The Divine Method of Justification is a clear and easy to understand concept

Discussion in 'Commentaries' started by Ed Walsh, Mar 23, 2020.

  1. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Beloved of the Lord,

    I am reading through John Brown’s commentary on Romans titled: Analytical Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, and I came across a passage on Romans chapter 4, which Brown titles:

    The Divine Method of Justification, as “without Law” “by Faith,”
    “The Faith of Christ”—“witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.”

    It is a bit frustrating because the portion I quote has a greater context that you will not be able to take advantage of in this post. The section I am quoting is what I will call a warning not to over-think the Divine method of justification. This caution may be especially helpful to Reformed believers who tend to go deep into Gospel mysteries. In modern times we might call this the KISS principle of faith. :) Brown is getting near the end of chapter 4 when he sais the following: (I underlined several places I thought were important for those who may just wish to skim to see if there enough interest in reading it all)


    The account contained in this section of the faith of Abraham, is a very fit means of giving clear views—views easily applied to practical and experimental purposes—of justifying faith. On no subject is it of more importance to have distinct and accurate notions, than on the way in which a guilty human being, righteously condemned on account of his sins, may obtain the forgiveness of sins, and be treated by a righteous God as if he were a righteous person. That there is such a method, is a truth clearly revealed in Scripture; and it is also distinctly stated, that it is only through the knowledge and belief of what God has revealed respecting this method of salvation, that the individual sinner can obtain a personal interest in it, and in the invaluable benefits which it secures—which it alone can secure.

    It is not, then, wonderful that, among those who profess to consider the New Testament as a Divine revelation, that faith, which holds so prominent a place in that Divine method of justification which it unfolds, should have been made the subject of most serious investigation; though there is cause both for wonder and regret that much of this investigation has tended rather to perplex than to explain, to obscure than to illustrate.

    One of the principal causes of those indistinct and erroneous views of faith, and of course of the Divine method of justification by faith, is, if I mistake not, to be found in the tendency of the human mind to regard abstract terms or notions as real existences. Faith is often spoken of and thought of as something separate or separable from the mind in which it exists—some agent in it, instead of what it really is, the mind itself in a particular state, or acting in a particular way. The attempt to explain what faith is, in a general abstract way, without keeping constantly in view the simple truth, which yet some learned divines seem never to have got a glimpse of, that faith is just a man believing, has exceedingly darkened a subject which in itself is certainly not peculiarly difficult, and just and distinct views of which are most intimately connected both with man’s holiness and his comfort.

    The best, and perhaps the only way, of guarding against such confused and perplexing views of faith is, when we think of the subject, to bring before our mind some individual believer, and then, by reflecting on whom he believed, what he believed, why he believed, and what influence his believing had on his dispositions and conduct, we will soon arrive at clear and definite ideas of what faith is—ideas easily explicable to others, and easily applicable to practical purposes in our own experience. We escape out of a world of shadows into a world of realities.

    Note: I could have underlined this entire paragraph as it is the heart of what I wanted to share _ew

    It is in this way, as we have seen, that the Apostle Paul explains the nature, and operations, and influence of faith, in the section of his Epistle to the Romans which we have been considering. He does not set before our minds the abstract notion of Faith; he does not tell us about a historical faith, as distinguished from a confidential faith—a faith of the head, as distinguished from a faith of the heart; he enters into no discussion as to whether faith be an operation of the mind, or a state of the mind—whether it be a mental act or a mental habit—whether it be a capacity or a faculty—whether it belong to the department of the understanding or of the will—whether it be merely a matter of the intellect or merely a matter of the affections, or both, and if both, which has the initiative—whether the mind is active or passive in believing, or whether it is not in some measure both, and if so, in what degree it is active, and in what passive;—all these questions which philosophers and divines have delighted to agitate, are put aside, and the apostle places full before the mind “Abraham the believer.” He tells us whom he believed, what he believed, and on what evidence he believed it; and he tells us that, if we believe Him whom Abraham believed, if we believe what Abraham believed, if we believe on the same kind of evidence on which Abraham believed, God will deal with us as He dealt with Abraham. He will reckon us believers; and, reckoning us believers, He will treat us as if we were righteous, and bless us with all heavenly and spiritual blessings.

    The two questions which are fitted most deeply to interest the awakened sinner on this subject—and I believe no other person will get much good from agitating such questions—are, What is the object of the faith by which a man is justified? and what is the ground of that faith?—in other words, What is it that is to be believed in order to justification, and on what evidence is that to be believed? And a satisfactory answer to these two questions will be found in the true answer to these two other questions—What did Abraham, who was justified by faith, believe? and, Why did he believe what he did believe?—on what evidence did he believe it?


    J. Brown then expounds these "two questions"
  2. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Greetings all,

    Pardon the intrusion. But I'm bumping this once to the top because very few people have read it and no one has commented. As for me, after many years this simple truth has given me a new freedom in sharing the gospel. I never could quite find the right words. I tried too hard. This piece by John Brown really was a big help to me. I won't bump it again. I just thought I'd give more people a chance to take a look.


  3. RPEphesian

    RPEphesian Puritan Board Junior

    I've wanted to respond and haven't been able to. This encouraged my own faith. I agree, there is a danger of overthinking this. But faith is a simple thing: We believe God, because He is faithful, to deliver all His covenant promises to us.

    I have a friend who can use this. I intend to send it to him.
  4. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    Could you guys briefly expound on how you would answer the last two questions? I’m glad you bumped this Ed, I have for a while thought along these very lines but this section from Brown has narrowed down and simplified (and is encouraging!) I’ll look forward to your answers— how would you put your explanations of the last two questions to an awakened sinner?
  5. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I am pretty busy today so I am going to cheat and add John Brow's answers. It may not have the brevity you requested, but I am sure his answer is better than anything I could offer. His first Answer about, What did Abraham believe is very interesting.


    What did Abraham believe?
    He believed what God revealed to him respecting the way of salvation. We are not to restrict Abraham’s faith, spoken of in this section, to the revelation that he was to have a son by Sarah; that through that son he was to become the father of many nations; and that, along with him, in his seed all the nations were to be blessed. We know from the best authority that Abraham was aware that these promises referred to a great Deliverer, who had been promised to man from the beginning, and that “his seed” was the same person as “the seed of the woman.” “Your father Abraham,” said our Lord to the Jews, “rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.” The truth revealed respecting the salvation of lost mankind was the object of Abraham’s faith. That truth came in the form of promise. The testimony then was, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation,” that the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent; and that in Abraham’s seed, in the line of Isaac, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. What was the precise extent of Abraham’s explicit knowledge of the meaning of these declarations, is more than we can particularly explain. But so far as he apprehended their meaning, he firmly believed them. He expected salvation through their accomplishment.
    The object of the faith by which a man is justified is in every case materially the same. It is what God has revealed respecting the way of salvation. To us the testimony is, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, even the chief.” “God hath so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life.” “This is the testimony—the record—which God hath given us, that He hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”1 The truth revealed by God respecting the salvation of mankind was the object of Abraham’s faith, and it is the object of the faith of all in every age who are justified. He who does not believe this truth, whatever else he may believe, is not, cannot be justified.

    The second question is,
    What was the ground of that faith which Abraham had, and by which he was justified? On what evidence did he believe the testimony made to him? Was it because he had been taught these things from his infancy? Was it because he had received them by tradition from his fathers? Was it because he had been convinced of them by rational argument? No; it was simply because he believed that the testimony he had heard was God’s testimony. He had no reason for believing it, but that God had said it, and in that he found abundant reason for believing. To have believed what he did believe, if God had not said it, would have been presumption and madness. But he had satisfactory evidence that God had said it; and therefore alone did he believe it.

    It is just so with the man who, through believing, in every age is justified. The truth he believes cannot, from its nature, be demonstrated on rational principles. It is in the form of a testimony; and the testimony of no number of men, however accomplished, can lay a foundation for believing what God will do in a matter that depends entirely on His sovereign good pleasure. He has abundant evidence, of a great variety of kinds, that this testimony is the testimony of God; but he believes the truth of the things contained in the testimony entirely on the authority of the Divine witness. Had it been any but God who gave the promise, Abraham could not have believed it. Had it been any but God who gives the testimony in the Gospel revelation to the believing sinner, he feels that he could not have believed it either. In both cases, it is a “setting to the seal that God is true,”—perceiving that to do anything else would be to treat Him as a liar. If, then, we are to form our notions of what justifying faith is from the example of Abraham—and surely this is the purpose for which it is brought forward—the conclusion we rest in is this: ‘The faith by which a man is justified is the considering as true what God has revealed respecting the way of salvation, because He has revealed it,—the knowing and being sure of this, for this reason.’

    May every one of us thus believe the truth to justification—thus believe to the saving of the soul, and know from our happy experience that, “being thus justified by believing” “that God raised from the dead our Lord Jesus, who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification,” “we have peace with God and free access to Him,”—stand by faith in the state of favour into which our faith has introduced us,—“rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” “a hope that maketh not ashamed,” and “joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the reconciliation.”

    Brown, J. (1857). Analytical Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (pp. 61–63). Edinburgh; London: William Oliphant and Sons; Hamilton, Adams & Co.
  6. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

  7. RPEphesian

    RPEphesian Puritan Board Junior

    Refreshing! Timely for myself too.
  8. CathH

    CathH Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for posting and bumping this. It is a really helpful point and useful quote. It's easy to get tangled up trying to analyse and understand this thing "faith" and whether you have it. Better to shift perspective and see it instead, as Brown says, as "just believing", and then keep the focus on Christ (the object of faith, revealed in the Word) instead of the activity of believing.

    The diagnostic questions for an awakened sinner then are less, Is my faith saving or just historical? do I have this thing? and more, Am I believing in Christ, looking to Jesus, embracing the Saviour? Do I take God at his word when he says Jesus Christ saves even the chief of sinners?
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  9. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I started Romans chapter 5 and just had to post this nugget from Brown. Particularly the second paragraph. I underlined my favorite sentences.

    And “being thus justified, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is the enemy of man the sinner. Man the sinner is, he cannot but be, the object of the holy disapprobation, the subject of the just condemnatory sentence, of God. And on the other hand, man the sinner is the enemy of God; “an enemy in his mind by wicked works,” set in opposition to God’s holy and benignant purposes. But, being justified by believing, the state of war becomes a state of peace on both sides—God is pacified, and the sinner is reconciled: and this “through our Lord Jesus Christ,” who was given for our offences, and raised again for our justification. With that propitiatory sacrifice, which was the divinely appointed and every way suitable ransom for man, God is well pleased; and through that propitiatory sacrifice, He is well pleased with every sinner who, in believing, accepts the atonement or reconciliation. He was angry; but His “anger is turned away.” The sinner’s happiness was opposed to the ends of His holy government: it is so no longer. He is just in justifying him; and the same ransom, viewed as the subject of a well-accredited revelation believed under the influence of the Holy Spirit, destroys the enmity of the sinner’s heart. God and the believing justified sinner are then at one; the quarrel is entirely made up. And here, too, man is simply a receiver; God is a gracious bestower; and it is entirely through Jesus Christ, as the propitiatory ransom, that man thus receives, and God bestows peace.

    But this is not all. Not only have we, “being justified by faith, peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”—we have also by Him “access”—that is, to God. “Access to God” is more than peace with God. It indicates not only a state of security from God, but a state of intimate and endearing friendship and fellowship with Him. The justified sinner is not only freed from all hazard arising from God’s righteous displeasure, but, as an object of His peculiar favour, admitted to “see His face,” to “dwell in His presence,” to “go boldly to the throne of grace.” He enjoys, and knows that he enjoys, the fatherly love of God. This, too, is “by Jesus Christ,” “delivered for our offenses, raised again for our justification.” We are “made accepted in the beloved,” even “in Him, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sin;” and this, too, is “according to the riches of God’s grace."

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