The truth of justification is ever solid, sure, dependable, an anchor for the soul, the hope of those to whom the gospel has indeed come as good news of great joy.
The doctrine of justification is a different matter. It is subject to the corroding influences of wayward hearts, misrepresentation, reinterpretation, confusion, and misunderstanding. The doctrine, as received by the church, ever stands in need of clear definition, bold proclamation, and the reverent submission of lost souls before God who need to see in this truth the only hope of being able as sinners to stand before his judgment.
It must be preserved from human error and handed down from generation to generation. This is the responsibility that belongs to the church today and concerning which it must prove faithful. As it is handed down it must, by the grace of God, be received not merely in form but in its power, not by the mind only but as it touches the conscience, and with a wholehearted trust in Christ alone.
What the great Princetonian Charles Hodge affirmed in the 1840s must be confessed, believed and preached today, tomorrow, and until the Lord Christ our righteousness returns in glory:
The doctrine of the atonement for which we contend as the distinguishing and essential doctrine of the gospel, is:Quoted in Hart & Muether, Seeking a Better Country, p. 139
1. That sin for its own sake deserves the wrath and curse of God
2. That God is just, immutably determined, from the excellence of his nature, to punish sin
3. That out of his sovereign and infinite love, in order to redeem us from the law, that is, from its demands and curse, he sent his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, who in his own person fulfilled these demands, and endured that curse in our stead. That his righteousness, or merit, thus wrought out, is imputed to every one that believes, to his justification before God.
This is the doctrine of the church catholic, overlaid, corrupted, and made of none effect, in the church of Rome; disembarrassed, reproduced, and exhibited as the doctrine of the Reformation; in manifold forms since opposed or rejected, but ever virtually embraced and trusted in by every sincere child of God.