Old Paths

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Today’s entry is not easy reading. It is long, too. But it will reward your time, if you will set aside some time for thoughtful reading. The Rev. John L. Girardeau was one of the brightest lights of the old Southern Presbyterian Church. He gave much of his life to minister to the slaves of the seaboard of South Carolina. He wrote, “Having rejected a call to a large and important church which had very few Negroes connected with it, I accepted an invitation to preach to a small church, surrounded by a dense body of slaves.” As Dr. Otis Pickett has noted, “God had given him a heart for the Low-country blacks of Charleston, and he refused to leave them.” The Rev. John L. Girardeau passed on to his eternal reward on June 23, 1898.

The Only Way of Salvation
by John L. Girardeau
Old Paths, Vol. III, no. 5 (date?)

(Note: The following discussion is drawn from a workbook of sermon outlines found among the literary remains of Dr. Girardeau. It was never designed for publication, but we feel justified in printing it just as it stands–an unrevised outline. It was used as a basis of a sermon, in two parts, delivered in the Second Presbyterian Church (Arsenal Hill), Columbia, S.C., Feb. 20 and 27, 1887.–Editor.)

Text: Romans 1:17. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

The Apostle Paul furnishes in this chapter a summary of his great argument, touching justification before God, in three leading propositions.

He first states its conclusion–namely: The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek; that is, to all sinners of every class.

But why is the Gospel such a power? Because, in the second place he declares, therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.

But why was such a righteousness necessary? Because, in the third place he affirms, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

To make this general statement of the argument perfectly clear, let us invert the order of the propositions, so as to present the reasons first and the conclusion last.

First. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. That is to say, all men are ungodly and unrighteous; they are therefore guilty before God and justly exposed to His wrath.

Secondly. God has provided a way of escape from His wrath for guilty men. He has revealed His righteousness to them, and declared that whosoever believes in it shall live.

Thirdly. This righteousness of God the Gospel alone reveals, and therefore the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

It is evident that the second of these propositions, either in the Apostle’s order of statement or the inverse, is that which gives an answer to the question, How can a sinner escape the wrath of God, and be justified and saved? How? He must by faith accept and rely upon the righteousness of God. He who is justified by faith in the righteousness of God shall live.

This is the inspired Apostle’s account of God’s method of justifying and saving sinners.

Let us examine the different answers which men give to the great question. How may we as sinners be justified and saved?

I. The Answer of the Mere Naturalist or Indifferentist : “We may be justified and saved with no righteousness. God will not require of us, weak as we are, a righteousness which embraces conformity to His law. We may be saved by the mere benevolence or mercy of God. He is infinitely good, and will not condemn any of His creatures to hell. He may dispense with the Law.”

This is impossible, because:
1. His justice would be sacrificed.
2. His law would be sacrificed.
3. His truth would be sacrificed.
4. His holiness would be sacrificed. It [His holiness] forbids fellowship with the unholy, and none can be holy except they be first justified.

This supposition requires that the standard of mercy should be planted on the graves of justice, truth and holiness.

5. The interests of God’s moral government would be sacrificed.

6. The scheme of redemption precludes the supposition. The cross of Christ and the grace of the Holy Ghost are not vanities. They mean something.

7. The supposition is impossible and absurd. The sinner would be justified without justification, saved from guilt without salvation from it. To say that he need not be justified, or saved, is to insult God and common sense alike.

God cannot dispense with His law; and as it requires righteousness, the sinner must furnish it, or continue under its condemning sentence. He must be righteous or be lost.

II. The Answer of the Legalist : “We may be justified and saved on account of our own righteousness–a merely personal and inherent obedience to law.”

This is refuted by the Apostle’s brief, but irrefragable argument: “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

1. The law convinces of sin. The law condemns for sin. The law therefore kills. It cannot save. What convicts cannot acquit; what condemns cannot absolve from punishment; what kills cannot confer life.

2. One sin destroyed the possibility of Adam’s justification. The inference as to the sinner is overwhelming.

3. The righteousness of one who is already a sinner, even if he supposed that he could produce any, would be necessarily imperfect and unsatisfactory. It would not be the righteousness which the law demands. The Legalist is thrown back upon the position of the Naturalist or Indifferentist. According to his own view, he must present a perfect righteousness. He fails; and out of his own mouth will be condemned.

4. A sinner under the curse of God’s law cannot furnish any acceptable righteousness. He cannot be unjust and just, cursed and blessed, at the same time.

But he may take the ground that God will relax His law.

(1) God cannot relax His law. That would be to relax justice, an infinite attribute of His nature, of which the law is a transcript.

(2) If He did, it would be a graduated scale adapted to the strength of each subject. And as in fact none have in themselves any strength, it would be reduced to zero. This is infinitely absurd.

(3) Even were it relaxed, it has already condemned. To relax the condemnation as well as the requirement of the law would be to sacrifice justice and truth.

(4) The law was not relaxed in the case of the angels that fell, nor in the case of the suffering Savior.

He may contend that God will accept his sincere though imperfect righteousness.

Answer: That only holds in the case of the justified believer.

Finally, he may hope that his imperfect righteousness will be accepted for Christ’s sake, and be supplemented by Christ’s merit.

Answer: This is impossible. There can be no compounding of law and grace, faith and works. They are contradictory and mutually exclusive.

Further, Christ’s merit is infinite; and there can be no addition of the infinite to the finite, or of the finite to the infinite.

The conclusion is: THe case of the Legalist, either pure or modified, which would include the Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian, is hopeless.

III. The Answer of the Socinian : “We may be justified and saved by sincere repentance for sin.”

This is impossible, because:

1. Repentance is impossible to a sinner. He is legally and spiritually dead. He cannot repent. Another view of repentance is altogether unscriptural.

(1) He is under the curse of the law. If he could repent, he would be restored to God’s favor, for God cannot condemn a penitent. The sinner, then, would be condemned and not condemned, cursed and blessed, at one and the same time.

(2) Repentance is a spiritual function or saving grace. It implies turning from sin to God, from [i.e., because of, or out of] spiritual motive of love to God. This [is] impossible to one in his natural condition.

If it be said, that repentance removes the curse of the law: God will forgive; the answer is: First, God says He will not without blood. Secondly, repentance does not remove sentence of human law.

2. Even if he could repent, his repentance, as a confession of unrighteousness, would negative his claim to furnish righteousness. His personal condition is that of an unrighteous man. He pleads guilty, and law knows no mercy. It has already proved that mercy cannot set aside the divine law. Righteousness is required.

Repentance offers no atonement for sin, and if it be supposed that God must save one as penitent, even without atonement, since no penitent being can be punished, He would contradict His own express word that without shedding of blood is no remission.

To say that our tears can wash away our sins, is to impeach the love of God the Father for His dying Son. Why that blood, if our tears can expiate sin? Stop this audacious impeachment of the Cross!

The supposition is impossible, and we are therefore obliged to fall back upon the scriptural doctrine that no sinner, in his natural strength, can repent. There can, consequently, be no justification and salvation on account of repentance.

3. Repentance, in one’s natural strength, would be compliance with the requirement of the law. It would be a deed or work of the law; and the Apostle declares that by the deeds (or works) of the law shall no flesh be justified. It is clear that repentance is required by the law. But nature gives no strength to meet the demand.

IV. The Answer of the Romanist : “We may be justified and saved by our own righteousness, made possible by the atoning merits of Christ and produced by the aid of the Spirit’s grace.”

Christ, he contends, by His merit secured a second probation for sinners. He also acquires for them the grace of the Holy Ghost to enable them to produce personal obedience. This he urges, is not a legal, but a gracious, rightousness; and consequently justification on its account is not justification by law, but by grace.

On the contrary, such a righteousness, were it possible, would be a legal righteousness, and justification would be impossible. For by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.

The great principle which holds here is this: A righteousness receives its denomination not from the source in which it originates, but from the end which it contemplates.

Take the case of the Pharisee: Judged in accordance with his claim, his case was that of Adam in innocence. Of course, had Adam produced his righteousness and been justified on account of it, his righteousness would have been legal, and his justification a legal debt. Yet, it would have originated in grace. For all his natural endowments were the gifts of the Creator. In his case, while he was innocent, there was no difference between nature and the strength of grace. Natural ability was gracious ability. Although, therefore, had he stood, he would have wrought out his righteousness in the strength of grace, it would have been a legal righteousness, because it would have been his own and because he sought justification on its account. But is is preposterous to talk of a sinner being justified in that way.

The Romanist’s justifying righteousness is clearly a personal and inherent one, on account of which he seeks justification, and is therefore a legal one—that is it is a complement of his own works. But by the deeds of the law, no matter how, no matter in what strength performed, no flesh, not even Papal, shall be justified. The Apostle’s great enouncement excludes all works of our own from the ground of justification.

Think of it! The agonies of Calvary undergone that the sinner may have a chance to justify and glorify himself! The blood of Jesus and the grace of the Holy Ghost mere ministers to self-righteousness! The soul sickens at the blasphemy.

Justification is monstrously confounded with sanctification, and holiness, the matter of sanctification, cannot be the ground of salvation. It is an essential part of salvation; never a ground.

Not that which is wrought in us by the Holy Ghost Himself can be a ground of salvation.

Consider this you professing Christians. How much better are your claims than those of the circumcised Pharisee and the baptized Romanist? Solemn question! Settle it aright.

V. The Answer of the Arminian : “We may be justified and saved by faith in the merit of Christ, our faith being imputed to us as our righteousness, in place of a strict, personal righteousness of law.”

Distinction admitted to be made by the Evangelical Arminian. He does not make faith the ground of justification, but he does make it the matter. The merits of Christ he holds to be the ground of justification, but faith in those merits is the righteousness which justifies. We are justified by faith, not as the instrument through which we merely receive justification, but as the justifying righteousness itself. Yet this is not a righteousness, consisting of works.

In proof, they plead Abraham’s case in the fourth chapter of Romans: “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.” That is to say, Abraham’s faith was imputed to him, as his justifying righteousness: by it, on account of it, he was justified.

Let us try to get at the Arminian’s position–if we can. The question being, what is justifying righteousness? He answers: Faith. Is faith then a righteousness of works? He answers: No. What then is it? It is, he says, only trust in the merits of Christ. Is it then Christ’s righteousness which is imputed to faith? He answers, no. Where then is there any righteousness at all? He answers: Faith is imputed as if it were righteousness, in place of a legal righteousness. God regards and treats it as righteousness, and this makes it evangelical righteousness. But an evangelical righteousness must consist of evangelical works. But according to the Arminian, faith is no work, it can neither be legal nor evangelical, righteousness. Yet it is the righteousness which justifies. As such it is imputed to us. What then is it? What can it be? The only solution is, that the Arminian is right in saying, Faith justifies: as to the general fact that is true; but when he undertakes to show how faith justifies, he utterly breaks down. His denial of Representation and Imputation plunges him into self-contradiction and absurdity.

The argument against this view:

1. A wholly untenable distinction is drawn between the ground and the matter of justification. What is the ground? That on account of which we are justified. What is the matter? The same. Where then is the difference? To say, then, that faith is the matter of justification is to displace Christ’s righteousness as the grounds; and on the other hand, to admit Christ’s righteousness as its ground is to confess that faith cannot be its matter. Self-contradiction is lodged in the doctrine.

2. Faith is made our own righteousness–a personal, subjective obedience. It must therefore be our own work. But this contradicts both Scripture and the Arminian position itself; the former, because it declares that by works no man can be justified; the latter, because it denies faith to be a work.

There is a great principle here involved, which the Arminian theology utterly rejects, but which is absolutely necessary to the settlement of this question. It is, That we must possess—ourselves possess—a righteousness of works, which completely satisfies the requirements of the law, or else the law is dispensed with and sacrificed. There are only two ways, in which we can be possessed of such a righteousness: Either we must consciously work it out ourselves; or, another must work it out for us, and it must become ours by its being imputed to us. The Arminian holds that neither is possible; neither can we consciously work out a legal righteousness ourselves, nor can the legal righteousness wrought out by another be imputed to us so as to become ours. What then is his position? That: That while neither of these suppositions can be realised in fact, our faith or trust in the merits of Christ-—a faith or trust which is not itself a legal work or righteousness—is imputed to us in lieu of a legal righteousness, and God justifies us as believers, without our possessing any legal righteousness at all. Faith, then, which justifies, is according to his own statement not a legal righteousness. Now, to sum up: As, according to him, we have no legal righteousness, either as wrought out by ourselves, or as inputed to us, or as believing in Christ, we have no legal righteousness in any way; we are justified without having–possessing any legal righteousness. But this is impossible. God cannot pronounce us righteous unless, in some way, we are so.

The proofs of this position are given, under the first head, in which the answer of the Indifferentists is considered.

3. It makes faith a suppositious, constructive and unreal righteousness. It is not the righteousness which God’s law requires, but is accepted in the place of it as though it were. But God requires a real, substantive righteousness. Now, either that is Christ’s righteousness, or our own. Arminians deny that it is Christ’s righteousness which is imputed for justification. Therefore, according to them, it is our own. But by our own righteousness, real or unreal, shall no flesh be justified.

4. The reality of faith as an instrument or condition is destroyed. If not it is part of a real substantive righteousness; but that is denied. What of reality then is left to faith?

5. As an exercise of power to believe man’s will is made to produce it, undetermined by grace. How then are we justified by grace?

6. The Arminian view is inconsistent with the express language of Scripture.
Take the text: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.” Now that the righteousness mentioned here is the righteousness which justifies is so clear, that to deny it is to plunge into contradiction and absurdity. It cannot possibly be the rectitude of God; for that condemns the sinner. But if it be justifying righteousness, as, according to the Arminian, faith is our justifying righteousness, faith is said by Paul to be revealed from faith to faith! That construction of the Apostle’s language is scarcely possible.

So with other passages, this, for example: that I may “be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”

It is evident that faith cannot be the matter of justification. It cannot be the righteousness of God which is revealed to faith; and that righteousness along justifies. The Arminian denies the imputation of another’s righteousness. He affirms that faith is not a real, legal righteousness. He is therefore shut up to the infinite absurdity that God justifies one who has no real righteousness.

VI. The Answer of the Lutheran and Calvinist: “We may be justified and saved only on account of the righteousness of Christ–that is the vicarious obedience of Christ–the righteousness of another, imputed to us and received by faith alone.

It is of great consequence to decide aright the question, which is the “righteousness of God” spoken of in the text.

1. It cannot be intrinsic righteousness, or rectitude, of the divine nature. That is absurd.

2. It cannot be the rectoral righteousness of God—that by which He administers His moral government. This is equally absurd.

3. It cannot be faith, as was shown under the preceding head.

4. It cannot be God’s method of justification. This view is adopted by some Arminians, and by some Calvinists, as Dr. John Brown, in his Analytical Exposition of Romans. This violates the analogy of Scripture.

(1) Righteousness without works is said to be imputed (Rom. 4). It would be absurd to speak of a method of justification being imputed.

(2) The righteousness which is by the faith of Christ is contrasted with the righteousness which is one’s own (Phil. 3:9). There would be no meaning in the comparison of one’s personal righteousness with God’s method of justification.

(3) Our guilt imputed to Christ is contrasted with His righteousness imputed to us (II Cor. 5:21).

(4) Christ is made of God to us—righteousness.

(5) Christ has brought in everlasting righteousness.

(6) Christ is the Lord our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6).

5. The righteousness of God is the righteousness of Christ—the vicarious obedience of Christ to the precept and penalty of God’s law.

Scriptural proofs: Jer. 23:6. This is His name, whereby He shall be called. The Lord our Righteousness. He who has Christ has His righteousness. II Cor. 5:21. That we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Take the whole verse and the proof is irresistable. I Cor. 1:30. Christ Jesus who is made of God unto us . . . righteousness. Rom. 4:6. Blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness, without works. A righteousness to be real must consist of works; but as this does not of our works, it must of another works; even Christ’s. Phil. 3:9. The righteousness which is said to be a gift, is expressly said to be the righteousness of One—that is, of Christ; and then it is, further exegetically defined to be the obedience of one by which many are made righteous. This absolutely settles the case. As the sinful act of Adam the representative of his seed is imputed to them as in him theirs; so the obedience of Christ the representative of His seed is imputed to them as in Him theirs.

The Calvinistic doctrine of justification contains the following things:

(1) The ground and matter (or material cause) of justification. This is the vicarious righteousness of Christ imputed to the sinner by God.

(2) The constituent elements of justification. These are, first, pardon, or the non-imputation of guilt; secondly, the acceptance of the sinner’s person as righteous, and his investiture with a right and title to eternal life.

(3) The instrument or organ of justification. This is faith. It receives and rests upon the righteousness of Christ, which God imputes.

Taken generally, justification may be said to consist of three things: first, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness; secondly, the non-imputation of guilt, or pardon; thirdly, the acceptance of the person as righteous and the bestowal upon him of a right and title to eternal life. But taken strictly, justification is the non-imputation of guilt, or pardon, and the acceptance of the person as righteous and the bestowal upon him of a right and title to eternal life. The ground and the constituent elements ought not to be confounded. It is not: justification is the non-imputation of guilt and the imputation of righteousness, which would seem to be the natural antithesis. But first comes the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, as the ground, and then the elements or parts, of justification—namely, pardon and acceptance.

Faith is no part of justification. It simply receives the righteousness of Christ, offered as the ground of acceptance and relies upon it. It is the condition—as an indispensable duty—without which we cannot be acceptably justified. It is Emptiness filled with Christ’s Fulness. It is Impotence lying down on His Strength. It is no righteousness; it is no substitute for righteousness; it is not imputed as righteousness. It is counted to us simply as the act which apprehends Christ’s righteousness unto justification. All it does is to take what God gives—Christ and His righteousness.

Illustration: A wounded soldier with both arms shot off, lying on his back helpless, fed from a bowl in the hands of a Christian nurse–a ministering angel to him in his inability. The dying man’s receiving life.


There are only three conceivable suppositions as to justification:

Either, we may be justified without any righteousness.
Or, we may be justified on account of a personal and inherent righteousness.
Or, we may be justified on account of a vicarious and imputed righteousness.

To state them more briefly: Either, no righteousness; or, Our own righteousness; or, Another’s righteousness.

The first and second suppositions have been disproved. Therefore the third remains established.

The vicarious obedience of Jesus, our Substitute, to the precept and penalty of the divine law is the righteousness of God, which is revealed from faith to faith. It is fitly termed the righteousness of God, not only because Christ’s righteousness was provided, and is accepted, by God, but because it was wrought out by God Himself in the person of His Incarnate Son. It is God’s righteousness, because God produced it. This is imputed by God to the believing sinner, who had no share at all in its conscious production. In that sense, it is not his, but another’s righteousness. But as Christ was his Representative and Substitute, and His righteousness is imputed to the believer, in this sense, it becomes his. It is his in law, before the divine tribunal. God therefore is just in justifying him, since he has a perfect righteousness, such as the law demands and such as satisfies its claims. When the sinner by faith accepts Christ, with this righteousness, he is actually and consciously justified.

This righteousness is “antecedently and immediately” imputed to all the elect, in mass in the justification of Christ as their Federal Head and Representative, upon His resurrection and appearance in the heavens.

The application is obvious: There is one only way of justification and salvation. Believe, take Christ’s righteousness and be saved. Reject this justifying righteousness, and you are lost.

[The sermon reproduced here today comes from a rare publication titled Old Paths. That publication was issued by the Rev. John Cavitt Blackburn, grandson of the Rev. John L. Girardeau.  The PCA Historical Center has among its collections this one sermon, clipped from volume 3, no. 5 of Old Paths. Regrettably, to date we have not been able to locate other issues of that publication.]

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