Taken from MORNING THOUGHTS by Octavius Winslow; REFORMATION HERITAGE BOOKS
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood. —Romans 3:24–25
By a change of place with the church, Christ becomes the “LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and we are “made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). There is the transfer of sin to the innocent, and, in return, there is the transfer of righteousness to the guilty. In this method of justification, no violence whatsoever is done to the moral government of God. So far from a shade obscuring its glory, that glory beams forth with an effulgence which must have remained forever veiled but for the redemption of man by Christ. God never appears so like Himself as when He judges a sinner and determines his standing before Him on the ground of that satisfaction to His law rendered by the Son of God in place of the guilty. Then He appears infinitely holy, yet infinitely gracious; infinitely just, yet infinitely merciful. Love, as if it had long been panting for an outlet, now leaps forth and embraces the sinner, while justice, holiness, and truth gaze on the wondrous spectacle with infinite complacence and delight.
Will we not pause and bestow a thought of admiration and gratitude on Him who was constrained to stand in our place of degradation and woe that we might stand in His place of righteousness and glory? What wondrous love! What stupendous grace, that He should have been willing to take on Him our sin, curse, and woe! The exchange to Him was so humiliating! He could only raise us by stooping Himself. He could free us only by wearing our chains. He could deliver us from death only by dying Himself. He could invest us with the spotless robe of His pure righteousness only by wrapping around Himself the leprous mantle of our sin and curse. Oh, how precious He ought to be to every believing heart! What affection, what service, what sacrifice, and what devotion He deserves at our hands! Lord, incline my heart to yield itself supremely to Thee!
But in what way does this great blessing of justification become ours? In other words, what is the instrument by which the sinner is justified? The answer is at hand, in the text: “through faith in His blood.” Faith, and faith alone, makes this righteousness of God ours. “By him all that believe are justified” (Acts 13:39). Why is it solely and exclusively by faith? The answer is at hand, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace” (Rom. 4:16). Were justification through any other medium than by believing, then the perfect freeness of the blessing would not be secured. “Justified freely by his grace”—that is, gratuitously and for absolutely nothing. Not only was God in no sense whatever bound to justify the sinner, but the sovereignty of His law and sovereignty of His love alike demanded that, in extending to the sinner the greatest favor of His government, He should do so only on the principle of a perfect act of grace on the part of the Giver and as a perfect gratuity on the part of the recipient, having nothing to pay. Therefore, whatever is associated with faith in the matter of the sinner’s justification, whether it be baptism, another rite, or any work or condition performed by the creature, renders the act entirely void and of no effect. The justification of the believing sinner is as free as the God of love and grace can make it.