Peace Through Justification

By J.C. Ryle

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God
through our Lord Jesus Christ"
—Romans 5:1

Let me show you the rock from which justification and peace with God flow. That rock is Christ. The true Christian is not justified because of any goodness of his own. His peace is not to be traced up to any work that he has done. It is not purchased by his prayers and regularity, his repentance and his amendment, his morality and his charity. All these are utterly unable to justify him. In themselves they are defective in many things and need a large forgiveness. And as to justifying him, such a thing is not to be named. Tried by the perfect standard of God's law the best of Christians is nothing better than a justified sinner, a pardoned criminal As to merit, worthiness, desert, or claim upon God's mercy, he has none. Peace built on any such foundations as these is utterly worthless. The man who rests upon them is miserably deceived.

Never were truer words put on paper than those which Richard Hooker [1] penned on this subject 280 years ago. Let those who would like to know what English clergymen thought in olden times, mark well what he says: “If God would make us an offer thus large, Search all the generation of men since the fall of your father Adam, and find one man, that hath done any one action, which hath past from him pure, without any stain or blemish at all;—and for that one man's one only action, neither man nor angel shall find the torments which are prepared for both:—do you think this ransom, to deliver man and angels, would be found among the sons of men?

The best things we do have somewhat in them to be pardoned. How then can we do anything meritorious and worthy to be rewarded? —these words I desire entirely to subscribe. I believe that no man can be justified by his works before God in the slightest possible degree. Before man he may be justified: his works may evidence the reality of his Christianity. Before God he cannot be justified by anything that he can do: he will be always defective, always imperfect, always short-coming, always far below the mark, so long as he lives. It is not by works of his own that any one ever has peace and is a justified man.

But how then is a true Christian justified? What is the secret of that peace and sense of pardon which he enjoys? How can we understand a Holy God dealing with a sinful man as with one innocent, and reckoning him righteous notwithstanding his many sins?

The answer to all these questions is short and simple. The true Christian is counted righteous for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is justified because of the death and atonement of Christ. He has peace because “Christ died for his sins according to the Scriptures.” This is the key that unlocks the mighty mystery. Here the great problem is solved, how God can be just and yet justify the ungodly. The life and death of the Lord Jesus explain all. “He is our peace.” (1Co 15:3; Eph 2: 14).

Christ has stood in the place of the true Christian. He has become his Surety and his Substitute. He undertook to bear all that was to be borne, and to do all that was to be done, and what He undertook He performed. Hence the true Christian is a justified man (Isa 53:6).

Christ has suffered for sins, the “just for the unjust.” He has endured our punishment in His own body on the cross. He has allowed the wrath of God, which we deserved to fall on His own head. Hence the true Christian is a justified man (1 Pet. 3:18).

Christ has paid the debt the Christian owed by His own blood. He has reckoned for it and discharged it to the uttermost farthing by His own death. God is a just God, and will not require his debts to be paid twice over. Hence the true Christian is a justified man (Acts 20:28; 1Pe 1:18, 19).

Christ has obeyed the law of God perfectly. The devil, the Prince of this World, could find no fault in Him. By so fulfilling it He brought in an everlasting righteousness, in which all His people are clothed in the sight of God. Hence the true Christian is a justified man (Dan 9:24; Rom 10:4).

Christ, in one word, has lived for the true Christian. Christ has died for him. Christ has gone to the grave for him. Christ has risen again for him. Christ has ascended up on high for him, and gone into heaven to intercede for his soul. Christ has done all, paid all, suffered all that was needful for his redemption. Hence arises the true Christian's justification,—hence his peace. In himself there is nothing, but in Christ he has all things that his soul can require (Col 2:3; 3:11).

Who can tell the blessedness of the exchange that takes place between the true Christian and the Lord Jesus Christ! Christ's righteousness is placed upon him, and his sins are placed upon Christ. Christ has been reckoned a sinner for his sake, and now he is reckoned innocent for Christ's sake. Christ has been condemned for his sake though there was no fault in Him,—and now he is acquitted for Christ's sake, though he is covered with sins, faults, and short-comings. Here is wisdom indeed! God can now be just and yet pardon the ungodly. Man can feel that he is a sinner, and yet have a good hope of heaven and feel peace within. Who among men could have imagined such a thing? Who ought not to admire it when he hears it? (2Co 5:21).

We read of Jesus, the Son of God, coming down to a world of sinners, who neither cared for Him before He came, nor honored Him when He appeared. We read of Him going down to the prison-house, and submitting to be bound, that we the poor prisoners might be able to go free. We read of Him becoming obedient to death—the death of the cross—that we the unworthy children of Adam might have a door opened to life ever-lasting. We read of Him being content to bear our sins and carry our transgressions, that we might wear His righteousness, and walk in the light and liberty of the Sons of God (Phi 2:8).

This may well be called a “love that passeth knowledge!” In no way could free grace ever have shone so brightly as in the way of justification by Christ (Eph 3:19).

This is the old way by which alone the children of Adam, who have been justified from the beginning of the world, have found their peace. From Abel downwards, no man or woman has ever had one drop of mercy excepting through Christ. To Him every altar that was raised before the time of Moses was intended to point. To Him every sacrifice and ordinance of the Jewish law was meant to direct the children of Israel. Of Him all the prophets testified. In a word, if you lose sight of justification by Christ, a large part of the Old Testament Scripture will become an unmeaning tangled maze.

This, above all, is the way of justification which exactly meets the wants and requirements of human nature. There is a conscience left in man, although he is a fallen being. There is a dim sense of his own need, which in his better moments will make itself heard, and which nothing but Christ can satisfy. So long as his conscience is not hungry, any religious toy will satisfy a man's soul and keep him quiet. But once let his conscience become hungry, and nothing will quiet him but real spiritual food and no food but Christ.

There is something within a man when his conscience is really awake, which whispers, “There must be a price paid for my soul or no peace.” At once the Gospel meets him with Christ. Christ has already paid a ransom for his redemption. Christ has given Himself for him Christ has redeemed him from the curse of the law, being made a curse for him (Gal 2:20; 3:13).

There is something within a man, when his conscience is really awake, which whispers, “I must have some righteousness or title to heaven or no peace.” At once the Gospel meets him with Christ. He has brought in an everlasting righteousness. He is the end of the law for righteousness. His name is called the Lord our righteousness. God has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2Co 5:21; Rom 10:4; Jer 23:6).

There is something within a man, when his conscience is really awake, which whispers, “There must be punishment and suffering because of my sins or no peace.” At once the Gospel meets him with Christ. Christ hath suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, to bring him to God. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree. By His stripes we are healed (1Pe 2:24; 3:18).

There is something within a man, when his conscience is really awake, which whispers, “I must have a priest for my soul or no peace.” At once the Gospel meets him with Christ. Christ is sealed and appointed by God the Father to be the Mediator between Himself and man. He is the ordained Advocate for sinners. He is the accredited Counselor and Physician of sick souls. He is the great High Priest, the Almighty Absolver, the Gracious Confessor of heavy-laden sinners (1Ti 2:5; Heb 8:1).

I know there are thousands of professing Christians who see no peculiar beauty in this doctrine of justification by Christ. Their hearts are buried in the things of the world. Their consciences are palsied,[2] benumbed, and speechless. But whenever a man's conscience begins really to feel and speak, he will see something in Christ's atonement and priestly office which he never saw before. Light does not suit the eye nor music the ear, more perfectly than Christ suits the real wants of a sinful soul. Hundreds can testify that the experience of a converted heathen in the island of Raiatea[3] in the South Pacific Ocean has been exactly their own. “I saw,” he said, “an immense mountain, with precipitous[4] sides, up which I endeavored to climb, but when I had attained a considerable height, I lost my hold and fell to the bottom. Exhausted with perplexity and fatigue, I went to a distance and sat down to weep, and while weeping, I saw a drop of blood fall upon that mountain, and in a moment it was dissolved.” He was asked to explain what all this meant. “That mountain,” he said, “was my sins, and that drop which fell upon it, was one drop of the precious blood of Jesus, by which the mountain of my guilt was melted away.” [William's South Sea Missions]

This is the one true way of peace, —justification by Christ. Beware lest any turn you out of this way and lead you into any of the false doctrines of the Church of Rome. Alas, it is wonderful to see how that unhappy Church has built a house of error hard by the house of truth! Hold fast the truth of God about justification, and be not deceived. Listen not to any thing you may hear about other mediators and helpers to peace. Remember there is no mediator but one,—Jesus Christ; no purgatory[5] for sinners but one,—the blood of Christ; no sacrifice for sin but one,—the sacrifice once made on the cross; no works that can merit anything but the work of Christ; no priest that can truly absolve—but Christ. Stand fast here, and be on your guard. Give not the glory due to Christ to another.

What do you know of Christ? I doubt not you have beard of Him by the hearing of the ear, and repeated His name in the Belief. You are acquainted perhaps with the story of His life and death. But what experimental knowledge have you of Him? What practical use do you make of Him? What dealings and transactions have there been between your soul and Him?

Oh, believe me, there is no peace with God excepting through Christ! Peace is His peculiar gift. Peace is that legacy which He alone had power to leave behind Him when He left the world. All other peace beside this is a mockery and a delusion. When hunger can be relieved without food, and thirst quenched without drink, and weariness removed without rest, then, and not till then will men find peace without Christ.

Now, is this peace your own? Bought by Christ with His own blood, offered by Christ freely to all who are willing to receive it,—is this peace your own? Oh, rest not: rest not till you can give a satisfactory answer to my question—HAVE YOU PEACE?

Let me show you the fountain from which true peace is drawn. That fountain is justification.

The peace of the true Christian is not a vague, dreamy feeling, without reason and without foundation. He can show cause for it. He builds upon solid ground. He has peace with God because he is justified.

Without justification it is impossible to have real peace. Conscience forbids it. Sin is a mountain between a man and God and must be taken away. The sense of guilt lies heavy on the heart and must be removed. Unpardoned sin will murder peace. The true Christian knows all this well. His peace arises from a consciousness of his sins being forgiven and his guilt being put away. His house is not built on sandy ground. His well is not a broken cistern, which can hold no water. He has peace with God because he is justified.

He is justified, and his sins are forgiven. However many, and however great, they are cleansed away, pardoned, and wiped out. They are blotted out of the book of God's remembrance. They are sunk into the depths of the sea. They are cast behind God's back. They are searched for and not found. They are remembered no more. Though they may have been like scarlet, they are become white as snow; though they may have been red like crimson, they are as wool. And so he has peace.

He is justified and counted righteous in God's sight. The Father sees no spot in him and reckons him innocent. He is clothed in a robe of perfect righteousness and may sit down by the side of angels without feeling ashamed. The holy law of God, which touches the thoughts and intents of men's hearts, cannot condemn him. The devil, “the accuser of the brethren,” can lay nothing to his charge to prevent his full acquittal. And so he has peace.

Is he not naturally a poor, weak, erring, defective sinner? He is. None knows that better than he does himself. But notwithstanding this, he is reckoned complete, perfect, and faultless before God, for he is justified.

Is he not naturally a debtor? He is. None feels that more deeply than he does himself. He owes ten thousand talents, and has nothing of his own to pay. But his debts are all paid, settled, and crossed out for ever, for he is justified.

Is he not naturally liable to the curse of a broken law? He is. None would confess that more readily than he would himself. But the demands of the law have been fully satisfied, the claims of justice have been met to the last tittle,[6] and he is justified.

Does he not naturally deserve punishment? He does. None would acknowledge that more fully than he would himself. But the punishment has been borne. The wrath of God against sin has been made manifest. Yet he has escaped and is justified.

Does any one who is reading this paper know anything of all this? Are you justified? Do you [believe that you are] pardoned, forgiven, and accepted before God? Can you draw near to Him with boldness and say, “Thou art my Father and my Friend, and I am Thy reconciled child”? Oh, believe me; you will never taste true peace until you are justified!

Where are your sins? Are they removed and taken away from off your soul? Have they been reckoned for and accounted for in God's presence? Oh, be very sure these questions are of the most solemn importance! A peace of conscience not built on justification is a perilous dream. From such a peace the Lord deliver you!

Go with me in imagination to some of our great London hospitals. Stand with me there by the bedside of some poor creature in the last stage of an incurable disease. He lies quiet perhaps and makes no struggle. He does not complain of pain perhaps and does not appear to feel it. He sleeps and is still. His eyes are closed. His head reclines on his pillow. He smiles faintly and mutters something. He is dreaming of home and his mother and his youth. His thoughts are far away—but is this health? Oh, no! No! It is only the effect of opiates.[7] Nothing can be done for him. He is dying daily. The only object is to lessen his pain. His quiet is an unnatural quiet. His sleep is an unhealthy sleep. You see in that man's case a vivid likeness of peace without justification. It is a hollow, deceptive, unhealthy thing. Its end is death.

Go with me in imagination to some lunatic asylum. Let us visit some case of incurable delusion. We shall probably find some one who fancies that he is rich and noble, or a king. See how he will take the straw from off the ground, twist it round his head, and call it a crown. Mark how be will pick up stones and gravel and call them diamonds and pearls. Hear how he will laugh, and sing, and appear to be happy in his delusions—but is this happiness? Oh, no! We know it is only the result of ignorant insanity. You see in that man's case another likeness of peace built on fancy and not on justification. It is a senseless, baseless thing. It has neither root nor life.

Settle it in your mind that there can be no peace with God, unless we feel that we are justified. We must know what is become of our sins. We must have a reasonable hope that they are forgiven and put away. We must have the witness of our conscience that we are reckoned not guilty before God. Without this it is vain to talk of peace. We have nothing but the shadow and imitation of it. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isa 57:21).

Did you ever hear the sound of the trumpets which are blown before the judges, as they come into a city to open the Assizes?[8] Did you ever reflect how different are the feelings which these trumpets awaken in the minds of different men? The innocent man, who has no cause to be tried, hears them unmoved. They proclaim no terrors to him. He listens and looks on quietly and is not afraid. But often there is some poor wretch, waiting his trial in a silent cell, to whom those trumpets are a knell[9] of despair. They warn him that the day of trial is at hand. Yet a little time and he will stand at the bar of justice and hear witness after witness telling the story of his misdeeds. Yet a little time and all will be over—the trial, the verdict, and the sentence—and there will remain nothing for him but punishment and disgrace. No wonder the prisoner's heart beats, when he hears that trumpet's sound!

There is a day fast coming when all who are not justified shall despair in like manner. The voice of the archangel and the trump of God shall scatter to the winds the false peace which now buoys up many a soul. The Day of Judgment shall convince thousands of self-willed people too late, that it needs something more than a few beautiful ideas about “God's love and mercy” to reconcile a man to his Maker and to deliver his guilty soul from Hell. No hope shall stand in that awful day but the hope of the justified man. No peace shall prove solid, substantial, and unbroken, but the peace which is built on justification.

Is this peace your own? Rest not, rest not, if you love life, till you know and [believe] that you are a justified man. Think not that this is a mere matter of names and words. Flatter not yourself with the idea that justification is “an abstruse[10] and difficult subject,” and that you may get to Heaven well enough without knowing anything about it. Make up your mind to the great truth that there can be no heaven without peace with God, and no peace with God without justification. And then give your soul no rest till you are a JUSTIFIED MAN.

1 Richard Hooker – 1554?-1600 theologian who created a distinctive Anglican theology, and a master of English prose and legal philosophy.
2 palsied – trembling or shaking.
3 Raiatea – largest island of the Leeward Group, Society Islands, French Polynesia, in the central South Pacific.
4 precipitous – extremely steep.
5 Purgatory – the Roman Catholic doctrine of an intermediate state after death in which the souls of persons are purified as they suffer for past sins. The author is telling us that the only place we are “purified” is in the blood of Christ.
6 tittle – the tiniest bit.
7 opiates – any of various sedative narcotics containing opium.
8 assizes – one of the periodic court sessions formerly held in each of the counties of England and Wales for the trial of civil or criminal cases.
9 knell – a signal of disaster or destruction.
10 abstruse – difficult to understand.

By J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

Recommended Resources

Faith Alone
R.C. Sproul

The Gospel According to the Apostles
John MacArthur

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