Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom. 5:1)
The doctrine of justification by faith alone is the very foundation of our Protestant life. It has been obscured in the Middle Ages by the Church of Rome. In practice even more than in theory salvation had been made to depend on obedience to an elaborate set of rules prescribed by the Church. The result was an intolerable bondage. But in God’s good time the deliverer was raised up. A monk by the name of Martin Luther began to read the Epistle to the Galatians with his own eyes, and evangelical liberty was born. It is a great mistake to suppose that Luther was merely an emancipator; it is a great mistake to regard him as a spiritual brother of those who have sought liberty merely upon the inherent rights of man. On the contrary Luther founded liberty not upon a right which man possessed as man, but upon a right which was conferred upon him by God. Luther combated the doctrine of the Church of Rome not advocating indifference to doctrine to doctrine but by championing another and an older doctrine; he appealed against the tradition of Rome not to the desires of men;s hearts but to what God had revealed; he advocated as over against the authority of the Church the great Protestant doctrine of justification by faith. (86)
It is an answer to the greatest personal question ever asked by a human soul– the question, ‘How shall I be right with God?’, ‘How do I stand in God’s sight, with what favour does He look upon me?’ There are those, I admit, who never raise that question; there are those who are concerned with the question of their standing before men but never with the question of their standing before God; there are those who are interested in what ‘people say’ but not in the question what God says. Such men, however, are not those who move the world: they are apt to go with the current; they are apt to do as others do; they are not the heroes who change the destinies of the race. The beginning of truth nobility comes when a man ceases to be interested in the judgment of men and becomes interested in the judgment of God.
But if we can gain that much insight: if we have become interested in the judgment of God, how shall we stand in that judgment? How shall we become right with God? The most obvious answer is, By obeying God’s law, by being what God wants us to be. There is absolutely nothing wrong in theory about the answer; the only trouble is that for us it does not work. If we had obeyed the law of God, if we were what God wants us to be, all would no doubt be well; we could approach the judgment seat of God and trust simply in God’s just recognition of the facts. But, alas, we have not obeyed God’s law, but transgressed it in through, work and deed; and far from being what God wants us to be we are stained and soiled with sin. The stain is not merely on the surface; it is not a thing which can be wiped off by a damp cloth; but it permeates the recesses of our souls. And the clearer be our understanding of God’s law, the deeper becomes our despair. Some men seek a refuge from condemnation by a low view of the law of God; they limit the law to external commands they hope to buy God’s favour. But the moment a man gains a view of the law as it is–especially as it is revealed in the words and example of Jesus–at that moment he knows that he is undone. If our being right with God depends upon anything that is in us, we are without hope.
But another way into God’s presence has been opened, and the opening of that way is set forth in the Gospel. We deserve eternal death; we deserve exclusion from God’s righteous presence; but the Lord Jesus took upon Himself all the guilt of our sins and died instead of us on the cross. Henceforth the law’s demands have been satisfied for us by Christ, its terror for us is gone, and clothed no longer in our righteousness but in the righteousness of Christ we stand without fear as Christ would stand without fear before the judgment seat of God. Men say that that is an intricate theory of the atonement; but surely the adjective is misplaced. It is mysterious, but it is not intricate; it is wonderful, but it is so simple that a child can understand.
No doubt the application of this redeeming work of Christ to the individual soul is mysterious enough. It is far beyond the wisdom and power of man. It is not a thing that can be effected by human reasoning or human effort; the beginning of the Christian life is not an achievement but an experience are new creatures; they wonder at their former blindness; they wonder how there ever could have bee a time when, with the scoffing world, they did not understand. The beginning of the Christian life is not an act of man but a wonderful act of the Spirit of God.
But it is accompanied by a conscious act of man; it is accompanied by an act of faith. Faith is not a meritorious work; the New Testament never says that a man is saved on account of his faith, but always that he is saved through his faith. Faith is the means which the Holy Spirit uses to apply to the individual soul the benefits of Christ’s death.
And faith is a very simple thing; it simply means that receiving of a gift; it simply means that abandoning we accept the gift of salvation which Christ offers so full and free. Such is the doctrine–let us not be afraid of the word– such is the doctrine of justification by faith.
That has been a liberating doctrine; to it is due most of the freedom that we possess today, and if it is abandoned freedom will soon depart. If we are interested in what God thinks of us, we shall not be deterred by what men think; the very desire for justification before God makes us independent of the judgments of men. And if the very desire for justification before makes us independent of the judgments of men. And if the very desire for justification is liberating, how much more the attainment of it! The man who has been justified by God, the man who has accepted as a free gift this condition of rigntess with God, is not a man who hopes that possibly, with due effor, if he does not fail, he may win through to become a child of God. But he is a man who has already become the child of God. If our being children of God depended in the slightest measure upon ourselves; it depends only upon God. It is not a reward that we have earned but a gift that we received.
A hard battle indeed lies before us. This faith of ours, if we be true Christians, is a faith that works; and it is a faith that fights–against sin. But we begin the battle not with God as our reward, but with God as our ally. There is the high liberty of the Christian man. Let us not throw our liberty away; let us not descend in the bondage of dependence upon ourselves, let us not descend into the hard bondage of agnostic Modernism. But have received the gospel–this great Magna Charta of Christian liberty–let us stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has set us free. (89-92) The heading of Law (Guilt)/ Gospel/ Gratitude (Sanctification) that are in bold are mine.
-J. Gresham Machen in a book titled God Transcendent edited by Ned Bernard Stonehouse who writes in the introduction:
The twenty sermons presented herein, with a few notable expections, were not prepared for publication by Dr. Machen, but by the editor of this volume. Several were printed in The Presbyterian Guardian; others now appear in print for the first time. Though not intended for publication, their value is enhanced by the consideration that they were prepared to be preached. And they were preached, most of them time and again. A printed sermon when seen in cold type. For his preaching was never a shallow or hallow assembly of words. The message was not contrived to adorn the messenger; the messenger was the mere instrument to herald forth the Word of God. (12)
Post dedicated to GP, haha (the phantom) who is trekking across the country as we speak.