All of Grace
written by Charles H. Spurgeon
edited in modern English by Jon J. Cardwell
4. IT IS GOD WHO JUSTIFIES
It’s a wonderful thing, this being justified, or being declared righteous. If we had never broken the laws of God we would not have needed it, because we would have been just in ourselves. He who has done the things that he should have done all of his life, and has never done anything that he should not do, is justified by the law. But you, dear reader, are not that kind of person; of that, I’m quite sure. You have too much honesty to pretend to be sinless, and therefore you need to be justified.
Now, if you justify yourself, you will simply be a self-deceiver. Therefore don’t try it. It’s never worthwhile.
If you ask your fellow human beings to justify you, what can they do? You can make some of them say good things about you for small favors, and others will backbite you for less. Their judgment is not worth much.
Our text says, “It is God who justifies,” and this is a great deal more to the point. It is an astonishing fact, and one that we should consider carefully. Come and see.
In the first place, nobody else but God would ever have thought of justifying those who are guilty. They have lived in open rebellion; they have done evil with both hands; they have gone from bad to worse; they have turned back to sin even after they have been punished for it, and therefore, have been forced to leave it for a while. They have broken the law, and trampled on the gospel. They have rejected proclamations of mercy and have persisted in ungodliness. How can they be forgiven and justified? Their fellowmen, despairing of them, say, “They are hopeless cases.” Even Christians look upon them with sorrow instead of with hope. But not so with their God. In the splendor of His electing grace, having chosen some of them before the foundation of the world, He will not rest until He has justified them, and made them to be accepted in the Beloved. Isn’t it written in the Bible, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30)? Thus you see that there are some whom the Lord determines to justify: why shouldn’t you and I be of counted with them?
No one but God would have ever thought of justifying me. I am surprised with myself. I don’t doubt that grace is equally seen in others. Look at Saul of Tarsus, who foamed at the mouth against God’s servants. Like a hungry wolf, he worried the lambs and the sheep right and left; and yet God struck him down on the road to Damascus, and changed his heart, and so fully justified him that in no time, this man became the greatest preacher of justification by faith that ever lived. He must have marveled often that he was justified by faith in Christ Jesus, because he was once so unwavering in his determination to cling to salvation by the works of the law. No one but God would have ever thought of justifying a man like Saul the persecutor; but the Lord God is glorious in grace.
But, even if anybody had thought of justifying the ungodly, no one but God could have done it. It is quite impossible for any person to forgive offenses that have not been committed against himself. A person has greatly injured you; you can forgive him, and I hope you will; but no third person can forgive him apart from you. If the wrong is done to you, the pardon must come from you. If we have sinned against God, it is in God’s power to forgive; for the sin is against Himself. That is why David says, in the fifty-first Psalm: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4); for then God, the One who was offended, can put the offense away. That which we owe to God, our great Creator can forgive, if it pleases Him to do so; and if He forgives it, it is forgiven. No one but the great God, against whom we have committed the sin, can blot out that sin; let us, therefore, see that we go to Him and seek mercy at His hands. Do not let us be led aside by those who would have us confess to them; they have no authority from the Word of God for their claims. But even if they were ordained to pronounce pardon in God’s name, it must still be better that we, ourselves, go to the great Lord through Jesus Christ, the Mediator, and seek and find pardon at His hand; since we are sure that this is the right way. Proxy religion involves too great a risk: you had better see to your own soul’s matters yourself, and not trust them to another man’s hands.
Only God can justify the ungodly; but He can do it to perfection. He casts our sins behind His back, He blots them out; He says that although they seek them, they shall not be found. With no other reason for it but His own infinite goodness, He has prepared a glorious way by which He can make scarlet sins as white as snow, and remove our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west. He says, “I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). He goes as far as to make an end of sin. One person in the old times called out in amazement, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love” (Micah 7:18).
We are not speaking of justice at the moment, nor of God’s dealing with men according to what they deserve. If you profess to deal with the righteous Lord on terms of law and judgment, everlasting wrath threatens you, because that is what you deserve. Blessed be His name, He has not dealt with us according to our sins; but now, He treats us on terms of free grace and infinite compassion, and He says, “I will receive you graciously, and love you freely.” Believe it, because it is certainly true that the great God is able to treat the guilty with abundant mercy; yes, He is able to treat the ungodly as if they had always been godly. Read the parable of the prodigal son carefully (Luke 15:11-32), and see how the forgiving father received the returning wanderer with as much love as if he had never gone away, and had never defiled himself with prostitutes. He carried this out so far that the elder brother began to grumble about it; but the father never withdrew his love. Oh my brother and oh my sister, however guilty you may be, if you will only come back to your God and Father, He will treat you as if you had never done anything wrong! He will regard you as righteous, and deal with you accordingly. What do you say to this?
Don’t you see¾ for I want to bring this out clearly, what a wonderful thing it is¾ that as no one but God would think of justifying the ungodly, and no one but God could do it, yet the Lord can do it? See how the apostle puts the challenge, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). If God has justified a man it is well done, it is rightly done, it is justly done, and it is eternally done. I read a statement in a magazine that is full of poison against the gospel and those who preach it; that we hold some kind of theory that says we imagine that sin can be removed from men. We believe no such theory. We publish a fact. The grandest fact under heaven is this¾ that Christ, by His precious blood, actually does put away sin, and that God, for Christ’s sake, in dealing with men on terms of divine mercy, forgives the guilty and justifies them, not according to anything that He sees in them, or foresees will be in them, but according to the riches of His mercy which is in His own heart. This we have preached, do preach, and will preach as long as we live. “It is God who justifies”¾ that justifies the ungodly; He is not ashamed of doing it, nor are we ashamed of preaching it.
The justification, which comes from God Himself, must be beyond question. If the Judge acquits me, who can condemn me? If the highest court in the universe has pronounced me not guilty, who shall lay anything to my charge? Justification from God is a sufficient answer to an awakened conscience. The Holy Spirit by His means breathes peace over our entire nature, and we are no longer afraid. With this justification we can answer all the roarings and railings of Satan, and also of ungodly men. With this we shall be able to die: with this we shall boldly rise again, and face the last great court of justice.
Bold shall I stand in that great day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
While by my Lord absolved I am
From sin’s tremendous curse and blame.
Friend, the Lord can blot out all your sins. I’m not shooting in the dark when I say this. “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people” (Matthew 12:31). Though you stand up to your neck in crime, He can remove the defilement with a word, and say, “I will; be clean” (Mark 1:41). The Lord is a great forgiver.
“I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Do you?
Even at this very moment, He can pronounce the sentence, “Your sins are forgiven… go in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50); and if He does this, no power in Heaven, or earth, or under the earth, can put you under suspicion, much less under wrath. Do not doubt the power of Almighty love. You could not forgive your fellow man if he had offended you in the same way that you have offended God; but you must not measure God’s corn with your basket; His thoughts and ways are so much higher than yours just as the heavens are high above the earth.
“Well,” you say, “it would be a great miracle if the Lord were to pardon me.” It is. It would be a supreme miracle, and therefore He is likely to do it; for He “does great things and unsearchable” (Job 5:9), which we didn’t even look for.
I was myself stricken down with a horrible sense of guilt, which made my life miserable; but when I heard the command, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22). I looked, and in a moment the Lord justified me. What I saw was that Jesus Christ was made sin for me and that sight gave me rest. When those who were bitten by the fiery serpents in the wilderness looked to the serpent of brass they were healed at once (Numbers 21:5-9); and so was I when I looked to the crucified Savior. The Holy Spirit, who enabled me to believe, gave me peace through believing. I felt as sure that I was forgiven, as before I felt sure that I was condemned. I had been certain of my condemnation because the Word of God declared it, and my conscience bore witness to it; but when the Lord justified me the same witnesses made me equally certain. The Word of the Lord in the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:18), and my conscience bears witness that I believed, and that God in pardoning me is just. Thus I have the witness of the Holy Spirit and my own conscience, and these two agree as one truth. Oh, how I wish that my reader would receive the testimony of God upon this matter, and then very soon he would also have the witness in himself!
I will be so bold as to say that a sinner justified by God stands on more solid ground than a righteous man justified by his works, if there were such a person. We could never be more certain that we had done enough works; conscience would always be uneasy for fear that, after all we have done, we should come short, and we could only have the trembling verdict of a fallible judgment to rely upon. When God Himself justifies, however, and the Holy Spirit bears witness to that justification by giving us peace with God, then we will feel that the matter is certain and settled, and we enter into rest. No tongue can tell the depth of that calm which comes over the soul, which has received the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.
[“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright ©2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible. The King James Version is in the Public Domain.]