected. But Paul and James are speaking of different things. Paul teaches that faith alone justifies. He is arguing against Pharisees and legalists. James teaches that a faith which is alone-that is, a dead faith-will not justify. He is arguing against nominal Christians, who would hold the truth in unrighteousness. Paul uses the word "justify" in the sense of God's justification of the sinner; to which faith, and not works, is prerequisite. James uses the word to "justify" in the sense of prove true, or real; in which sense faith is justified or proved genuine by works. Consequently, orthodox theologians have always acknowledged that while faith alone justifies, a faith which is alone, or unassociated with other graces and fruitless in good works, will not justify. "Works," says Luther, "are not taken into consideration when the question respects justification. But true faith will no more fail to produce them than the sun can cease to give light."
SECTION 3: CHRIST, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction, to his Father's justice in their behalf.(6) Yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them,(7) and his obedience and satisfaction in their stead,(8) and both freely, not for anything in them, their justification is only of free grace;(9) that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.(10)
(6) Rom. 5:8-10,19; 1 Tim. 2:5,6; Heb. 10:10,14; Dan. 9:24,26; Isa. 53:4-6, 10-12. (7) Rom. 8:32. (8) 2 Cor. 5:21; Matt. 3:17; Eph. 5:2. (9) Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7. (10) Rom. 3:26; Eph. 2:7.
The first truth asserted in this section is, that Christ, by his obedience and death, has fully paid the debt of those who are Justified; and that he made for them a proper, real, and full satisfaction to his Father's justice. In connection with the above, the second truth that is taught here is, that this justification is, as it respects the persons justified, from beginning to end a stupendous manifestation of the free grace of God.
The fact that Christ's righteousness is the ground of justification, and that his righteousness in strict rigor fully satisfies all the demands of the divine law, instead of being inconsistent with the perfect freedom and graciousness of justification, vastly enhances its grace. It is evident that God must either sacrifice his law, his elect, or his Son (Gal. 2:21; 3:21). It is no less plain that it is a far greater expression of love and free grace to save the elect at the expense of such a sacrifice than it would be to save them either at the sacrifice of principle or in case no sacrifice of any kind was needed. The cross of Christ is the focus in which the most intense rays alike of divine grace and justice meet together, in which they are perfectly reconciled. This is the highest reach of justice, and at the same time and for the same reason the highest reach of grace the universe can ever see. The self-assumption of the penalty upon the part of the eternal Son of God is the highest conceivable vindication of the absolute inviolability of justice, and at the same time the highest conceivable expression of infinite love. Justice is vindicated in the vicarious suffering of the very penalty in strict rigor. Free grace is manifested-(1) In the admittance of a vicarious sufferer. (2) In the gift of God's beloved Son for that service. (3) In the sovereign election of the persons to be represented by him. (4) In the glorious rewards which accrue to them on condition of that representation.
SECTION 4: GOD did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect;(11) and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification.(12) Nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit in due time actually applies Christ unto them.(13)
(11) Gal. 3:8; 1 Pet. 1:2,19,20; Rom. 8:30. (12) Gal. 4:4; 1 Tim. 2:6; Rom. 4:25. (13) Col. 1:21,22; Gal. 2:16; Titus 3:4-7.
It has been objected to our doctrine by some Arminians, and held as a part of it by some Antinomians, that if Christ literally paid the debt of his elect in his obedience and suffering when on earth, it must follow that the elect have been justified from the moment that debt was paid. The Scriptures, on the contrary, as well as all Christian experience, make it certain that no one is justified until the moment that God gives him saving faith in Christ.
Christ paid the penal, not the money debt of his people. It is a matter of free grace that his substitution was admitted. The satisfaction, therefore, does not liberate ipso facto , like the payment of a money debt, but sets the real criminal free only on such conditions and at such times as had been previously agreed upon between God, the gracious sovereign, on the one hand, and Christ, their representative and substitute, on the other hand. Christ died for his people in execution of a covenant between himself and his Father, entered into in eternity. The effects of his death, therefore, eventuate precisely as and when it is provided in the covenant that it should do so.
SECTION 5: GOD continues to forgive the sins of those who are justified;(14) and although they can never fall from the state of justification,(15) yet they may by their sins fall under God's fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.(16)
(14) Matt. 6:12; 1 John 1:7,9; 2:1,2. (15) Luke 22:32; John 10:28; Heb. 10:14. (16) Ps. 89:31-33; 51:7-12; 32:5; Matt. 26:75; 1 Cor. 11:30,32; Luke 1:20.
This section teaches that justification changes radically and permanently the relation which the subject of it sustains both to God and to the demands of the divine law viewed as a condition of favor. Before justification, God is an angry judge, holding the sentence of the condemning law for a season in suspense.
After justification, the law instead of condemning acquits, and demands that the subject be regarded and treated like a son, as is provided in the eternal covenant; and God, as a loving Father, proceeds to execute all the kind offices which belong to the new relation. This requires, of course, discipline and correction, as well as instruction and consolation. All suffering is either mere calamity, when viewed aside from all intentional relation to human character; or penalty, when designed to satisfy justice for sin; or chastisement, when designed to correct and improve the offender. Irrespective of the economy of redemption, all suffering is to the reprobate installments of the eternal penalty. After justification, all suffering to the justified, of whatever kind, is fatherly chastisement, designed to correct their faults and improve their graces. And as they came, in the first instance, to God in the exercise of repentance and faith in Christ, so must they always continue to return to him after every partial wandering and loss of his sensible favor in the exercise of the same repentance and faith; and thus only can they hope to have his pardon sensibly renewed to them. Examine the proof-texts appended above to the text of this section of the Confession.
SECTION 6: THE justification of believers under the Old Testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the New Testament.(17)
(17) Gal. 3:9,13,14; Rom. 4:22-24; Heb. 13:8.
The truth taught in this section has already been fully proved above, under chapter 7., ss. 4-6; and chapter 8., s. 6.