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THE WORD JUSTIFY, OR JUSTIFICATION, DEFINED.
MANY meanings have been given by authors to the word justify, or justification in Scripture : it will be desirable to have the word most clearly and distinctly defined, and particularly as it must be admitted, that from the general use which has been made of this word, many various significations may reasonably be applied to it, and unless we confine ourselves to, and annex a plain, clear, determinate meaning, all argument, or reasoning may want that certainty, and sure reliance placed upon it, which the attainment of truth requires.
It is conceived the following exposition will, upon examination, be found to include all the meanings that can reasonably be applied to the word, in the manner it has been used by writers in Scripture.
“ To justify,” says Dr. Johnson in his dictionary, among other significations, is “to clear from imputed guilt, to absolve from an accusation; to free from past sins by pardon.”
Bishop Bull in his Harmonia Apostolica, Ch. i. Sect. 2. speaking of St. James, says, “ the word to justify, according to its Greek and Hebrew acceptation, is used by him (meaning St. James) in its most usual sense, that is, as a term of law, meaning to acquit, or pronounce guiltless. Every unprejudiced person must know this to be the most obvious, and common meaning of that word in the holy Scriptures, and especially in the New Testament:" to which may be added, and particularly when it relates to, or is connected with the judgment or salvation of man.
“To be justified before God," says Bishop Tomline,“ signifies to be declared and accounted as just and righteous in his sight a.” And that “ justification is the remission of sins here on earth ; salvation is the attainment of happiness in heaven b. .
It seems to be agreed by all writers, that the word justify is a forensic term, and has a judicial meaning, and so we find it used in Deut. xxv. 1. and nothing can be a stronger confirmation of this meaning than being generally opposed in Scripture to the word condemn. And should we be permitted to compare heavenly things with earthly, the mode, or manner, and effect of justification may be stated to be the same as the acquittal of a criminal before an earthly tribunal; the verdict, “not guilty,” the acquittal, or justification; and, to carry the simile further, the discharge of the accused person, consequent upon the acquittal, whereby he obtains his freedom, may be likened to salvation, or admission into the realms of eternal bliss; and the enjoy. ment of free liberty to glorification, or the consummation, and participation of those joys of heaven, which the blessed will receive, and which “ eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." And to this trial there are three necessary parties, the Judge, the person accused, and the law by which the criminal is to be tried. “In like manner,” observes Bishop Bull, " these three things, or certainly something analogous to each of them, are found in justification. Thus for example, when man is said to be justified in the sight of God by the works of the law, or by the faith of Christ. The accused person is man; the Judge, God; and the law according to which judgment is given, is either, on the one hand, the Mosaic law, or on the other, the law of Christ, sometimes called the law of faith, see
a Refutation of Calvinism, p. 98. b Elements of Christian Theology, Vol. ii. p. 257.