The Apostle (that we may in short clear the words, upon which we are to ground our discourse) in this verse eleven, after other arguments, formerly adduced to prove the thesis, which he laid down Chapter 2, verse 16, to wit, that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ; he brings another argument from Scripture, after he had again repeated the one half of the grand thesis, by which the other is sufficiently understood, and more emphatically included in the probation, or testimony of Scripture adduced, saying,Justification, Brown says, is simply that state of a person who is accepted before God as righteous. There is, in his mind, little dispute about the definition of that term - nor should there be. The Shorter Catechism defines justification as
Galatians 3:11 But that no man is Justified by the Law, in the sight of God, is evident; for the just shall live by faith.
He doth not explain what is meant by that word, Justified; but presupposes that there was no doubt, concerning the true meaning thereof, among those, with whom he had to do, in this dispute: as indeed none, that consider what is the constant use thereof, in the Old Testament, (well known to the Jewish Teachers) yea and in the New Testament also, can doubt of its true import, supposing that it signifies an inward renovation, or infusion of holiness; and so make it the same with Sanctification. But as no man, acquainted with the Scriptures, and with what is said of justification in them, can be ignorant of its right meaning; so every man, exercised with the sense of his own natural condition, and of the curse of the Law, under which he feels himself lying, according to what is here said, in the foregoing verse, readily understands, what it is to be justified and freed from that curse and sentence of condemnation; and so made free from the wrath that he is liable unto, because of the broken law of God: so that we need say no more of it here. (pp. 5-6, John Brown of Wamphray, A Life of Justification Opened)
an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins,and accepteth us as righteous in His sight,only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us,and received by faith alone.(Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.33)It is the last phrase in the answer to WSC33 - "the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone" that was being contested in Brown's day, and would be the subject of his treatise.
Brown's contention in this treatise will be that justification is apart from anything in the believer, or anything done by the believer; all works - of every kind - are rejected as any ground whatsoever for our being declared righteous in God's sight. Some in Brown's day, as in ours, insist that the reference made in Galatians 2:16, wherein Paul writes that none shall be justified by works of the Law, is a reference to works of the Ceremonial Law only - and that other works of righteousness are a proper ground for our being declared just. Brown addresses this in the introduction, writing:
But what Law is this, by which, he denies, that any can be justified? The aforementioned expressions do sufficiently clear, what Law he means, even all that Law, that was the rule of righteousness, and was prescribed of God as such; and not the Ceremonial Law only. (p. 7, John Brown of Wamphray, A Life of Justification Opened)As Brown will spend much of his treatise describing, it is imputation alone - and imputation of the perfect righteousness of Christ alone is the determining factor. Brown's teaching is that perfect, spotless righteousness must be ours if we are to be declared just. Near the end of his introduction, Brown sums up the nature and content of the Gospel:
Where we see, that this Scripture confirms the whole nature and contents of the Gospel, that is, that the righteousness of God, i.e. the righteousness, which only will stand in God’s court, and be accepted of him, in order to the justifying of sinners; and which is the righteousness of one, who is God, is revealed from faith to faith; that is to say, is held forth to be embraced by sinners through faith, first and last; and this righteousness, thus embraced and laid hold on by faith, is the only ground of the life of justification: so that believers their living by faith, their faith lays hold on the righteousness of God, revealed in the Gospel, as the only ground of their life. (p.7, John Brown of Wamphray, A Life of Justification Opened)On what ground do we stand? If it is the ground of anything in us - any work, any "goodness", anything in ourselves - if our eternal state is dependent on us in any way whatsoever, then we are lost. The only ground is the perfect righteousness of Christ - a sure and solid ground upon which our hope must be founded if it is to be sure.