Puritan Sayings (2)

Contemporary Christian sayings are not necessarily new. In the last article, I pointed out that Edward Reynolds, an important member of the Westminster Assembly, encouraged us to ask what would Jesus do in a particular situation. Reynolds is not alone in building a bridge between the Puritans and contemporary Christian sayings; he is joined by Anthony Burgess, another important member of the Westminster Assembly.

Justification is a very important biblical-theological concept that Christians, including very young ones, need to understand. How do we teach it to them?  One catchy and memorable way is to say that it means that God treats me “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned. This is helpful insofar as it captures a key aspect of justification. The Westminster Confession of Faith 11.1 correctly teaches that justification involves forgiveness (“pardoning their sins”) and a declaration of righteousness (“accounting and accepting their persons as righteous”).  The “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned captures the forgiveness component of justification.

At one point in his book, The True Doctrine of Justification, Anthony Burgess discusses the meaning of remission of sins.  The first proposition that he lays down is this: “That when God doth pardon sinne, he takes it away so, as that the party acquitted is no more looked upon as a sinner.”  In light of this, Burgess does not hesitate to say that the forgiven man is not a sinner.  His sins are taken away—indeed, he says that they are utterly abolished.  At the same time, however, he is also quite willing to say that the forgiven person is a sinner and that his sins are not utterly abolished.  

Burgess uses the distinction between liability (reatus) and pollution (macula) to explain how both statements are true at the same time.  The liability to guilt and punishment of sin is completely taken away, but the pollution of sin is not.  He writes:

“Therefore in different respects we may say, That pardon of sin is an utter abolition of it, and it is not an utter abolition of it. It is an utter abolition of it, as it doth reflect upon the person, making him guilty, and obliging him actually to condemnation; in this respect a man is as free as if he had never sinned; but if you speak of the inherency of sin, and the effects of original corruption, that do abide in all, which are also truly and properly sins; so pardon of sin is not an utter abolition…”

A justified person, therefore, is “as free as if he had never sinned” with respect to guilt and punishment (condemnation) because pardon utterly abolishes these effects of sin.  He will also be free as if he had never sinned with respect to the pollution of sin because Christ, as Burgess says, doesn’t apply half-cures (semiplenam curationem) but fully heals “diseased persons.”  But that doesn’t happen immediately because Christ “works by degrees in the grace of sanctification.”  And until that day when the presence of sin is completely cast out, a forgiven person will both be a sinner and not a sinner.

 What is justification?  An important component of our justification is the forgiveness of our sins.  Forgiveness completely removes our guilt and liability to punishment.  There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).  Whoever believes in Jesus does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24).  Thus, Justification, at least in part, means that God treats me “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned, or in the words of Burgess, it means that I am “as free as if [I] had never sinned.”


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For previous posts in this series, see:

Puritan Sayings (1)

Patrick Ramsey