Chapter 3 - Justification and Acceptance in Christ

We are now to look at the question of justification, and to see what is the righteousness in which the believer stands before God from the moment of his being such. Here again it will be found how far from accurate are Dr. Steele's representations of the views he has been so long (vainly, it would seem) studying. Thus he says,- "The idea of justification is not that it is a present act taking place in the mind of God in favour of the penitent believer, but it is a past, completed, wholesale transaction on Calvary ages ago." (p. 60.)

This, understood in the way I have already stated it, would not be so bad; but the trouble is that Dr. S. applies it evidently in such a way as to make it clash with present justification by faith, as if we did not hold the latter. I confess the connection between the two things has not always been clearly, put or conceived by writers among us. But the fact is, that, instead of the two things being contradictory, the one naturally and necessarily proceeds from the other.

We may put it as a syllogism, thus:- The blood shed on Calvary was the justification of every true believer A man becomes today a true believer; He is now, therefore (and not before), justified through faith.

And this shows, as plainly as possible, the different sense in which faith justifies and the blood of Christ justifies. My justification by faith is only my entrance by faith into the sphere in which justification by blood applies to me. It is not as if my faith were a meritorious somewhat added to the work of atonement. The work remains in its own peerless transcendency, while faith is the way I come into the provision made for me,- made for all the world as well as for me. Election does not touch the fullness of the provision. It secures that (spite of man's rejection of it naturally), there shall be fruit of Christ's work.

As believers, then, we are justified by the blood of Christ,- by what was done more than eighteen centuries ago on Calvary. "Himself bare our sins in His own body on the tree." Did He not? Was not the bearing of them accomplished then?

Moreover, as "He was delivered for our offences," so "He was raised for our justification.(Rom. iv. 25.) His resurrection is the public act of God on our behalf: the testimony that the burden is gone, the sin removed, the debt cancelled. Justification for believers is not an act merely "in the mind of God," but a sentence openly given on our behalf. "If Christ be not risen,- ye are yet in your sins." (i Cor. xv. 17.)

Faith, then, has the work of Christ and the Word of God to rest upon; and this it needs to be faith. Frames and feelings apart from this are absolutely untrustworthy. The work of the Spirit is, to take of the things that are Christ's and show them to us. (Jno. xvi. 14). Apart from this, what we may regard as an "impression from the Holy Ghost" (p. 105) may be only a delusion. It is not, as Dr. Steele puts it, that feelings are to be scouted, but to be tested and certified. It is certain that Scripture says that we are justified by faith, never by feelings. "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Rom. iv. 5.) This is the Scripture method of assurance. Joy and peace come in believing (Rom. XV. 13), and it remains for Dr. S. to prove that they come rightly in any other way. From Scripture he has not attempted to do so, and I believe he will hardly attempt it. It will be time enough, at any rate, then to listen.

This justification by the blood of a substitute, how far does it go? Is it from sins past, present, and to come? (p. 34.) Is it, as some would define it, simply the pardon of past sins?

The latter is founded upon a wrong view of Rom. iii. 25, 26 ; where the "I say" of the translators, not found in the original, confounds two distinct and contrasted things ; " the passing over of the sins done aforetime" (R. V.)- of believers up to the cross;- and, now that God's righteousness is fully shown forth in it, the justification of him that believeth in Jesus.

On the other hand, it is freely admitted that Scripture never speaks of a justification from future sins; and that for very obvious reasons. It does not speak as if there were to he future sins for a believer,- certainly not as if they were tolerated or of little account. It would be the language of license, not of divine holiness, and I refuse and condemn it altogether.

But yet Scripture does not leave the future doubtful, or the standing of the believer uncertain for a moment. First, justification by the blood of One standing in our place before God,- our Substitute,- means His death counted to be our death. We have thus died with Him: and though we live, it is in Him we live. The force of these expressions we shall have shortly to examine, but it will be seen at once how they carry out and complete the thought of justification by death meaning Christ's death our death.

If, then, in God's sight in the death of Christ we died, let us consider that death is the limit of man's uatural responsibility. In the day of judgment itself men are only judged for the "deeds done in the body." There is no such thought, save in theology sometimes, of any sins in the disembodied state, or in hell, to be accounted for. Thus, if we have died, we have passed beyond the limit of accountability as sinners: our responsibility as saints is another matter. Justification by the blood of Christ is thus complete and eternal. No wonder, then, that the apostle declares, "Much more, then, being now justified by His blood, we shall he saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall he saved through His life." (Rom. v. 9, io.)

Here the completeness of the justification in the present settles triumphantly the question of the future, and the life of the Lord in heaven,-" Because I live, ye shall live also" (Jno. xiv. i9),- is the abundant guarantee of the continuance of the reconciliation by His death. In Him we live, and this is eternal life.

Dr. Steele mixes up this question of standing with another,- that of "imputed holiness." The last, I refuse most fully and earnestly. It is nonsense, and worse; only Dr. S. must prove that Plymouth Brethren hold it. Of this at another time ; but standing and acceptance are very different from it, and Dr. S. has apparently confounded them together. He says, "The phrase "in Christ'' is perpetually qnutecl as a proof-text to sustain the doctrine of imputed holiness an attribute of Jesus Christ regarded by God as belonging to Christians, even when they are unholy in character arid wicked in conduct. The theory is, that Jesus Christ is standing today in the presence of the Father as a specimen and representative of glorified humanity, and that faith in Him so intimately unites us with Him, that all His personal excellencies become ours in such a sense as to excuse us if we lack them"! (p. 151.)

This abominable doctrine, if it be true that Plymouth Brethren hold it, should have been proved against them by decisive quotations, and fastened as a mill-stone round their neck to sink them forever with Great Babylon itself under the reprobation of all decent persons. Dr. S. need not then have written a book of 266 pages to expose their views. Yet, strange to say, this most necessary thing he has neglected to do Mr. McDonald has, indeed, tried to remedy the deficiency, and given us an extract, from whom, he knows best himself. (p. 19.) I simply desire him to give the name, and let us know where he belongs. Meanwhile,. those who make these charges without proof expose themselves to reprobation only. No man has a right to fling such charges broadcast without fullest evidence of where they belong.

I speak of what I know when I say that imputed holiness is not a doctrine of Plymouth Brethren. Holiness is state, not standing, and Dr. S. is witness that they keep these separate. They never say that people may be "in Christ" either without being new creatures, or God's children without God's image, or born of the Spirit without the fruit of the Spirit. That "there is no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus" they quote for what it says, not to prove any thing of this sort. And let me tell Dr. Steele, if, alas! he does not know it, that if God's eye could be turned from Christ for us, to accept or reject us for what He sawin us, not one of all of us could stand in His holy presence for a moment. Take the standard - that we walk as Christ walked, and. let him say, if at his best (not worst) he dare face the eye of God in this manner.

"In Christ" is not "used to prove an actual incorporation into His person,"- at least by those intelligent as to it. Nor is "an actual incorporation into His person" an intelligent expression. We are by the Spirit baptized into His body,- not His actual glorified person, but His mystical body, as we are accustomed to say. This is union, which "in Christ" does not express, but identification. Dr. S. is therefore in a wrong contention, while it is plain the phrase means for him as little as possible. It meant much for him who said "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus," however; it involved the whole fact of justification. But think of one who can quickly paraphrase, "But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption," thus he is quoting Meyer: " But truly it is God's work that ye are Christians, and so partakers of the greatest divine blessings, that none of you should in any way boast himself save only in God "! That Christ is made these things to those "in Him," drops thus out of the account.

If Dr. Steele had looked a little further into Romans, he might have found that the expression here points out Christ as our spiritual head, as "in Adam" speaks of our natural one. By life and birth we come to be in Adam; by spiritual life and new birth we come to be in Christ. As in Adam we inherit corruption and condemnation only; in Christ we come into possession of a new nature and a righteous standing,-"justification of life." (Chap. v. r8.)

The expression, then, is a simple one, and full of blessing for us. Its meaning can never be decided by Scripture handled in the fragmentary way in which our author handles it. God's Word may thus mean almost any thing or nothing, according to our taste. It does not mould us, but our thoughts mould it. Dr. Steele's treatment of it is as little reverent as may be.

Take a text Dr. S. is venturous enough to quote ; it may surely stand for a scriptural definition; "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (2 Cor. v.) Here, first, any one in Christ is a new creature : by a new birth he belongs to that creation which replaces the old one. But then also "old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Will Dr. S. say this is true of every one born again as such ? In Christ, it is true of him indeed, for in Christ - identified with Him,- his standing is perfect, absolutely so. In Christ,- represented by Him,- God's holy eye itself can find nothing but perfection.