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God Justifies the Ungodly
All the passages below are taken from Charles H. Spurgeon’s book “All of Grace,” published in 1981 by Whitaker House.
To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
-Romans 4:5 KJV
This message is for you: "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
I call your attention to the words, "Him that justifieth the ungodly." They seem to me to be very wonderful words.
Are you surprised that there is such an expression as that in the Bible, "That justifieth the ungodly"? I have heard that men who hate the doctrines of the Cross bring the charge against God that He saves wicked men and receives to Himself the vilest of the vile. See how this Scripture accepts the charge and plainly states it! By the mouth of His servant, Paul; by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, He takes to Himself the title of "Him that justifieth the ungodly." He makes those just who are unjust. He forgives those who deserve no favor. Did you think that salvation was for the good and that God's grace was for the pure and holy who are free from sin? Perhaps you think that if you were excellent, then God would reward you. Maybe you have thought that, because you are not worthy, there could be no way for you to enjoy His favor. You must be somewhat surprised to read a text like this: "Him that justifieth the ungodly." I do not wonder at your surprise. For, with all my familiarity with the great grace of God, I never cease to wonder at it, either.
No One is Righteous before God
It does sound surprising, does it not, that it should be possible for a holy God to justify an unholy man? We, according to our natural reliance on good works for our salvation, are always talking about our own goodness and our own worthiness. We stubbornly believe that there must be something in us in order to win the notice of God. Now, God, who sees through all deceptions, knows that there is no goodness whatsoever in us. He says that "there is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10 KJV). He knows that "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6 KJV). Therefore, the Lord Jesus did not come into the world expecting to find goodness and righteousness, but to bestow them upon those who do not have them. He comes, not because we are just, but to make us so; He `justifieth the ungodly."
When a lawyer comes into court, if he is an honest man, he desires to plead the case of an innocent person and justify him before the court from the things of which he has been falsely accused. It should be the lawyer's objective to justify the innocent person, and he should not attempt to protect the guilty party. It is not man's right nor in his power to truly justify the guilty. This is a miracle reserved for the Lord alone. God, the infinitely just Sovereign, knows that there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin. Therefore, in the infinite sovereignty of His divine nature and in the splendor of His ineffable love, He undertakes the task not so much of justifying the just as of justifying the ungodly. God has devised ways and means of making the ungodly man stand justly accepted before Him. He has set up a system by which, with perfect justice, He can treat the guilty as if he had been free from offense. Yes, He can treat him as if he were wholly free from sin. He justifies the ungodly.
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15, emphasis added). This truth is a very surprising thing---a thing to be marveled at most of all by those who enjoy it. I know that it is to me, even to this day, the greatest wonder that I have ever heard of-that God would ever justify me. I feel myself to be a lump of unworthiness, a mass of corruption, and a heap of sin apart from His almighty love. I know and am fully assured that I am justified by "faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15 KJV). I am treated as if I had been perfectly just and made an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ. And yet by nature, I must take my place among the most sinful. Though altogether undeserving, I am treated as if I had been deserving. I am loved with as much love as if I had always been godly, whereas before I was ungodly. Who can help being astonished at this demonstration of grace? Gratitude for such favor stands dressed in robes of wonder.
Now, while this is very surprising, I want you to notice how available it makes the Gospel to you and to me. If God justifies the ungodly, then He can justify you. Is that not the very kind of person that you are? If you are unconverted at this moment, it is a very proper description of you. You have lived without God; you have been the reverse of godly. In one word, you have been and are ungodly. Perhaps you have not even attended a place of worship on Sundays, but have lived in disregard of God's day and house and Word. This proves that you have been ungodly. Sadder still, it may be that you have even tried to doubt God's existence and have gone to the point of saying that you did so. You have lived on this fair earth, full of the blessings of God's presence, and all the while you have shut your eyes to the clear evidences of His power and Godhead. You have lived as if there were no God. Indeed, you would have been very pleased if you could have positively demonstrated to yourself that there is no God. Possibly you have lived a great many years this way so that you are now pretty well settled in your ways. Yet God is not in any of them. If you were to be labeled ungodly, it would describe you as well as if the sea were to be labeled salt water, would it not?
Possibly you are a person of another sort. You have regularly attended to all the outward forms of religion. Yet you have had no heart in them at all but have been truly ungodly. Though meeting with the people of God, you have never met with God yourself. You have sung in the choir and yet have not praised the Lord with your heart. You have lived without any love for God in your heart or regard for His commands in your life. Well, you are just the kind of person to whom this Gospel is sent, this Gospel that says that God justifies the ungodly. It is very wonderful and is happily available for you. It just suits you, does it not? How I wish that you would accept it! If you are a sensible person, you will see the remarkable grace of God in providing for someone such as you are. You will say to yourself, "Justify the ungodly! Why, then, should I not be justified, and justified at once?"
Self-Righteousness is a Delusion
Now, observe further that it must be so. The salvation of God is for those who do not deserve it and have no preparation for it. It is reasonable that this statement is in the Bible, for no others need justifying but those who have no justification of their own. If any of you are perfectly righteous, you desire no justifying. You feel that you are doing your duty well and almost putting heaven under an obligation to you. What do you want with a Savior or with mercy? What do you want with justification? You will be tired of this book by this time, for it will have no interest to you.
If any of you are giving yourselves such proud airs, listen to me for a little while. You will be lost as surely as you are alive. You righteous men, whose righteousness is all of your own working, are either deceivers or deceived. Scripture cannot lie, and it says plainly, "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10 KJV).
In any case, I have no Gospel to preach to the self- righteous, no, not a word. Jesus Christ Himself did "not come to call the righteous" (Matthew 9:13 KJV), and I am not going to do what He did not do. If I called you, you would not come. Therefore, I will not call you. Rather, I ask you to look at that righteousness of yours until you see what a delusion it is. It is not half as substantial as a cobweb. Be finished with it! Flee from it! Believe that the only people who need justification are those who are not just in themselves. They need something to be done for them to make them just before the judgment seat of God. You can depend on this: The Lord does only what is needful. Infinite wisdom never attempts what is unnecessary. Jesus never undertakes what is superfluous. To make him just who is just is no work for God. That is a labor for a fool. However, to make him just who is unjust, that is work for infinite love and mercy. To justify the ungodly is a miracle worthy of God, and it is.
Pardon is for the Guilty
Now, look. If there is a physician anywhere in the world who has discovered sure and precious remedies, to whom is that physician sent? To those who are perfectly healthy? I think not. Send him down to a place where there are no sick people, and he feels that he is out of place. There is nothing for him to do. "They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick" (Mark 2:17 KJV). Is it not equally clear that the great remedies of grace and redemption are for the sick in soul? They cannot be for the whole, for they cannot be of use to such. If you feel that you are spiritually sick, the Physician has come into the world for you. If you are altogether undone by reason of your sin, you are the very person aimed at in the plan of salvation.
I say that the Lord of love had just such as you in His eye when He arranged the system of grace. Suppose a man of generous spirit were to resolve to forgive all those who were indebted to him. It is clear that this could apply only to those really in his debt. One person owes him a thousand dollars, and another owes him fifty dollars; each one has but to have his bill receipted, and the liability is wiped out. However, the most generous person cannot forgive the debts of those who do not owe him anything. It is out of the power of Omnipotence to forgive where there is no sin. Pardon, therefore, cannot be for you who have no sin. Pardon must be for the guilty. Forgiveness must be for the sinful. It would be absurd to talk of forgiving those who do not need forgiveness or pardoning those who have never offended.
Do you think that you must be lost because you are a sinner? This is the reason you can be saved. Because you realize that you are a sinner, I would encourage you to believe that grace is ordained for such as you. The hymn writer Joseph Hart even dared to say,
A sinner is a sacred thing;
The Holy Ghost hath made him so.
It is true that Jesus seeks and saves those who are lost (Luke 19:10 KJV). He died and made a real atonement for real sinners. When men are not playing with words or calling themselves "miserable sinners" in false humility, I feel overjoyed to meet with them. I would be glad to talk all night to bona fide sinners. The inn of mercy never closes its doors on such, neither on weekdays nor on Sunday. Our Lord Jesus did not die for imaginary sins. His heart's blood was spilled to wash out deep crimson stains that nothing else can remove.
He who is a dirty sinner is the kind of man that Jesus Christ came to make clean. A gospel preacher on one occasion preached a sermon from the verse, "Now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees" (Luke 3:9 KJV). He delivered such a sermon that one of his hearers said to him, "One would have thought that you had been preaching to criminals. Your sermon ought to have been delivered in the county jail." "Oh, no," said the good man, "if I were preaching in the county jail, I would not preach from that text. There I would preach, `This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners' (1 Timothy 1:15 KJV). This is true." The law is for the self-righteous, to humble their pride. The Gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair.
Come Just As You Are
I want to make this very plain. I hope that I have done so already. Yet, still, plain as it is, it is only the Lord who can make a man see it. At first it does seem most amazing to man that salvation would really be for him when he is lost and guilty. He thinks that it must be for him when he is penitent, forgetting that his penitence is a part of his salvation. "Oh," he says, "but I must be this and that," all of which is true, for he will be this and that as the result of salvation. However, salvation comes to him before he has any of the results of salvation. In fact, it comes to him while he deserves only this bare, beggarly, base, abominable description: ungodly. That is all he is when God's Gospel comes to justify him.
Therefore, may I urge any who have no good thing about them---who fear that they do not have even a good feeling or anything at all that can recommend them to God---to firmly believe that our gracious God is able and willing to take them without anything to recommend them. He is willing to forgive them spontaneously, not because they are good, but because He is good. Does He not make His sun to shine on the evil as well as on the good? Does He not give fruitful seasons and send the rain and the sunshine in their time even on the most ungodly nations? (See Matthew 5:45 KJV) Yes, even Sodom had its sun and Gomorrah had its dew. The great grace of God surpasses my conception and your conception. I would like you to think worthily of it. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are God's thoughts above our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9 KJV). He can "abundantly pardon" (v. 7). "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15 KJV); forgiveness is for the guilty.
Do not attempt to touch yourself up and make yourself something other than what you really are. Come as you are to Him who justifies the ungodly. Some time ago, a great artist had painted a picture of a part of the city in which he lived. He wanted, for historic purposes, to include in his picture certain characters well known in the town. A street sweeper, who was unkempt, ragged, and filthy, was known to everybody, and there was a suitable place for him in the picture. The artist said to this ragged and rugged individual, "I will pay you well if you will come down to my studio and let me paint you." He came around in the morning but was soon sent away for he had washed his face, combed his hair, and donned a respectable suit of clothes. He was needed as a beggar and was not invited in any other capacity. In the same way, the Gospel will receive you into its halls if you come as a sinner, not otherwise. Do not wait for reformation, but come at once for salvation. God justifies the ungodly, and that takes you up where you are now. It meets you in your worst state.
Come in your disorder. I mean, come to your heavenly Father in all your sin and sinfulness. Come to Jesus just as you are: leprous, filthy, naked, neither fit to live nor fit to die. Come, you who are the very sweepings of creation. Come, though you hardly dare to hope for anything but death. Come, though despair is brooding over you, pressing on your heart like a horrible nightmare. Come and ask the Lord to justify another ungodly one. Why should He not? Come, for this great mercy of God is meant for such as you. I put it in the language of the text, and I cannot put it more strongly: The Lord God Himself takes to Himself this gracious title, "Him that justifieth the ungodly." He makes just, and causes to be treated as just, those who by nature are ungodly. Is that not a wonderful word for you? Do not delay in considering this matter well. [13-24]
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