False Justification And True
“If I justify myself, my on mouth shall condemn me.”
THE great question for the human race to answer has always been this, “How can man be just with God?” It is clear to every conscience that is at all awake that the thrice-holy God demands obedience to His Law and that disobedience to the Divine Law will certainly entail punishment. Hence the grand essential for each one of us is to be right towards God–to be accounted just even at His judgment bar. This is a most important matter at all times, but it appears to increase in importance as we advance in years and get nearer to that great testing time when the Lord shall put everyone into His unerring balances, to weigh him and so to prove what he really is. Woe unto the man who shall stand before the Bar of God unjustified! But happy shall he be who, in that last dread day, shall be approved and accepted by the Judge of all the earth!
I am going to speak about the way in which we are justified in the sight of God and I have taken two texts because so many people seem to have thought that there are two ways by which sinners can be justified before God. The first way that I shall describe is the false one. The second is the true way. The first is that which is mentioned by Job, the way of self-justification, of which it may be truly said that it is self-condemning instead of self-justifying. The second mode ofjustification is the one that is ordained by God and of that it may rightly be said that it never can be condemned. It challenges Heaven and earth and Hell in those grand words which I have just read to you, “It is God that justifies. Who is he that condemns?”
- First, for a few minutes, let us consider THE SELF-JUSTIFICATION OF WHICH JOB SPEAKS–“If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me.”
I call to your remembrance the fact the it is Job who speaks thus, because, if there ever was a man in this world who might have been justified before God by his own works, it was Job. Did not the Lord Himself say of him to Satan, “There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God, and eschews evil”? Yet, so far was Job from imagining that he had attained a sinless condition that he here declares concerning himself, “If I say I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. Though I were perfect, yet I would not know my soul–I would despise my life.” In addition to Job’s excellence of character, he paid devout attention to religious observances. When his children met together for feasting, he ordered special scarifies on their behalf, saying, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Job was evidently as devout towards God as he was upright towards man, yet, you see, he tells us that if he were to justify himself, his own mouth would condemn him! Further, as if to show us how notable Job was in all respects, he had, in addition to his excellent character and his devotional spirit, most remarkable afflictions. But, putting together all his good works, all his religious observances and all his afflictions, he says, “If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me.” Job, at any rate, was not one of those who have imagined that they could work out a righteousness of their own which could be acceptable in the sight of God!
Let us try to find out what he meant when he said, “If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me.” I think he meant, first, that it would not be true. He could not and dare not say that he was just before God–it would be a lie forhim to stand up before the Lord and say, “Great God, I deserve commendation at Your hands, for in me is found true righteousness.” Instead of talking like that, Job says, “If I were to say that, my own mouth would contradict me while I was trying to say it. I could not say it–I dare not say it.” I hope there are many here who feel that to talk about any righteousness of their own would be utterly absurd. If I were to attempt to justify myself before God, I should have to lie to my conscience, my self-knowledge and my whole being! Whatever anyone else may think or say, I know that I must be saved by the Grace of God or else I shall never be saved at all! I have not done a single good work in which I cannot see any fault–not one solitary thing which I cannot perceive to be marred and stained and, like a vessel spoiled even while it is on the potter’s wheel, not fit to be presented before God at all! That is what Job meant when he said, “If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me.”
But he meant, next, that his words, themselves, would be sufficient to condemn him. I know that I am addressing alarge number of persons whose lives are apparently blameless. The most observant critic here would be unable to bring any very grave or serious charge against you and yet, my dear Friends, if you were to try to justify yourself before God, your words, themselves, would be enough to condemn you, for what sort of words do you use? I do not suppose that you use profane words–I will not imagine that you take the name of God in vain! Though, alas, that is a sin that is not at all uncommon. But do you not often utter proud, boastful words? Do you not often speak in a very lofty way concerning yourselves and your own doing? Do we not all use far too many light and trifling words–not merely such as cheerfulness may warrant, but such as are a mere waste of time, diverting the mind from serious purposes? And did not our Lord Jesus Christ say that, “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment”?
And, Friends, let me whisper other questions in your ear. Do you never use words of a very doubtful kind? Is it not far too common in society for people to go to the very verge of propriety in what they say? Have you never done so? And have you never used false words? Have you always spoken the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Has your heart always gone with your tongue? Have there been no false compliments–no lying expressions of an affection that you never felt? I wish that certain people would more often go to the mirror and examine their tongues. Doctors judge their patients' health by looking at their tongues–and we might judge of our moral and spiritual health in a similar way. Oh, what tongues some people would have if their words could blister their tongues as they ought to do! How common it is to hear scandalous words and slanderous words–and how many hearts are made to bleed, full often, by the cruel things that are said! “If I justify myself,” says Job, “my own mouth shall condemn me,” and I think he means, “because my very words have been sufficient to cause me to plead guilty before God.” I trust we also feel like that and if we do, we shall never dare to be self-righteous.
I think, further, that Job meant that if he were to plead that he was righteous before God, he would be sure to make such a muddled statement that, somehow or other, the statement, itself, would contain its own condemnation. If a mansays, “I have kept God’s Law perfectly, so I can enter Heaven by the merit of my own good works,” every intelligent person thinks, “What a proud man that is!” And can a proud man be accepted before God? Is it not written, “Though the Lord is high, yet has He respect unto the lowly: but the proud He knows afar off”? So you see that a statement of justification by betraying the pride of our heart, straightway condemns us! Men who believe themselves to be saved by their own good works generally have something harsh and evil to say against God’s Divine Grace, or against His Son, or against the Divine plan of salvation through the substitutionary Sacrifice of Christ. And the very fact that they say anything against those things shows that their heart is in rebellion against God and, therefore, their own mouth condemns them!
Years ago there was as old man in Wiltshire who, according to his own statement, was 103 years of age. He had never neglected his parish church, he had brought up 11 children and had no help from the parish. And he expected that, by-and-by, he would go Home to God, for, “he had never done anything wrong in his life that he knew of.” “But,” said someone to him, “you are a sinner, you know.” “I know I ain’t,” he said. “Well, but God says that you are.” And what, do you think, that old man replied? He said, “God may say what He likes, but I know I ain’t.” So, you see, he even contradicted God, Himself, and is not that a great sin for anybody to commit? What worse sin can there be and what clearer proof of the alienation of the human heart than that a man should flatly contradict God? Well, none of you ever did that, did you? No, you have not honesty enough to do that, but you mean it all the same! Many of you mean it in your very souls. When a man does not accept salvation by Jesus Christ, if you probe his heart to its very depths, you will find that his rejection means that he does not really feel that he is guilty in the sight of God. He will not admit that he needs Divine Mercy, nor will he accept salvation by the blood and righteousness of Christ. Self-righteousness often lies concealed far down in the heart of man–but whenever he ventures to speak it out, the very way in which he talks of it condemns him!
I have heard men talk in this fashion–“Well, I am quite as good as others are. And if I am not all right at last, it will be a very bad look-out for a great many.” Oh, yes, I see what you mean! Because others are not what they should be, you are content with your own condition because you are like they! There is no fear of God before your eyes and your only hope is that as you are like others, for it will be as well with you as it will be with them! But is not that a poor hope to lean upon? Do you not know that the broad road is thronged with travelers and yet that it leads to destruction? Even if you fare as others do, it will be no comfort to you to perish as they do! There is a very ancient declaration which ought to be a warning to you–“Though hand joins in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.”
“Well,” says another, “I have done my best and I cannot do more than that.” When you speak like that, you mean to imply that God asks of you more than He ought to ask, that He is really unjust in His dealings with you and that the great evil is not that you are a bad servant, but that He is a tyrant Master! What is that but flinging down the gauntlet to the Almighty and charging Him with injustice? Such language as that betrays the enmity of your heart against the Most High.
“Well,” says another, “I pay everybody all that is due.” I am glad that you do so and wish everybody else did the same, but have you paid to God all that is due to Him? There is the great flaw in your life–you pay every creditor exceptyour God to whom you owe all that you have! Many a man who would not treat his dog badly, does not mind ill treating his God! The last one of whom many of you think is your Creator, Provider and Perseverer–the God who keeps the breath of life in your nostrils! You give some sort of consideration to the meanest servant in your kitchen, but to Him who made the Heavens and the earth, to Him who sustains all things by the word of His Power, you pay no regard whatever! As this is the real meaning of your attempt at self-justification, it carries its condemnation upon its very surface!
“Still,” says one, “whatever I may seem to be, I am reasonably good at heart.” Ah, that is another of the sayings that I have often heard, but I have never yet been able to believe that a man could be bad in life yet good at heart. It is sometimes said of a man who dies drunk and cursing his Maker, “Ah, he was a good fellow at bottom.” That is not the way that men talk in the market. If you go to buy a barrel of apples and see a lot of rotten and spoiled ones at the top of the barrel, do you believe the salesman when he says, “Ah, but the apples underneath are very good ones”? Of course you do not believe anything of the kind! You always reckon that the fruit below is worse than that at the top, for the universal practice is to put the best at the top and the poorer quality underneath. In like manner, we do not believe the man who says that he is good at bottom and good at heart, although his life is evil! No, Sir, you are even worse in heart than you ever were in life because there are many things that restrain you from revealing your naked self to these who only see your outward life! But your sin is there, down at the bottom of your heart–and if you attempt to justify yourself in the sight of God–the very statement that you make will condemn you!
Besides, so conscious are men that their own good works will not justify them before God, that I do not rememberever meeting with a person who absolutely professed to be at peace with God as the result of his own endeavors. If I were to ask any man who says that he is righteous simply because of what he has done or been, himself, “Are you prepared to die?” he would shake his head, and say, “Oh, no! I am not prepared to die.” You say that you have done nothing wrong and that you are right. But suppose that tomorrow you were to be called to stand at God’s Judgment Bar–would you feel comfortable at the prospect? “Oh, no!” you say. I felt sure that must be your answer. Indeed, all the religions in the world that teach the doctrine of salvation by works are at least honest enough not to pretend to ensure for any man present salvation!
Take, for instance, that gigantic form of error, the Roman Catholic system of religion. It never tells anybody that he is saved. There is not a cardinal, though he is called a prince of the church, and there is not a pope, though he is called Christ’s vicar on earth, who dares to say that he is saved! They have some kind of faint hope that they may be saved at some future period, but there are none of them who dare to say that they are already saved. As to using the language of the Apostle Paul, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”–language which even boys and girls in our Sunday school can use as soon as they have believed in Jesus Christ–well, even the greatest and the wisest of them cannot say that, either while they are in full health and strength, or when they are about to die. What becomes even of their great cardinals when they die? I have seen a notice of this sort put up in their churches and probably many of you have also seen it–“Of your charity, pray for the repose of the soul of Cardinal Soand-So.” So that it is evident that he has gone somewhere or other where he is not at rest! It is quite clear that he has not gone to Heaven, so all that he has done, all the “masses” that he has said, all the confessions he has made and all the penances he has undergone have done nothing for him but land him somewhere where he has not repose for his soul! But it is the glory of the Gospel of Christ that it says to the sinner, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be justified immediately. Trust in what He has done and you shall be saved, and you shall know that you are saved, and that you shall be saved forever!” This is a Gospel that is worth preaching! And I pray you, therefore, to regard it as worth hearing while I try to expound it during the few remaining minutes available for my discourse. And in order that you may do so, I urge you to put away all self-righteousness in which you have up to now trusted! Bury it! Bury it forever! It will only ruin you if you rely upon it!
II. Our second text reveals THE DIVINE JUSTIFICATION OF WHICH THE APOSTLE PAUL SPEAKS–“It is God that justifies. Who is he that condemns?”
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you know that God can justify the ungodly. We may put this Truth of God verybroadly and say that God can take an unjust, unrighteous sinner and, by a wondrous process which made even the angels in Heaven to be astonished when it was revealed to them, He can take the guilt from the guilty one and cast it into the depths of the sea! And He can cover the unrighteous man with a spotless robe of righteousness so that he shall be accounted fair and lovely and whiter than the newly-fallen snow. God can do this, at once, for every soul that is willing to accept the Divine plan of salvation! Well might the Apostle say, “It is God that justifies.” Oh, what a blessing it is that God is able to pardon the guilty and both to impute and impart righteousness to those who have none of their own!
Notice how this great work is done. The whole wondrous plan of salvation can be summed up in a single word–Substitution. As the first Adam stood before God as the representative and federal head of the whole human race, and as it was by his sin that our whole race fell, it became possible for God to regard our race as a whole and to find for us another Adam who would come and stand in our place and represent us as the first Adam did. So that, as in the first Adam we fell, we might be raised up by a second Adam! That second Adam is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, the Lord from Heaven! He has been here upon this earth and He has kept the Law of God in every jot and tittle and has woven a righteousness which covers the sinner from head to foot when he is enabled to put it on. And then, when the Law of God examines him, it cannot find a flaw, or a tear–or even a faulty thread in that matchless robe which is woven from the top throughout!
In addition to this, inasmuch as we had actually sinned against the Lord, this glorious God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, suffered the terrible consequences of our sin. Oh, wondrous Truth of God! He went up to the accursed tree and freely gave Himself up to die a felon’s death so that, in that death the Justice of God might be vindicated and that God might be just, and yet the Justifier of him that believes in Jesus! It is thus that God can reckon the sinner to be just because Jesus has taken his place and borne the penalty that was due for his sin!
“But,” asks someone, “how is that great work accomplished? I see that Christ suffered instead of sinners and worked out a righteousness which sinners could never have worked for themselves, but how can that righteousness become theirs?” God’s plan, my Friend, is that you should hide yourself in Christ. You must come to Christ and take what He has done to be yours by an act of simple faith. I cannot use a better illustration than that of the sin-offering brought to the priest under the Mosaic dispensation. When the sacrificial animal was about to be slain, the sinner came and laid his hands upon the head of the beast and confessed his sin over the appointed sin-offering. Thus his sin was put on the animal–which was then killed and consumed–and so, in type, the man’s sin was put away. In a similar fashion, come, Beloved, to my Lord Jesus Christ at this very moment and, by an act of faith, put your sin where God long ago laid it and, in token of that act, say to your Lord and Savior, Himself–
“My faith does lay her hand
On that dear head of Yours,
While like a penitent I stand,
If you do thus trust Christ, even though you have never done so in all your life before, it does not matter, for, if you have done so now, then your sin is laid upon Christ and He has so completely borne the penalty for it that it has ceased to be–and His righteousness is accounted yours seeing that you are a Believer in Him. When God looks at you, He see no sin in you, nor does He mark any lack of righteousness in you–for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Son, He does accept and look upon you as though you had always kept His righteous Law!
“But for whom is this great work accomplished?” someone asks–“you surely do not mean that it is for me?” I domean that it is for you if you are a Believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. But if you will not trust Him, on your own head be the guilt of your soul’s eternal ruin! If you will have Christ’s righteousness, it is for you. “What,” you say, “for such a guilty sinner as I am?” Listen, man–if you had not been guilty, God need not have provided a righteousness for you! Of course Christ’s righteousness is for the guilty–for whom should it be if not for them? “Do you mean,” asks one, “that in a moment I may be cleansed from all sin simply by believing in Jesus?” Yes, I do mean that! You, even you may becleansed this very instant! “But I have not lived a good life.” If you had lived a good life, you would not have needed a Savior. Christ Jesus came into the world to save, not the good, but the bad! “In due time Christ died for the ungodly.” Publish that blessed Truth of God around the whole earth and let the ungodly especially hear it! Jesus Himself said, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Therefore, you sin-sick souls, trust yourselves to the Christ who came on purpose to heal just such souls as you are! Only trust Him and there is immediate pardon and immediate salvation for you! “This is too good to be true,” says one. Not so, for high as the Heavens are above the earth, so are God’s thoughts above your thoughts and His ways above your ways. You feel that you could not forgive like this, any who had wronged you, but God’s ways are not to be measured by yours! You have often heard us praise and extol Him by singing–
“Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has Grace so rich and free?”
My first text said, “If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me.” But my second text as good as says, “If Godjustifies me, nobody can condemn me.” Paul, who wrote these words and who had been a blasphemer, a persecutor and a murderer, boldly declares, “It is God that justifies,” and then utters the confident challenge, “Who is he that condemns?” Are you not astonished to hear that little man from Tarsus talk in such a fashion as that? Why, there is the blood of the martyr Stephen crying out of the ground and saying, “Why, Paul, I condemn you!” Then there is the blood of all the poor men and women whom he dragged off to prison, or compelled to blaspheme the name of Christ. And those whom he put to death in every city–does not the blood of the martyrs cry out against Paul the Apostle, who was once Saul the persecutor? How does he dare to cry, “Who is he that condemns?” Yet there is no voice of blood raised against him! All is still and silent, for God has blotted out forever even that great sin which he had committed! But do not the fiends of Hell bring accusations against him? Does not the arch-fiend lift up his head and say, “Saul of Tarsus, you are a liar, for I can condemn you. You know what a self-righteous man you used to be and how you sinned against God in that way”? No, even Satan, himself, dares not accuse the Apostle, for, “it is God that justifies!” He has so effectually silenced the powers of darkness with the blood and righteousness of Christ that, like dogs which dread their master’s whip, they lie down in their kennel not daring even to howl against a blood-washed child of God!
But do you not expect the angels in Heaven, who saw Stephen die and watched Saul of Tarsus in all his cruel persecutions, to bend down from their shining thrones and say, “O Paul, it ill becomes you to ask, ‘Who is he that condemns?’ when all of us can condemn you”? Oh, no! They all see the splendor of the righteousness of Christ and they are all glad to take their harps and sing a new song to the praise and glory of Jesus! Paul’s triumphant declaration, “It is God that justifies,” seems to start them singing again, as John heard them in his island prison, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing!” You may thus challenge Hell, earth and Heaven if you believe in Jesus–for if God has justified you, who is he that can condemn you?
“But,” says someone, “we must feel somethingmust make you feelaright! You must not bring your feelings to Christ any more than your works–salvation by feelings is no more possible than salvation by good works! Salvation is all of Grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
“Well,” says one “I am spiritually brought to a bankrupt condition, for if I turned my pockets inside out, metaphorically, I could not find a solitary farthing in them.” Well, then, you are the very man to receive the Free Grace of Christ! When you have no merits, no good feelings, nothing whatever to recommend you–when at Hell’s dark door you lie, then it is that salvation’s joyful sound is pleasant to your ears and blessed are the ears that hear it and blessed is the heart that accepts it! Ask Christ for it and you shall have it! The Holy Spirit, Himself, will help you to ask for it aright. Ask Him to teach you how to ask for it. Ask Christ for everything–for all your salvation, from foundation to topstone–is in Him and He will freely bestow it upon you for His own Glory!
Now I must close my discourse by reminding you that this way of finding justification by faith in Jesus Christ hascommended itself to the best of men–and I hope it will commend itself to you. Cowper, in one of his later letters, says–(I will give you his words as nearly as I can remember them)–“I cannot survey the future with any joy when I look upon it from the top of my own good works. Though I have labored ever since my conversion to have a conscience void of offense toward God and men, yet my only hope in death is in the blood and righteousness of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in whom death once sheathed his sting.” And when Dr. Watts, that sweet singer of Israel, was dying, he said to one who stood by his bedside, “I heard an old Divine once say that when the most learned Christian minister comes to die, he draws his greatest comfort from the most plain promises of God’s Word. And so,” said Dr. Watts, “do I and I bless God that they are so simple that they do not need any great understanding in order to grasp them! My hope is simply in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior.” And so the good man fell asleep. If we had time and opportunity, we might multiply such testimonies almost indefinitely, for all the children of God who have lived the best conceivable lives uniformly declare that they do not trust for salvation in anything they have done, or felt, or been, or suffered–but that they live by faith upon the Son of God who loved them and gave Himself for them!
I should like to finish by telling you the way in which one of the old Puritans, Mr. Thomas Doolittle, once finished a sermon. And I pray that God will set His blessing on it. The preacher turned to one of the members of the church, sitting in the left-hand gallery and, addressing him by name, he said, “Brother So-and-So, do you repent having trusted your soul to Christ?” And the Brother answered, “No, Sir, I do not repent it, for I never knew what true joy and peace meant until I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Mr. Doolittle then turned to the other side of the gallery and said to Brother So-and-So, “Do you repent having trusted your soul with Christ?” And he answered, “No, Sir, I do not. I have known the Lord since I was a child and my soul’s rest and confidence have been found in Him. And the more I know Him, the more I rejoice in Him.” Then, looking straight before him, to a young man who had been somewhat uneasy during the sermon, the preacher said, “Young man, I do not know your name, but will you have the blood and righteousness of Christ to save you?” The young man was so abashed by this public appeal that he hid his face and said nothing. The person sitting next to him nudged him and the minister, looking straight at him, said to him, “Young man, will you answer this question? There is salvation for you in Jesus Christ if you believe in Him. Are you ready to believe in Him?”
The young man looked up and said, “Yes, Sir.” “When?” asked the preacher. The young man replied, “Now, Sir.” “Then,” he said, “listen to the voice of God! ‘Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.’” That young man and his father became two earnest Christian men renowned in the church in years afterwards. It might not be wise for me to exactly imitate that good man’s actions. And if I especially addressed a young man, the old men might think that I did not mean them to trust in Christ–and the young women might imagine that I had passed them over. So, instead of speaking only to one person, I will put the question to everybody here. I have told you about God’s way of making you just in His sight–now, are you willing to be made just in God’s way? If you die unjust, you will be lost forever. If you live unjust, you will miss all true peace and rest of heart. Are you willing to have God’s righteousness? You say, “Yes.” Well, faith is the accepting of what God gives. Faith is the believing what God says. Faith is the trusting to what Jesus has done. Only do this and you are saved, as surely as you are alive!
You may have come into this place unsaved and have been sitting here a lost soul–yet you may go home saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation and you may know it, too! So I say to each individual here–If you believe in theLord Jesus Christ, you are saved, saved now and saved forever! Therefore be of good courage, you who have trusted in the Lord, and go your way rejoicing in Him and may God bless you both now and forever! Amen.