Christian Theology

By Adam Clarke

Chapter 9


THE following are a few of the leading acceptations of the verb, which we translate "to justify:"—
  1. It signifies to declare or pronounce one just or righteous; or, in other words, to declare him to be what he really is: "He was justified in the Spirit," 1 Tim. iii, 16.
  2. To esteem a thing properly, Matt. xi, 19.
  3. It signifies to approve, praise, and commend, Luke vii, 29; xvi, 15.
  4. To clear from all sin, 1 Cor. iv, 4.
  5. A judge is said to justify, not only when he condemns and punishes, but also when he defends the cause of the innocent. Hence it is taken in a forensic sense, and signifies to be found or declared righteous, innocent, &c., Matt. xii, 37.
  6. It signifies to set free, or escape from, Acts xiii, 39.
  7. It signifies, also, to receive one into favour, to pardon sin, Rom. viii, 30; Luke xviii, 14; Rom. iii, 20; iv, 2; 1 Cor vi, 11, &c. In all these texts the word "justify" is taken in the sense of remission of sins through faith in Christ Jesus; and does not mean making the person just or righteous, but treating him as if he were so, having already forgiven him his sins.

Justification, or the pardon of sin, must precede sanctification; the conscience must be purged or purified from guilt, from all guilt, and from all guilt at once; for in no part of the Scripture are we directed to seek remission of sins seriatim; one now, another then, and so on.

The doctrine of justification by faith is one of the grandest displays of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more simple than this—Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the soul of his neighbour. God, in his mercy, has provided a Saviour for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up his own; he died in thy stead, and has made atonement to God for thy transgression; and offers thee the pardon he has thus purchased, on the simple condition that thou believe that his death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin; and that thou bring it, as such, by confident faith to the throne of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so, thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for righteousness; that is, it shall be the means of receiving that salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.

The doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ, as held by many, will not be readily found in Rom. iv, where it has been supposed to exist in all its proofs. It is repeatedly said that faith is imputed for righteousness; but in no place here that Christ's obedience to the moral law is imputed to any man. The truth is, the moral law was broken, and did not now require obedience; it required this before it was broken; but, after it was broken, it required death. Either the sinner must die, or some one in his stead; but there was none, whose death could have been an equivalent for the transgressions of the world, but Jesus Christ. Jesus, therefore, died for man; and it is through his blood, the merit of his passion and death, that we have redemption; and not by his obedience to the moral law in our stead: our salvation was obtained at a much higher price. Jesus could not but be righteous and obedient; this is consequent on the immaculate purity of his nature; but his death was not a necessary consequent. As the law of God can claim only the death of a transgressor—for such only forfeit their right to life—it is the greatest miracle of all that Christ could die, whose life was never forfeited. Here we see the indescribable demerit of sin, that it required such a death; and here we see the stupendous mercy of God, in providing the sacrifice required. It is therefore by Jesus Christ's death, or obedience unto death, that we are saved, and not by his fulfilling any moral law. That he fulfilled the moral law, we know; without which he could not have been qualified to be our Mediator; but we must take heed lest we attribute that to obedience (which was the necessary consequence of his immaculate nature) which belongs to his passion and death. These were free-will offerings of eternal goodness, and not even a necessary consequence of his incarnation.

This doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ is capable of great abuse. To say that Christ's personal righteousness is imputed to every true believer, is not Scriptural: to say that he has fulfilled all righteousness for us, in our stead, if by this is meant his fulfilment of all moral duties, is neither Scriptural nor true; that he has died in our stead, is a great, glorious, and Scriptural truth; that there is no redemption but through his blood is asserted beyond all contradiction in the oracles of God. But there are a multitude of duties which the moral law requires, which Christ never fulfilled in our stead, and never could. We have various duties of a domestic kind which belong solely to ourselves, in the relation of parents, husbands, wives, servants, &c., in which relations Christ never stood. He has fulfilled none of these duties for us, but he furnishes grace to every true believer to fulfil them to God's glory, the edification of his neighbour, and his own eternal profit. The salvation which we receive from God's free mercy, through Christ, binds us to live in a strict conformity to the moral law; that law which prescribes our manners, and the spirit by which they should be regulated, and in which they should be performed. He who lives not in the due performance of every Christian duty, whatever faith he may profess, is either a vile hypocrite or a scandalous Antinomian.

God is said to be "no respecter of persons" for this reason, among many others, that, being infinitely righteous, he must be infinitely impartial. He cannot prefer one to another, because he has nothing to hope or fear from any of his creatures. All partialities among men spring from one or other of these two principles, hope or fear; God can feel neither of them, and therefore God can be no respecter of persons. He approves or disapproves of men according to their moral character. He pities all, and provides salvation for all, but he loves those who resemble him in his holiness; and he loves them in proportion to that resemblance, that is, the more of his image he sees in any the more he loves him, and Econtra. And every man's work will be the evidence of his conformity or nonconformity to God; and according to this evidence will God judge him. Here, then, is no respect of persons. God's judgment will be according to a man's work, and a man's work or conduct will be according to the moral state of his mind. No favouritism can prevail in the day of judgment; nothing will pass there but holiness of heart and life. A righteousness imputed, and not possessed and practised, will not avail where God judgeth according to every man's work. It would be well if those sinners and spurious believers, who fancy themselves safe and complete in the righteousness of Christ, while impure and unholy in themselves, would think of this testimony of the apostle. [7]

As eternal life is given IN the Son of God, it follows it cannot be enjoyed WITHOUT him. No man can have it without having Christ; therefore "he that hath the Son hath life," and "he that hath not the Son hath not life." It is in vain to expect eternal glory if we have not Christ in our heart. The indwelling Christ gives both a title to it and a meetness for it. This is God's record. Let no man deceive himself here. An indwelling Christ and glory; no indwelling Christ, no glory. God's record must stand.

Who are Christ's flock? All real penitents; all true believers; all who obediently follow his example, abstaining from every appearance of evil, and in a holy life and conversation show forth the virtue of Him who called them from darkness into his marvellous light. "My sheep hear my voice and follow me." But who are not his flock? Neither the backslider in heart, nor the vile Antinomian, who thinks the more he sins the more the grace of God shall be magnified in saving him; nor those who fondly suppose they are covered with the righteousness of Christ while living in sin; nor the crowd of the indifferent and the careless; nor the immense herd of Laodicean loiterers; nor the fiery bigots who would exclude all from heaven but themselves, and the party who believe as they do. These the Scripture resembles to swine, dogs, goats, wandering stars, foxes, lions, wells without water, &c., &c. Let not any of these come forward to eat of this pasture, or take of the children's bread. Jesus Christ is the good Shepherd; the Shepherd who, to save his flock, laid down his own life.

To forsake all, without following Christ, is the virtue of a philosopher. To follow Christ in profession, without forsaking all, is the state of the generality of Christians. But to follow Christ, and forsake all, is the perfection of a Christian.

Talking about Christ, his righteousness, merits, and atonement, while the person is not conformed to his word and Spirit, is no other than solemn deception.

The white robes of the saints cannot mean the righteousness of Christ, for this cannot be washed and made white in his own blood. This white linen is said to be the righteousness of the saints, Rev. xix, 8; and this is the righteousness in which they stand before the throne; therefore it is not Christ's righteousness, but it is a righteousness wrought in them by the merits of his blood and the power of his Spirit.

We must beware of Antinomianism, that is, of supposing that, because Christ has been obedient unto death, there is no necessity for our obedience to his righteous commandments. If this were so, the grace of Christ would tend to the destruction of the law, and not to its establishment. He only is saved from his sins who has the law of God written in his heart, who lives an innocent, holy, and useful life. Wherever Christ lives he works; and his work of righteousness will appear to his servants, and its effect will be quietness and assurance for ever. The life of God in the soul of man is the principle which saves and preserves eternally.

ADOPTION. —Adoption signifies the act of receiving a stranger into [8] a family, and conveying to him all the rights, privileges, and benefits belonging to a natural or legitimate child; the receiving a child of a stranger into a family where there was none.

This did not exist in the Jewish law; it was properly a Roman custom, and among them was regulated by law: and it is to adoption, as practiced among the Romans, that the apostle alludes in this place, Gal. iv, 5, as well as in various others in his epistles.

Among the ancient Romans every house had its altar, its religious rites; and its household gods. All these, being considered the most sacred, were ever to be continued in that family; and, on this account, if the family were in danger of becoming extinct, through want of children, adoption was admitted, that the family and its sacred rites and gods might be preserved. This was one of the laws of the very ancient "twelve tables," so celebrated in the history of ancient Rome.

When, then, a child was to be adopted into a strange family, his father took him, and presenting himself and his son before the magistrate, and five witnesses, who were Romans, he said, "I emancipate to thee this my son." Then the adopting father, holding a piece of money in his hand, and at the same time taking hold of his son, said, "I declare this man to be my son according to the Roman law, and he is bought with this money;" and then gave it to the father as the price of his son, &c.

Every Roman had the right of life and death over his children, even as they had over slaves. In the case of adoption this right was surrendered by the natural father to the adopting father; and the person adopted entered into this new family as if it were his own naturally. He took his adopting father's name, and a legal right, not only to food, raiment, and all the comforts of life, but also to the inheritance. All the relatives of the new family bore the same relation to the adopted, as if they had been naturally his own; and in all privileges, rights, and legal transactions he was the same as if he had been born in that family.

But he was still amenable to the laws, and must be in every respect obedient, attentive to the family honour, and to its interest. In case of rebellion against the parent, he might be put to death; for the adopting father had the same authority over the adopted son as his own natural father had.

As a father might disinherit his son, so might the adopting father disinherit the adopted. For it must be considered that the adopted son, while he stood in the state and privileges of a natural child, had no privilege beyond such.

Without extending the parallel farther than is strictly necessary, we may observe,—

  1. That as a man had lost all the privileges of his natural filiation, to regain them he must be received into the family by way of adoption. This was the only mode.
  2. This adoption supposes that he is entirely cut off from the old family, having no longer any legal relation to or connection with it.
  3. That he is received into the new family, to be entirely under the rule and government of his adopter; to be employed as he shall choose to employ him; and to be entirely at his disposal, in body, soul, and spirit.
  4. That as by this transaction he becomes an heir in the new family, so he is to enjoy those privileges while he acts according to the law in that case provided; and to the rules and constitution of the father's house.
  5. That his old consanguinity is now changed: that he is considered of the same blood with the new family, standing no longer in any filial relationship to any other.
  6. That he takes the very name of his adopting father, and is to be in every respect conformed to that; family.

To apply these more particularly:—

1. Man, having sinned against God, ceased to be his son; for, in order to constitute filiation, it is essential that the child share the same nature with the father. As God's nature is holy, pure, and perfect, when man sinned he lost his conformity to this nature; he lost the image of God in which he was created, and became unholy, impure, and imperfect.

2. To restore him, the way of adoption only was left; and that could not have taken place had not a previous adoption taken place, namely, the adoption of human nature by Jesus Christ.

3. This adoption, therefore, supposes, and absolutely requires, that he be cut off from the old stock, and grafted into the new; leaving behind him all his sins, sinful habits, sinful companions, and sinful dispositions; being no longer of his old father the devil, nor in any respect doing his lusts, performing his will, or associating with his followers; and that, as the old consanguinity is changed, he now stands in relation only to God, holy angels, and holy men; and that he is bound to maintain, in every respect, the honour, dignity, and respect of the divine family into which he is adopted.

4. In being adopted by God he is no longer his own, he is God's right; body, soul, and spirit belong to his heavenly Father. He is ever to feel himself absolutely at the disposal of God; and is bound, if he would enjoy the privileges of the family, to take God's word for the rule of his life, and God's Spirit for the regulator of his heart and affections.

5. And this obedience to the will of the Father, and conformity to the Ruler of the family, are founded on the state of salvation into which he is brought, and the ineffable privileges to which he has now a right—he is an heir of God, and a joint heir with Christ Jesus.

6. That, as by this adoption he acquires a new nature, so he has a new name—he is called after God; a son of God, a child of God, an heir of God. But, properly, the family name is saint, all the adopted children are called to be saints; for holiness becomes God's house and family for ever. Where there is no saintship, there is no adoption, and consequently no heirship, and no inheritance.


[7] The sentiments contained in the following letter are worthy the attention of the reader:—

"Millbrook, Prescot, Jan. 21 st, 1823.

"MY DEAR BROTHER DUNN, "Last evening I received your letter of the 19th ult., and was not a little glad to hear from you: and still more rejoiced to hear such good news. I plainly see that every thing is going on as God usually conducts his work. I do not regret your being shut out of the churches; to such God never yet gave us a call: nor are we to build on other men's foundations. We have a work to do peculiar to ourselves. We know our own sorrows in the operation; and no stranger intermeddles with our joy. I should not wonder to hear next that you are denounced from the pulpits as deceivers and heretics. Boldly proclaim all the truth. Preach it with all its proofs and evidences; and leave that villanous stuff that is in concert with the Eleven Letters as perfectly unnoticed as if it never had existed. I am quite of Mr. Wesley's mind, that once 'we leaned too much toward Calvinism,' and especially in admitting, in any sense, the unscriptural doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ. I never use the distinction of righteousness imputed, righteousness imparted, righteousness practised. In no part of the book of God is Christ's righteousness ever said to be imputed to us for our justification; and I greatly doubt whether the doctrine of Christ's active obedience in our justification does not take away from the infinite merit of his sacrificial death: and whether by fair construction, and legitimate deduction, it will not go to prove, if admitted as above, that no absolute necessity of Christ's death did exist. For if the acts of his life justify in part, or conjunctly, they might, in so glorious a personage, have justified separately and wholly; and consequently his agony and bloody sweat, his cross and passion, and his death, burial, and ascension would have been utterly useless, considered as acts and consequences of acts, called atoning. Our grand doctrine is, 'We have redemption in his blood.' Nor can we ever successfully comfort the distressed but by proclaiming Christ crucified. having been 'delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.' He is not represented in heaven as performing acts of righteousness for our justification; but as the Lamb newly slain before the throne. I have long thought that the doctrine of imputed righteousness, as held by certain people, is equally compounded of Pharisaism and Antinomianism; and, most certainly, should find very little trouble, by analysis or synthesis, to demonstrate the facts, little as its abettors think of the subject. But go on your way, preaching all our doctrines, but not in a controversial way: and if at any time you may be obliged to repel invective, do it in the meekness of Christ. Our grand doctrines of the witness of the Spirit, and Christian perfection, are opposed to all bad tempers, as well as bad words and works.

"The peace of God be with you. Write often to "Your affectionate brother and friend,


[8] As adoption is not so much a distinct act of God, but is involved in our justification, I have not thought it necessary to give to it a separate chapter.—S.D.