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c) The subjects of this act, are all those sinners, who have a living faith in the Saviour of men. This doctrine the Reformers considered of cardinal importance, and Luther called it the articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesia, the article with which the church must stand or fall.
d) The import of this justification, is not only remission of all the punishment due to our sins, but also a right to eternal life,? and all the gracious aid necessary to its attainment.
e) The evidences of justification are and can be none other than the evidences of a true and living faith, namely good works, and a life of evangelical obedience. If you have sincerely mourned over your sins, if you have felt your inability to save yourself, if you sincerely love and have cordially embraced the plan of salvation through a crucified Saviour, if whilst you are devoting your soul and body as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to his service, you nevertheless feel the imperfection of your best works, and habitually rely for heaven solely on a Saviour's blood; then, reader, may you joyfully indulge the hope, that you are justified by faith, are a child of God, and an heir of heaven! O glorious hope !
No room for mirth or trifling here,
God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. John 3: 18. He that believeth on him is not condemned ; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.
1 Rom. 3: 28. sup.
2 Rom. 5: 1. 2. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ ; by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
3 James 2: 20. 21. 23. But wilt thou know, O vain man! that (mere speculative) faith without works is dead ? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered up Isaac his son on the altar ? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect ?
But oh! when both shall end,
With fiends or angels spend ?
Nothing is worth a thought beneath,
Which never, never dies !
A mansion in the skies.
f) This justification takes place at the moment when the sinner first attains a living faith in the Redeemer.
g) And, finally, from this state of justification the believer cannot fall,' save by deliberate and wilful abandonment of the path of christian duty. This is another glorious feature of the gospel scheme of salvation. Notwithstanding the numberless frailties and infirmities, which mingle with our best services, the Lord will not cast us off. Though we are surrounded by temptations and trials, which constitute necessary ingredients in our state of probation; yet shall we not be tempted above our strength, yet shall nothing, neither tribulation nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor peril, nor the sword, nor death, nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. In short, nothing can eject us from a state of justification, but a deliberate, wilful act of our own, by which we renounce our allegiance to the Saviour, and are no longer willing to accept mercy on the terms of the gospel.2
1 Wherefore, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall ; for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
2 Rom. 8: 35. 38. 39.
That such deliberate transgressions, however, as bring the sinner into a state, in which it is morally impossible that he should be saved, cannot leave him in a state of justification, seems almost self-evident. Is Paul warning the Corinthians 1 against impossibilities, when he says to them: “Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall”? and the Romans? when he said, thou standest by faith; yet be not highminded, but fear? Was Peter in a state of justification at that instant when he voluntarily denied his Lord ? or David in the moments of his uncleanness and guilt? It cannot be. These works of sin are incompatible with the existence of a living faith, and living faith is essential to justification. The truth on this subject is more definitely stated by the prophet Ezekiel.3 “When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness and committeth iniquity, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done, shall not be mentioned; in his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die."
Let him, then, who thinks he standeth, take heed lest he fall !
2 Rom. 11:20.
11 Cor. 10: 12. 3 Ezek. 18: 24.
OF THE MINISTERIAL OFFICE (AND MEANS OF GRACE).
In order that we may obtain this faith, the ministerial office has been instituted, whose members are to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. For through the instrumentality of the word and sacraments, as means of grace, the Holy Spirit is given, who in his own time and place, produces faith in those who hearken to the gospel message, namely that God, for Christ's sake and not on account of any merit in us, justifies those who believe in Christ.
Having in the preceding Article announced faith as the appointed and only condition of our justification, the Confessors proceed to describe the manner, in which saving or justifying faith is produced ; and in delineating the means of its production they are naturally led to introduce that order of men whose duty it is to administer them. This article therefore treats first of the ministerial office, and secondly of the means, by the use of which justifying faith is produced. The discussion of the former of these subjects, we will for the sake of perspicuity, defer to Articles VII and VIII, under which we shall present such general remarks as we deem necessary on the subject of the church, her government and discipline ; and now direct our attention to
The Means of Grace.
Means of grace are all those things which God employs to present divine truth to the minds of men and urge them to obey
it, and in connexion with which he bestows the immediate influences of his Holy Spirit.
I. Generic Nature of these Means.
All the means of grace may ultimately be reduced to RELIGIOUS TRUTH, in some way or other presented to the mind and impressed upon it. These methods are
1. Written exhibitions of religious truth. a) The holy volume is the grand depository of the sacred doctrines and precepts. Their instrumental character is clearly taught: “The law of the Lord,” says the Psalmist, " is perfect, converting the soul.” “ Search the scriptures,” says the Saviour, “ for in them ye think ye have the words (doctrines) of eternal life.” And Paul triumphantly exclaims, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation (that is, it has a divine and saving power) to every one that believeth it.” How obvious then is the duty to study this sacred volume, and to aid bible societies in distributing it over the earth!
b) Other good books, written by uninspired men, as they derive their contents originally from the sacred volume, partake of the nature of the fountain whence they flow. How many souls are now standing before the throne of God,who were instrumentally exalted thither by the practical works of Arndt, Spener, Franke, Woltersdorf, Wesley, Baxter, Doddridge and others ? Who that with the eye of faith has ever cast a glance toward heaven, would exchange the celestial glory of Arndt, for the crown of Napoleon ?
2. Symbolic exhibitions of divine truth. a) Baptism, in addition to its being the initiatory ordinance into the visible church of Christ, is a symbolic and impressive exhibition of the doctrines of natural depravity, and the purifying influence of the Holy Spirit, and is therefore an important means of grace in the church.