5 Cures for Doubts about Justification – Part #5
Obadiah Sedgwick, a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines and minister of God’s Word at Coggleshall, Essex, (later, at St. Paul's, Covent Garden, London), produced a series of messages that tackled the believer's battle with doubts and fears.This book was called, 'A Puritan Treatise on Assurance,' and outlines the nature, kinds, springs and also the remedies for those doubts that affect a believer's walk with God.
He deals with 14 'springs of doubting' and then proceeds to explain cures relevant to each of these areas.In this Reformation blog my chief interest is in tracing how Sedgwick treated the problem of doubt in the matter of justification. My aim is, over 5 consecutive Monday entries on this blog, to detail the five cures to doubt on this vital doctrine that are contained in this treatise. Though the language is C17th, the counsel is solid and very beneficial.
A ninth cause of doubting is the ignorance of the Doctrine of Justification.
The fifth cure that is suggested by Sedgwick is:
One thing more which I had almost forgotten falls in, which is this,
5. THAT THE SUBSTANTIAL PART OF JUSTIFICATION IS ALIKE TO ALL BELIEVERS.
What is that? It is this: God, for the blood of Christ, not only charges the sins of strong believers on Christ, but of weak believers too. And these only are not discharged, but those also.
True faith, in any degree, may take out all the benefits of justification; for, as justification does not admit of degrees, no more is it made over to the degrees, but to the truth of faith. So that not only Abraham, the father of the faithful, was strong in faith, but the father of the child who cried out with tears, “I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.” He also has all the real interests, the very same real interests in the blood of Christ.
You know the arm has not an interest in the head and influences thereof because it is big, or because it is strong, but because it is a member; by reason whereof the least finger and weakest member also claim and have a share. So, because every believer by true faith is made a member of Christ, he has therefore, a concurrent share in the blood of Christ, in the justification purchased by Christ. And, therefore, it is a weaker argument of weak believers to deny or doubt their discharge by Christ.
“True,” say they, “Christ is a strong Saviour and has strong merits, and by Him is pardon of sin, and by His name a person is justified, but this is only for men of stronger faith than mine.”
Do not deceive nor unnecessarily afflict yourself; Christ has done great matters for great sinners, and a weak faith is a joint possessor, though no faith can be a joint purchaser of sin’s remission. And thus have I briefly informed you with some notions about that part of justification which respects our sins.
There is yet another part which respects our graces and duties, from the weakness and mixture of which arise many doubting, and such as are not to be disputed down by anything in ourselves, but only to be answered with the doctrine of justification.
“O,” says the humbled sinner, and experienced in himself, “What a broken estate is here! What an imperfect draught of holiness! My very light is dim, and in all my duties there is yet undutifulness. My righteousness is defective; in my faith is much unbelief; in my prayers much coldness, irreverence, distraction. And, when I have sorrowed for my sins, I may even grieve for grieving no more, and may hate myself that I cannot otherwise hate my sins. How can I stand before God who is of purer eyes than to behold sin? Will the Lord accept such a person of such discharging of duties?”
Let me stop the complaint and close up the doubtings with a little more enlargement of the doctrine of justification.
1) Our persons stand not before God in their own righteousness, nor our own services in their own strength.
Indeed, the Lord requires holiness in our natures, and holy duties from us. We are His children; we are His people. Therefore, we should be holy as our Father is holy. Therefore, the people of His pasture should serve Him. An unholy believer would be a monster upon earth. An undutiful son is a plain unbeliever; for, though Christ died for those who were once rebellious, yet He dies for none to make them licentious. So that holiness, inherent grace, is absolutely requisite to salvation. To salvation I say, but to justification in no-wise.
What is that? That is, though a man cannot be saved without inherent holiness, yet he is not justified by it. When he comes to account with God, he may not say this, “Lord, lo here I am. See if there is any sin in my person or defect in my holiness. I have not offended Thee. I do not need any help or any mercy. My heart is totally clean, and my duties performed at all times in every respect for matter and manner to the full as Thou requires. Enter into judgment with me if Thou pleasest. I will be tried by my own holiness.”
2) But in the righteousness of Christ.
“I desire,” said St Paul, “to be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith,” Philippians 3:9. See more in Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 1:30; and 2 Corinthians 5:21.
There is such a thing as the righteousness of faith. It is none other than the righteousness of Christ. (We think little of it; we make little use of it. There is a kind of popery in us all; we look downward too much on our righteousness for justification). And when we are to be pronounced just and righteous, when we or our services expect acceptance, it is in and by that righteousness of Jesus Christ.
When two things arise to keep doubting and fears off:
a) Though our holiness is weak, yet Christ’s is strong.
That righteousness which justifies is full. When we look upon ourselves, “Ah, Lord!” think we, “How shall we appear before God? How will He accept us? Such poor, such weak, such sinful, hollow people!”
I answer, Christ’s righteousness is full. His coat was seamless; ours is made up and strangely cut, but His righteousness is complete, and “He is made unto us righteousness,” yea, that “of God,” 1 Corinthians 1:30. God has set Him out to be our righteousness, and He justifies us by it.
b) Though our services are weak, yet we are justified by Christ’s righteousness.
Aaron was to “bear the iniquity of the holy offerings,” Exodus 28:38. Their holy offerings had some unholy mixtures, but Aaron was to bear them; he was to take the iniquities away from them, and to make the offerings accepted.
Christ is this Aaron who, by His righteousness, covers all the blemishes, makes up all the weaknesses in holy duties. Therefore, my brethren, in all our approaches to God we should not doubt. It is the apostle’s own argument, Hebrews 10:21-23, “Having such an High Priest over the house of God. Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.” It is as if the apostle had said, “If men knew what a Christ they have, what a full righteousness there is in Him, what He does with it, how He justifies their persons and justifies their services, pleads for them, beautifies them, ingratiates them with the Father, they would not doubt as much as they do. They would be better persuaded of God when they come and pray unto Him."
I remember the apostle has an excellent phrase in Hebrews 9:24, that “Christ does appear for us.” It is a metaphor from a lawyer. If a man has a case, he goes to his lawyer and reports all to him, desires him to undertake the whole business, and, upon the committing of the case to him, he appears for his plaintiff, opens the case, pleads for him before the judge, and the cause is carried.
So it is with Christ. He appears for us. When a poor sinner, a weak believer, comes to Him and opens his condition, his wants, his infirmities, Christ undertakes for him. He pleads for him; He ever lives to make intercession. He moves His Father in his behalf, brings our His righteousness, His blood and merits, and what He did and suffered for him. And thus does Christ for every particular service, duty, and prayer for him who believes on Him.