A Twofold Illustration
I shall never forget the day when I first perceived the meaning of that word “justified.” Some time after I had confessed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour I was walking along thinking of the words, “justified by His grace” when like a flash it came to me—I was cleared! God Himself had cleared me of every charge of sin! That was a glorious day for me when I saw that Christ was my Substitute upon the cross where He was delivered for my offenses. “It is God that justifieth” (Romans 8:33). No one else but He can justify “the ungodly” (Romans 4:5), and He is just in justifying him that “believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
Perhaps you, too, would like to know for certain that you are justified. How can it be? The great reformer Luther, before the light shone into his soul, thought that he could get it by climbing those famous stairs in Rome. “The just shall live by faith” rang in his memory, and brought him to his feet; the blessing was not gained by penance. The ritualist says he will be very diligent in his observance of all the rites and devotional duties enjoined by his church, but the blessing cannot be gained by works for “it is to him that worketh not” (Romans 4:5). Some have earnestly sought to mortify the flesh, spending hours on their knees and denying themselves many things. I do not question their sincerity, but unless a man takes God’s way, he must remain under condemnation for ever.
The Holy Spirit through Paul cites two men who learned the truth that seems hidden from many today. They both knew “the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works” (Romans 4:6).
Abraham was the first. He was one of the best men; let him stand for man at his very best. Even he was not justified in God’s sight by works. It was by his faith that he obtained the blessing. “For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3; Genesis 15:6). Let us lay this to heart. The works of the best man cannot secure his justification before God. He must obtain it as the gift of grace on the principle of faith.
The second man is David. Unlike Abraham, he represents a man laden with sins. He has no works to talk about. Notice what he says: “without works,” “iniquities,” “sins,” and “sin” (Romans 4:6-8). He was the worst man in those ancient days, for the depths of his fall must be measured from the height to which he had been raised. Yet his sins did not keep him from the blessing. How wonderful it is to see that this priceless blessing of justification cannot be secured by the works of the best of men, and the sins of the worst of men do not shut him out of it. David was justified as well as Abraham.
The way for anyone to be justified is by the principle of faith. Everyone, however, is not willing to be justified that way, and many are “going about to establish their own righteousness” (Romans 10:3). This is really an impossibility, if they only knew it, for such an effort betrays an ignorance of themselves and of God. Of themselves, for such can have no right sense of their guilt before God. Of God, for they think that He can lower the standard of His holiness and righteousness to the measure of their supposed attainment. That He never will.—C.E. Stuart