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X - ARGUMENTS FOR JUSTIFICATION BY THE IMPUTATION OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST. THE FIRST ARGUMENT FROM THE NATURE AND USE OF OUR OWN PERSONAL RIGHTEOUSNESS
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Arguments for justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ — Our own personal righteousness not that on the account whereof we are justified in the sight of God — Disclaimed in the Scriptures, as to any such end — The truth and reality of it granted — Manifold imperfection accompanying it, rendering it unmeet to be a righteousness unto the justification of life III. There is a justification of convinced sinners on their believing. Hereon are their sins pardoned, their persons accepted with God, and a right is given unto them unto the heavenly inheritance. This state they are immediately taken into upon their faith, or believing in Jesus Christ. And a state it is of actual peace with God These things at present take for granted; and they are the foundation of all that I shall plead in the present argument. And I do take notice of them, because some seem, to the best of my understanding, to deny any real actual justification of sinners on their believing in this life. For they make justification to be only a general conditional sentence declared in the gospel; which, as unto its execution, is delayed unto the day of judgment. For whilst men are in this world, the whole condition of it being not fulfilled, they cannot be partakers of it, or be actually and absolutely justified. Hereon it follows, that indeed there is no real state of assured rest and peace with God by Jesus Christ, for any persons in this life. This at present I shall not dispute about, because it seems to me to overthrow the whole gospel, — the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and all the comfort of believers; about which I hope we are not as yet called to contend.
Our inquiry is, how convinced sinners do, on their believing, obtain the remission of sins, acceptance with God, and a right unto eternal life? And if this can no other way be done but by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto them, then thereby alone are they justified in the sight of God. And this assertion proceeds on a supposition that there is a righteousness required unto the justification of any person whatever: for whereas God, in the justification of any person, does declare him to be acquitted from all crimes laid unto his charges, and to stand as righteous in his sight, it must be on the consideration of a righteousness whereon any man is so acquitted and declared; for the judgment of God is according unto truth. This we have sufficiently evidenced before, in that juridical procedure wherein the Scripture represents unto us the justification of a believing sinner. And if there be not other righteousness whereby we may be thus justified but only that of Christ imputed unto us, then thereby must we be justified, or not at all; and if there be any such other righteousness, it must be our own, inherent in us, and wrought out by us; for these two kinds, inherent and imputed righteousness, our own and Christ’s, divide the whole nature of righteousness, as to the end inquired after. And that there is no such inherent righteousness, no such righteousness of our own, whereby we may be justified before God, I shall prove in the first place. And I shall do it, first, from express testimonies of Scripture, and then from the consideration of the thing itself; and two things I shall premise hereunto: —
1. That I shall not consider this righteousness of our own absolutely in itself, but as it may be conceived to be improved and advanced by its relation unto the satisfaction and merit of Christ: for many will grant that our inherent righteousness is not of itself sufficient to justify us in the sight of God; but take it as it has value and worth communicated unto it from the merit of Christ, and so it is accepted unto that end, and judged worthy of eternal life. We could not merit life and salvation had not Christ merited that grace for us whereby we may do so, and merited also that our works should be of such a dignity with respect unto reward. We shall, therefore, allow what worth can be reasonably thought to be communicated unto this righteousness from its respect unto the merit of Christ.
2. Whereas persons of all sorts and parties do take various ways in the assignation of an interest in our justification unto our own righteousness, so as that no parties are agreed about it, nor many of the same mind among themselves, — as might easily be manifested in the Papists, Socinians, and others, I shall, so far as it is possible in the ensuing arguments, have respect unto them all; for my design is to prove that it has no such interest in our justification before God, as that the righteousness of Christ should not be esteemed the only righteousness whereon we are justified.
And, First, we shall produce some of those many testimonies which may be pleaded unto this purpose, Psalm 130:3,4, “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” There is an inquiry included in these words, how a man, how any man, may be justified before God; how he may stand, that is, in the presence of God, and be accepted with him, — how he shall stand in judgment, as it is explained, Psalm 1:5, “The wicked shall not stand in the judgment,” shall not be acquitted on their trial. That which first offers itself unto this end is his own obedience; for this the law requires of him in the first place, and this his own conscience calls upon him for. But the psalmist plainly declares that no man can thence manage a plea for his justification with any success; and the reason is, because, notwithstanding the best of the obedience of the best of men, there are iniquities found with them against the Lord their God; and if men come to their trial before God, whether they shall be justified or condemned, these also must be heard and taken into the account. But then no man can “stand,” no man can be “justified,” as it is elsewhere expressed.
Wherefore, the wisest and safest course is, as unto our justification before God, utterly to forego this plea and not to insist on our own obedience, lest our sins should appear also, and be heard. No reason can any man give on his own account why they should not be so; and if they be so, the best of men will be cast in their trial as the psalmist declares.
Two things are required in this trial, that a sinner may stand: —
1. That his iniquities be not observed, for if they be so, he is lost for ever.
2. That a righteousness be produced and pleaded that will endure the trial; for justification is upon a justifying righteousness.
For the first of these, the psalmist tells us it must be through pardon or forgiveness. “But there is forgiveness with thee,” wherein lies our only relief against the condemnatory sentence of the law with respect unto our iniquities, — that is, through the blood of Christ, for in him “we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins,” Ephesians 1:7. The other cannot be our own obedience, because of our iniquities.
Wherefore this the same psalmist directs us unto, Psalm 71:16, “I will go in the strength of the Lord God: I will make mention of thy righteousness, of thine only.” The righteousness of God, and not his own, yea, in opposition unto his own, is the only plea that in this case he would insist upon.
If no man can stand a trial before God upon his own obedience, so as to be justified before him, because of his own personal iniquities; and if our only plea in that case be the righteousness of God, the righteousness of God only, and not our own; then is there no personal, inherent righteousness in any believers whereon they may be justified; — which is that which is to be proved.
The same is again asserted by the same person, and that more plainly and directly, Psalm 143:2, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” This testimony is the more to he considered, because as it is derived from the law, Exodus 34:7, so it is transferred into the gospel, and twice urged by the apostle unto the same purpose, Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16.
The person who insists on this plea with God professes himself to be his servant: “Enter not into judgment with thy servant;” that is, one that loved him, feared him, yielded all sincere obedience. He was not a hypocrite, not an unbeliever, not an unregenerate person, who had performed no works but such as were legal, such as the law required, and such as were done in the strength of the law only; such works as all will acknowledge to be excluded from our justification, and which, as many judge, are only those which are so excluded. David it was, who was not only converted, a true believer, had the Spirit of God, and the aids of special grace in his obedience, but had this testimony unto his sincerity, that he was “a man after God’s own heart.” And this witness had he in his own conscience of his integrity, uprightness, and personal righteousness, so as that he frequently avows them, appeals unto God concerning the truth of them, and pleads them as a ground of judgment between him and his adversaries.
This person, under these circumstances, thus testified unto both by God and in his own conscience, as unto the sincerity, yea, as unto the eminency, of his obedience, considers how he may “stand before God,” and “be justified in his sight.” Why does he not now plead his own merits; and that, if not “ex condigno,” yet at least “ex congruo,” he deserved to be acquitted and justified? But he left this plea for that generation of men that were to come after, who would justify themselves and despise others. But suppose he had no such confidence in the merit of his works as some have now attained unto, yet why does he not freely enter into judgment with God, put it unto the trial whether he should be justified or no, by pleading that he had fulfilled the condition of the new covenant, that everlasting covenant which God made with him, ordered in all things, and sure? For upon a supposition of the procurement of that covenant and the terms of it by Christ (for I suppose the virtue of that purchase he made of it is allowed to extend unto the Old Testament), this was all that was required of him. Is it not to be feared that he was one of them who see no necessity, or leave none, of personal holiness and righteousness, seeing he makes no mention of it, now it should stand him in the greatest stead? At least he might plead his faith, as his own duty and work, to be imputed unto him for righteousness. But whatever the reason be, he waives them all, and absolutely deprecates a trial upon them. “Come not,” says he, “O LORD, into judgment with thy servant;” as it is promised that he who believes should “not come into judgment,” John 5:24.
And if this holy person renounce the whole consideration of all his personal, inherent righteousness, in every kind, and will not insist upon it under any pretense, in any place, as unto any use in his justification before God, we may safely conclude there is no such righteousness in any, whereby they may be justified. And if men would but leave those shades and coverts under which they hide themselves in their disputations, — if they would forego those pretenses and distinctions wherewith they delude themselves and others, and tell us plainly what plea they dare make in the presence of God from their own righteousness and obedience, that they may be justified before him, — we should better understand their minds than now we do. There is one, I confess, who speaks with some confidence unto this purpose, and that is Vasquez the Jesuit, in 1, 2, disp. 204, cap. 4, “Inhaerens justitia ita reddit animam justam et sanctam ac proinde iliam Dei, ut hoc ipso reddat eam heredem, et dignam aeterna gloria; imo ipse Deus efficere non potest ut hujusmodi justis dignus non sit aeterna beatitudine”. Is it not sad, that David should discover so much ignorance of the worth of his inherent righteousness, and discover so much pusillanimity with respect unto his trial before God, whereas God himself could not otherwise order it, but that he was, and must be, “worthy of eternal blessedness?”
The reason the psalmist gives why he will not put it unto the trial, whether he should be acquitted or justified upon his own obedience, is this general axiom: “For in thy sight,” or before thee, “shall no man living be justified.” This must be spoken absolutely, or with respect unto some one way or cause of justification. If it be spoken absolutely, then this work ceases forever, and there is indeed no such thing as justification before God. But this is contrary unto the whole Scripture, and destructive of the gospel. Wherefore it is spoken with respect unto our own obedience and works. He does not pray absolutely that he “would not enter into judgment with him,” for this were to forego his government of the world; but that he would not do so on the account of his own duties and obedience. But if so be these duties and obedience did answer, in any sense or way, what is required of us as a righteousness unto justification, there was no reason why he should deprecate a trial by them or upon them. But whereas the Holy Ghost does so positively affirm that “no man living shall be justified in the sight of God,” by or upon his own works or obedience, it is, I confess, marvelous unto me that some should so interpret the apostle James as if he affirmed the express contrary, — namely, that we are justified in the sight of God by our own works, — whereas indeed he says no such thing. This, therefore, is an eternal rule of truth, — By or upon his own obedience no man living can be justified in the sight of God. It will be said, “That if God enter into judgment with any on their own obedience by and according to the law, then, indeed, none can be justified before him; but God judging according to the gospel and the terms of the new covenant, men may be justified upon their own duties, works, and obedience.”
(1.) The negative assertion is general and unlimited, — that “no man living shall” (on his own works or obedience) “be justified in the sight of God.” And to limit it unto this or that way of judging, is not to distinguish, but to contradict the Holy Ghost.
(2.) The judgment intended is only with respect unto justification, as is plain in the words; but there is no judgment on our works or obedience, with respect unto righteousness and justification, but by the proper rule and measure of them, which is the law. If they will not endure the trial by the law, they will endure no trial, as unto righteousness and justification in the sight of God.
(3.) The prayer and plea of the psalmist, on this supposition, are to this purpose: “O LORD, enter not into judgment with thy servant by or according unto the law; but enter into judgment with me on my own works and obedience according to the rule of the gospel;” for which he gives this reason, “because in thy sight shall no man living be justified:” which how remote it is from his intention need not be declared.
(4.) The judgment of God unto justification according to the gospel does not proceed on our works of obedience, but upon the righteousness of Christ, and our interest therein by faith; as is too evident to be modestly denied. Notwithstanding this exception, therefore, hence we argue, — If the most holy of the servants of God, in and after a course of sincere, fruitful obedience, testified unto by God himself, and witnessed in their own consciences, — that is, whilst they have the greatest evidences of their own sincerity, and that indeed they are the servants of God, — do renounce all thoughts of such a righteousness thereby, as whereon, in any sense, they may be justified before God; then there is no such righteousness in any, but it is the righteousness of Christ alone, imputed unto us, whereon we are so justified. But that so they do, and ought all of them so to do, because of the general rule here laid down, that in the sight of God no man living shall be justified, is plainly affirmed in this testimony.
I no way doubt but that many learned men, after all their pleas for an interest of personal righteousness and works in our justification before God, do, as unto their own practice, retake themselves unto this method of the psalmist, and cry, as the prophet Daniel does, in the name of the church, “We do not present our supplications before thee for our own righteousness, but for thy great mercies,” chap. 9:18. And therefore Job (as we have formerly observed), after a long and earnest defense of his own faith, integrity, and personal righteousness, wherein he justified himself against the charge of Satan and men, being called to plead his cause in the sight of God, and declare on what grounds he expected to be justified before him, renounces all his former pleas, and betakes himself unto the same with the psalmist, chap. 40:4; 43:6.
It is true, in particular cases, and as unto some special ends in the providence of God, a man may plead his own integrity and obedience before God himself. So did Hezekiah, when he prayed for the sparing of his life, Isaiah 38:3, “Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.” This, I say, may be done with respect unto temporal deliverance, or any other particular end wherein the glory of God is concerned: so was it greatly in sparing the life of Hezekiah at that time. For whereas he had with great zeal and industry reformed religion and restored the true worship of God, the “cutting him off in the midst of his days” would have occasioned the idolatrous multitude to have reflected on him as one dying under a token of divine displeasure. But none ever made this plea before God for the absolute justification of their persons.
So Nehemiah, in that great contest which he had about the worship of God and the service of his house, pleads the remembrance of it before God, in his justification against his adversaries; but resolves his own personal acceptance with God into pardoning mercy: “And spare me according unto the multitude of thy mercies,” chap. 13:22.
Another testimony we have unto the same purpose in the prophet Isaiah, speaking in the name of the church, chap. 64:6, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” It is true the prophet does in this place make a deep confession of the sins of the people; but yet withal he joins himself with them, and asserts the especial interest of those concerning whom he speaks, by adoption, — that God was their Father, and they his people, chap. 63:16, 44:8, 9. And the righteousnesses of all that are the children of God are of the same kind, however they may differ in degrees, and some of them may be more righteous than others; but it is all of it described to be such, as that we cannot, I think, justly expect justification in the sight of God upon the account of it. But whereas the consideration of the nature of our inherent righteousness belongs unto the second way of the confirmation of our present argument, I shall not farther here insist on this testimony.
Many others also, unto the same purpose, I shall wholly omit, — namely, all those wherein the saints of God, or the church, in a humble acknowledgment and confession of their own sins, do retake themselves unto the mercy and grace of God alone, as dispensed through the mediation and blood of Christ; and all those wherein God promises to pardon and blot out our iniquities for his own sake, for his name’s sake — to bless the people, not for any good that was in them nor for their righteousness, nor for their works, the consideration whereof he excludes from having any influence into any acting of his grace towards them; and all those wherein God expresses his delight in them alone, and his approbation of them who hope in his mercy, trust in his name, retaking themselves unto him as their only refuge, pronouncing them accursed who trust in any thing else, or glory in themselves, — such as contain singular promises unto them that retake themselves unto God, as fatherless, hopeless, and lost in themselves.
There is none of the testimonies which are multiplied unto this purpose, but they sufficiently prove that the best of God’s saints have not a righteousness of their own whereon they can, in any sense, be justified before God. For they do all of them, in the places referred unto, renounce any such righteousness of their own, all that is in them, all that they have done or can do, and retake themselves unto grace and mercy alone. And whereas, as we have before proved, God, in the justification of any, does exercise grace towards them with respect unto a righteousness whereon he declares them righteous and accepted before him, they do all of them respect a righteousness which is not inherent in us, but imputed to us.
Herein lies the substance of all that we inquire into, in this matter of justification. All other disputes about qualifications, conditions, causes, “aneu hoon ouk”, any kind of interest for our own works and obedience in our justification before God, are but the speculations of men at ease. The conscience of a convinced sinner, who presents himself in the presence of God, finds all practically reduced unto this one point, — namely, whether he will trust unto his own personal inherent righteousness, or, in a full renunciation of it, retake himself unto the grace of God and the righteousness of Christ alone. In other things he is not concerned. And let men phrase his own righteousness unto him as they please, let them pretend it meritorious, or only evangelical, not legal, — only an accomplishment of the condition of the new covenant, a cause without which he cannot be justified, — it will not be easy to frame his mind unto any confidence in it, as unto justification before God, so as not to deceive him in the issue.
The second part of the present argument is taken from the nature of the thing itself, or the consideration of this personal, inherent righteousness of our own, what it is, and wherein it does consist, and of what use it may be in our justification. And unto this purpose it may be observed, — That we grant an inherent righteousness in all that do believe, as has been before declared: “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth”, Ephesians 5:9. “Being made free from sin, we become the servants of righteousness”, Romans 6:18. And our duty it is to “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness,” Timothy 6:11. And although righteousness be mostly taken for an especial grace or duty, distinct from other graces and duties, yet we acknowledge that it may be taken for the whole of our obedience before God; and the word is so used in the Scripture, where our own righteousness is opposed unto the righteousness of God. And it is either habitual or actual. There is a habitual righteousness inherent in believers, as they have “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” Ephesians 4:24; as they are the “workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus unto good works,” chap. 2:10. And there is an actual righteousness, consisting in those good works whereunto we are so created, or the fruits of righteousness, which are to the praise of God by Jesus Christ. And concerning this righteousness it may be observed, first, That men are said in the Scripture to be just or righteous by it; but no one is said to be justified by it before God. Secondly, That it is not ascribed unto, or found in, any but those that are actually justified in order of nature antecedent thereunto.
This being the constant doctrine of all the Reformed churches and divines, it is an open calumny whereby the contrary is ascribed unto them, or any of those who believe the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto our justification before God. So Bellarmine affirms that no Protestant writers acknowledge an inherent righteousness but only Bucer and Chemnitius; when there is no one of them by whom either the thing itself or the necessity of it is denied. But some excuse may be made for him, from the manner whereby they expressed themselves, wherein they always carefully distinguished between inherent holiness and that righteousness whereby we are justified. But we are now told by one, that if we should affirm it a hundred times, he could scarce believe us. This is somewhat severe; for although he speaks but to one, yet the charge falls equally upon all who maintain that imputation of the righteousness of Christ which he denies, who being at least the generality of all Protestant divines, they are represented either as so foolish as not to know what they say, or so dishonest as to say one thing and believe another. But he endeavors to justify his censure by sundry reasons; and, first, he says, “That inherent righteousness can on no other account be said to be ours, than that by it we are made righteous; that is, that it is the condition of our justification required in the new covenant. This being denied, all inherent righteousness is denied.” But how is this proved? What if one should say that every believer is inherently righteous, but yet that this inherent righteousness was not the condition of his justification, but rather the consequent of it, and that it is nowhere required in the new covenant as the condition of our justification? How shall the contrary be made to appear?
The Scripture plainly affirms that there is such an inherent righteousness in all that believe; and yet as plainly that we are justified before God by faith without works. Wherefore, that it is the condition of our justification, and so antecedent unto it, is expressly contrary unto that of the apostle, “Unto him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted unto him for righteousness,” Romans 4:5.
Nor is it the condition of the covenant itself, as that whereon the whole grace of the covenant is suspended; for as it is habitual, wherein the denomination of righteous is principally taken, it is a grace of the covenant itself, and so not a condition of it, Jeremiah 31:33; 32:39; Ezekiel 36:25-27. If no more be intended but that it is, as unto its actual exercise, what is indispensably required of all that are taken into covenant, in order unto the complete ends of it, we are agreed; but hence it will not follow that it is the condition of our justification. It is added, “That all righteousness respects a law and a rule, by which it is to be tried; and he is righteous who has done these things which that law requires by whose rule he is to be judged.” But, First, This is not the way whereby the Scripture expresses our justification before God, which alone is under consideration, — namely, that we bring unto it a personal righteousness of our own, answering the law whereby we are to be judged; yea, an assertion to this purpose is foreign to the gospel, and destructive of the grace of God by Jesus Christ. Secondly, It is granted that all righteousness respects a law as the rule of it; and so does this whereof we speak, namely, the moral law; which being the sole, eternal, unchangeable rule of righteousness, if it do not in the substance of it answer thereunto, a righteousness it is not.
But this it does, inasmuch as that, so far as it is habitual, it consists in the renovation of the image of God, wherein that law is written in our hearts; and all the actual duties of it are, as to the substance of them, what is required by that law. But as unto the manner of its communication unto us, and of its performance by us, from faith in God by Jesus Christ, and love unto him, as the author and fountain of all the grace and mercy procured and administered by him, it has respect unto the gospel. What will follow from hence? Why, that he is just that does those things which that law requires whereby he is to be judged. He is so certainly; for “not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified,” Romans 2:13. “So Moses describeth the righteousness of the law, that the man which does those things shall live in them,” Romans 10:5. But although the righteousness whereof we discourse be required by the law, — as certainly it is, for it is nothing but the law in our hearts, from whence we walk in the ways and keep the statutes or commandments of God, — yet does it not so answer the law as that any man can be justified by it. But then it will be said that if it does not answer that law and rule whereby we are to be judged, then it is no righteousness; for all righteousness must answer the law whereby it is required. And I say it is most true, it is no perfect righteousness; it does not so answer the rule and law as that we can be justified by it, or safely judged on it. But, so far as it does answer the law, it is a righteousness, — that is, imperfectly so, and therefore is an imperfect righteousness; which yet gives the denomination of righteous unto them that have it, both absolutely and comparatively. It is said, therefore, that it is “the law of grace or the gospel from whence we are denominated righteous with this righteousness;” but that we are by the gospel denominated righteous, from any righteousness that is not required by the moral law, will not be proved. Nor does the law of grace or the gospel anywhere require of us or prescribe unto us this righteousness, as that whereon we are to be justified before God. It requires faith in Christ Jesus, or the receiving of him as he is proposed in the promises of it, in all that are to be justified. It requires, in like manner, “repentance from dead works” in all that believe; as also the fruits of faith, conversion unto God, and repentance, in the works of righteousness, which are to the praise of God by Jesus Christ, with perseverance therein unto the end; and all this may, if you please, be called our evangelical righteousness, as being our obedience unto God according to the gospel. But yet the graces and duties wherein it does consist do no more perfectly answer the commands of the gospel than they do those of the moral law; for that the gospel abates from the holiness of the law, and makes that to be no sin which is sin by the law, or approves absolutely of less intention or lower degrees in the love of God than the law does, is an impious imagination.
And that the gospel requires all these things entirely and equally, as the condition of our justification before God, and so antecedently thereunto, is not yet proved, nor ever will be. It is hence concluded that “this is our righteousness, according unto the evangelical law which requires it; by this we are made righteous, — that is, not guilty of the nonperformance of the condition required in that law.” And these things are said to be very plain!
So, no doubt, they seemed unto the author; unto us they are intricate and perplexed. However, I wholly deny that our faith, obedience, and righteousness, considered as ours, as wrought by us, although they are all accepted with God through Jesus Christ, according to the grace declared in the gospel, do perfectly answer the commands of the gospel requiring them of us, as to matter, manner, and degree; and (assert) that therefore it is utterly impossible that they should be the cause or condition of our justification before God. Yet in the explanation of these things, it is added by the same author, that “our maimed and imperfect righteousness is accepted unto salvation, as if it were every way absolute and perfect; for that so it should be, Christ has merited by his most perfect righteousness.”
But it is justification, and not salvation, that alone we discourse about; and that the works of obedience or righteousness have another respect unto salvation than they have unto justification, is too plainly and too often expressed in the Scripture to be modestly denied. And if this weak and imperfect righteousness of ours be esteemed and accepted as every way perfect before God, then either it is because God judges it to be perfect, and so declares us to be most just, and justified thereon in his sight; or he judges it not to be complete and perfect, yet declares us to be perfectly righteous in his sight thereby. Neither of these, I suppose, can well be granted. It will therefore be said, it is neither of them; but “Christ has obtained, by his complete and most perfect righteousness and obedience, that this lame and imperfect righteousness of ours should be accepted as every way perfect.” And if it be so, it may be some will think it best not to go about by this weak, halt, and imperfect righteousness, but, as unto their justification, retake themselves immediately unto the most perfect righteousness of Christ; which I am sure the Scripture encourages them unto. And they will be ready to think that the righteousness which cannot justify itself, but must be obliged unto grace and pardon through the merits of Christ, will never be able to justify them. But what will ensue on this explanation of the acceptance of our imperfect righteousness unto justification, upon the merit of Christ? This only, so far as I can discern, that Christ has merited and procured, either that God should judge that to be perfect which is imperfect, and declare us perfectly righteous when we are not so; or that he should judge the righteousness still to be imperfect, as it is, but declare us to be perfectly righteous with and by this imperfect righteousness. These are the plain paths that men walk in who cannot deny but that there is a righteousness required unto our justification, or that we may be declared righteous before God, in the sight of God, according unto the judgment of God; yet, denying the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto us, will allow us no other righteousness unto this end but that which is so weak and imperfect as that no man can justify it in his own conscience, nor, without a frenzy of pride, can think or imagine himself perfectly righteous thereby.
And whereas it is added, that “he is blind who sees not that this righteousness of ours is subordinate unto the righteousness of Christ,” I must acknowledge myself otherwise minded, notwithstanding the severity of this censure. It seems to me that the righteousness of Christ is subordinate unto this righteousness of our own, as here it is stated, and not the contrary: for the end of all is our acceptance with God as righteous; but according unto these thoughts, it is our own righteousnesses whereon we are immediately accepted with God as righteous. Only Christ has deserved by his righteousness that our righteousness may be so accepted; and is therefore, as unto the end of our justification before God, subordinate thereunto.
But to return from this digression, and to proceed unto our argument. This personal, inherent righteousness which, according to the Scripture, we allow in believers, is not that whereby or wherewith we are justified before God; for it is not perfect, nor perfectly answers any rule of obedience that is given unto us: and so cannot be our righteousness before God unto our justification. Wherefore, we must be justified by the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us, or be justified without respect unto any righteousness, or not be justified at all. And a threefold imperfection does accompany it: —
1. As to the principle of it, as it is habitually resident in us; for, —
(1.) There is a contrary principle of sin abiding with it in the same subject, whilst we are in this world. For contrary qualities may be in the same subject, whilst neither of them is in the highest degree.
So it is in this case, Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” (2.) None of the faculties of our souls are perfectly renewed whilst we are in this world. “The inward man is renewed day by day”, Corinthians 4:16; and we are always to be purging ourselves from all pollution of flesh and spirit, 2 Corinthians 7:1. And hereunto belongs whatever is spoken in the Scripture, whatever believers find in themselves by experience, of the remainders of indwelling sin, in the darkness of our minds; whence at best we know but in part, and through ignorance are ready to wander out of the way, Hebrews 5:2, in the deceitfulness of the heart and disorder of affections. I understand not how any one can think of pleading his own righteousness in the sight of God, or suppose that he can be justified by it, upon this single account, of the imperfection of its inherent habit or principle.
Such notions arise from the ignorance of God and ourselves, or the want of a due consideration of the one and the other. Neither can I apprehend how a thousand distinctions can safely introduce it into any consideration in our justification before God. He that can search in any measure, by a spiritual light, into his own heart and soul, will find “God be merciful to me a sinner,” a better plea than any he can be furnished withal from any worth of his own. “What is man, that he should be clean? And he that is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?” Job 15:14-16; 4:18, 19.
Hence says Gregory, in Job. 9, lib. 9, cap. 14, “Ut saepe diximus omnis justitia humana injustitia esse convincitur si distincte judicetur”. Bernard speaks to the same purpose, and almost in the same words, Serm.1. fest. omn. sanct., “Quid potest esse omnis justitia nostra coram Deo? Nonne juxta prophetam velut ‘pannus menstruatae’ reputabitur; et si districte judicetur, injustitia invenietur omnis justitia nostra, et minus habens”. A man cannot be justified in any sense by that righteousness which, upon trial, will appear rather to be an unrighteousness.
2. It is imperfect with respect unto every act and duty of it, whether internal or external. There is iniquity cleaving unto our holy things, and all our “righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” Isaiah 64:6. It has been often and well observed, that if a man, the best of men, were left to choose the best of his works that ever he performed, and thereon to enter into judgment with God, if only under this notion, that he has answered and fulfilled the condition required of him as unto his acceptation with God, it would be his wisest course (at least it would be so in the judgment of Bellarmine) to renounce it, and retake himself unto grace and mercy alone.
3. It is imperfect by reason of the incursion of actual sins. Hence our Savior has taught us continually to pray for the “forgiveness of our sins;” and “if we say that we have no sins, we deceive ourselves,” for “in many things we offend all.” And what confidence can be placed in this righteousness, which those who plead for it in this cause acknowledge to be weak, maimed, and imperfect?
I have but touched on these things, which might have been handled at large, and are indeed of great consideration in our present argument. But enough has been spoken to manifest, that although this righteousness of believers be on other accounts like the fruit of the vine, that glads the heart of God and man, yet as unto our justification before God, it is like the wood of the vine, — a pin is not to be taken from it to hang any weight of this cause upon.
Two things are pleaded in the behalf of this righteousness, and its influence into our justification: —
1. That it is absolutely complete and perfect. Hence some say that they are perfect and sinless in this life; they have no more concern in the mortification of sin, nor of growith in grace. And indeed this is the only rational pretense of ascribing our justification before God thereunto; for were it so with any, what should hinder him from being justified thereon before God, but only that he has been a sinner? — which spoils the whole market. But this vain imagination is so contrary unto the Scripture, and the experience of all that know the terror of the Lord, and what it is to walk humbly before him, as that I shall not insist on the refutation of it.
2. It is pleaded, “That although this righteousness be not an exact fulfilling of the moral law, yet is it the accomplishment of the condition of the new covenant, or entirely answers the law of grace, and all that is required of us therein.”
(1.) This wholly takes away sin, and the pardon of it, no less than does the conceit of sinless perfection which we now rejected; for if our obedience do answer the only law and rule of it whereby it is to be tried, measured, and judged, then is there no sin in us, nor need of pardon. No more is required of any man, to keep him absolutely free from sin, but that he fully answer, and exactly comply with, the rule and law of his obedience whereby he must be judged. On this supposition, therefore, there is neither sin nor any need of the pardon of it. To say that there is still both sin and need of pardon, with respect unto the moral law of God, is to confess that law to be the rule of our obedience, which this righteousness does no way answer; and therefore none by it can be justified in the sight of God.
(2.) Although this righteousness be accepted in justified persons by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, yet consider the principle of it, with all the acts and duties wherein it does consist, as they are required and prescribed in the gospel unto us, and they do neither jointly nor severally fulfill and answer the commands of the gospel, no more than they do the commands of the law.
Wherefore, they cannot all of them constitute a righteousness consisting in an exact conformity unto the rules of the gospel, or the law of it; for it is impious to imagine that the gospel requiring any duty of us, suppose the love of God, does make any abatement, as unto the matter, manner, or degrees of perfection in it, from what was required by the law. Does the gospel require a lower degree of love to God, a less perfect love, than the law did?
God forbid. The same may be said concerning the inward frame of our natures, and all other duties whatever. Wherefore, although this righteousness is accepted in justified persons (as God had respect unto Abel, and then unto his offering), in the way and unto the ends that shall be afterwards declared; yet, as it relates unto the commands of the gospel, both it and all the duties of it are no less imperfect than it would be if it should be left unto its trial by the law of creation only.
(3.) I know not what some men intend. On the one hand they affirm that our Lord Jesus Christ has enlarged and heightened the spiritual sense of the moral law, and not only so, but added unto it new precepts of more exact obedience than it did require; — but on the other, they would have him to have brought down or taken off the obligation of the law, so as that a man, according as he has adapted it unto the use of the gospel, shall be judged of God to have fulfilled the whole obedience which it requires, who never answered any one precept of it according unto its original sense and obligation; for so it must be if this imperfect righteousness be on any account esteemed a fulfilling of the rule of our obedience, as that thereon we should be justified in the sight of God.
(4.) This opinion puts an irreconcilable difference between the law and the gospel, not to be composed by any distinctions; for, according unto it, God declares by the gospel a man to be perfectly righteous, justified, and blessed, upon the consideration of a righteousness that is imperfect; and in the law he pronounces every one accursed who continues not in all things required by it, and as they are therein required. But it is said that this righteousness is no otherwise to be considered but as the condition of the new covenant, whereon we obtain remission of sins on the sole account of the satisfaction of Christ, wherein our justification does consist.
And in our pleas for what we believe to be the truth, we cannot always have respect unto every private opinion whereby it is opposed.
(2.) That justification consists only in the pardon of sin is so contrary to the signification of the word, the constant use of it in the Scripture, the common notion of it amongst mankind, the sense of men in their own consciences who find themselves under an obligation unto duty, and express testimonies of the Scripture, as that I somewhat wonder how it can be pretended. But it shall be spoken unto elsewhere.
(3.) If this righteousness be the fulfilling of the condition of the new covenant whereon we are justified, it must be in itself such as exactly answers some rule or law of righteousness, and so be perfect: which it does not; and therefore cannot bear the place of a righteousness in our justification.
(4.) That this righteousness is the condition of our justification before God, or of that interest in the righteousness of Christ whereby we are justified, is not proved, nor ever will be.
But such is this inherent righteousness of believers, even of the best of them.
(1.) That it answers not the law of God has been proved from its imperfection. Nor will any sober person pretend that it exactly and perfectly fulfill the law of our creation. And this law cannot be disannulled whilst the relation of creator and rewarder on the one hand, and of creatures capable of obedience and rewards on the other, between God and us does continue. Wherefore, that which answers not its law will not justify us; for God will not abrogate that law, that the transgressors of it may be justified. “Do we”, says the apostle, by the doctrine of justification by faith without works, “make void the law? God forbid: yea, we establish it,” Romans 3:31.
(2.) That we should be justified with respect unto it answers not the end of God in our justification by the gospel; for this is to take away all glorying in ourselves and all occasion of it, every thing that might give countenance unto it, so as that the whole might be to the praise of his own grace by Christ, Romans 3:27; Corinthians 1:29-31. How it is faith alone that gives glory to God herein has been declared in the description of its nature. But it is evident that no man has, or can possibly have, any other, any greater occasion of boasting in himself, with respect unto his justification, than that he is justified on his performance of that condition of it, which consists in his own personal righteousness.
2. No man was ever justified by it in his own conscience, much less can he be justified by it in the sight of God; “for God is greater than our hearts and knoweth all things.” There is no man so righteous, so holy, in the whole world, nor ever was, but his own conscience would charge him in many things with his coming short of the obedience required of him, in matter or manner, in the kind or degrees of perfection; for there is no man that lives and sins not. Absolutely, “Nemo absolvitur se judice”. Let any man be put unto a trial in himself whether he can be justified in his own conscience by his own righteousness, and he will be cast in the trial at his own judgment-seat; and he that does not thereon conclude that there must be another righteousness whereby he must be justified, that originally and inherently is not his own, will be at a loss for peace, with God. But it will be said, that “men may be justified in their consciences that they have performed the condition of the new covenant, which is all that is pleaded with respect unto this righteousness” And I no way doubt but that men may have a comfortable persuasion of their own sincerity in obedience, and satisfaction in the acceptance of it with God. But it is when they try it as an effect of faith, whereby they are justified, and not as the condition of their justification. Let it be thus stated in their minds, — that God requires a personal righteousness in order unto their justification, whereon their determination must be, “This is my righteousness which I present unto God that I may be justified”, and they will find difficulty in arriving at it, if I be not much mistaken.
3. None of the holy men of old, whose faith and experience are recorded in the Scripture, did ever plead their own personal righteousness, under any notion of it, either as to the merit of their works or as unto their complete performance of what was required of them as the condition of the covenant, in order unto their justification before God. This has been spoken unto before.