By Wes WhiteThis is an excellent statement of the Reformed doctrine of justification by John Girardeau from his book Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism. All emphases are mine.
The Calvinistic doctrine may be stated under three heads: first, the Ground of justification; secondly, its Constituent Elements, or Nature; thirdly, its human Condition or Instrument.
The Ground of Justification
1. The Ground of justification, or, what is the same, its Matter or Material Cause, is the vicarious righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer. This is the obedience of Christ, as the appointed Substitute of the sinner, to the precept and the penalty of the Moral Law: what Paul denominates the righteousness of God which is revealed from faith to faith. It is fitly termed the righteousness of God, not only because it was provided and accepted by God, but because it was wrought out by God himself in the person of his Incarnate Son. It is God’s righteousness because God produced it. This is judicially imputed by God the Father to the believing sinner, who had no share at all in its conscious production. In that sense, it is not his, but another’s righteousness – justitia aliena. But as Christ was his Surety and Representative and Christ’s righteousness was imputed to him, it becomes, in this sense, his righteousness. It is his in law, before the divine tribunal; not his as infused and constituting a subjective character, but his as a formal investiture of his person. God, therefore, is just in justifying him since, although consciously and subjectively a sinner, he possesses in Christ a perfect righteousness, such as the law demands in order to justification, and such as satisfies its claims. When the sinner by faith accepts Christ with this righteousness, he has an adequate ground of justification: consciously has it, so that he can plead it before God.
The Constituent Elements of Justification
2. The Constituent Elements of justification are, first, the pardon, or non-imputation, of guilt; secondly, the acceptance of the sinner’s person as righteous, involving his investiture with a right and title to eternal life. Taken generally, justification may be said to consist of three things: first, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness; secondly, the non-imputation of guilt, or pardon; thirdly, the acceptance of the sinner’s person as righteous and the bestowal upon him of a right and title to eternal life. But taken strictly, justification is pardon and the eternal acceptance of the sinner’s person. The ground and the constituent elements are not to be confounded. It is not: justification is the non-imputation of guilt and the imputation of righteousness, which would seem to be the natural antithesis; but first comes the imputed righteousness of Christ as the ground, and then the elements or parts, – namely, pardon, and acceptance with a title to indefectible life.
The Condition of Justification on Man’s Part
3. The Condition on man’s part, or the Instrument, of justification is Faith, and faith alone. In receiving Christ, as a justifying Saviour, it receives and rests upon Christ’s righteousness, as the ground of justification. God imputes this righteousness and the sinner embraces it by faith. In describing faith as the condition of justification, an indispensable distinction is to be noted. The only meritorious condition of justification was performed by Christ. As the Representative of his people he undertook to furnish that perfect obedience to the precept of the Law which, under the Covenant of Works, was required of Adam as the representative of his seed and which he failed to render, and, in addition, to furnish a perfect obedience to the penalty of the violated law. Upon the fulfilment of this condition the justification of his seed was suspended. This condition he completely fulfilled in his life and in his death, and thus meritoriously secured justification for his seed.
But in the application of redemption to the sinner, he is required to exercise faith in Christ and his righteousness, in order to his conscious union with Christ as a Federal Head, and his actual justification. In this sense, faith is to him the condition of his justification. It is simply an indispensable duty on his part – a conditio sine qua non. He cannot be consciously and actually justified without faith; but his faith has no particle of merit. All merit is in Christ alone. Faith involves the absolute renunciation of merit, and absolute reliance upon the meritorious obedience of Christ. Faith, then, is simply the instrument by which Christ and his righteousness are received in order to justification. It is emptiness filled with Christ’s fullness; impotence lying down upon Christ’s strength. It is no righteousness; it is not a substitute for righteousness; it is not imputed as righteousness. It is counted to us simply as the act which apprehends Christ’s righteousness unto justification. All it does is to take what God gives – Christ and his righteousness: Christ as the justifying Saviour and Christ’s righteousness as the only justifying righteousness.
In discharging this instrumental office faith is entirely alone. It is followed, and in accordance with the provisions of the covenant of grace it is inevitably followed, by the other graces of the Spirit, and by good, that is, holy works; but they do not co-operate with it in the act by which Christ and his righteousness are received in order to justification. They are not concurring causes, but the certain results of justification. In a word, faith, while not the sole cause for the act of the Spirit uniting the sinner to Christ in regeneration is also a cause, is the sole instrumental cause on man’s part of justification. Other graces, the existence of which is conditioned by faith may be superior to it in point of intrinsic excellence, love for example; faith has none. All the excellence it possesses is derived from its relation to Christ. Itself it confesses to be nothing, Christ to be everything. It is an exhausted receiver prepared by its very emptiness to be filled with the merit of Christ’s righteousness. Hence, it is precisely suited to be the instrument, and the sole instrument, of justification. As all human works whatsoever are excluded from it, justification is seen to be altogether of grace.
originally posted at Johannes Weslianus