Christ Set Forth
shewing by way of introduction that Christ is the example and object of justifying faith
Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.—Rom. 8:34.
First, Directions to Christ as the object of faith.—How in a threefold consideration Christ is the object of justifying faith.
But ere I come to encourage your faith from these, let me first direct and point your faith aright to its proper and genuine object, Christ. I shall do it briefly, and only so far as it may be in introduction to the encouragement from these four particulars, the things mainly intended by me.
- Christ is the object of our faith, in joint commission with God the Father.
- Christ is the object of faith, in opposition to our own humiliation, or graces, or duties.
- Christ is the object of faith, in a distinction from the promises.
- First, Christ is the object of faith, in joint commission with God the Father. So here, ‘it is God that justifies,’ and ‘Christ that died.’ They are both of them set forth as the foundation of a believer’s confidence. So elsewhere, faith is called a ‘believing on him (namely, God), that justifies the ungodly,’ Rom. 4:5; and a ‘believing on Christ,’ Acts 16:31. Wherefore faith is to have an eye unto both, for both do alike contribute unto the justification of a sinner. It is Christ that paid the price, that performed the righteousness by which we are justified; and it is God that accepts of it, and imputes it unto us; therefore justification is ascribed unto both. And this we have, Rom. 3:24, where it is attributed unto them both together, ‘Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.’ Where we see that God’s free grace and Christ’s righteousness do concur to our justification. Christ paid as full a price, as if there were no grace shewn in justifying us (for mercy bated Christ nothing); and yet that it should be accepted for us, is as free grace, and as great as if Christ had paid never a farthing. Now as both these meet to justify us, so faith in justification is to look at both these. So it follows in the next verse, Rom. 3:25, ‘Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood.’ And though it be true, that God justifying is the ultimate object of our faith, for Christ ‘leads us by the hand’ (as the word is, Eph. 2:18), ‘unto God;’ and 1 Pet. 1:21, we are said ‘by Christ to believe on God who raised him, that so our faith and hope might be on God;’ yet so, as under the New Testament, Christ is made the more immediate object of faith; for God dwelling in our nature is made more familiar to our faith than the person of the Father is, who is merely God. Under the Old Testament, when Christ was but in the promise, and not as then come in the flesh, then indeed their faith had a more usual recourse unto God, who had promised the Messiah, of whom they then had not so distinct, but only confused, thoughts; though this they knew, that God accepted and saved them through the Messiah. But now under the New Testament, because Christ as mediator exists not only in a promise of God’s, but is come and manifest in the flesh, and is ‘set forth by God’ (as the apostle’s phrase is), to transact all our business for us between God and us; hence the more usual and immediate address of our faith is to be made unto Christ; who as he is distinctly set forth in the New Testament, so he is as distinctly to be apprehended by the faith of believers. ‘Ye believe in God’ (saith Christ to his disciples, whose faith and opinion of the Messiah was till Christ’s resurrection, of the same elevation with that of the Old Testament believers), ‘believe also in me,’ John 14:1. Make me the object of your trust for salvation, as well as the Father. And, therefore, when faith and repentance come more narrowly to be distinguished by their more immediate objects, it is ‘repentance towards God,’ but ‘faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ,’ Acts 20:21; not that God and Christ are* the objects of both, but that Christ is more immediately the object of faith, and God of repentance: so that we believe in God through believing in Christ first, and turn to Christ by turning to God first. And this is there spoken, when they are made the sum of Christian doctrine, and of the apostles’ preaching. And, therefore, the faith of some being much enlarged to the mercies of God and his free grace, and but in way of supposition unto Christ, or in a taking for granted that all mercies are communicated in and through Christ, yet so as their thoughts work not so much upon, nor are taken up about Christ; although this may be true faith under the New Testament, in that God and his free grace is the joint object of faith, together with Christ and his righteousness,—and the one cannot be without the other,—and God ofttimes doth move eminently pitch the stream of a man’s thoughts in one channel rather than in another, and so may direct the course of a man’s thoughts towards his free grace, when the stream runs less towards Christ, yet it is not such a faith as becomes the times of the gospel; it is of an Old Testament strain and genius; whereas our faith now should, in the more direct and immediate exercises of it, be pitched upon Jesus Christ, that ‘through him,’ first apprehended, ‘our faith might be in God’ (as the ultimate object of it), as the apostle speaks, 1 Pet 1:21. And so much for the first.
- The second is, that Christ is to be the object of our faith, in opposition to our own humiliation, or graces, or duties.
(1.) We are not to trust, nor rest in humiliation, as many do, who quiet their consciences from this, that they have been troubled. That promise, ‘Come to me, you that are weary and heavy laden, and you shall find rest,’ hath been much mistaken; for many have understood it, as if Christ had spoken peace and rest simply unto that condition, without any more ado, and so have applied it unto themselves, as giving them an interest in Christ; whereas it is only an invitement of such (because they are most apt to be discouraged) to come unto Christ, as in whom alone their rest is to be found. If therefore men will set down their rest in being ‘weary and heavy laden,’ and not come to Christ for it, they sit down besides Christ for it, they sit down in sorrow. This is to make John (who only prepared the way for Christ) to be the Messiah indeed (as many of the Jews thought), that is, to think the eminent work of John’s ministry (which was to humble, and so prepare men for Christ) to be their attaining Christ himself. But if you be weary, you may have rest indeed, but you must come to Christ first. For as, if Christ had died only, and not arose, we had ‘been still in our sins,’ (as it is 1 Cor. 15:17), so though we die by sin, as slain by it, (as Paul was, Rom. 7:11, 12, 13, in his humiliation), yet if we attain not to the resurrection of faith (so the work of faith is expressed, Phil. 3:12, 13), we still remain in our sins.
(2.) Secondly, we are not to rest in graces or duties; they all cannot satisfy our own consciences, much less God’s justice. If ‘righteousness could have come’ by these, then ‘Christ had died in vain,’ as Gal. 2:21. What a dishonour were it to Christ, that they should share any of the glory of his righteousness! Were any of your duties crucified for you? Graces and duties are the daughters of faith, the offspring of Christ; and they may in time of need indeed nourish their mother, but not at first beget her.
- In the third place, Christ’s person, and not barely the promises of forgiveness, is to be the object of faith. There are many poor souls humbled for sin, and taken off from their own bottom, who, like Noah’s dove, fly over all the word of God, to spy out what they may set their foot upon, and eying therein many free and gracious promises, holding forth forgiveness of sins, and justification, they immediately close with them, and rest on them alone, not seeking for, or closing with Christ in those promises. Which is a common error among people; and is like us if Noah’s dove should have rested upon the outside of the ark, and not have come to Noah within the ark; where though she might rest for a while, yet could she not ride out all storms, but must needs have perished there in the end. But we may observe, that the first promise that was given, was not a bare word simply promising forgiveness, or other benefits which God would bestow; but it was a promise of Christ’s person as overcoming Satan, and purchasing those benefits, ‘The seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head.’ So when the promise was renewed to Abraham, it was not a bare promise of blessedness and forgiveness, but of that seed, that is, Christ (as Gal. 3:16), in whom that blessedness was conveyed. ‘In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.’ So that Abraham’s faith first closed with Christ in the promise, and therefore he is said to see Christ’s day, and to rejoice in embracing him. And so all the succeeding fathers (that were believers) did, more or less, in their types and sacraments, as appears by 1 Cor 10:1, 2. And if they, then much more are we thus to look at Christ, unto whom he is now made extant, not in promises only, but is really incarnate, though now in heaven. Hence our sacraments (which are the seals added to the word of faith) do primarily exhibit Christ unto a believer, and so, in him, all other promises, as of forgiveness, &c., are ratified and confirmed by them. Now there is the same reason of them, that there is of the promises of the gospel, for they preach the gospel to the eye, as the promise doth to the ear, and therefore as in them the soul is first to look at Christ, and embrace him as tendered in them, and then at the promises tendered with him in them, and not to take the sacraments as bare seals of pardon and forgiveness; so, in like manner, in receiving of, or having recourse to a promise, which is the word of faith, we are first to seek out for Christ in it, as being the foundation of it, and so to take hold of the promise in him. Hence faith is still expressed by this its object, Christ, it being called ‘faith on Christ.’ Thus Philip directs the eunuch, Acts 8:35. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus.’
The promise is but the casket, and Christ the jewel in it; the promise but the field, and Christ the pearl hid in it, and to be chiefly looked at. The promises are the means by which you believe, not the things on which you are to rest. And so, although you are to look at forgiveness as held forth in the promise, yet you are to believe on Christ in that promise to obtain this forgiveness. So Acts 26:18, it is said of believers by Christ himself, ‘that they may obtain forgiveness of sins, by faith which is on me.’
And to clear it farther, we must conceive, that the promises of forgiveness are Not as the pardons of a prince, which merely contain an expression of his royal word for pardoning, so as we in seeking of it do rest upon, and have to do only with his word and seal, which we have to shew for it; but God’s promises of pardon are made in his Son, and are as if a prince should offer to pardon a traitor upon marriage with his child, whom in and with that pardon he offers in such a relation; so as all that would have pardon, must seek out for his child; and thus it is in the matter of believing. The reason of which is, because Christ is the grand promise, in whom, ‘all the promises are yea and amen,’ 2 Cor. 1:20, and therefore he is called the Covenant, Isa. 49:8. So that, as it were folly for any man to think that he hath an interest in an heiress’s lands, because he hath got the writings of her estate into his hands, whereas the interest in the lands goes with her person, and with the relation of marriage to her, otherwise, without a title to herself, all the writings will be fetched out of his hands again; so is it with all the promises: they hang all upon Christ, and without him there is no interest to be had in them. ‘He that hath the Son hath life,’ 1 John 5:12, because life is by God’s appointment only in him, as ver. 11. All the promises are as copyhold land, which when you would interest yourselves in, you inquire upon what lord it holds, and you take it up of him, as well as get the evidences and deeds for it into your hands; the lord of it will be acknowledged for such in passing his right into your hands. Now this is the tenure of all the promises; they all hold on Christ, in whom they are yea and amen; and you must take them up of him. Thus the apostles preached forgiveness to men, Acts 13:38, ‘Be it known that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins.’ And as they preached, so we are to believe, as the apostle speaks, 1 Cor. 15:11. And without this, to rest on the bare promise, or to look to the benefit promised, without eying Christ, is not an evangelical, but a Jewish faith, even such as the formalists among the Jews had, who without the Messiah closed with promises, and rested in types to cleanse them, without looking unto Christ the end of them, and as propounded to their faith in them. This is to go to God without a mediator, and to make the promises of the gospel to be as the promises of the law, Nehushtan (as Hezekiah said of the brazen serpent), a piece of brass, vain and ineffectual; like the waters of Bethesda, they heal not, they cleanse not, till this ‘angel of the covenant’ come down to your faith in them. Therefore at a sacrament, or when you meet with any promise, get Christ first down by faith, and then let your faith propound what it would have, and you may have what you will of him.
There are three sorts of promises, and in the applying of all these, it is Christ that your faith is to meet with.
- There are absolute promises, made to no conditions; as when Christ is said to ‘come to save sinners,’ &c. Now in these it is plain, that Christ is the naked object of them; so that if you apply not him, you apply nothing, for the only thing held forth in them is Christ.
- There are inviting promises; as that before mentioned, ‘Come to me, you that are weary.’ The promise is not to weariness, but to coming to Christ; they are bidden ‘Come to him,’ if they will have rest.
- There are assuring promises; as those made to such and such qualifications of sanctification, &c. But still what is it that is promised in them, which the heart should only eye? It is Christ, in whom the soul rests and hath comfort in, and not in its grace; so that the sight of a man’s grace is but a back-door to let faith in at, to converse with Christ, whom the soul loves. Even as at the sacrament, the elements of bread and wine are but outward signs to bring Christ and the heart together, and then faith lets the outward elements go, and closeth, and treats immediately with Christ, unto whom these let the soul in; so grace is a sign inward, and whilst men make use of it only as of a bare sign to let them in unto Christ, and their rejoicing is not in it, but in Christ, their confidence being pitched upon him, and not upon their grace; whilst men take this course, there is and will be no danger at all in making such use of signs. And I see not, but that God might as well appoint his own work of the new creation within, to be as a sign and help to communion with Christ by faith, as he did those outward dements, the works of his first creation; especially, seeing in nature the effect is a sign of the cause. Neither is it more derogatory to free grace, or to Christ’s honour, for God to make such effects signs of our union with him, than it was to make outward signs of his presence.
Goodwin, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Goodwin. Vol. 4. (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1862), 11-15. Public Domain. Original Printing 1651.
Paperback editions of the 12 volumes are available at https://www.heritagebooks.org/products/the-works-of-thomas-goodwin-12-vols.html