|RIGHTEOUSNESS: The Sinner's Part in Making Christ's Righteousness
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Mar 6 2009 08:00 AM
I (Obadiah Grew) now intend to show what the poor sinner must do so that this righteousness of Christ's may be made
his, that he may call it his own, and use it as a bar against wrath and condemnation for sin, and as his title to life and
We find that when sinners have been smitten in conscience and had wounds or pricks there, they have asked the
question, and this has been their great query: "Men and brethren, what shall we do? Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
And the answer has always been this: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ." So that it is believing in Christ that makes a
sinner righteous. "To him that believeth, his faith is counted for righteousness." Faith is the great and only instrument
in man that God is pleased to use in transplanting Christ's righteousness to him. In Romans 4:11, it is called "the
righteousness of faith." And Philippians 3:9 speaks of the "righteousness which is through the faith of Christ" and "the
righteousness which is of God by faith."
Observe, it is called the faith of Christ and the faith of God: the faith of Christ because Christ and His righteousness is
the object of it; the faith of God because He and His power only is the Author of it. No power but that of God, yea, that
exceeding great and mighty power of God which raised Christ from the dead, can work faith in us (Ephesians 1:19-20).
QUESTION. But we find different answers given in Scripture to the question, "What shall I do to be saved?" For when
that rich man asked Jesus the question, He sent him to the law: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."
And when the Jews who were pricked in their hearts put this question to the Apostle Peter, he answered "Repent." Paul
bid the Philippian jailer who asked the same question, "Believe in the Lord Jesus."
ANSWER. These different answers to this self-same question were suited to the different tempers of the questioners.
Jesus sent the rich man to the law because his heart was high and proud; he was an unhumbled man, and so fit to be
sent to the law, there to be schooled first. The law is a schoolmaster to lead men to Christ. The moral law as well as
the ceremonial points men to Christ by the perfect obedience it requires, and the great curse it denounces upon
default. A man must come out of himself before he can come to Christ, and the law has a hand in this.
St. Peter bade the Jews, upon the question to repent because they had their hands so lately in Christ's blood, and so
their sin needed very deep humiliation before they could believe in Christ for pardon; and he does not bid them rest in
repentance, but then sends them to faith in Christ.
Paul and Silas sent the poor, trembling jailer immediately to Christ. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be
saved" (Acts 16:30-31). They did this because they saw that he was indeed a melted and a kindly humbled sinner. The
two former are sent to Christ mediately, but this man was sent immediately.
The question being answered, I (Obadiah Grew) now proceed to the point under consideration, that it is faith on the
sinner's part which brings Christ's righteousness home to him as his own. Christ Himself taught this point implicitly in His
constant calling for faith from them whom He healed of bodily distempers.
For if faith in Christ is necessary to heal the body, much more is it necessary in the cure of the soul. It's useful to note
how all those various phrases in Scripture, of men looking upon Christ, receiving Christ, coming to Christ, eating and
drinking Christ, all mean and intend their believing in Him.
And it is further to be noted that the gospel command is to believe in Christ: "And this is His commandment, that we
should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ" (I John 3:23). Also, the promises of the gospel are to believing
persons: "Therefore it is of faith that the promise might be sure to all the seed, even that that is of the faith of Abraham"
(Romans 4:16). Your comforts of the gospel come into the soul by believing: "In whom, though you see Him not, yet
believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (I Peter 1:8).
Yet further, in our justification, the Scripture cries down works and exalts believing: "To him that worketh not, but
believeth, is righteousness counted" (Romans 4:5). Yea, this believing in Christ silences all other graces in this point of
justifying righteousness. It is not repentance, patience, love, prayer, or obedience that justifies us, but faith in Christ.
The ordinances of the ceremonial law, when compared with their gospel substances, are called weak and beggarly
elements and carnal ordinances (Galatians 4:9; Hebrews 9:10) by the apostle; and this though they were the holy
ordinances of God in their time. So are the best works and highest actings of grace when compared with the
righteousness of Christ. That is why, comparatively, Paul counted the best of his own righteousness but dross.
It is for certain that in sanctification, though not justification, the saint's other graces and good works bear their part,
keep their place, and are of great price in the sight of God, as Peter said of a meek and quiet spirit. Indeed, the lowest
gracious action is of greater value than the most specious works of all ungracious men in the world. Even a cup of cold
water given to a disciple in the name of Christ is more than a man's giving all his goods to feed the poor if he does not
have charity. We know that Jesus Christ set a higher rate on the widow's two mites than on all the other treasure which
was cast in (Mark 12:42).
And yet, though our graces and gracious works are of so great a price in the sight of God in their station and sphere, as
we are sanctified persons, set apart for God Himself to be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures, to be holiness to the
Lord and the first-fruits of His increase, yet, in the matter of our justification, they are all zeroes. Faith is the only thing
in us and of ours that justifies - not that faith is a better office. A constable in a town, or a justice of the peace in a
country, may do that which another man, though as good as himself except for his office, cannot do; it is the office that
makes the difference in this particular case.
So it is with faith and other graces. Looking on faith only as a grace, other graces equalize it; yea, the grace of love
exceeds it in breadth and in length. Love exceeds faith in breadth, for faith is a personal grace; it is for a man's own
use. A man cannot believe to life for another. But love is a public and communicative grace. The love of one Christian
may extend to a thousand more, and for this reason it has the pre-eminence given it over faith.
Love exceeds faith in length. Love abides forever; it is the grace of the saints in heaven. "Now abideth faith, hope, and
charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity" (I Corinthians 13:13). Faith and hope end with this life, as to
their employment; but love is the working grace in the life to come. Faith and hope will be swallowed up, whereas love,
which shone but as a star here, will be as a sun in heaven.
But consider faith in its office between Christ and a poor sinner in his reconciliation to God and his justification before
Him. Faith has the pre-eminence of all other graces, and none have an office here but faith.
Now, to show the office and worth of faith in bringing home the righteousness of Christ to us for our righteousness
before God, these two things must be opened: First, what object it is that faith acts on in our justification; and, second,
what act of faith it is that justifies us.
First, the object of faith in general is the whole Scripture, or revealed written will of God. The authority of God is the
reason for our believing. Our faith is not nor can be as large as God's mouth. "Whatever He bids you do, do it," said
our Savior's mother to the waiters at the feast (John 2). So whatever God speaks, we must believe. It is impossible that
God should lie (Hebrews 6:18).
But though this is the object of faith, yet it is not the object of faith that justifies; that is a particular and peculiar object.
A man has sense and motion as well as reason, yet it's reason alone that makes him a man. Thus justifying faith
believes all truths in Scripture, yet that does not justify unless it believes some particular truth or promise, the promise
of Christ. What was the object of Abraham's faith that justified him? Why, it was the promise. What promise? The
promise of a seed. And what seed? Christ. Galatians 3:16: "And to thy seed, which is Christ."
Abraham was not justified by his faith, as he believed the temporal seed promised to him, but the spiritual seed, Christ,
who was the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1). Therefore it is observable that the apostle distinguishes
subtly and punctually in this point upon one letter, the letter "s": "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises
made; he saith not to seeds, as to many, but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ." So there is a single, proper,
and peculiar object of faith that justifies a sinner and makes him righteous, and that is Christ held forth by God in His
active and passive obedience, in His life and death, to be the justification of a sinner. Christ held forth to us in the
promise, made sin for us and righteousness to us, the diamond of the ring and the center of all parts of Scripture. To
this the ceremonial and moral law pointed; to this the prophets and apostles refer a sinner as his sanctuary and city of
Though an Israelite who was bitten by the serpent had looked on the tabernacle and the holy things of God there, those
would not have cured him; only his looking up to the brazen serpent could do it because only that was assigned by God
as a remedy. So, though a sinner believes all other passages and points in the Scriptures, yet it is not this faith that will
justify him, but his looking on Christ and believing on Him, as He was lifted up on the cross, there bearing our sins and
transmitting the merit of His death to us - this is the faith that justifies.
Suppose a man of a troubled spirit and an afflicted conscience should believe all the commandments, and believe them
to be holy, just, and good as the apostle says in Romans 7. Surely this would not settle his disturbed conscience and
give him peace. A poor soul's peace with God is through our Lord Jesus Christ, and faith in Him. This, therefore, may
end all controversies as to what object of faith it is that justifies a sinner: it is only faith in Christ for righteousness that
Second, what act of faith is it that justifies? It must be faith acted upon its proper and designed object for this end; for
faith, being an instrument, must be used as an instrument or else it is not useful to its end. A knife, ax, or plaster are all
useless unless they are actuated.
A Jew might have a working eye, and yet not be cured of his wound from the fiery serpent unless he looked up with his
eye to the brazen serpent. That woman in Matthew 9 who was diseased with an issue of blood was not healed till she
touched Christ's garments. So faith must act if it is to do a man good. Faith justifies a sinner by its acts, not its habit.
It's not the habit, but the act of faith that justifies.
QUESTION. But are we not justified in God's decree before we believe?
ANSWER. We were elected to be justified, yes, but to be justified by faith, and not before. We were redeemed before
we believed. Our faith gives nothing to the value of Christ's ransom with God; but its faith that makes this ransom of
Christ's to be mine.
God's acts of grace to sinners must be looked on in their order. It is said of the resurrection that "all shall be made alive
in Christ, but every man in his own order: first Christ, then they that are Christ's" (I Corinthians 15:23). So it is in this
case: first we are to look upon Christ's paying our ransom and God's acceptance of it, and this is done before faith.
Then we are to look upon God's imputing this ransom to us, and this He does not do till we believe. So if we consider
justification in its contract between God and Christ, this is done before faith; for faith itself is in the ransom and
purchase. But if we consider God's actual justifying of us, this is not done before faith. "Being justified by faith, we have
peace with God," says Romans 5. We must be in Christ, and Christ in us, by faith before we are discharged of the
sentence of condemnation.
Though Christ took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses, yet He cured none without faith. In the centurion's servant's
sickness, "As thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee" (Matthew 8:13). So when the man brought his son to Christ
to be cured, Christ pressed upon faith: "If thou canst believe" (Mark 9:23). So Christ bore our sins, yet we must believe
in Him before our sins are pardoned. In Luke 7:48-50, "Thy sins are forgiven thee" and "thy faith hath saved thee" are
So though redemption was before faith yet justification, which is God's imputing or applying this redemption to us, is not
till faith. As the apostle said in Galatians 3:23: "Before faith came, we were kept under the law, being shut up unto the
faith which should afterwards be revealed."
Nor does this make faith to be a meritorious condition in our justification; for God covenanted with Christ to give us that
faith whereby we are justified. But faith is only an instrument which God is pleased to use in applying the plaster to the
But the faith that thus justifies is not a bare assent to the promise of Christ; it's more than that. It is an act of the will and
affections as well as of the understanding, an act of the heart as well as the head. "With the heart man believeth unto
righteousness" (Romans 10:10). So that act of faith which justifies is an embracing act of faith. "To as many as
received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to as many as believed on His name" (John 1:
It is not the justifying act of faith to be assured that our sins are pardoned and that we shall be saved. This is the
comforting act of faith, but not the justifying act. It is not the reflex act, but the direct act of faith that justifies us. The
reflex act, which is assurance of our justification, is the effect of the other. A man may be justified by believing, though
he does not have the sense of his justification.
And so that act of faith in Paul where he declared that Christ loved him and gave Himself for him (Galatians 2:20) was a
reflex act of faith, and effect and fruit of that act of faith whereby he was justified. But those acts of faith whereby he
declared, "We have believed in Jesus Christ that we might be justified by the faith of Jesus" (Galatians 2:16), and
"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31), were acts of faith. But what acts? Acts of
adherence to Christ for justification, and not acts of evidence that he was already justified.
Neither does faith justify even as it acts and works by love. Justifying faith does act by love, but it does not justify
because it acts thus, nor as it acts and works in obedience. Faith does act thus, and therefore it is called "the
obedience of faith" in Romans 16:26. It was by faith that Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5:24). It was by faith that
Abraham obeyed the commandment of God in going out of his country (Hebrews 11:8), not knowing where he went; and
it was by faith that he offered up Isaac when he was commanded to do so by God (verse 17). But these were not
justifying acts of faith. These are indeed the natural and necessary effects of justifying faith. "Faith, if it have not
works, is dead" (James 2:17). And "I will show you my faith by my works" (verse); but these acts of faith do not justify us.
The act of justifying faith, or the act of faith that justifies, is an act of relying and reliance on Christ as he was made sin
for us, and as He is made righteousness to us, and thus offered by the Scripture to our faith. That phrase of Scripture
in I Peter 2:6 clears this: "Behold I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect and precious, and he that believeth on Him shall
not be confounded." What, believe on a stone? The meaning is that he who rests upon this stone with all his weight,
who lays his whole stress of salvation here.
And this indeed is the justifying act of faith, when the wounded sinner and perplexed conscience sees Christ offered to
him in the promise of God's free grace to be this only and whole redemption and righteousness, and lays hold of Him
thus offered, clasps and embraces Christ thus offered, as the woman in Matthew 28 did His feet. This, and this only , is
the act of faith that justifies. And here the weary soul rests itself and experiences the truth of that Scripture, those
words of Christ, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). This is
the horn of the altar. A poor humbled sinner, in the sense of his own lost condition flies to and holds by, and says, as
Joab did, "If I die, I'll die here" (I Kings 2:30).
Yet you must note that this act of faith which lies in a relying and resting on Christ alone for righteousness is, in the
New Testament, set out by the phrase "believing unto Christ," which we translate "believing in Christ." For it signifies
such an act or work of faith and affiance in Christ whereby the soul is engrafted in Him and united to Him, so that by this
union it has communion in this righteousness. And thus we see that the gospel has brought the justifying act of faith
into a little room within this compass.
A convinced and humbled sinner's recumbing and relying on the Lord Jesus Christ as offered in the promise of free
grace for his righteousness is the ground of comfort, and of a believer's boasting over all charges when he thus
believes. He may now say with the apostle, "Who shall lay anything to my charge? It is God who justifies. Who shall
condemn me? It is Christ who dies again, and He was raised again for my justification!"
In this believing we set our seal that God is true; and God will, in due time, if He has not done so already, set His seal to
work assurance in you, to second your reliance. "But if you believe not, thus you make God a liar" (I John 5:10).
Though you assent to the truth of the promises of Christ, yet if you draw back your affiance and relying, as if the
promises were not to you, you give God the lie. Oh, then, in the sense of your own nakedness, come out of yourselves
and cast yourselves on Christ for righteousness - and this is the faith that saves you.
How many men deceive themselves in this saving act of faith! If they know the promise of Christ as our righteousness
and assent to it, they think that is enough. But, alas, it is not; for there must be a stripping of a man's self naked of his
own righteousness and a resting on this righteousness of Christ's alone. David stripped himself of his armor, and so
went out against Goliath in the name of the Lord. Adam was naked and saw it before God made the promise of Christ.
QUESTION. But is a man justified by this act of faith only? The papists ask us where this word "only" is in Scripture,
and tell us that it is adding to Scripture.
ANSWER. It is in the sense of Scripture. though not in the letter of Scripture. This was a rule of the ancients, that the
sense, and not the letter, is Scripture. Our blessed Savior did not add to the Scripture "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy
God, and shalt serve Him" (Deuteronomy 6:13) when he said, "It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and
Him only shalt thou serve" (Matthew 4:10). For though "only" is not in the letter of the text He quoted, yet it is in the
sense; therefore Christ used it. Nor did the devil tax Him for adding to the Scripture herein because it was the meaning
of the text. We shall therefore open these two things here: First, the true meaning of this, when we say "this act of
faith, this act of relying and reliance alone justifies. The, second, we will see to the ground and reason of it, why this act
of faith is counted by God to a man for righteousness.
a man, is hereby excluded from his justification; yea, every act of faith, besides this one of relying on Christ for
righteousness, is excluded.
in a man's life or duties which have the greatest spirituality in them, even every fruit of the spirit but this one of
faith, and every act of faith besides this one of reliance, are excluded from his justification before God. This act
of faith allows for nothing but the righteousness of Christ, and God's imputing it to a man.
purifies the heart, and act of faith that works by love, and an act of faith that resists temptation (Acts 15:9;
Galatians 5:6; I John 5:4). "Moses, by faith, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather
to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (Hebrews 11:24-25).
And of other believers it is said (verse 35) that "by faith they accepted not deliverance when tortured," that is,
upon unbecoming terms. These acts of faith are not excluded from the justified believer, but from the act of faith
in justification they are.
rather that nothing has the office to justify a sinner but faith, and this act of faith, or reliance on the righteousness
heal by anything else it did but this. So faith, saving faith, has other business and work than this of looking to
Christ for righteousness, but it makes a man righteous in no other way but this.
saving and justifying faith. "Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (James 2:17). Faith that is alone
does not save, though faith alone saves. The act of seeing is by the eye only, without the ear or other senses;
the eye alone sees. The ear does not see, nor taste, nor smell, nor feel; yet the eye could not see if you were to
take away the other senses from the body.
them, cannot justify because, indeed, it cannot be without them in the person or subject where it is. So faith is
without other graces in its office, but not in its existence. You may as soon part light and heart in the sun as
sanctification from justification in a believer; for faith is not only a fruit of the Spirit, with other graces, but also the
seed and nursery of other graces because faith in Christ is the root-grace. It was by faith that Enoch walked with
God and that Paul did so dearly love Jesus Christ; it was by faith that the saints in both testaments prayed so
much. "We believe, therefore do we speak" (II Corinthians 4:13).
a state of grace would that be that should give an act of saving and justifying faith, and give no other graces
from a justifying faith, though they have no office in his justification; for these justify faith as faith justifies the
Isaac? Seest though how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect." And the Scripture
was fulfilled which said, "Abraham believed, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6). And
James 2:24: "Ye see, then, how that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only."
justified by a faith that is without works. "Abraham believed, and it was counted to him for righteousness," but
then Abraham's believing was a working believing; it made him go out of his own country he knew not where
upon God's call, and to offer up his son Isaac at God's command. This latter work of his is what James speaks of;
and you must understand that this excellent work of Abraham's was more than thirty years after his justification.
This appears by Scripture chronology, for in Genesis 15:6 we read that his believing was counted to him for
righteousness, and his offering of Isaac in Genesis 22 was 30 to 40 years or more after that.
can be the meaning without allowing for contradictions and strange inconsistencies: Abraham's faith was not
without works, but was justified by his works to be a true faith, a living faith, and a saving faith. Abraham's person
was justified by faith, and his faith was justified by works, specifically by offering up Isaac at God's command,
which is what James speaks of.
But now we must be cautioned not to make or imagine the act of believing to be the matter of our righteousness, as
some have held. For this is to make our faith our Christ, and to thrust out His righteousness from being the reason and
matter of our justification. Faith is the only instrument of our righteousness, and this is honor enough. To make it more
would be to make the virtue that healed the woman in Matthew 9 to come out of the hand that touched Christ's
garments, and not out of Christ who was touched. It would be to make the healing virtue to be in the eye of an Israelite,
and not in the brazen serpent that the eye beheld. These men would make us eat our money and not to buy bread to
eat with it. They make faith our righteousness, which is but instrumental to make Christ the Lord our righteousness.
And this is sufficient honor to faith; it needs claim no more, nor do we give it any more.
counted unto him for righteousness" (Genesis 15 and James 2:23). It was not Abraham's going out of his own
country, nor Abraham's offering his son, but Abraham's faith that was imputed to him for righteousness. "to
declare His righteousness, and that He is just and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).
on Him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the
name of the only begotten Son of God." So (verse 36), "he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." Faith
is the only grace that actually saves, and unbelief is the only sin that actually damns.
do not accord: "Therefore it is of faith that it might be of grace; and if of grace, then it is no more of works,
otherwise grace is no more grace" (Romans 4:16, 11:6). And, as I said before, it is a grace because God is
resolved to exclude boasting from man, which could not be but by taking faith and excluding works in justification.
God found the disposition of man to incline to self-will and self-righteousness in his breach of the first covenant;
and this is in man's nature still: "They, going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to
the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3).
Therefore, God has made another kind of covenant with us, a covenant of free grace; and we must have what we
have of free grace, and that it may be by grace it must be by faith. Faith and works are always set at variance by
Paul in our justification before God. Faith is the sympathizing grace in us with the free grace of God. It is of faith
that it may be of grace. Any way of boasting is cut off from man, and he who glories must glory in the Lord (I
restored sinner to Christ. It's faith the makes Christ so precious: "To you that believe, He is precious" (I Peter 2:
7). Faith makes the worst of Christ to be better and more eligible than the best of this world. It was by faith that
Moses esteemed the reproaches of Christ greater riches than the treasure of Egypt. And because faith so
honors Christ, therefore it exalted above other graces to this high office, which no other grace has in the
justification and righteousness of a sinner. It's faith that puts Christ's worth and merit into the balance against all
your sins and wretchedness, against the curse of the law, and against (and to swallow up) hell and death into
Christ. It makes a man's best duties, best works, and highest measures of inherent grace to be, in comparison to
Christ's obedience and righteousness, but as stars to the sun, which disappear when the sun rises.
should all fullness dwell" (Colossians 1:19). And it is from His fullness that we receive all grace; and what we have
from the fullness of Christ, we fetch by faith, as the woman fetched virtue to heal her sore distemper. All this is
that we may have certainty. Therefore it is of faith "to the end that the promise might be sure" (Romans 4:16).
Faith leans upon Christ as its special object, and Christ is a sure foundation. "All the promises of God in Him are
'yea' and in Him 'Amen.'" There they have both their existence and performance (II Corinthians 1:20).
If life and heaven hung upon such hinges as our own graces, works, and righteousness, we would be in a tottering
case. We are so uncertain in these as to their actings, and withal so imperfect. But in Christ's obedience and
righteousness there is the greatest assurance that can be. We may rest and repose here safely. He is a sure
foundation where the conscience of a sinner can rest quietly, and nowhere else.
The LORD Our Righteousness, by Obadiah Grew, Copyright 2005, Soli Deo Gloria Publications.
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