Justified or Judged
by W.T.P. Wolston
Genesis 15:1-11; Romans 4:1-8, 20-25; 5:1-11
The effect of the gospel when received is this, that first a man is justified by God, next he has peace with God, then further he is reconciled to God, and lastly he joys in God. Genesis 15 is a chapter of remarkable history, on which Romans 4 is a comment by the Spirit of God. Abraham comes out as the pattern man as regards justification, and reveals what fits a man to stand before God.
Now if you think, my reader, that you are fit, in yourself, to stand before God, you have made a profound mistake. No, there is only one Man fit for God. Who is he? The Man that died for those who were not fit for God, that is Christ. When I say fit for God, I mean holy, and righteous, and sinless. He was put in the balances, and was not “found wanting.” You remember the writing on the wall that appeared to Belshazzar, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting” (Dan. 5:27). What made Belshazzar tremble might well make you tremble. It is not a question of any great profanity, or any great moral sin, but that in the very springs of our moral being you and I are unfit for God. People do not like this truth, because it reduces them, but you will be brought to own it yet. It is an immense thing to get light and truth from God as to our real condition.
Now the gospel is all about Jesus. There is not a word about us in it, but it is for the man who was in a condition in which death and judgment lie before him, because he is a sinner. You know what the wages of sin is? Death, “and after that the judgment.” You may talk lightly about death and judgment, but when you go into eternity with your sins upon you, you will then have more serious thoughts of death. Some day you will have to face God. I beseech you, face Him now. You need not be afraid of Him, because He is on your side. He is against your sins and your ungodliness, but not against you. He desires to justify, not to judge you. Could you justify your life? You say, No, I could not. Now listen, if you got hold of the gospel you would find that God can justify you righteously, not at the expense of His character, but in perfect consistency with His moral being. He is Love—that is one side of His being, and He is Light—that is another.
Christianity is the only religion that combines holiness and love. Everything in Christianity is in divine accord. There is Love—the perfection of Love, the Love that led the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, to become incarnate, and go down into death, to bring you and me to God in righteousness, cleansed and cleared from all our sins and guilt. Love took Him into death, and righteousness took Him out of it. Christianity is a magnificent arch in which all the glories of God are displayed, and the buttresses are absolute love and holiness, and if you just repose on that arch you are in a very safe resting-place for time and eternity. Woe be to the man that is not there. There is a storm coming that will sweep away everything but Christ—all must go, and that makes the gospel so beautiful. Love has come out, and I see love in the cross, and righteousness in the cross. I see how God has unsparingly judged sin in the Person of the blessed, holy, sinless substitute—the Lord Jesus.
“He took the guilty culprit’s place,
He suffered in his stead.
For man, oh, miracle of grace,
For man the Saviour bled.”
Do you believe it? Has your heart ever been caught by this love? You may well be ashamed of yourself, if it has not; and you will be ashamed before long that you have missed this Christ for some bauble of this world, such as science, pleasure or money.
Christ has been put before you a thousand times, and you have never received Him. You say, you talk to me as though I were a sinner of the deepest dye. Well, are you not? It would be a wonderful thing if you got your eyes opened and saw what a downright sinner you are, and what a glorious Saviour Christ is. Friend, you must take your true place, because there is no other way of being saved but by God’s gospel, and it is for the lost. You get into a kind of charmed circle, the circle composed only of consciously lost sinners. There the gospel meets you, cuts you up, makes you see what you are, and then you discover that, guilty sinner as you are, you are an object of the love of God.
But, you say, to be saved surely we must do something. If you had something to do you could not do it. The truth is this, the carnal mind is enmity against God, and the very chapter I have read opens with this: “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” Some boast in their strength, and some in their wealth, and some in their wisdom, but Scripture says, “He that boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” If you only knew my Father—the power of His arm, the love of His heart, the value of His Son—you would be a new man. Are you justified yet? All you want is the simple faith that Abraham had, which linked him with God: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Abraham stands before us an illustration of the manner in which the guilty sinner is justified before God. Was he justified by works? Clearly not before God, though he was before men, as St James says (chap. 2:21-26).
Perhaps you have concluded that you had to do something to obtain salvation. The apostle Paul says there is no possibility of works having any part. Man is a sinner, and anything he does is coloured by what he is. There is only one Person who has done that which is absolutely suitable to God, and that is the blessed Lord Jesus Christ. Hence Christ is an absolute necessity to you.
Now, notice God’s way of justifying a sinner, and see the contrast between grace and debt: “To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). It is a wonderful verse. I think if I had written it I should have said, “Justifieth the godly.” But you say, How can God justify ungodliness? He does not. “The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness” (Rom. 1:18). He does not justify ungodliness, but those who are in that condition. I wonder if you have found out that you are in that state. “Christ died for the ungodly”—will you take your place with them? You say, That will be a special class. Are you among them? No. Thou you have cut yourself off from the Saviour. You may have been a good husband and father, a faithful friend, the most perfect person possible, but you are a sinner. “Christ died for the ungodly,” and you decline to take your place among them. Then I have no other gospel for you, and none other can save you.
Take your true place now, and you will find what Abraham found. The moment he took his true place of nothingness and emptiness he got the blessing God designed for him. The gospel flows from the heart of God, and it is all about His blessed Son and the work He has done. What can you do? Well, I can turn over a new leaf. It will not do, “God requireth that which is past.” Then what am I to do? Do nothing—take your true place as Abraham did. He was not a doer. He was willing to be a receiver, saying—“Lord God, what wilt thou give me?” (Gen. 15:2). God says, “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars . . . so shall thy seed be.” And what did Abraham do? “He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness,” is the divine record (v. 6). I wish you would be as simple.
You have the seeds of death in you, and one day death will claim you and the grave close over you, and then is that the end? No, you have to rise again, and if you die in your sins you must rise in your sins, because after death comes the judgment. If God justifies you now, how can He judge you then? Impossible. Again, if He judge you then, how can He justify you? Impossible. There lies before you the question of sin and God’s judgment thereof. If you see how that question has been met by Another—by One whom you have never loved and cared for, but who has cared for you, blessed be his name—the Lord Jesus Christ—if you wake up to find that He has settled the sin-question in His death, you will believe Him, and you will be saved. I see in the death and resurrection of Jesus divine love intervening between myself and that which otherwise must come on me in the future, if God take cognisance of my sins, which He must do. But at Calvary I see the Son of God going into death—dying for the ungodly, which is what I am—and I learn what divine love has done, that God may be glorified, and the sinner’s sin be put away.
“If we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead,” we get Abraham’s blessing—justification. Where does justification come in? In a risen Christ, “who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” That wondrous death and resurrection took me in, and if you are anxious for peace, pardon, the knowledge of God, present redemption, and eternal glory, you will find that it takes you in. What then have you to do to possess this blessing? Nothing. The work is done. It is all finished, absolutely finished. God has accepted it. What is the proof? He has raised from the dead Him who died. And now unto “him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
It is a great thing to be among the godly—it is an awful thing to remain among the ungodly. Look at the difference between the godly man and the ungodly: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (Ps. 1:1-3). That is Christ. Now look at the other side: “The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away” (v. 4).
Now mark—and I press it, for I should like to get you roused to see the serious position you are in if still in your sins—your day will soon be over. You say you are set for a long life. Listen—you are set for a long eternity; and if it be a Christless eternity, what about it? Forget not this solemn fact—“The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment.” Further, “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Ps. 1:6). It is a very serious thing to go on any longer in the path you are in. “Ungodly” is the character that is ours until grace meets us, but when grace meets you everything is changed. I do not believe in conversion if the life be not thenceforward much changed.
I hope you will get over the line now, as you read this, for otherwise you may die in your sins and be in a lost eternity tomorrow. Come to Christ. Leave the ranks of the ungodly. You have wasted your whole life, going on in sin. What a mistake. Your money has not made you happy, nor have “the pleasures of sin” filled your heart with peace and joy. Christ says, “Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness” (Prov. 8:18). Heed His words and get to Him. Make a clean cut with the world now. It has never satisfied you. Turn now to Him who says, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” and you will then taste the sweetness of the scripture: “Blessed are they whose iniquities, are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:7-8). Is not He a blessed man? And you have missed this blessedness till now? God give you to have it henceforth, and to know by simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that you are justified by God. Then you will have peace with Him, for you are reconciled to Him, and consequently can joy in God. This is the effect of receiving “the gospel of God.”
“Peace! what a precious sound!
Tell it the world around:
Christ hath made peace!
Our souls are brought to God
By His atoning blood,
And crowned with every good:
Christ hath made peace!
The Gospel Messenger 1903, p. 300