William Styles, A Guide To Church Fellowship (Complete)

Article 8 – Justification And Forgiveness

Articles Of The Faith And Order Of A Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptist Church Of The Lord Jesus Christ, Based On The Declaration Of Faith And Practice Of John Gill, D. D., 1720

VIII. Justification and Forgiveness.

We believe that the Justification of God’s elect is by the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, without the consideration of any works of righteousness done by them,[1] and that the full and free Pardon of all their sins and transgressions, past, present, and to come, is only through the blood of Christ, according to the riches of Divine grace.[2]

[1] Ps 71:16; Is 45:24; Dan 9:24; Rom 3:24-26; 5:19; 8:30
[2] 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:8,9; Tit 3:5; Ps 32:1; Rom 4:6,7; Is 38:17; Hosea 14:4; Mic 7:19; Lk 7:42; Acts 13:38,39; Rom 3:25; 1 Cor 6:11; Eph 1:7; 4:32; Col 2:13; Heb 10:17,18; 1 Jn 1:7,9; 2:12; Rev 1:5



Note 1.—Between these two, important distinctions exist, on which the reader should seek to think correctly.

Justification is a legal act, and proceeds from God in His character of the “Judge of all.” Forgiveness is a royal act, and proceeds from God in His character of King.

In human government the two are separable. Criminals who turn “King’s evidence” against their former accomplices, are often pardoned and liberated—though, if tried, it is known that they would be condemned. In the government of God the two are inseparable. Those whom God, as a Judge, justifies, God, as a King, forgives.

In the Divine order Justification precedes pardon. God’s elect are first acquitted from all legal condemnation—then their sins are forgiven.

Justification a Legal or Forensic Term.

Note 2.—It is highly important to understand that, accord­ing to the use of the word in Scripture, Justification must be understood forensically. It is a law term, derived from human courts of justice, and signifies (not the making of a person righteous by the infusion of grace) but the holding and declaring him to be righteous in law.

This is manifest from the term Justification being frequently opposed to Condemnation. (Deut. 25:1; Prov. 17:15; Rom. 5:16, 8:33,34.)

The force of a word is frequently to be ascertained by examining the meaning of the term to which it is opposed. Condemnation does not lie in infusing wickedness into a criminal, or in making him a wrong-doer, but in judicially pronouncing him guilty according to his transgression of the law. So, Justification does not lie in infusing righteousness into a person, but in declaring that the disclosed facts prove him to be righteous on legal grounds.

It is not a moral process, but a legal, judicial, or forensic act on the part of “God who justifies the ungodly.”[1]

Justification by the Imputation of the Bighteousness of Christ.

Note 3.—The article under consideration—which is taken verbally from Dr. Gill’s Declaration of Faith and Practice —is in harmony with all the authoritative Protestant Confessions of Faith—though some are more explicit than others. For example:

The Church of England declares that “we are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings.” Article xi.

The Assembly’s Catechism: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone.”

The Confession of Faith: “Those whom God effectually called. He also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous: not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by Faith; which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.”

In the Baptist Confession of Faith, adopted by the General Assembly, which met in London in 1689, the above is transcribed, but lines 7 to 9 are altered thus:—“…“ but by imputing Christ’s active obedience unto the whole Law, and (His) passive obedience in His death, for their whole and sole righteousness, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by Faith,” &c.

This alteration was probably made to withstand the errors of those who (like Archbishop Whately at a subsequent period) overpressed the statement that we are justified “by the blood” of Christ, (Rom. 5:9,) and denied that His obedience to the Law throughout His whole life had any vital relation to the Justification of His people.

Imputed Righteousness—by whom denied.

Note 4.—So important did Luther deem the doctrine of Justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ, that he styled it, Articulm etantis vel cadentis ecdesioe—the test of a standing or a falling Church. It was mainly through its proclamation that the Reformation from Popery was effected. It is still, nevertheless, denied by many.

Papists and Ritualists vehemently resist it, for it is diametrically opposed to their whole system.

Broad Churchmen—or the Rationalistic party in the National Establishment—reject it, as they do the converge doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s guilt to his posterity, as paradoxical.[2]

Many Arminians repudiate it, and indeed it is inconsistent with their entire theology.

The Friends or Quakers—so far as they follow Bobert Barclay —repudiate the forensic view of Justification, and contend that men are justified (or actually made righteous and holy) by following the inward light which for Christ’s sake is imparted to all men. See note on page 45.

Such of the Plymouth Brethren as follow J. N. Darby, Charles Stanley, Catesby Paget, and others—namely, the party sometimes called the Exclusive—are opposed to it, substituting for it their incomprehensible doctrine of Justification in the risen Christ. (See Dr. Carson’s trenchant work on their errors, and two Articles by Rev. G. Kogers in the “Sword and the Trowel” for 1865, entitled, “On Plymouth Brethrenism,” and “On the Righteousness of God,” pages 282 and 526.

The opposition of the adversary, exerted through both spiritual and unspiritual men, should awaken our zeal as Strict and Particular Baptists to expound and enforce this great truth to the utmost of our powers.

The Righteousness of Christ.

Note 5.—The excellence of the person of Christ was drawn out in acts of living obedience, which extended from the dawn of His human consciousness to His yielding His spirit to God on the cross. He thus “became obedient (not simply “in,” but) unto death,” (Phil. 2:8.)[3] His decease was the consummation and completion of the obedience of His life.[4] This, the continuous, unintermittent, unbroken and consistent obedience of the Son of God, constitutes His merit, or, in Scripture phraseology, Has righteousness, which is imputed to His people as the matter or meritorious ground of their justification.

The Relation of Faith to Justification.

Note 6.—This Article having been framed by that great Divine, Dr. Gill, the fact that no mention is therein made of Faith is remarkable. The reader is invited to consider why.

The views of Strict and Particular Baptists on the relation of Faith to Justification are given in the Author’s “Manual of Faith and Practice,” page 200.

Faith is not the cause or condition of Justification. To tell a sinner that God will impute the righteousness of Christ to him, and justify him, if he believes, is to assert what is not true.

The error lies in failing to distinguish between being justified as a fact, and a knowledge of that fact on reliable testimony. The fact depends solely on divine grace; the knowledge of it is obtained through Faith.

Justification is a Divine and eternal act. Its reality does not depend on anything in favoured sinners, nor does any gracious emotion or action on their part affect it in the least.

Our Faith cannot induce God to choose us. Election was before time. Our Faith cannot induce Christ to die for us, and so provide the righteousness of our justification. He died, long since, for those whom the Father gave Him before the foundation of the world. Our Faith cannot induce God to justify us on the ground of the merit of Christ, unless this were previously imputed to us; or God’s acts would depend on a creature’s acts, and He would be mutable—whereas He is “in one mind, who can turn Him?” (Job 22:13.)

So Faith has not the relation to Justification popularly asserted. We are, however, justified by faith as we renounce our own works as a ground of acceptance; as we cordially believe the Gospel; as we rely on the righteousness of Christ; and as we believe God’s gracious assurance concerning all who do thus.[5]

Divine Forgiveness.

Note 7.—Sin, to a conscious sinner, is an evil of such magnitude, that it becomes to him the question of questions, “How will God deal with it?”

The reply of the Bible is plain. He cannot let it pass without enquiry. He cannot excuse or condone it. He cannot abate one point of His broken law, or revoke one of its curses. Pity will not affect the decision of His equity, nor will mercy mitigate the severity of His punishment. He can propose no compromise, and make no concession. Where He sees sin, He must, sooner or later, smite.

These solemn truths flow from the fact that God is “the Judge of all (Heb. 12:23,) and the business of a Judge is, not to show consideration for the guilty person, but to interpret and enforce the Law.

In speaking of God as an angry Judge, some preachers have misrepresented His character. Anger in a Judge, when acting as such, would be most reprehensible. The holy and passionless anger of God, is His indignation, as a Creator and Benefactor, toward those who have offended against His holy Laws, and repaid His goodness with acts of ingratitude and sin.

Far more serious is the error of those who deny that God sustains any other relation to the human race than that of a universal Father, and that He is all love to all men. A God who cannot be angry, is as monstrous a conception of Deity as a God who cannot pity. “ A God all mercy is a God unjust.”— Young.

God can, however, pardon sin,—freely, fully, finally, irrevocably, “for Christ’s sake,” (1 John 2:12.) As “God the Judge,” He can pronounce His people legally guiltless, or without condemnation, (Rom. 8:1,) and as our royal Father He can be “faithful (to His covenant engagements) and just (to Himself, His law, His beloved Son, and all His accountable creatures,) while He forgives our sins, and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9.

The blood of Christ is the only power in the moral government of God which can sever sin from the person of a sinner. This it does for all for whom He died, “putting their sin away,” (2 Sam. 12:13, Heb. 9:26;) “purging” them, (Heb. 10:2:) “cleansing” them, (1 John 1:7) making them as “white as wool,” and “whiter than snow,” (Psa. 51:7, Isa. 1:18.) It has thus afforded so perfect an outflow to God’s race, that He is “merciful to their unrighteousness,” while He has so completely banished their transgressions from His penal mind, “that He remembers their sins no more.”

The conduct of God in relation to the sins of His people is variously called absolution, forgiveness, pardon and remission. “Absolution” is not a Scriptural word. “Forgiveness” and “pardon” are both employed in the English Version of the Old Testament—apparently interchangeably—while in the New Testament, the word “pardon” is never found, the term “remission” taking its place. It may help young Bible students to know that the word “remission” in the New Testament, in every case but one, stands for the Greek word apheeis,—else­ where translated “forgiveness,” which is its true meaning.

The exception is Rom. 3:25, where the word is paresis, (a passing by or pretermission) which is employed to designate the action of God’s grace to Old Testament believers, whom He forgave and took to heaven, though Christ had not then actually made expiation for sin by dying for His people. See A Manual of Faith and Practice, page 63.

God alone the Forgiver of Sin.

Note 8.—In forgiving His people their sins, God deals immediately with them, without the intervention or interpolation of any other being. Christ, as Priest, receives their confession: God, as their royal Father, pardons them.

The function of a human Priest, into whose ears the confession of sin should be spoken, and who has authority to declare on what terms God will dispense pardons, is not only unscriptural, but opposed to the whole tenor of the Gospel. “There is (but) one Mediator between God and men,” but no Mediator between Christ and the sinner. We “have to do” with Him only (Heb. 4:13.)[6] The notion, in question however, represents that there are many men—whether in or out of the Church of Rome, who have power to act as priests, and thus fill an office that pertains only to Christ. Men who intrude themselves in “the new and living way,” which He hath opened up for all who feel the burden of sin, are enemies to God and to the souls of men, and should be withstood as such.

Contrition and Confession precede Pardon.

Note 9.—In the nature of things, it is impossible to forgive the innocent. Pardon can be extended only to those who have done wrong.

Moreover, those only can be forgiven who admit that they have offended. While a man contends that he has committed nothing that calls for forgiveness, we (though ourselves knowing the wrong that he has done) may pity his ignorance, or regret his obstinacy, but we cannot pardon him. As long as he continues to deny the commission of what offends us, or justifies wrong as right, he is not in the state in which it is alone possible for him to be forgiven.

This is true, not only between man and man, but also between God and man. Divine pardon presupposes human sin. God wills to pardon many who are now impenitent, (Jer. 1:20,) but His gracious purpose can take effect only when these are brought to confess sin and sue for forgiveness as sinners.

To this the Scriptures testify. If we consult a Concordance for the occurrences of the words “acknowledge,” “confess,” “repentance,” &c., we shall clearly see the inseparable connection between penitence and pardon. The children of Israel were repeatedly forgiven when they confessed their sins. The inhabitants of Nineveh were temporarily pardoned when they repented at the preaching of Jonah. The same principle is exemplified in relation to God’s forgiveness of His people’s sins. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts,” and “God will abundantly pardon.” (Is. 55:7.) “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but he that confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy,” (Prov. 28:13.) “If we confess our sins,” God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” (1 John 1:9.) Hence David spoke for all God’s people in all time, in his memorable words, “I will declare mine iniquity: I will be sorry for my sin.” “I said, I will confess my transgression unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin,” (Psa. 32 and 38:18.)

None, therefore, become partakers of Divine forgiveness apart from penitence and the confession of their sins to God. Care must, however, be taken not to represent these as conditions imposed on men, without which the benevolence of God cannot express itself in acts of pardon. The idea is contrary to the freeness of His grace and His declared readiness to forgive, (Psa. 86:5.) Nothing that sinners feel, or say, or do, affects His determination to show them mercy. (Rom. 9:15,18.)

He is prepared to pardon them, when they are prepared to receive pardon, (Psa. 86:5,) and this preparation is the result of a work of His grace within them, (Prov. 16:1.) The Holy Ghost breaks their hearts, and renders their spirits contrite—and God accepts these as sacrifices, (Psa. 34:18 and 51:17.) Christ is “exalted to give repentance unto Israel, and (following this, in the admirable sequence of the Divine order) forgiveness of (their) sins.”[7] See A Manual of Faith and Practice, pages 63, 170—182.

The Spirit’s Witness to God’s Forgiveness.

Note 10.—Up to this point the views of Strict and Particular Baptists on the Forgiveness of Sins accord with those of the majority of evangelical Christians. From these we diverge in insisting that an absolute assurance of pardon is obtainable only through the direct and immediate witness of the Holy Spirit to the minds of forgiven sinners. We indeed know on the authority of the letter of the promise that all who repent or steadfastly purpose to forsake sin, (Prov. 28:13,) and rely on Christ’s finished work, as the ground of their acceptance (Luke 24:47) will be forgiven all trespasses. We, however, contend that the Gospel presents a further and richer blessing—a positive, personal, Divine and immediate assurance that such is the case.

This is the witness of the Holy Spirit “with our spirit, (Rom. 8:16,) that we are the” heaven-born, accepted, and pardoned “children of God.” To receive this, is to be “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, (Eph. 1:13)—to enjoy His presence and operations in the heart in suoh a measure that He becomes the “earnest of our inheritance,” (2 Cor. 1:22,) the Assurer and the assurance that we have been “justified from all things,” (Acts 13:39,) and are “forgiven all trespasses.” (Col. 2:13.)

On this, almost all popular religious books are silent. Sinners are told to trust in Jesus—are promised Justification and pardon if they believe—and assured that they ought to desire nothing further than God’s words, as they stand on the Bible, to give them confidence as to their eternal safety.

It is freely granted that gracious Divine declarations concerning those that “confess” and “forsake” their sins, and come in penitence and faith to Christ, and rely solely on His merit, are most precious. Trembling sinners should take God at His word—and solid comfort is to be derived from comparing the condition of one’s own stricken and sorrowful spirit with the Scriptural descriptions of those to whom the mercy of God will be extended. The broken-hearted sinner, however, wants more than this. He sighs, “When wilt Thou comfort me?” He longs not only for a broken heart, and a contrite spirit, but for a “purged” conscience, and the Divine assur­ ance of peace with God within his soul.

The witness of the Spirit to our Justification and pardon is God’s gracious response to this yearning of the quickened and quivering hearts of His people.

So much is this gracious truth overlooked in the professing Church that testimony to it may be almost regarded as a distinguishing doctrine of the Strict and Particular Baptists and the Calvinistic Independents.[8]

[1] The derivation of words occasionally helps to a correct definition of their meaning, but it is often misleading. The verb “justify” is derived from the Latinjmtifico, which is formed from Justus, just or righteous, and facio, I make. It does not, however, follow that the meaning of “justify” is to make righteousness. This is by no means unimportant, as Romish divines have insisted on interpreting the word in accordance with its derivation, and have erected on this foundation their erroneous fabric of Justification by infused righteousness. Let the Protestant reader remember the needful distinction—Justification by Imputation. Sanctification by Infusion. Bobert Barclay in his Apology—the acknowledged text-book of the views of the Friends or Quakers—also bases his refutation of the doctrine of Justification by the imputation of the merits of Christ on the derivation of the verb “justify.” Pro­ position vii., paragraph 7.
[2] See No. VI. of Essays on the Writings of the Apostle Paul by Archbishop Whately. This, like everything from this great author’s pen, is most clear and cogent. Young ministers are earnestly recommended to read and refute it.
[3] Contrast 1 Pet. ii. 24, which teaches that He was the sin-bearer on the cross only, “Who Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree.”
[4] The older Divines were wont to style the acts of Christ’s holy life, collectively considered, His active obedience, and His submission to God’s will in His suffering and death His passive obedience. This is useful, provided we remember that His active and passive obedience constitute His one righteousness. Rom. 5:18. The two may (and should) be distinguished, but should never be divided. The once favourite phrase, Christ’s “justifying life and atoning death” lacks scriptural authority.
[5] The truth that Justification, as a fact, is independent of Faith as its cause or condition has an important bearing on the question of the salvation of children dying in infancy. That these are, by nature, sinners, has been demonstrated. Hence they cannot be received into heaven on the ground of their legal innocence. They cannot repent, and believe, and so be justified; for Repentance and Faith (though spiritual acts) are im­ possible without some measure of developed intelligence. Either, therefore, they are saved without being justified—or there are two methods of Justification—one of which Faith is an essential condition; another in which Faith has absolutely no place. Christians who contend that Faith is necessary to the being of salvation, are intreated to clear up the difficulty, or to abandon their error.
[6] James 5:16, does not enjoin auricular Confession to a Priest. “Confess, therefore, [your] transgressions (or offences) to one another,”—not to the “elders” officially summoned to the sick man. Verse 14. The duty enjoined is a humble acknowledg­ ment of injuries committed on others, whose pardon should be sought “for Christ’s sake,” Col. 3:13.
[7] Thus Joseph Hart, in his fine hymn, while bidding the sinner “come” and “buy” true belief and true repentance of Jesus Christ, “without money,” insists that these are bestowed in pure gratuitous favour. The required fitness is given. “’Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.”
[8] See the Author’s Manual of Faith and Practice, (pages 308-317,) in which the nature of Assurance, as distinguished from Faith, and the difference between Inferential Assurance (or confidence based on a comparison of our own character and condition with inspired descriptions of the experiences of heaven-born persons) and Direct Assurance (or that which arises from the testimony of the Holy Spirit in our hearts) are fully discussed. The subject is finely exemplified by comparing 2 Sam. 12:13, with Psa. 51 David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin.” Thus David received an assurance from the lips of an inspired man that his sin was forgiven. This, however, did not satisfy his troubled conscience, and Psa. 51 records the prayer which he offered, after his interview with Nathan, for a direct assurance from God Himself that his transgression was pardoned. A parallel may be drawn between his experience and ours. Nathan’s words correspond with the letter of the gracious promises which assure penitent sinners of Divine forgiveness. The favour sought in Psa. 51 corresponds with the direct and personal testimony of the Spirit that they are pardoned.

William Styles (1842-1914) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He is the author of several works, including “A Guide To Church Fellowship As Maintained By Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptists” and “A Manual Of Faith And Practice”.

William Styles, A Guide To Church Fellowship (Complete)
William Styles, A Memoir of John Hazelton (Complete)