Justification

Dr. William Ames (1576-1633)

What did this eminent Puritan think about the doctrine which causes the church to stand or fall?

Justification by Dr. William Ames

1. Participation in the blessings of the union with Christ comes when the faithful have all the things needed to live well and blessedly to God. Eph. 1:3, He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing; Rom. 8:32, He who spared not his own son . . . how shall he not freely with him give us all things also?

2. This participation therefore brings a change and alteration in the condition of believers from the state of sin and death to the state of righteousness and eternal life. 1 John 3:14, We know that we are translated from death to life.

3. This change of state is twofold, relative and absolute (or real).

4. The relative change occurs in God’s reckoning. Rom. 4:5, And to him who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the un­godly, his faith is imputed as righteousness. 2 Cor. 5:19, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their offenses.

5. The change, of course, has no degrees and is completed at one moment and in only one act. Yet in manifestation, consciousness, and effects, it has many degrees; therein lie justification and adoption.

6. Justification is the gracious judgment of God by which he ab­solves the believer from sin and death, and reckons him righteous and worthy of life for the sake of Christ apprehended in faith. Rom. 3:22, 24, The righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ in all and upon all that believe. . . . they are freely justified by his grace . . . through the redemption made by Jesus Christ.

7. It is the pronouncing of a sentence, as the word is used, which does not denote in the Holy Scriptures a physical or a real change. There is rather a judicial or moral change which takes shape in the pronouncing of the sentence and in the reckoning. Prov. 17:15, He that justifies the wicked; Rom. 8:33, Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

8. Therefore, Thomas and his followers are completely mistaken for they would make justification a kind of physical motion from the state of unrighteousness to that of righteousness in a real transmutation. They consider that it begins with sin, ends in inherent righteousness, with remission of sin and infusion of righteousness the motion be­tween.

9. The judgment was, first, conceived in the mind of God in a de­cree of justification. Gal. 3:8, The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith. Second, it was pronounced in Christ our head as he rose from the dead. 2 Cor. 5:19, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their sins to them. Third, it is pronounced in actuality upon that first relationship which is created when faith is born. Rom. 8:1, There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Fourth, it is expressly pronounced by the spirit of God witnessing to our spirits our recon­ciliation with God. Rom. 5:5, The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. This testimony of the spirit is not properly justification itself, but rather an actual per­ceiving of what has been given before as if in a reflected act of faith.

10. It is a gracious judgment because it is given not by God’s jus­tice but by his grace. Rom. 3:24, Freely by his grace. For by the same grace with which he called Christ to the office of mediator and the elect to union with Christ, he accounts those who are called and be­lieving, justified by the union.

11. It happens because of Christ. 2 Cor. 5:21, That we may become the righteousness of God in him. The obedience of Christ is that Si.KalwiMo., the righteousness, Rom. 5:16, in the name of which the grace of God justifies us, just as the disobedience of Adam was that upliio., the offense, Rom. 5:16, for which God’s justice condemned us, Rom. 5:18.

12. Therefore, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers in justification. Phil. 3:9, That I may be found in him not having my own righteousness which is of the law but that which is by faith in Christ, the righteousness of God through faith.

13. This righteousness is called the righteousness of God because it is ordained, approved, and confirmed by his grace to the end that sin­ners can stand before him, Rom. 10:3.

14. This justification comes about because of Christ, but not in the absolute sense of Christ’s being the cause of vocation. It happens be­cause Christ is apprehended by faith, which follows calling as an ef­fect. Faith precedes justification as the instrumental cause, laying hold of the righteousness of Christ from which justification being appre­hended follows; therefore, righteousness is said to be from faith, Rom. 9:30; 10:6. And justification is said to be by faith, Rom. 3:28.

15. This justifying faith is not the general faith of the understand­ing by which we give assent to the truth revealed in the Holy Scrip­tures, for that belongs not only to those who are justified, nor of its nature has it any force to justify, nor produce the effects which are everywhere in Scripture given to justifying faith.

16. Neither is it that special trust (properly speaking) by which we obtain remission of sins and justification itself. For justifying faith goes before justification itself, as a cause goes before its effect. But faith apprehending justification necessarily presupposes and follows justification as an act follows the object towards which it is directed.

17. That faith is properly called justifying by which we rely upon Christ for the remission of sins and for salvation. For Christ is a suf­ficient object for justifying faith. Faith justifies only by apprehending the righteousness by which we are justified. That righteousness does not lie in the truth of some proposition to which we give assent, but in Christ alone Who has been made sin for us that we might be righ­teousness in him, 2 Cor. 5:21.

18. Therefore, words are often repeated in the New Testament which show that justification is to be sought in Christ alone: John 1:12; 3:15, 16; 6:40, 47; 14:1, 12; Rom. 4:5; 3:26; Acts 10:43;

26:18; and Gal. 3:26.

19. Justifying faith of its own nature produces and is marked by a special, sure persuasion of the grace and mercy of God in Christ. Therefore, justifying faith is not wrongly described as persuasion by the orthodox (as it often is) —especially when they take a stand against the general faith to which the papists ascribe everything. But the following should be considered. First, the feeling of persuasion is not always present. It may and often does happen, either through weakness of judgment or various temptations and troubles of mind, that a person who truly believes and is by faith justified before God may for a time think that he neither believes nor is reconciled to God. Second, there are many degrees in this persuasion. Believers obviously do not have the same assurance of grace and favor of God, nor do the same ones have it at all times. But this cannot be said of justifying faith itself, without considerable loss in the consolation and peace which Christ has left to believers.

20. Justification does not free from sin and death directly by taking away the blame or stain or all the effects of sin; rather it removes the guilty obligation to undergo eternal death. Rom. 8:1, 33, 34, There is no condemnation . . . Who shall lay anything to their charge? . . , who shall condemn?

21. Nor does it take away guilt so that the deserving of punishment is removed from sin. This cannot be taken away as long as sin itself remains. But justification does take away guilt so that its haunting or deadly effects vanish.

22. The absolution from sins is called many things in the Holy Scriptures—remission, redemption, and reconciliation, Eph. 1:6, 7— but these all have the same meaning. When sin is thought of as a bondage or kind of spiritual captivity because of guilt, justification is called redemption. When it is thought of as subjection to deserved punishment, it is called remission — also passing by, blotting out, ex­oneration, taking away, casting away, removing, and casting behind the back, Rom. 4:7; Col. 2:13; Mic. 7:18; Isa. 43:12; 38:17; Ps. 32:1, 2. And when sin is thought of as enmity against God, justification is called reconciliation, Rom. 5:10. Sometimes this is regarded as even a kind of winking at sin, Num. 23:25, and a covering of sin, Ps. 32:1, 2.

23. Not only are past sins of justified persons remitted but also those to come. Num. 23:25. God sees no iniquity in Jacob or perverseness in Israel. Justification has left no place for condemnation. John 5:24, He who believes has eternal life and shall not come into condemnation — justification gives eternal life surely and immediately.

It also makes the whole remission obtained for us in Christ actually ours. Neither past nor present sins can be altogether fully remitted un­less sins to come are in some way remitted.

24. The difference is that past sins are remitted specifically and sins to come potentially. Past sins are remitted in themselves, sins to come in the subject or the person sinning.

25. Yet those who are justified need daily the forgiveness of sins. This is true because the continuance of grace is necessary to them; the consciousness and manifestation of forgiveness increases more and more as individual sins require it; and the execution of the sentence which is pronounced in justification may thus be carried out and com­pleted.

26. Besides the forgiveness of sins there is also required an imputa­tion of righteousness, Rom. 5:18; Rev. 19:8; Rom. 8:3. This is neces­sary because there might be a total absence of sin in a case where that righteousness does not exist which must be offered in place of justifi­cation.

27. This righteousness is not to be sought in a scattered fashion in the purity of the nature, birth, and life of Christ. It arises rather, with remission of sins, out of Christ’s total obedience, just as the disobedi­ence of Adam both robbed us of original righteousness and made us subject to the guilt of condemnation.