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Justification, (2) The Definition of Justification Propounded, and in Part Expounded. Bishop Downame


Among all the articles of Christian religion there is none, as I suppose, either more necessary to be known, or more comfortable to be believed, than the doctrine of justification: whereby a faithful man is taught to believe and know, that he being a sinner in himself, and by sin obnoxious to eternal damnation; is by the mercies of God, and merits of Christ through faith, not only freed from the guilt of his sins and from everlasting damnation, but also accepted as righteous before God in Christ, and made heir of eternal life.

This doctrine in many places of the Scripture hereafter to be cited, is by way of excellency called the truth (John 1. 17), and sometimes the truth of the Gospel, as Gal. 2. 5 that is, the truth of God revealed in the Gospel concerning justification and salvation by the free grace of God, through the merits of Christ apprehended by faith; being also the chief argument contained in the Gospel, which is therefore called the power of God unto salvation, because therein the righteousness of God, even that by which we are justified and saved, is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith, or he that is just by faith shall live: which doctrine is so inviolably and incorruptly to be held, that if an Apostle, if an Angel from heaven shall teach any other Gospel, that is, any other doctrine whereby to be justified and saved, than by the only merits of Christ apprehended by faith, he ought to be held accursed.

But by how much the more necessary and comfortable this doctrine is: by so much the more it is oppugned by Satan; who as at the first, he did not abide in the truth (John 8. 44), nor kept his first estate, but left his habitation rather than he would (as some probably think) embrace this truth, namely that the second Person in Trinity should for the salvation of mankind become flesh, and that in him the nature of man should be advanced above the nature of Angels: so has he ever since opposed it by all means, as namely by raising, not only other false teachers in the Apostles times and since, but even Antichrist and his adherents in these later times, who have not only perverted this doctrine, but also subverted it, and have as it were, taken away the subject of the question: for by confounding the law and the Gospel, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, the benefits of justification and sanctification, and of two making but one; they have wholly abolished that great benefit of the Messias about our justification, whereby we are freed from hell, and entitled to the Kingdom of Heaven, and consequently they are fallen from grace, having disanulled the covenant of grace, and made the promise of none effect. For whosoever seeks to be justified by inherent righteousness, he is under the curse, he is a debtor to the whole law, and therefore to him Christ is become of none effect.

This being therefore a controversy of such importance, that it concerns our very title to the Kingdom of Heaven, it is to be handled with all diligence, and not without invocation of the Holy Spirit of truth; whom we beseech to guide and to direct us in setting down the truth, to confirm and stablish us in the profession of it, and to assist and strengthen us against the enemies thereof. But before I come to confute the errors of the Papists, the enemies of the truth; I will first set down the true doctrine of justification according to God’s word.

What is Justification ?

Justification therefore is a most gracious and righteous action of God, whereby he imputing the righteousness of Christ to a believing sinner, absolves him from his sins, and accepts of him as righteous in Christ, and as an heir of eternal life, to the praise and glory of his own mercy and justice. Where first consider the name of the thing, which we have now defined, and are hereafter to handle. To justify, if you respect the notation of the Latin word, signifies to make just, as to magnify, imports to make great. Neither is it to be doubted, but that the Lord, whom he justifies, does constitute or make just. Now the Lord makes men just two ways; either by imputation of Christ’s righteousness, which is out of them in Christ, as being his personal righteousness: or by infusion of righteousness, as it were, by influence into them from Christ their head. To the faithful therefore there belongs a twofold righteousness; the one of justification, the other of sanctification. The former is the righteousness of Christ, and therefore the righteousness of God, as it is often called, the righteousness of God; because it is the righteousness of him that is God, and is imputed to the believer: the later is ours, because inherent in us, though received from God, as all our good things are. The former is perfect, as being the righteousness of him that is God: the later is but begun in this life, and is to be perfected in the life to come. By the former we are justified, by the later we are sanctified.

If it be objected, that there seems little or no difference between these two words: for as to justify is to make just, so to sanctify is to make holy. And therefore as to sanctify, is to make holy by holiness infused: so to justify, is to make just by justice inherent. I answer, First, that this is contrary to the use of the word justify: not only perpetual in the Scriptures, but also ordinary in the speeches and writings of men. Wherein God is said to justify men, and man is said to justify God, and one man is said to justify another, and one and the same man to justify himself without any signification of infusing righteousness into him, but by clearing him and pronouncing him just. Secondly, that there is no further respect to be had in this controversy to the notation of the Latin or English word, than as it is a true translation of the Hebrew word in the Old Testament, and of the Greek in the New: now I shall make it evident, that the Hebrew hitsdiq, and so the Greek dikaioo is verbum forensi, a judicial word taken from the courts of justice which being attributed to the Judge, is opposed to condemning, and signifies to absolve, or to give sentence with the party questioned.

Justification as an Action of God

In the definition we consider justification, as an action of God, whose alone work it is; and so the Scriptures consider it in many places, as Rom. 8. 33. It is God that does justify, for it is he only that forgives sins, Isa. 43. 25. It is he only that can by making us righteous in Christ, give us right and title to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is no action therefore of our own, or of any creature, neither is it wrought by our own preparations and dispositions. For although every man is bound to use all means to attain to justification; yet it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheath mercy, Rom 9. 16. For if God be the agent in justifying us, then are we the patients. And for that cause we are never in the Scriptures exhorted to justification, or to the parts thereof (which are not our Officia or duties, but God's Beneficia) as we are to the duties of sanctification, whereunto we being already justified and regenerated, do co-operate with the Spirit of grace.

Justification as an Action as is Without Us

Secondly, when we say it is an action of God, imputing the righteousness of Christ and absolving the believing sinner, and accepting him, &c. we consider it not as an action of God within us working a positive or real change as in sanctification, but as an action of God without us. For it is a judicial act of God, as the Judge opposed to condemning. And therefore as by his sentence he does condemn, that is, make wicked; so by his sentence he does justify, that is, of guilty he makes not guilty, by his sentence God does justify, as Chrysostom and Oecumenius note upon Rom. 8. 33. where a judicial proceeding in the business of justification is plainly described. For there is mention of the accuser of God’s elect, there is God that justifieth, and none to condemn, there is the advocate and intercessor to plead for us (verse 34). And as in condemning, though the hebrew word Hirshiah opposed to justifying, signifies to make wicked (for as Tsady is to be just, and Hitsdiq to make just, that is, to justify; so Rashah to be wicked, and Hirshiah to make wicked, that is, to condemn) yet God by condemning does not make a real or positive change by infusion of wickedness into the party whom by his sentence he makes wicked, that is, condemns: so in justifying, though the word does signify to make righteous, yet the Lord does not, as he justifies work a real or positive mutation in the party, whom by his sentence he makes just, that is, justifies, in respect of any inward dispositions or qualities, but only a relative change or mutation in respect of his estate and condition before God, and in respect of some relations to him.

It is true, that in our justification we are of sinners made righteous; but the righteousness which we have by justification stands in remission of sin, and acceptation or constitution of us as righteous, not in ourselves, but in Christ: both which are wrought by imputation of his righteousness. It is true also, that whom God does justify, he does also sanctify. But in justification he does not work a real change in the party, as he does in sanctification. And this in the like actions of God, viz. adoption, redemption, and reconciliation, which three in substance differ not from justification. For all agree in the not imputing of sin (Ephes. 1. 7, Col. 1. 14, 2 Cor. 5. 19 & Rom. 4. 5, 7) by imputation of Christ’s righteousness, but are diversified by certain relations: all which concur in justification, that men having their sins forgiven, whereby they had been either the children of the Devil, by adoption are made the sons of God; or the vassals and bondslaves of sin and Satan, are by redemption made the servants of God; or enemies to God, by their reconciliation become his favourites; or guilty of sin and damnation, in their justification they are accepted as righteous in Christ and consequently become God's servants, God’s favourites, God’s sons; and if sons then also heirs of eternal life. As therefore in adoption, redemption, reconciliation, there is no real change made in the party, but only a new relation acquired, of being a son and heir to the Adoptor, a servant to the Redeemer, a favourite to the Reconciler, which before he was not: so neither in justification is there a real or positive change (as the Papists would have it) but relative, or that is, in relation, in respect of those relations even now mentioned; and in respect of his estate and condition before God; being in his justification translated from the estate of damnation, unto the state of salvation. Even as the Council of Trent, itself defines justification to be a translation from that state wherein a man is born the son of the first Adam, into a state of grace and adoption of God's sons, through the second Adam Jesus Christ our Saviour, which is done without any real change wrought in the party as he is justified. For who before was guilty of sin and damnation: the same man remaining a sinner in himself, and in himself worthy of damnation, is in his justification absolved from the guilt of sin, and accepted as righteous in Christ, in whom also he is made a servant, a favourite, a son of God, and consequently (as I said in the definition) an heir of eternal life.

And yet we deny not, but that those whom God reconciles unto himself, receiving them into his grace and favour in Christ, them also he endues in some measure with the graces of his Spirit: whom he adopts to be his sons in Christ, them also he regenerates by his Holy Spirit: whom he redeems from the guilt of sin, he also frees from the dominion of sin: and whom he justifies by faith, he also sanctifies by his Spirit, that is, whom he makes just by imputation, them also he makes just by infusion of righteousness: to whom he imputes the merit of Christ his death and resurrection apprehended by faith, to them also he applies the virtue and efficacy of Christ’s death and resurrection, both to mortify sin in them, and to raise them up to newness of life. By this doctrine we may try ourselves whether we be reconciled, redeemed, adopted, justified. For hereby it shall appear, that God has received us into his grace, if he has also endued us with his grace. Chasidim, as they are called in the Scriptures, the favourites of God, are usually translated his holy ones, and all the faithful, even in this life, are termed Saints. Hereby it will appear, that we are redeemed from the guilt of sin, if we be also freed from the dominion of sin. Hereby it will appear, that we are adopted, if we be also regenerated. Hereby it will appear, that we are justified, if we are also in some measure sanctified.

But yet, howsoever these graces always go together, and cannot be severed: yet must we carefully distinguish betwixt the grace of God which is in himself, and his graces which are in us; betwixt the actions of God’s grace without us, and the actions of his grace within us. Wherefore, though adoption and regeneration, though receiving into grace and enduing with grace, though redeeming from the guilt and purging in some measure from the corruption of sin, though justification and sanctification are always inseparable companions: yet we may not with the Papists confound them, and so place the matter of justification, and merit of salvation in ourselves, as they wickedly do; but we are religiously to distinguish them, as they are in themselves truly and really distinguished, to the praise of the glory, that is, the glorious praise of his grace, not of that which is in us, but of that which is in himself, whereby he has graciously accepted us in his beloved, Ephes. 1. 6.

Justification as a Continued Act

Thirdly, when we say it is an action of God imputing to a believing sinner, &c. We consider it, not as a sudden and momentary action, which is of no continuance, as if all our sins both past, present, and to come are remitted in an instant; but as an act of God continued from our vocation, wherein the grace of faith is begotten in us, to our glorification, which is the end of our faith. For as this action of God is called the justification of a sinner; so, whiles we continue sinners, we have still need to be justified. And as we always have sin in this life: so, that it may not be imputed, we have need, that Christ’s righteousness should be imputed unto us: and that as we sin daily, so Christ our advocate should continually make intercession for us: that notwithstanding our manifold slips, whereinto through human frailty we fall; and notwithstanding those manifold infirmities and corruptions, which remain in us as the relics of original sin, we may be continued in the grace and favour of God, by the continued imputation of Christ’s righteousness, obtained by his continual intercession for us. For therefore does he continue his intercession for us, that our justification may be continued to us: and that as we sin daily, so we may daily seek and obtain pardon. But if justification should so be wrought once and at once, as that after that act wrought in an instance, we should no more be justified, nor no more need remission of sin; then must we erroneously conceive, that the sins which after the first moment of our justification we do commit, are actually remitted before they be committed; whereas God forgives only sins past, Rom. 3. 25. So shall we not only set open a gap to all licentiousness (for who will so fear to commit sin as he ought, or when he has committed it, so sue for the pardon thereof, who is persuaded beforehand that it is already remitted) but also shall open the mouths of our adversaries, who will be ready to say, that we Protestants ought not to pray for remission of sin, because in our opinion (as they say) we need it not: but to this calumniation of the Papist I have elsewhere answered.

If it be said, that it is a received opinion among many, that justificatio simul & semel fit, that justification is wrought at once, and but once: I answer, that that assertion is not to be admitted without distinction, nor without good caution. The distinction is this: that there is a justification of a sinner before God in coelesti, which properly is called justification, and is that, which here I have defined: and there is a justification whereby a man already justified before God, is justified in foro conscienti, in the court of his own conscience: which is not properly justification itself, but the assurance of it. To this latter that assertion of but once and at once cannot in any good sense, be applied. For neither is the full assurance of our justification attained at once, but by degrees, wherein we are to labour and to give diligence to make, as our election and calling, so also our justification more and more sure unto us. Neither is it given but once. For by committing of any crime or any grievous sin, by spiritual desertions, by the forcible temptations of Satan, this act of spiritual faith, which we call assurance, may be interrupted or lost for a time; and yet by repentance, by prayer and practise of piety it may be recovered again; and therefore not given but once. To the former indeed it may be applied in both parts, but with a twofold caution: first, in respect of simul, at once, if it be understood as excluding degrees, and not continuance. Namely, that we are not justified by degrees, and as it were by little and little, as though our justification were not perfect at the first. For no sooner does a man truly believe in Christ, but the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him, and in and by that righteousness he stands righteous before God, as well at the first, as at the last; that righteousness of Christ, by which he is justified, whether first, or last, being most perfect. Therefore the righteousness of justification cannot be increased, neither doth our justification before God admit degrees, either in one and the same person, or yet in diverse men: howsoever the assurance of justification, and the work of sanctification, whereby we are to be renewed in the inner man day by day have degrees, according to the degrees of our faith, and according to the measure of grace received.

Secondly, when it is said that we are justified before God semel, but once, that also may be admitted, if by once be meant one continual act. For as we are regenerated but once, because ut semel nascimur, ita semel renascimur: so faith, which is wrought in our regeneration is given but once. For that which Saint Jude saith, verse 3. of faith once given, is no less true of the habit, than of the doctrine of faith; which habit, being once had, is never utterly lost. For all they who have true faith, are born of God, 1 John 5. 1, & John 1. 12, 13. And those who are once born of God are never unborn again; but being made sons by faith, as all the faithful are, Gal. 3. 26, they are also made heirs of God, and coheirs with Christ, Rom. 8. 17. As faith therefore is never utterly lost, no more is justification. For so long as we have faith, so long we are justified. But the habit of faith we never lose, though perhaps some act of faith may sometimes be interrupted. Therefore our justification is but one continued act, and in that sense we are justified but once.

The Papists confuted, who deny it either to be an action of God, or an action without us, or continued.

Now, whereas we have defined and defended according to the Scriptures, that justification is an action of God, and such an action as is without us, and a continued act: hence we may conclude against the Papists; first, that neither their first, nor second justification, is that justification, which is taught in the Scriptures. Not the second, for that is not God’s action, but their own: who being justified before by habitual righteousness infused from God, do themselves as they teach, by practising of good works increase their righteousness, that is, justify themselves by actual righteousness, as the merit of their second justification. Not, that we deny, that inherent righteousness is by practise of good works increased; but that we hold, that justification is not our own act, neither that we are justified by any righteousness inherent in ourselves, or performed by ourselves, nor that the righteousness of justification (which is indeed the righteousness of Christ) can be increased, and therefore no degrees of justification.

Not the first; which they make to be an action of God within us, working in us a real change or positive mutation by infusion of the habits of grace, and specially of charity, and confound it with habitual sanctification, from which notwithstanding it is necessarily to be distinguished.

Secondly, justification being an action of God, is not to be confounded with justification passively understood, and much less with justice itself. But the Papists not only understand it passively, but also confound it with inherent justice.

Thirdly, they do not hold justification to be one continued act from our vocation, to our glorification. But such an act, as may not only be interrupted oftentimes, and lost for a time, as they say it is, by every mortal sin, and again be renewed, so oft as they go to shrift; but also that it may totally and finally be lost. Which error I have confuted at large in my treatise of perseverance.


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