Don't Confuse Justification with Regeneration or Sanctification

by John Murray, Ralph Erskine, William Perkins, James Ussher, James Buchanan

“The epistle to the Romans is concerned with this very subject, the justification of sinners. That is the grand theme of the first five chapters in particular. Romans 8:33,34 conclusively shows that the meaning is that which is contrasted with the word ‘condemn’ and that which is related to the rebuttal of a judicial charge. The meaning of the word ‘justify’ therefore, in the epistle to the Romans, and therefore in the epistle which more than any other book in Scripture unfolds the doctrine, is to declare to be righteous. Its meaning is entirely removed from the thought of making upright or holy or good or righteous.

This is what is meant when we insist that justification is forensic. It has to do with a judgment given, declared, pronounced; it is judicial or juridical or forensic. The main point of such terms is to distinguish between the kind of action which justification involves and the kind of action in regeneration. Regeneration is an act of God in us; justification is an act of God with respect to us. The distinction is like that of the distinction between the act of a surgeon and the act of a judge. The surgeon, when he removes an inward cancer, does something in us. That is not what a judge does—he gives a verdict regarding our judicial status. If we are innocent he declares accordingly.

The purity of the gospel is bound up with the recognition of this distinction. If justification is confused with regeneration or sanctification, then the door is opened for the perversion of the gospel at its center. Justification is still the article of the standing or falling church. (121)

It is by the righteousness of God that we are justified (Rom. 1:17; 3:21; 10:3; Phil. 3:9). In other words, the righteousness of our justification is a God-righteousness. Nothing more conclusively demonstrates that it is not a righteousness which is ours.

Righteousness wrought in us or wrought by us, even though it be perfect in character, is not a God righteousness. It is, after all, a human righteousness. But the commanding insistence of the Scripture is that in justification it is the righteousness of God which is revealed from faith to faith, and therefore a righteousness which is contrasted not only with human unrighteousness but with human righteousness. It is righteousness which is divine in quality. It is not, of course, the divine attribute of justice if righteousness, but, nevertheless, it is a righteousness with divine attributes or qualities and therefore a righteousness which is of divine property.

The righteousness of justification is the righteousness and obedience of Christ (Rom. 5:17, 18, 19). Here we have the final consideration which confirms all of our foregoing considerations and sets them in clear focus. This is the final reason why we are pointed away from ourselves to Christ and his accomplished work. And this is the reason why the righteousness of justification is the righteousness of God. It is the righteousness of Christ wrought by him in human nature, the righteousness of his obedience unto death, even the death of the cross. But, as such, it is the righteousness of the God-man, a righteousness which measures up to the requirements of our sinful and sin-cursed situation, a righteousness which meets all the demands of a complete and irrevocable justification, and a righteousness fulfilling all these demands because it is a righteousness of divine property and character, a righteousness undefiled and inviolable. Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 5:21). ‘Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance. In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in they righteousness shall they be exalted’ (Psalm 89:15,16). (127–128)

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955).


“Ought it not be a terror to us, to cut off a lap of Christ’s garment, or clip it so short, as to think that it cannot cover us completely, without some rags of our own rotten righteousness sewed into it?

Again, it is this legal principle, that makes believers themselves think it cannot be that they are accepted as righteous, perfectly righteous in the sight of God, through the righteousness of Christ imputed; why, because they want a feeling of that righteousness IN THEMSELVES, which the legal heart is ready to make the foundation of pardon and acceptance: But as Luther said, we must not feel, but believe, that we are thus righteous; yea, it is his hidden principle of self righteousness, that will make a minister preach Christ alone for righteousness, as if he were as much for exalting Christ, as any that ever preached; and yet, before ever you know well where you are, you will find him bringing in some legal duty of qualification, in order to your being justified.”

Ralph Erskine (1685–1752), Sermon on Matthew 22:42 titled, ‘What think ye of Christ?’ in “A Collection of Sermons on Several Subjects preached by the Rev. Ralph Erskine, minister of the Gospel in Scotland and author of the Gospel Sonnets,” 78.


“Here we see how to distinguish between justification, regeneration, and renovation. Regeneration is usually in Scripture the change of the inward man, whereby we are born anew. Renovation is the change both of the inward and outward man, that is, both of heart and life. Justification is neither, but a certain action in God applied unto us, or a certain respect or relation whereby we are acquit of our sins and accepted to life everlasting. Secondly, we must here note that the teachers of the church of Rome mistake the word justification. For by it, they understand nothing else but a physical transmutation of the quality and disposition of our hearts from evil to good. And by this mistaking, they have made a mixture or rather confusion of the law and gospel.”

William Perkins, The Works of William Perkins, 2.111. Comments on Galatians 2:16.


To condemn the proud opinion of papists, who seek justification by their own works and righteousness inherent in themselves: whereas though being accepted, we must in thankfulness do all we can for God; yet when all is done, we must acknowledge ourselves unprofitable servants: the only matter of our joy and triumph both in life and death, must be the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Not our persons, nor the best actions of the holiest men, dare appear in God’s presence, but in his name and merit who consecrates all, the Lord Jesus.

James Ussher, A Body of Divinity, 174.


The Mediatorial work of Christ is thus clearly distinguished from the internal work of the Spirit. By the former, all the blessings of salvation were procured; by the latter, all these blessings are effectually applied. The work of the Spirit is not the cause, but the consequent, of our redemption; and it forms no part of the ground although it is the evidence of our Justification. That blessing, like every other which is included in salvation, depends entirely on the sacerdotal work of Christ, by which He fulfilled the conditions of the Covenant; and it is dispensed by Him in the exercise of His prophetical and regal offices, as Administrator of the Covenant. The Holy Spirit is His Agent in the exercise of these offices, and by His grace and power men are enabled and persuaded to rely on Him for salvation; but in fulfilling the conditions which were imposed on Christ as Mediator, or in accomplishing ‘the work which the Father had given Him to do,’ the Spirit had no part, except in so far as He was ‘given to Him without measure,’ and sustained His holy human soul in obeying and suffering, when ‘through the eternal Spirit He offered Himself without spot unto God.’ Apart from such concurrence, ––which might be equally affirmed of the Father Himself, –– the Holy Spirit did no part of the work by which our redemption was secured; and it is Christ’s work alone, therefore, which is the ground of our Justification. That is said of Christ and His work, in this respect, which is never said of the Spirit and His work. It is said of the Son, ––but never of the Spirit, ––that he became incarnate, and ‘took upon Him the form of a servant, and appeared in the likeness of men,’ ––that ‘He was made under the law,’ ––that He was ‘made sin for us,’ ––that ‘He was made a curse for us,’ ––that ‘He bore our sins in His own body on the tree,’ ––that ‘He died for us, the just for the unjust,’ ––that ‘He redeemed us to God by His blood,’ ––that ‘He is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth on His name,’ ––that ‘now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself,’ ––and that ‘this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.’ From these testimonies it is manifest that a peculiar work is ascribed to Christ which is nowhere ascribed, in whole or in part, to the Holy Spirit; a work which was ‘finished’ on the Cross, and is different even from that which He is still carrying on in the Church by the agency of His Spirit, and the instrumentality of His Word, ––a work which had a direct reference to the expiation of human guilt, and the satisfaction of the law and justice of God, ––and a work which constitutes the only, but all–sufficient, ground of our Justification. If that work is accomplished the end of for which it was designed, no other ground of acceptance is either necessary, or possible; and the work of the Spirit Himself cannot be supposed to supersede, or even to supplement, it, without dishonor to the efficacy of that ‘precious blood,’ and the merits of that perfect righteousness, by which Christ ratified the Law and Justice of God.”

––James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification (Edinburg: Banner of Truth Trust, first published 1867), 395–397.


“Thirdly, I add ‘of a man justified’ for two causes. First, to show that justification and sanctification are two divers gifts of God, and their difference may appear in three things: first, in that justification is out of a man, sanctification is within him; secondly, justification absolves a sinner and makes him stand righteous at the bar of God’s judgment, sanctification cannot do this; thirdly, justification brings peace of conscience, so does not sanctification, but follows that peace. Thus, the apostle has them distinct: ‘Ye are washed, ye are justified and sanctified’ (1 Cor. 6:11). Christ is made to us righteousness and sanctification (1:30). Secondly, because justification goes with sanctification. Though justification be before in nature, yet they are wrought at the same time. For when God accepts a man’s person, then he is made just, who is also sanctified.”

William Perkins (1558–1602), The Works of William Perkins: Volume 4, Reformation Heritage Books, 31.


HT: Inwoo Lee

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 12:00 -- john_hendryx

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