The New Perspective on Paul advocated by authors such as N. T. Wright has caused intrigue and concern in the church over the last few decades. It is a view that considers the Apostle Paul’s teaching to be in general agreement with first century Judaism’s idea of salvation, in which a man’s personal works contribute to his acceptance before God. Paul’s quarrel with the law in Epistles like Galatians was chiefly to do with Jewish pride, a false view of their national status and other ethnocentric tendencies. The question that Paul was considering with regard to justification in such places was not so much “How can a man be saved?”, but “How can a man be, or know that he is, in the covenant people of God?” Essentially therefore, the New Perspective makes the doctrine of justification less to do with soteriology and more to do with ecclesiology. Wright has also questioned whether it is biblical to say that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer, as he cannot find explicit evidence for such a judicial declaration in the Bible.
There are a number of excellent biblical analyses of the New Perspective but one that has gone under the radar is a 2005 republication of Puritan Obadiah Grew’s, entitled, The LORD our Righteousness. While it is obviously not a specific critique of New Perspectivism, it is a clear positive statement of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. For this reason, it was published with the subtitle, The Old Perspective on Paul. Randall Pederson, who prefaces the work with a short life of the author, says, “this treatise is especially useful for the new millennium, when so called Reformed people want to parley with Rome and jumble faith with works (a feat that the Apostle Paul would most certainly shun).”
While the book is short, it is filled with theological instruction which is applied throughout. It is written in a warm, eloquent, yet simple style, and while the language is recognizably seventeenth century, the work is more readable than many other works dating from the same period. All this serves to make it immensely practical and allows us to commend it unreservedly to all.
The publisher’s blurb on the back cover states, “Since the Reformation, Protestants have felt secure in the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ as their only hope of standing confidently before God. But now even that doctrine is under attack, and that from other Protestants. The importance of this doctrine compelled the Apostle Paul to tell the Galatians that any deviation from it was ‘another Gospel.’”
Grew begins by stating his doctrine, “The Lord Jesus Christ is the LORD our Righteousness,” and then proceeds to show that before Christ could be made the righteousness of sinners, he must first be made sin for them (2 Cor. 5:21). The guilt of their sins were imputed or legally reckoned to be his and. by this imputation. Grew says, “Christ became the greatest sinner in the world,” yet “he did not meddle with our corruption.” He remained “holy, harmless and undefiled, separate from sinners.” In this way, the Savior voluntarily took our guilt, willingly obligated himself to our punishment, and in time he bore unmitigated wrath on their behalf.
Christ dealt with the guilt of our sin by taking the punishment that the law demanded. However, to be accepted before God, the righteousness of the law must be fulfilled in us. The Savior addressed this need by perfectly fulfilling the law in human nature. “Christ,” says Grew, “does that which we could not do, that is, fulfil the law for us. And he also does that which the law could not do, which was justify us.” God is therefore just and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus, because “he [God] finds Christ and Christ finds righteousness for a sinner.”
This righteousness is the obedience of the mediator, Jesus Christ, in human nature. It is referred to in Scripture as “the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21), but it is not the essential righteousness of the second person of the Trinity. For the righteousness that justifies is also the obedience of one man, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). While not the essential righteousness of God, it is a transcendent righteousness, infinite and eternal in virtue and called by Daniel “everlasting righteousness” (Dan. 9:24).
In the justification of a sinner, God is not moved by anything outside himself. “The grand and impulsive cause,” says Grew, “is the free grace and favour of God.” Grace and love moved God to elect a multitude of sinners to salvation and to send his Son to pay the ransom for their sin, and that same people are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). If one should argue against this freeness by pointing to the payment of a price between God and Christ, then Grew responds, “but betwixt God and us and Christ and us, all is free; it is a free gift.”
But how can a man obtain this justification? Paul answers, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Chapter seven of Grew’s work is entitled, The sinner’s part in making Christ’s Righteousness his, and he asserts, “Faith is the great and only instrument in man that God is pleased to use in transplanting Christ’s righteousness.” This is called in Scripture, “the faith of Christ” and “the faith of God,” he continues, “because Christ and His righteousness is the object of it,”’ and, “God and His power only is the author of it.” This believing is intended in all those phrases in Scripture of men’s “looking upon Christ, receiving Christ, coming to Christ, and eating and drinking Christ etc.”
As for the question, When are we justified? Grew notes that some will say we are justified in God’s decree before we believe, that is, from eternity. He then counters, “we were elected to be justified, yes, but to be justified by faith and not before. We were redeemed before we believed. Our faith gives nothing to the value of Christ’s ransom with God; but it is faith that makes this ransom of Christ’s to be mine.”
Still it is not enough to leave this doctrine at our being justified by faith. Rome believes this, but adds our works as well, and the New Perspective appears to take us in the same direction. It was the contention of Paul and the Reformers that a man is justified by faith alone. Referring to Rome’s inclusion of a sinner’s inherent grace and merit toward his justification, Grew writes, “This leaven or doctrine of the papists, deserves to be exploded by the Church forever,” and as we make our way through his treatise, he detonates one blast after another to his intended end.
The righteousness that justifies a sinner is not in himself, because “where there is inherent sin, there cannot be inherent righteousness able to justify, because it is evident that it is imperfect righteousness.” Furthermore, “the best works of nature cannot justify because they are not spiritually good…though good in their matter, they may be very bad in their manner and ends.” Our repenting cannot be counted a ground of our justification. “Sorrow for sin may help bring a sinner to Christ’s righteousness, but you must lay your hands on Christ your sacrifice…” While faith justifies only insofar “as it goes out of us and carries us out of ourselves, and as it lays hold on another righteousness than our own within us, namely Christ’s obedience and blood in their merit. . . A man is not justified because of faith but by it; not for it, as a cause of, but by it as an instrument in justification… not as meritorious of it, but as instrumental in it.”
What use then should we make of such a wonderful scheme of salvation? Grew concludes. first of all with a use of lamentation, because so many being ignorant of this righteousness still seek to establish their own. Second, a use of exhortation to the unconverted to seek this righteousness and no other; that they seek it in the right way (by imputation), as it is offered of free grace, counting all but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Finally there is a use of instruction because, in this doctrine, we have cause for everlasting thankfulness. We conclude with Grew, “Oh let this doctrine of Christ’s imputed righteousness feed us with admiration that the Lord should give his dear Son this name ‘The LORD our righteousness,’” and again, “Now, if we do not love God and Christ for this righteousness, what will we love Him for?”