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The Absolution of Believers in Christ,

And the Manner in which they Obtain

Certainty of their Justification.

By David Dickson.

Excerpted from Chapter 28 of his Therapeutica Sacra.

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TrueCovenanter.com Editor’s Introduction.

How is the believer to be certain of his justification?  Is he to conjecture that he was always justified, and must certainly be so now?  Is he to dream that by believing an untrue thing to be true, it will become true?  Is he to identify a moment of time in which a great change passed upon him, and conclude he therefore knows certainly that he is justified, because he knows when he was justified?  Many ideas circulate among professing Christians, but these conflicting approaches do not all take their origin from the same Scriptures of Truth.  We do not need rare or curious doctrines to make good sense of the matter, nor a new theology to help us take hold of the blessed comfort of our Justification.  The subject was carefully handled during those times of reformation when the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone was most triumphantly asserted, defended, and championed; and the answer which proved correct and useful then, will not be found otherwise now.

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The fourth question is, how the convert may know and be certain of his justification.

VVHen the true convert heareth the different opinions of Theologues, concerning the act of justification of a believer, some saying, that it is an act of God immanent, whereby he willeth the absolution of the believer; some saying, that it is an act of God emanent and transient from God upon the spirit of the believer; some saying it is the sentence of the Judge, absolving the believing sinner from the curse of the law.  The believer here possibly is at a stand, and knoweth not how to answer the question till his doubt be loosed.

For the satisfaction of the convert, first, we may safely say, that it is not material whether the convert be able to take up the quiddity and formal notion of the act of justification, provided he be a believer in Christ and know that the believer in Christ is justified before God, and that being justified by faith, he hath peace with God, and can apply these truths unto himself, in the exercise of repentance and new obedience.  But if possibly, the convert cannot be satisfied till his doubt be answered, let him consider, that he must distinguish between justification actively taken as it proceedeth from God, and justification passively taken as it is terminat on the justified man.  As it is taken actively, these four things are to be distinguished:  1. God’s eternal will and decree, to absolve from sin and wrath every believer in Christ.  2. God’s actual revealing in time this his gracious pleasure in the Gospel.  3. God’s judicial application of this general sentence to the believer in the point of his conversion, whether the believer perceive his absolution or not for the time.  4. There is a sensible intimation of this sentence unto the believer, joined with peace and joy, which the Apostle calleth the shedding abroad of the love of God in the heart, Rom. 5.5, and the sealing of the Holy Ghost {499} stamping the heart with holiness, Ephes. 1.13.  The first three makes the absolution of the believer certain, whether the believer thinks so or not; but the fourth, which is the sensible intimation of this sentence, doth make the believer both sure and joyfull.

As justification is taken passively, four things may be distinguished in the believer justified.  The first is, his actual receiving of Christ, offered in the Gospel for a perfect remedy of sin and misery.  The second is, the Lord’s judicial settling of the general sentence of absolution upon the believer, as if he had spoken to him by name, as he did to the Apostles, John 15.3, Now are ye clean through the word I have spoken unto you, that is, you are clean from the guilt of sin by my absolving of you.  The third is, the believer’s observing, in a reflect [reflex] act of his conscience, that he hath fled to Christ for absolution, and therefore [is] justified indeed.  The fourth is, the feeling and observing of the testimony of the Holy Ghost bearing witness with his spirit, that he is a child of God absolved from sin and wrath.  The first two of these, to wit, the act of faith, receiving of Christ and of the right made by Christ to the believer in him of his absolution, may be in, and on the believer without the other two, to wit, his observation of the act of faith, and the felt intimation of this work of grace by the Holy Spirit.

2. For solving of the doubt then; as justification is actively taken, as proceeding from the immanent act of God’s eternal purpose and decree to justify the believer, it is no more the actual justification in this life, of which we are speaking, than the immanent act of God’s eternal purpose to raise the bodies of believers in Christ, and to glorify them in soul and body, can be called the actual resurrection of their bodies, and glorification of both soul and body in this life.

But the transient act of justification in a judicial way, which is the Lord’s judicial sentence of absolution of the believer, declared by his Word, set down now in holy {500} Scripture, it is indeed and formally the believer’s justification, and is judicially terminat upon every believer in the act of his conversion, whether the believer doth clearly perceive his own conversion, or be in suspicion of his being reconciled and justified.

And this may be made to appear, if we compare the condemnation of the unbeliever with the absolution of the believer fled to Christ, John 3.18.  As he that believeth not in Christ is condemned already, because the curse of the law and condemnation, pronounced in the Scripture by God, the sovereign Judge, stands against him so long as he doth not believe in the only begotten Son of God: And this sentence standeth fast, whether the unbeliever take notice of this sentence or not, whether he do apply it to himself or not, do find grief for it or not: So the believer in Christ is relaxed from condemnation and absolved, and hath right unto eternal life and begun possession of it, albeit for the time of his infancy, tentation, trembling and fear, it be not so, albeit he doth not perceive the blessed change of his state, nor doth lay to heart, as he might, the words of Christ judicially pronouncing the sentence, comprehending him as certainly as if his name were expressed, John 3.18, He that believeth on him, is not condemned, and verse 36, He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and John 6, from verse 37 to 41.  Hence we conclude, that the formal act of justification of a man fled to Christ, is to be found in the written sentence of the judge absolving every believer and the man we speak of.

There is another transient act of God, in an actual revelation of justification, wherein the Holy Ghost openeth the eyes of the believer to behold and perceive the gift of faith already bestowed on him: Of this speaks the Apostle, 1 Cor. 2.12.  And after that the Holy Ghost hath pointed out his own grace, bestowed on the believer, he followeth his work, by giving remarkable peace and joy as [an] earnest of life everlasting, {501} whereof the Apostle speaketh, Ephes. 1.13, In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation: in whom also, after ye had believed, ye were sealed with the spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance.  Therefore, he that desireth to have the intimation of his justification, after flying for refuge unto Christ for relief of felt sin and feared wrath, must read his absolution in the Gospel, as well as he hath read, before that, his condemnation in the law.  Unto which sentence of absolution, let him hold fast in his daily endeavour after sanctification.