Justification, Propitiation, Declaration


"Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus."
- (Romans 3:24-26)

I THINK, dear friends, some of you will be saying, "There is that same old doctrine again that we are so continually hearing," and I am sure if you do say it I shall not be surprised. Nor, on the other hand, shall I make any sort of excuse. The doctrine of justification by faith through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ is very much to my ministry what bread and salt are to the table. As often as ever the table is set, there are those necessary things. I regard that doctrine as being one that is to be preached continually, to be mixed up with all our sermons, even as, under the law of God it was said, "With all your offerings you shall offer salt." This is the very salt of the gospel! Indeed, it is impossible to bring it forward too often. It is the soul-saving doctrine—it is the foundation doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ! It is that by which God is pleased to bring many into reconciliation with Himself. As the schoolmaster takes care to ground his scholars well in grammar, that they may get hold of the very roots of the language, so must we be rooted and grounded in this fundamental and cardinal truth of God— justification through the righteousness of Jesus Christ! Martin Luther, who used to preach this doctrine very vehemently and forcibly, yet declared that he felt as if he could knock the Bible about the peoples’ heads if he could by any means get this doctrine into them—for as soon after they had learned it, they forgot it! Over and over, and over again must the Christian minister continue to insist upon this truth— that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. And forever and ever, as long as the world stands, must he continue to repeat the truth of God, that we are justified through the righteousness of our Redeemer and not by any righteousness of our own!

I do not intend at this time to try and preach a sermon, but rather give an "outline exposition" again of this doctrine. And if you turn to the text, I think we can very well divide it, and very properly, too, into three parts, and head it with three words of, justification, propitiation and declaration. Justification—"Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." _Propitiation_—"Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation though faith in His blood to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins." And then we come to the third—the _Declaration—_to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God! To declare, I say, at this time, His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus! First, then, here is something about—


The sense of this term is, in this place, and in most others, to declare a person to be just. A person is put on trial, he is brought before the judge. One of two things will happen—he will either be acquitted or justified, or else he will be condemned. You and I are all virtually before the judge and we are, at this moment, either acquitted or condemned, either justified or under condemnation! It is not possible that any one of us should be acquitted on the grounds of our not being guilty, for we must all confess that we have broken the law of God thousands of times! It is not possible for any of us to be declared just on the ground of our own personal obedience to the law of God, for to be just through our own obedience we must have been perfect—but we have not been perfect! We have broken the law, we still continue to break it and, by the works of the law, it is clear we cannot be just—cannot be justified. The Lord, even the God of heaven and earth, has planned and promulgated a way by which He can be just and yet can declare the guilty to be just—a way by which, to use the words of our text, He can be just and yet the justifier of him who believes. That way is simply this, a way of substitution and imputation. Our sins are taken off of us and laid upon Christ Jesus, the innocent Substitute, "For He has made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us." Then, when this is effected, the righteousness which was worked out by Jesus Christ is taken from Him and imputed—reckoned—unto us, so that the rest of the text comes true, "That we may be made the righteousness of God in Him." We are found in Him not having our own righteousness which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God by faith. You see, we did not keep the law of God, but broke it. We were, therefore, condemned! Jesus came and stood in our place, headed up the whole race that He had chosen, became their representative, completely kept all the law for them, also suffered the punishment due for all their breaches of the law, becoming a substitute, actively and passively obeying the law and suffering its penalty! And now what He did is imputed to us, while what we did by way of sin was of old imputed to Him and He was made a curse for us—as it is written, "Cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree." If you ask me how this can be a just thing to do, I reply, God has determined it and it is not possible that He should have determined anything that was not just!

But, moreover, there was an original reason for it, for our first ruin came upon us through our first parent, Adam. Our first fall was not our doing, but the doing of the man who stood as our representative! Perhaps had we, each one of us, at the first separately and distinctly sinned, without any connection with him, redemption might have been as impossible to us as we have reason to believe it is to fallen angels! But inasmuch as the first sin was in connection with the federal headship of the first Adam, it became possible and right that there should be a salvation through a second federal headship, even Jesus Christ, the second Adam. "As by man came death, so by man also comes the resurrection from the dead." As by man sin came into the world and the race perished, so by the second glorious man, Christ Jesus, divine grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life! But you need not question the justice of the plan. The Sovereign against whom you have offended deigns to accept it—and what God accepts we need not hesitate to rely upon! If the offended One is satisfied to proclaim us just, we may be perfectly satisfied with what He shall do toward us, for if He justifies, who can condemn? If He acquits, who dare accuse? We may boldly say, if once we are acquitted, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?"

Now notice what the text says of this plan of justification. It tells us that, as far as we are concerned, it is given to us freely! Being freely justified, God forgives the sinner’s sins gratis, freely—not on account of any repentance of his, meritoriously considered—not on the ground of any resolutions of his which might bribe the Eternal mind—not on account of penance, or suffering endured or to be endued, but He puts sins away freely because He chooses to do it—for nothing! Without money, without merit, without anything that could move Him but His own grand nature, for He delights in mercy—"Being freely justified."

And then to make it still clearer, it is added, by His grace, which is not a tautology, though it is a repetition. We are justified, not by any debt due to us, not because God was bound to justify, but because out of His own abundant love and rich compassion He freely makes the guilty to be pardoned and the unrighteous to be justified by the righteousness of Christ! I know it has been said by some that we make out that there is no such thing as free pardon and free justification because we set the righteousness of Christ as the procuring cause of both. I grant you we do! But we equally strenuously hold the pardon to be free, and the justification to be free, though it is through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus—free to us, free so far as the heart and mercy of God is concerned—and only through redemption—because God must be just, He must be righteous, He cannot separate sin from the penalty! He is a Sovereign, but He never, in His sovereignty, violates righteousness! And it would be a sovereign act of unrighteousness if He passed by sin without awarding to it the punishment which He threatened should follow it—an act which it is not possible for God to do, for He must be just and He has, Himself declared He will by no means clear the guilty! Still, the justification is free to you, free to every soul that will have it, free to every man that believes in Jesus!

Now note this justification is put before you as being through the redemption, which is in Christ Jesus. There is a price paid—it is through the redemption. There is an intervening suffering and an intervening obedience. We are not justified freely without redemption, nor justified by His grace without the intervention of the atoning sacrifice. Oh, how men labor to get rid of this! There are certain persons who think themselves philosophic, who will do all they can to throw dirt into the face of this doctrine of substitution, but it is the very soul, head, foundation, corner, and keystone of the entire gospel! If it is left out, I hesitate not to say that the gospel preached is another gospel, which is not another, but there are some who trouble you—

"In vain the guilty conscience seeks
Some solid ground to rest upon.
With vain desire the spirit breaks,
Till we apply to Christ alone!
Till God in human flesh I see,
My thoughts no comfort find.
The holy, just, and sacred Three
Are terrors to my mind!
But if Emmanuel’s face appear,
My hope, my joy, begins!
His grace forbids my slavish fear,
His love removes my sins."

We cannot give up the doctrine of redemption, the redemption which is in Christ Jesus! This is it, soul—listen to it—you are justified freely, but it cost the Savior dearly! It cost Him a life of obedience! It cost Him a death of shame, of agony, of suffering—all immeasurable! There was your cup of wrath which you must drink forever, and which you could never drain to the bottom! It must be drunk by someone! Jesus drinks it, sets the cup to His lips, and the very first drop of it makes Him sweat great drops of blood falling to the ground! But He drinks right on, though head, and hands, and feet are all suffering—drinks right on, though He cries, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Drinks right on, I say, until not one black drop or dreg could be found within that cup and, turning it upside down, He cries, "It is finished! It is finished," as He gives up the ghost. At one tremendous draught of love, the Lord has drunk condemnation dry for every one of His people for whom He shed His blood! "Justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." There was a redemption by substitutionary suffering, a redemption by vicarious obedience, a redemption by interposition of Christ on our behalf—

"To bear, that we might never bear
His Father’s righteous ire."

Do you understand this, sinner? Do you understand this? If you do not, then God help you to grasp it now, for it is a thing of the present—is it not here a present participle?—being justified freely, that is, now, justified now! O sinner, you are now condemned, but if you now will look to Jesus standing as the victim in your place. If you will now trust in Jesus dying in your place—you shall now be just, your sins shall now be forgiven—the righteousness shall now be yours and you shall know the meaning of that text, "There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Do you see, then, what justification means? Oh, may you enjoy it! It will make you leap for joy if you do! And now the second word is—

II. PROPITIATION—a reference here to the mercy-seat, the covering in—in our own words it is a reconciliation, a something by which God is propitiated—an atonement by which God and man are made one, a propitiation—a something which vindicates the injured honor of God, which comes in to make amends to the divine law for human offenses.

Now concerning this propitiation, let us speak, and may the Holy Spirit give us utterance. You say, O sinner, "How shall I come before God? How shall I draw near to the Most High God?" What would you give to be saved? All that you have, you would freely present—if you had bullocks and sheep upon a thousand hills and their blood could cleanse you—you would pour it out in rivers! You ask again, "What is the propitiation I can bring?" God tells you. Here He tells you that He has provided a propitiation in the person of His dear Son. And I would have you notice first of all who it was that _provided it_—whom God had set forth. Admire the love of this—that the God who was angered, is the God who finds the propitiation! Against God the sin was leveled! God Himself finds the way of being gracious towards sinners. How safe it must be to accept a propitiation who God, the offended one, Himself proposes! Notice next that it is said that God has set this forth. The margin has it, "Has foreordained it." The atonement of Christ is not a new idea—it is an old determination of the Most High and it is no close secret! God has published it—set it forth. By His prophets in His Word—by His preachers in all your streets—God has set forth Christ to be the propitiation for human sin! It is His own arranging, His own—and the publication to you tonight is by His own authority! Oh, regard this and you who seek His mercy leap to think that it comes to you certified in such a way!

But then notice that the main point in this propitiation is the blood. "Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood." Some cannot bear to hear about the blood of Jesus and yet, under the old law it was written, "It is the blood which shall make atonement for sin." And again, "Without shedding of blood there is no remission," and again, "The blood is the life thereof," and again, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you," that is to say, that which makes atonement for human sin is not the life of Christ as an _example_—nor the actions of Christ as a vindication of righteousness—but _the suffering of Christ_—the death of Christ. Everyone knows that this is what is meant by the blood. In the blood-shedding, Jesus suffered! His body suffered—inwardly His soul bled, His spirit suffered—His soul-sufferings were the soul of His sufferings! Then came death. Death was the penalty of sin. Jesus died, literally died—and the heart’s blood came forth, mingled with water from His pierced side. God is pleased to pardon us because Jesus suffered—and the main point of comfort is the cross—the cross of the crucified, the dying Savior! Do not let your minds wander away from this, you that are seeking peace with God. Your hope is not so much at Bethlehem as at Calvary. Your consolation is not to be found in the Second Advent but in the First Advent—and the death that closed it. You are not to look to Christ in His glory for your comfort, but to Christ in His humiliation! Christ in His expiatory sufferings as your only hope! The blood, the blood, the blood—it is there the propitiation lies—and to that our faith must turn our eyes. It is so. Yes, it is so—

"My sins deserve Your wrath, my God!
Your wrath has fallen on Your Son!"

My sins turned away Your face—You have turned away Your face from Him. My sins deserved death—He has died. My sins deserved to be spit upon—to be mocked—to be cast out as felons. All this He has endured as if He were my sin, and is it not so? "He has made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." Brothers and sisters, I do declare my conscience never knew any peace until I understood this truth of God, but ever since then I have no rock I build on but this—Christ in my place, and I in Christ’s place! I am safe in Him and He was chastened, bruised, wounded, slain, instead of me! He it is. Propitiation through the blood. But the text says, "Through faith in His blood." So, then, this shows you that no propitiation has had any effect with regard to us until we have faith in the blood! I can never know that God has blotted out my sin until I have faith! And what is faith but trust? And then, when I trust the blood of Jesus, my sin is all forgiven me in one moment. When I humbly rely upon my Savior’s finished work, "Though sins were as scarlet, they become as wool; though they were red like crimson, they are whiter than snow." Do you know—I hardly know how to talk about this truth of propitiation. It makes my heart so leap for joy that I cannot find words to tell you! I do know that I, and that you, and that every believer under heaven is as clear before God of every sin as if he or she had never sinned! And is accepted before God as if his whole life had been perfect obedience—and all because that propitiation blood and the dear merits of our once crucified, but now glorified redeemer stands in our place! If I might have a perfect righteousness of my own, I would not—I would sooner have my Lord’s, for my righteousness, were it perfect, were but the immaculate and complete—it overflows with merit! Truly I say again, could we have a righteousness of our own, it were wise to leave it and to have the righteousness of Jesus Christ wrapped about us by an act of faith, that we might forever stand not only accepted, but, "accepted in the Beloved." Why, it is the very glory of the acceptance that the acceptance comes to us in Christ!

Thus have I dwelt as well as our short time allows upon the propitiation. And now a word about—


The great objective, it appears, of the redemption, and of the gospel, is to show how God is just and yet the justifier of such as believe. And Paul very properly divides the effect of Christ’s death into two parts. First, he says that that death declared God’s righteousness as to the sins that were past, through the forbearance of God.

Before our Savior came into the world, there had passed over the world some thousands of years. Our chronology talks about four thousand years. I do not know that. I never did believe in the chronology which is appended by human judgment to our Bibles. It may be, or it may not be correct. However, it may be four thousand years. During that time a very large number of sinners lived and a large number of sinners were saved. The transgressions of the Patriarchs, the transgressions of Israel under the law, were remitted and these persons were justified by faith, and accepted—but how? There had been no offering of blood. True, the bullocks and the lambs were offered, but these could never put away sin. These were brought often, as if to show that the work was not done. The text tells us that this was through the forbearance of God. In the foresight of the atonement to be offered, God remitted— passed over, as the word is—the sins of _t_hose of His children who lived before Christ was sent—before the penalty was endured by the Substitute! It is a glorious thought, this atonement of Christ acting forward, before it was finished, before it was presented—and multitudes entering heaven and enjoying happiness as Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the saints did, when, as yet not a drop of that blood which saved them had been shed, not a pang of the agony which made up the atonement had yet been endured! Now had God passed over all this sin, and no atonement was, after all, presented, His justice would not have been declared. But our Savior ultimately coming and suffering, all was a declaration of the righteousness of God concerning the sins that were past. It was proven that He had in His mind’s eye this great sacrifice when He passed by sin—that He had not unjustly remitted it without demanding the penalty.

But then the Apostle gives us the other half of the great result of Christ’s death! He says, "To declare, I say, at this time, His righteousness." That is, _today_—while we read this passage. "To declare, I say, at this time, His righteousness, that still as for us who live after the Passion, He might be just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus." The atoning sacrifice of Christ looks forward, and will look all down the ages till He comes!—

"His precious blood shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved to sin no more."

All the sins of His people, both past and present and to come, were laid on Christ—the whole mighty mass of all the sin of all His people that ever have believed, or ever shall believe on Him—all were transferred to His head and laid on Him! And He suffered for them all. And He made an end of all their transgressions and brought in everlasting righteousness for them all! Here is the grand truth of God, the grandest truth of inspiration!

Now I shall spend the last few minutes of our time in reminding you that I have not, beloved, been beating about the bush, nor preaching to you a doctrine that may or may not be true! I have not been holding up to you some angle of an eccentric creed. Behold before you that which will be a savor of life unto life, or of death unto death! Not with words of man’s wisdom, but in simplicity have I tried to tell you God’s way of pardoning and justifying men. At your peril reject it! As you shall answer for it before my Master’s bar in that day when He shall summon you to give an account, oh, I beseech you by the living God—accept the propitiation which God sets forth! Here are no harsh terms! Here are no rigorous conditions! There stand the words, "Believe and live!" As it is written, "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved: He that believes not shall be damned." I have told you what this believing is. It is an unfeigned act of reliance upon the Incarnate God suffering in your place. If you believe on Him, or trust Him, that is the indisputable evidence that He was a substitute for you—that the load of your guilt is gone—that the stone that lay at the door is removed and you are saved! Go not about, I pray you, to seek another righteousness. All the righteousness you need, Christ presents you freely with! Do not say that you are guilty—it is true you are—but this mode of salvation was meant for the guilty! Object not because you feel unfit. All the fitness that is needed is that you do but confess you are unfit and take freely what God presents you! No sin of yours shall ruin you if you believe, but no righteousness of yours shall save you if you will not believe!

This is God’s way to save men. Will you set up another? Will you dare play Antichrist with Christ? He has declared His righteousness in the substitution of the Savior. Do you fail to see that righteousness, or seeing it, will you not admire it? Will you not adopt the plan which manifests it? Accept it, sinner! It is all a brother’s heart and voice can say, accept it! Oh, if you knew the joy it would bring you, you would accept it now! I bear my witness personally. Burdened with sin, utterly lost, as much as you, I heard this gladsome news! I heard the message which said, "Look unto Me and be you saved, all you ends of the earth." I did look. I was as unfit as you—as undeserving as you—but the moment my eyes caught sight of the great surety on the ground of Gethsemane, bleeding for me, and on the cross dying for me—I saw that if God had punished Him for me, He could be just, and yet never punish me! No, that if Christ were punished in my place, to punish me after Christ had died for me would be injustice altogether! And tonight I hide myself beneath the wings of Jesus, the great Surety, and my only shelter in the storm—

"Rock of Ages cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee."

In His pierced side my soul does find a shelter from the blast of divine wrath. It is peace now! It is joy now! It is salvation now with me! Why should not it be so with you? You did not come here to find Him. No, but God brought you here to find you! Is it not written, "I will call them a people who were not a people, and her beloved who was not beloved." "I am found," He says, "of them that sought Me not." Oh, may He be found by you tonight! You did not know the way to be saved—you do know it now. Do not add to your guilt by knowing what you don’t practice, but now, NOW trust Him! Oh, may the Holy Spirit work faith in you. "‘Tis but a little faith," says one. Little faith will save you, but Christ deserves great faith! Oh, He is a true Christ—He cannot lie. Oh, can you not lay hold of Him? Do you see but the hem of His garment? Is it but a raveled thread that hangs out? Touch it, touch it with your finger and you shall be made whole! What if you cannot believe as you should? Believe as you can! Say with him of old, "Lord, I believe; help You my unbelief." Lift up the cry of the publican, "God be merciful—be propitiated towards me, a sinner! Jesus, I will have You! Have me!"

The Lord grant it, and may many in this place be saved tonight, to the praise and the glory of His grace wherein He has made us accepted in the Beloved. Amen and amen!