Monday, December 28, 2009

John Murray: Why is justification by faith alone?

John Murray brilliantly summarizes why justification is by faith alone:

There are apparent reasons why justification is by faith and by faith alone. First, it is altogether consonant with the fact that it is by grace. “Therefore it is of faith, in order that it might be according to grace” (Rom. 4:16). Faith and grace are wholly complementary. Second, faith is entirely congruous with the fact that the ground of justification is the righteousness of Christ. The specific quality of faith is that it receives and rests upon another, in this case Christ and his righteousness. No other grace, however important it may be in connection with salvation as a whole, has this as its specific and distinguishing quality. We are justified therefore by faith. Third, justification by faith and faith alone exemplifies the freeness and richness of the gospel of grace. If we were to be justified by works, in any degree or to any extent, then there would be no gospel at all. For what works of righteousness can a condemned, guilty and depraved sinner offer to God? That we are justified by faith advertises the grand article of the gospel of grace that we are not justified by works of law. Faith stands in antithesis to works; there can be no amalgam of these two (cf. Gal. 5:4). That we are justified by faith is what engenders hope in a convicted sinner’s heart. He knows he has nothing to offer. And this truth assures him that he needs nothing to offer, yea, it assures him that it is an abomination to God to presume to offer. We are justified by faith and therefore simply by entrustment of ourselves, in all our dismal hopelessness, to the Saviour whose righteousness is undefiled and undefilable. Justification by faith alone lies at the heart of the gospel and it is the article that makes the lame man leap as an hart and the tongue of the dumb sing. Justification is that by which grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life; it is for the believer alone and it is for the believer by faith alone. It is the righteousness of God from faith to faith (Rom. 1:17; cf. 3:22). (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 130-131; quoted by Brian Schwertley in his refutation of the Auburn Avenue theology)

Gordon Clark: Justification is acquittal (pardon) and acceptance (active favor) before God

Gordon Clark explains that justification is more than pardon or acquittal; it involves acceptance or adoption by God, a declaration that we are not merely "innocent" but, indeed, "righteous" by the imputation of Christ's righteousness through faith:

It has been necessary to insist that justification is a judicial act of acquittal, for only so can salvation be by grace. However, the ordinary idea of acquittal does not exhaust the Biblical concept of justification. Section I also says that God pardons the sins of those who are justified and accepts their persons as righteous. Perhaps the idea of pardon needs no explanation, for its meaning is easily understood; but the idea of acceptance needs to be distinguished from both pardon and acquittal. The governor of a state may pardon a convicted official without restoring him to favor and to his previous office. Appointments to office, if honest, would depend on the future conduct of the pardoned man. But it is otherwise with Biblical justification; for if favor with God depended on our future conduct, eventual salvation would be based on our works—clearly contrary to Scripture—and we could never have an assurance of success. When our position depends on Christ’s merits instead of our own, we need have no fear. [Gordon Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe? The Westminster Confession Yesterday and Today (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1965), 124-125; quoted by Brian Schwertley in his refutation of the Auburn Avenue theology]

John Calvin: Keeping the law perfectly is impossible

The following helps to demonstrate, in the words of Brian Schwertley, that "Both Calvin and Luther believed that personal obedience has nothing to do with our justification":

With regard to the Ten Commandments we ought likewise to heed Paul’s warning: “Christ is the end of the law unto salvation to every believer” [Rom. 10:4p.]. Another: Christ is the Spirit [II Cor. 3:17] who quickens the letter that of itself is death-dealing [II Cor. 3:6]. By the former statement he means that righteousness is taught in vain by the commandments until Christ confers it by free imputation and by the Spirit of regeneration. For this reason, Paul justly calls Christ the fulfillment or end of the law. For it would be of no value to know what God demands of us if Christ did not succor those laboring and oppressed under its intolerable yoke and burden. Elsewhere he teaches that ‘the law was put forward because of transgressions’ [Gal. 3:19]; that is, in order to humble men, having convinced them of their own condemnation…..At this point the feebleness of the law shows itself. Because observance of the law is found in none of us, we are excluded from the promises of life, and fall back into the mere curse. I am telling not only what happens but what must happen. For since the teaching of the law is far above human capacity, a man may indeed view from afar above human capacity, a man may indeed view from afar the proffered promises, yet he cannot derive any benefit from them. Therefore this thing alone remains: that from the goodness of the promises he should the better judge his own misery, while with the hope of salvation cut off he thinks himself threatened with certain death…We have said that the observance of the law is impossible. (John T. McNeill, ed. Ford Lewis Battles, trans. of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960], 1:351-353; quoted by Brian Schwertley in his refutation of the Auburn Avenue theology)

Brian Schwertley: Faith is self-renouncing and must look to Christ alone and therefore be alone, apart from works, regarding justification before God

Brian Schwertley explains why faith alone is so important -- because faith cannot receive and rest in Christ alone unless it is self-renouncing, that is, unless it rejects all attempts at inherent righteousness through good (i.e., covenantally faithful or law-keeping) deeds:

Paul teaches that only faith in Christ obtains the perfect righteousness we need for salvation because faith rests on and receives another—Christ and His righteousness. Saving faith is self-renouncing because it looks away from ourselves and our own works and obtains everything in Jesus. Therefore, faith, as it relates to our justification before God, must stand alone. If the faith that justifies is not held in a strict isolation from our own works then it is not a self-renouncing faith. This means that our good works which come after faith must always be viewed as fruits of faith, as demonstrative of saving faith. (Brian Schwertley, A Refutation of the Auburn Avenue's Rejection of Justification by Faith Alone)

Thomas Boston: Law-keeping will never avail as a ground for justifying righteousness before God

Thomas Boston explains, as summarized by Brian Schwertley, "why personal law-keeping or covenant faithfulness can have nothing to do with our justification":

1. Thy obedience must be perfect, in respect of the principle of it; that is, thy soul, the principle of action, must be perfectly pure, and altogether without sin. For the law requires all moral perfection; not only actual, but habitual: and so condemns original sin; impurity of nature as well as of actions. Now, if thou canst bring this to pass, thou shalt be able to answer that question of Solomon’s, so as never one of Adam’s posterity could yet answer it, ‘Who can say, I have made my heart clean?’ Prov. xx. 9. But if thou canst not, the very want of this perfection is sin, and so lays thee open to the curse, and cuts thee off from life. Yea, it makes all thine actions, even thy best actions, sinful: ‘For who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?’ Job xiv. 4. And dost thou think by sin, to help thyself out of sin and misery? 2. Thy obedience must also be perfect in parts. It must be as broad as the whole law of God: if thou lackest one thing thou art undone; for the law denounces the curse on him that continues not in every thing written therein, Gal 3:10. Thou must give internal and external obedience to the whole law; keep all the commands in heart and life. If thou breakest any one of them, that will ensure thy ruin. A vain thought, or idle word, will still shut thee up under the curse. 3. It must be perfect in respect of degrees; as was the obedience of Adam, while he stood in his innocence. This the law requires, and will accept of no less, Matt. Xxii. 37, ‘thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’ If one degree of that love, required by the law, be wanting; if each part of thy obedience be not brought up to the greatest height commanded; that want is a breach of the law, and so leaves then still under the curse. A man may bring as many buckets of water to a house that is on fire, as he is able to carry; and yet it may be consumed, and will be so, if he bring not as many as will quench the fire. Even so, although thou shouldest do what thou art able, in keeping the commands, if thou fail in the least degree of obedience, which the law enjoins, thou art certainly ruined for ever; unless thou take hold of Christ, renouncing all thy righteousness, as filthy rags. See Rom. x. 5; Gal. iii. 10. Lastly, It must be perpetual, as the man Christ’s obedience was, who always did the things which pleased the Father; for the tenor of the law is, “Cursed is he that continueth not in all things written in the law, to do them.” Hence, though Adam’s obedience was, for awhile, absolutely perfect; yet because at length he tripped in one point, viz. in eating the forbidden fruit, he fell under the curse of the law. If a man were to live a dutiful subject to his prince, till the close of his days, and then conspire against him, he must die for his treason. Even so, though thou shouldst all the time of thy life, live in perfect obedience to the law of God, and yet at the hour of death only entertain a vain thought, or pronounce an idle word, that idle word, or vain thought, would blot out all thy former righteousness, and ruin thee; namely, in this way in which thou art seeking to recover thyself.

Now such is the obedience which thou must perform, if thou wouldst recover thyself in the way of the law. (Thomas Boston, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State [Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, n.d.], 120-121; quoted by Brian Schwertley in his refutation of the Auburn Avenue theology)

William Hendricksen on the purpose of God's Law: To Show Man His Inability

William Hendricksen asserts that the Law was given to set forth God's unchanging, perfect requirements that must be fulfilled in exhaustive detail -- ultimately, to demonstrate to man his total inability and his absolute need to rely upon Christ and His righteousness alone for right standing before God:

Now what was really the purpose of God’s law? God gave his law in order that man, by nature a child of wrath, and thus lying under the curse (Gal. 3:13), as definitely declared in Deut. 27:26; John 3:36; Eph. 3:2, might be reminded not only of his unchanged obligation to live in perfect harmony with this law (Lev. 19:2), but also of his total inability to fulfill this obligation (Rom. 7:24). Thus this law would serve as a custodian to conduct the sinner to Christ (Gal. 3:24; cf. Rom. 7:25), in order that, having been saved by grace, he might, in principle, live the life of gratitude. That life is one of freedom in harmony with God’s law (Gal. 5:13, 14). However, the Judaizers were perverting this true purpose of the law. They were relying on law-works as a means of salvation. On that basis they would fail forever, and Deut. 27:26, when interpreted in that framework, pronounced God’s heavy and unmitigated curse upon them; yes, curse, not blessing. The law condemns, works wrath (Rom. 4:15; 5:16, 18). (William Hendricksen, Galatians and Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967, 68), 1:126-127; quoted by Brian Schwertley in his refutation of the Auburn Avenue theology).

John Stott: We only have two options for righteous standing before God

John Stott explains the two options -- our righteousness, which is like filthy rags; or God's imputed righteousness -- for the ground upon which to stand before Him:

All human beings, who know that God is righteous and they are not (since ‘there is no-one righteous, not even one’, 3:10), naturally look around for a righteousness which might fit them to stand in God’s presence. There are only two possible options before us. The first is to attempt to build or establish our own righteousness, by our good works and religious observances. But this is doomed to failure, since in God’s sight even ‘all our righteous acts are like filthy rags’. The other way is to submit to God’s righteousness by receiving it from him as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. In verses 5-6 Paul calls the first the righteousness that is by the law and the second the righteousness that is by faith. (John Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994), 281; quoted by Brian Schwertley in his refutation of the Auburn Avenue theology)

Brian Schwertley: Luke 18:9-14 clearly demonstrates a faith/works antithesis in justification

Christ our Savior speaks in Luke 18:9-14 --

[9] And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: [10] Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. [11] The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. [12] I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. [13] And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. [14] I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Brian Schwertley comments on the implications of this passage regarding covenantal faithfulness contrasted with self-renouncing faith, with respect to justification:

Note how Jesus (like Paul after Him) contrasts two radically different views of biblical religion. The Pharisee boasts about his covenantal faithfulness; about his own subjective righteousness; about his faithfulness to God’s law. The tax collector, on the other hand, understands that his works merit nothing, that he is a sinner and thus casts himself entirely upon God’s mercy. He understands that he must receive everything from God.

Note also that Christ is discussing two religious Jews who were at the Temple praying. These men were both covenantal sons, not slaves. This means that Jesus condemns a reliance on covenantal faithfulness or keeping the moral law as a means of approaching God in the same manner as Paul, His beloved disciple. Any attempt to circumvent the import of this passage by looking to the “identity markers” theory is refuted in two ways. First, the Pharisee relied on the moral law for righteousness or individual salvation. Second, both men were Jews. Attitudes regarding the status of the Gentiles have nothing to do with this parable. Once again, we see that the faith that justifies is a self-renouncing faith that looks to the righteousness of another. The faith/works antithesis in the sphere of justification that was and is one of the pillars of Lutheranism and the Reformed faith must be maintained. It is thoroughly biblical. (Brian Schwertley, A Refutation of the Auburn Avenue Theology's Rejection of Justification by Faith Alone)

Martin Luther: We are intrinsically sinners and extrinsically justified by God's declaration of the imputation of Christ's righteousness

Martin Luther explains that we are at the same time justified (right with God by His gracious legal declaration) and sinners in ourselves ("Simul Iustus et Peccator"):

The saints are intrinsically always sinners, therefore they are always extrinsically justified; but the hypocrites are intrinsically always righteous, therefore they are extrinsically always sinners….Hence, we are extrinsically righteous in so far as we are righteous not in and from ourselves and not in virtue of our works but only by God ’s regarding us so. For inasmuch as the saints are always aware of their sin and implore God for the merciful gift of his righteousness, they are for this very reason also always reckoned righteous by God. Therefore they are before themselves and in truth unrighteous, but before God they are righteous because he reckons them so on account of this confession of their sin; they are sinners in fact, but by virtue of the reckoning of the merciful God they are righteous. (Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, 124-125 as quoted by Samuel E. Waldron, “The Meaning of Sola Fide for Luther” in Reformed Baptist Theological Review [Palmdale, CA: January 2004] Vol. 1, No. 1, 100; quoted by Brian Schwertley in his refutation of the Auburn Avenue theology)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Brian Schwertley: The covenant of works has a concept of merit, but not of intrinsic value forcing God's favor

Brian Schwertley provides an important point regarding merit and the covenant of works -- that God will faithfully honor the promises He has made to reward perfect and perpetual (not mere imperfect yet loyal) law-keeping:

The covenant of works does have the concept of merit, but it is not merit in the sense that our own works have intrinsic value before God and thus force God’s favor; but, merit in the sense that God will honor a perfect and perpetual obedience because He has promised to do so. God has obligated Himself in the covenant of works to reward a perfect and perpetual obedience with glorified life. Christ is the only person who ever lived that perfectly and perpetually obeyed God. Thus, according to the terms of the covenant of works Jesus merited glorified life for His people. On the basis of Christ’s righteousness, believing sinners are justified. They are not merely forgiven by the Savior’s blood but declared righteous on the basis of the imputation of our Lord’s righteousness to their account.


[There is a] radical difference between the covenant with Adam and the covenant of grace. Adam did not need a surety, a mediator or a covenant head to live perfectly and die in his place. Adam did not have any guilt and he did not have a sinful nature. Adam did not need the special assistance of the Holy Spirit to lead a holy life before the fall. Adam as a holy, righteous being had the ability to obey the covenant of works. As a holy, righteous creature he should have obeyed it. But unlike Adam before the fall, we are fallen, guilty, polluted, depraved and totally unable to do anything in and of ourselves that pleases God or meets the requirement (both externally and internally with perfect motives) of God’s holy law. (Brian Schwertley, A Refutation of the Auburn Avenue Theology's Rejection of Justification by Faith Alone)

Johannes G. Vos: The Covenant of Works parallels the Covenant of Grace

Johannes G. Vos clearly articulates the importance of the covenant of works as parallel to the way of salvation through Christ (the covenant of grace), which makes sense of the federal (covenantal) headship of Adam and Christ, respectively, in Romans 5 (cf. I Cor. 15:21-22, 45-47):

Why is this doctrine of the covenant of works very important to us as Christians? Because it is parallel to the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. Just as the first Adam brought sin and death, so Christ, the second Adam, brings us righteousness and eternal life. Adam was our representative in the covenant of works; Jesus Christ is our representative in the covenant of grace. Those who reject the doctrine of the covenant of works have no right to claim the blessings of the covenant of grace, for the two are parallel, and stand or fall together, as is proved by Romans 5. (Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002], 51-52; quoted by Brian Schwertley in his refutation of the Auburn Avenue theology)

Gordon Clark: Saving faith is understanding and assent

Gordon Clark explains that saving faith is understanding and assenting to propositions concerning the person and work of Christ, including His work of atonement:

The usual evangelical analysis of belief separates it into three parts: notitia, assensus, and fiducia-or understanding, assent, and trust. Perhaps even theologians who use this analysis might omit fiducia if they confined themselves to belief as such; for in a colloquial manner a person who believes that Columbus discovered America in 1492, or in 1374, is not taken as an example of trust. Yet is he not actually an example of confidence?


We should not “rest in,” i.e. be satisfied with, the single proposition, “There is but one God.” This proposition even the devils accept [cf. James 2:19]. But for salvation men must not only accept the monotheistic proposition, but also other propositions relating to the Atonement.


One slogan is, “No creed but Christ.” Another expression, with variations from person to person, is, “Faith is not belief in a proposition, but trust in a person.”

Though this may sound very pious, it is nonetheless destructive of Christianity. Back in the twenties, before the Methodist Church became totally apostate, a liberal in their General Conference opposed theological precision by some phrase centering on Christ, such as, Christ is all we need. A certain pastor, a remnant of the evangelical wing of the church, had the courage to take the floor and ask the pointed question, “which Christ?” ... A person can be identified only by a set of propositions.


Thomas Manton was a Puritan of the seventeenth century, and when he speaks of “the former age,” he is not referring to apostate Romanism, but to the Reformers themselves. Hence he is a witness that they defined fait[h] has an assent to the promise of the Gospel.


The former age never said that true believing, or false believing either, is an act of the understanding only. The former age, and much of the later ages too, specify assent in addition to understanding. They make this specification with the deliberate aim of not restricting belief to understanding alone. One can understand and lecture on the philosophy of Spinoza, but this does not mean that the lecturer assents to it. Belief is the act of assenting to something understood. But understanding alone is not belief in what is understood.


The crux of the difficulty with the popular analysis of faith into notitia (understanding), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust), is that fiducia comes from the same root as fides (faith). Hence this popular analysis reduces to the obviously absurd definition that faith consists of understanding, assent, and faith. Something better than this tautology must be found. (Gordon Clark, Saving Faith)

Gordon Clark: Saving faith is assent to the propositions of Scripture concerning Jesus Christ, our Savior

Gordon Clark explains the nature of saving faith as assent to the propositions of Scripture concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who bore the sins of His people when He shed His blood and died on the cross, and whose righteousness is imputed to us when we believe by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit:

In view of the clear and repeated assertions of the Gospel it is strange that anyone who considers himself conservative or even orthodox should minimize faith or belief and try to substitute for it some emotional or mystic experience.


It is likely that Romanticism thrives on inborn tendencies plus an inability to think clearly, especially to think clearly about one’s own (I shall not say experience) mental life. These people do indeed have beliefs. Many of them believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that Christ’s death was a substitutionary sacrifice. But because they have studied so little, because their theology is limited to a few fundamentals, and because they assume the detailed and onerous duties of pastors and evangelists where their limited theology is inadequate, they conclude from the meagerness of their thinking that thinking and believing are inadequate. Combined with this is their failure to notice the effect of their few beliefs on their own conduct.

As a man thinks, so is he. Out of the heart - and as we shall see some pages farther on, heart means mind or intellect - are the issues of life. If a man says he has faith, but does not have works, we tend to conclude that he has no faith. Conduct, particularly habitual conduct, is the best criterion fallible men have for judging hypocrisy. What a man believes, really believes, even if he says the contrary, will show in his living. Therefore, these popular evangelists show by their conduct that they believe in some things. Their intellectual capital controls their actions so far as their capital reaches. But because they are undercapitalized, and because they have too little intellectual endowment to recognize how intellectual beliefs control them, they minimize theology and take refuge in Romanticism.


There is no antithesis between believing Jesus as a person and believing what he says. ... In both cases [John 4:21 and 5:26] the object of belief is not a person without words, but definitely the words of the person.


In literary usage one may say that one believes a person, but this means that one believes what the person says. The immediate and proper object of belief or faith is a truth (or falsehood), a meaning, the intellectual content of some words; and this intellectual content is in logic called a proposition.


To believe a person means precisely to believe what he says.


To be sure, a random intellectual belief of an unregenerate man will not save him. The difficulty lies, not in belief as such, but in the fact that an unregenerate man is incapable of believing the necessary propositions. ... It is regeneration to eternal life that causes the intellectual belief. Thus acceptance of the propositions is a mark of having been regenerated and of having eternal life.


Be sure to note that the Apostle John never mentions a mystic experience. He never says that one must get behind the text to something other than the words or doctrine. He repeatedly says, if you believe, you are saved. Belief is the whole thing. Indeed John 20:31 asserts this very thing in stating the purpose for writing the Gospel: that you may believe the proposition that Jesus is the Messiah and that believing this proposition (and not in some other way) you may have life by his name.

The next question is, what does it mean to believe? This question is usually asked in Latin rather than in Greek, and so phrased the question becomes, What is faith? Various theologians have offered psychological analyses of faith. The most common Protestant analysis is that fides is a combination of notitia, assensus, and fiducia. If these last three Latin words can be explained, then one may compare fides and pistis or pisteuoo to see if they are synonymous. If these Latin terms cannot be clearly defined, then they do not constitute an analysis of faith....

What better conclusion can there be other than the express statements of the Bible? Permit just one outside of John. Romans 10:9-10 say, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your mind that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved." There is no mystical getting behind, under, or above the text; the only consent there is, is belief in the propositions. Believe these, with understanding, and you shall be saved. Anyone who says otherwise contradicts the repeated rheemata [words or propositions] of Scripture. (Gordon Clark, What is Saving Faith)

John Robbins: The blasphemous charge of antinomianism against Paul's doctrine of justification demonstrates he taught justification apart from works

John Robbins explains the separation -- in history and in modern times -- between those who teach salvation by faith alone and those who heretically and damnably add works:

The Bible clearly and emphatically teaches that a sinner is saved by belief of the Gospel alone, "apart from the deeds of the law." That is why the blasphemous charge of antinomianism arose against the Gospel in the first place. If Paul and the other apostles had taught a false gospel of faith plus obedience as the way of salvation, the charge of antinomianism would never have been brought against them. Neither Rome nor many so-called "Reformed" theologians seem to understand that salvation is not a result of good works; good works are a result of salvation. It was that difference that divided the Christians from the Romanists in the sixteenth century, and it is that difference that divides the Christians from the Romanists in the twenty-first century. (John Robbins, R.C. Sproul on Saving Faith)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Joel R. Beeke: Justification is extrinsic, and sanctification is intrinsic

Joel R. Beeke explains the important distinction between justification and sanctification:

Justification is extrinsic to the sinner saved; sanctification is intrinsic. Justification declares the sinner righteous and holy in Christ; sanctification makes the sinner righteous and holy as fruit from Christ. Justification removes the guilt of sin, having to do with legal status; sanctification subdues the love and power of sin, having to do with spiritual condition. Justification restores to God’s favor; sanctification restores to His image. Justification is a complete and perfect act, a once-and-for-all act in its essence; sanctification is a progressive but incomplete process, not perfected until death. Justification grants the redeemed the title for heaven and the boldness to enter; sanctification gives them the meetness for heaven and the preparation necessary to enjoy it. Justification gives the right of salvation; sanctification gives the beginning of salvation. By grace the justified are what they are in justification; by grace they work what they work in sanctification. Justification is the criminal pardoned; sanctification, the patient healed. (Dr. Joel R. Beeke, “The Relation of Faith to Justification" in Justification by Faith Alone [Soli Deo Gloria, 1995, pp. 82-83])

Theodore Beza: Taking hold on Christ by faith produces fruit within us

Theodore Beza explains the work of the Spirit in our hearts and fruits in our lives as we take hold upon Christ in faith (note: these subjective, internal works of God within us -- regeneration and sanctification -- are to be distinguished from the objective, external declaration of righteousness by God in justification, which is grounded in the imputed righteousness of Christ alone, not the imperfect process of sanctification and increased Christ-likeness throughout our lives):

Now, the effects which Jesus Christ produces in us, when we have taken hold of Him by faith, are two. In the first place, there is the testimony which the Holy Spirit gives to our spirit that we are children of God, and enables us to cry with assurance, "Abba, Father". (Rom 8:16; Gal 4:6). In the second place, we must understand that when we apply to ourselves Jesus Christ by faith, this is not by some silly and vain fancy and imagining, but really and in fact, though spiritually (Rom 6:14; 1 John 1:6; 2:5; 3:7). In the same way as the soul produces its effects when it is naturally united to the body, so, when, by faith, Jesus Christ dwells in us in a spiritual manner, His power produces there and reveals there His graces. These are described in Scripture by the words 'regeneration' and 'sanctification', and they make us new creatures with regard to the qualities that we can have (John 3:3; Eph 4:21-24). (Theodore Beza, Faith and Justification)

John Piper: Confounding Justification and Sanctification is deadly

John Piper explains the importance of the distinction between justification and sanctification:

It is not hard for a layperson to feel the preciousness of being counted righteous in Christ by faith alone. There are few sweeter words for a guilty sinner to hear. But the layperson may wonder if this apparent obscuring of the distinction between justification and sanctification really matters. It does. Our only hope of progress in gradual sanctification (growing in likeness to Jesus) is that we already have a right standing with God by faith alone. By this justification we are accepted into God’s favor and enjoy a reconciled position. This right standing establishes the very relationship in which we find the help and power to make progress in love.

This is the very structure of salvation in the book of Romans. Precisely because “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17, ESV), it seems plausible to say, “Let us sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). But Paul says, “No.” Then follows his great teaching on sanctification in Romans 6 and 7. And the foundation of it is that when we were united to Christ by faith (Romans 6:5), Christ’s death and righteousness became ours. We died with him, and righteousness was reckoned to us in this union. Now, and only now, can we successfully break free from our actual slavery to sinning. “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6, ESV). A decisive death with Christ and bestowal of the “gift of righteousness” (5:17, ESV) has happened in union with Christ. Now we can joyfully and confidently fight to become what we are in Christ—free and righteous. “You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11, ESV).

If the battle of sanctification is made part of our justification, as the newer challenge tends to make it, a great part of the foundation for triumphant warfare against sin is removed, and we are made to fight a battle that has already been fought for us and that we cannot win. Oh, there is a battle to be fought. And it is deadly. “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13, ESV). “Be killing sin or [sin] will be killing you,” as John Owen says [Mortification of Sin in Believers, in The Works of John Owen, Vol. 6 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), p. 9.]. But what is distinctive about the Christian warfare is that we can only kill the sin that has already been killed when we were killed in Christ. Or, to put it positively, we can only achieve practical righteousness as a working out of imputed righteousness. The battle is to become what we are in Christ: righteous with the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Yes, it matters whether the declaration of justification and the liberation of sanctification are distinguished. The battle will be engaged differently without this faith, and the fallout cannot be a happy one over the long haul. (John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ [p. 49])

John Calvin: Our faith takes hold upon Christ for justification and sanctification

John Calvin explains that we obtain justification and sanctification by our faith that lays hold upon Christ:

Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life. Of regeneration, indeed, the second of these gifts, I have said what seemed sufficient. (John Calvin, Institutes, III:11:1)

... to be justified means something different from being made new creatures. (John Calvin, Institutes, III:11:6)

... the grace of justification is not separated from regeneration, although they are things distinct. But because it is very well known by experience that the traces of sin always remain in the righteous, their justification must be very different from reformation into newness of life [cf. Romans 6:4]. (John Calvin, Institutes, III:11:11)

Archibald Alexander: Christ satisfied all requirements that the first Adam failed to perform

Archibald Alexander explains, in terms of the covenant of works, that Christ satisfied the penalty and purchased the reward of eternal life for all His elect, given that paying the penalty did not do away with the preceptive requirements of perfect holiness with respect to the law:

Suppose that the first Adam had continued to obey until his probation was finished, would any one think that afterwards either he or his posterity would be freed from the obligation to be holy? Well, what he failed to do, the second Adam has performed, but the obligation to be holy is immutable. It may be asked, does the law of God require a double obedience, one from our surety, and one from ourselves? We answer, that it requires but one righteousness in order to our justification; but it requires that the justified person continue in conformity with its holy precepts. Our obedience is not now required as a condition of justification; to entertain such an opinion would be to leave the covenant of grace, and to go back to the old covenant of works. It would be to fall from grace, as Paul expresses it, that is from the doctrines of grace. Suppose each one of us had a probation for life under the law, and that we had completed our obedience and obtained justification, we should be required to render no more obedience with a view to being justified, for this is supposed to be already done. But the obligation to obey God would not cease, because we were in a justified state. We would still be required to be conformed to the law, because that was our reasonable service, arising out of our natural relations to our Creator, and because holiness is pleasing to God, beneficial to men, and essential to the promotion of our own happiness. (Archibald Alexander, A Treatise on Justification by Faith)

C.H. Spurgeon: Justification by grace is irreconcilably antithetical to justification by works

C.H. Spurgeon asserts that justification by works is more appealing to natural man than justification by grace; at root, this is because of man's humanism: he wants to become God's creditor so that God becomes his slave and he becomes God's god --

If I could preach justification to be bought by you at a sovereign a piece, who would go out of the place without being justified? If I could preach justification to you by walking a hundred miles, would we not be pilgrims tomorrow morning, every one of us? If I were to preach justification which would consist in whippings and torture, there are very few here who would not whip themselves, and that severely too. But when it is freely, freely, freely, men turn away. "What! am I to have it for nothing at all, without doing anything?" Yes, Sir, you are to have it for nothing, or else not at all; it is "freely." "But may I not go to Christ, lay some claim to his mercy, and say, Lord, justify me because I am not so bad as others?" It will not do, Sir, because it is "by his grace." "But may I not indulge a hope, because I go to church twice a day?" No, Sir; it is "by his grace." "But may I not offer this plea, I mean to be better?" No, sir; it is "by his grace." You insult God by bringing your counterfeit coin to pay for his treasures. Oh! what poor ideas men have of the value of Christ's gospel, if they think they can buy it! God will not have your rusty farthings to buy heaven with. A rich man once, when he was dying, had a notion that he could buy a place in heaven by building a row of almshouses. A good man stood by his bed-side, and said, "How much more are you going to leave?" "Twenty thousand pounds." Said he "That would not buy enough for your foot to stand on in heaven; for the streets are made of gold there, and therefore of what value can your gold be, it would be accounted nothing of, when the very streets are paved with it?" Nay, friends, we cannot buy heaven with gold nor good works, nor prayers, nor anything in the world. But how is it to be got? Why it is to be got for asking only. As many of us as know ourselves to be sinners may have Christ for asking for him. Do you know that you want Christ? You may have Christ! "Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely." But if you cleave to your own notions, and say, "No, Sir, I mean to do a great many good things, and then I will believe in Christ."—Sir, you will be damned if you hold by such delusions. I earnestly warn you. You cannot be saved so. "Well, but are we not to do good works?" Certainly you are; but you are not to trust in them. You must trust in Christ wholly, and then do good works afterwards. "But," says one, "I think if I were to do a few good works, it would be a little recommendation when I came." It would not, sir; they would be no recommendation at all. Let a beggar come to your house in white kid gloves, and say he is very badly off, and wants some charity; would the white kid gloves recommend him to your charity? Would a good new hat that he has been buying this morning recommend him to your charity? "No," you would say, "you are a miserable impostor; you do not want anything, and you shall not have anything either! Out with you!" (C.H. Spurgeon, Justification by Grace)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Brian Schwertley: Justification deals with how sinners can have fellowship with an absolutely holy God

Brian Schwertley explains the fundamental questions regarding justification:

The doctrine of justification deals with the question of how God, who is absolutely holy (Ex. 15:11; Lev. 11:44; Ps. 22:3; Isa. 6:3; 1 Pet. 1:15; Rev. 4:8) and who demands ethical perfection in His creatures, can allow men who are guilty of breaking His law into His presence and fellowship. Two problems must be resolved before men who are guilty can have eternal life with God. First, the penalty due for sin must be paid in full. God’s nature and law requires satisfaction for all disobedience. Second, God requires of all men a perfect obedience.


In order for men who are sinners to have eternal life, the guilt and penalty of sin must be removed and men must have a perfect record of obeying God’s law. Thus, justification contains two elements: one negative and the other positive. Simply put, the negative element deals with the removal of guilt and the penalty due for sin, while the positive element provides a perfect righteousness. These elements are the ground, or foundation, of justification. They are what enable God to be just while at the same time the justifier of sinners (Rom. 3:26). These grounds of justification are both provided for in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Brian Schwertley, Justification by Faith)

Francis Turretin: Justification is of the greatest importance

Francis Turretin explains the importance, biblically and historically, of justification by faith:

The topic concerning Vocation and Faith begets the Topic concerning Justification, which must be handled with the greater care and accuracy as this saving doctrine is of the greatest importance in religion. It is called by Luther, the article of a standing and falling church; by other Christians it is termed the characteristic and basis of Christianity not without reason, the principle rampart of the Christian religion, and, it being adulterated or subverted, it is impossible to retain purity of doctrine in other places. Whence Satan in every way has endeavored to corrupt this doctrine in all ages; as has been done especially in the Papacy: for which reason it is deservedly placed among the primary causes of our Secession from the Roman Church and of the Reformation. (Francis Turretin, Forensic Justification)

Archibald Alexander: Without "Sola Fide," the whole Christian system is lost, echoing Luther

Archibald Alexnader explains the central importance of justification by faith alone within Christian theology:

"How shall a man be just with God?" is surely the most important question which can possibly be conceived. … On some other points error may exist, and yet the state of the person entertaining it may notwithstanding be safe; he may still be in the right way to heaven. But a mistake, as to the method of acceptance with God, must be exceedingly dangerous: it must mislead the inquirer from the way of salvation. Let every man, then, as he regards his own eternal happiness, beware of embracing a false doctrine on this subject. … Wherever, and whenever, justification by faith, has been given up, obscured, or neglected to be preached, then and there, other errors have come in like a flood, and true religion has declined. … [Luther’s] pithy and striking declaration, that it was "the article of a standing or falling church," has often been cited; but another saying of this great reformer, equally pithy and important, is less known. "The doctrine of justification being lost," says he "the whole system of Christian doctrine is lost." (Archibald Alexander, A Treatise on Justification by Faith Alone)

C. Matthew McMahon: Justification by Faith Alone is one of the most important, yet neglected, doctrines

C. Matthew McMahon on the fundamental importance of justification by faith alone:

However, in the sea of doctrine which we are all to be familiar with throughout the Word of God, there may be a doctrine which is more important than any other; one which is the most important of all. Some may vouchsafe for the atonement. I must admit, the atonement is crucial, critical and the crux of saving grace for the believer. But, the importance of a doctrine does not simply fall on the kind of doctrine or the content of the doctrine, but also on the need of the doctrine as well. Eschatology is very important, but not as important as the need to understand the atonement. Today, I believe, as it was in the sixteenth century, the need to regain lost ground in understanding the doctrine of Justification by faith alone has come to the forefront. Most people, even those in Reformed circles, those who claim Luther as a hero, have little to say about justification. I have been a member of solid reformed churches for quite a long time. Yet, I have heard very little about justification by faith alone. I cannot remember a sermon dedicated to the subject. It has been neglected in the school setting, in the home study groups, and in the pulpit. It is a vital doctrine that we cannot do without. Its urgency dictates the difference between one going to heaven and one going to hell. It is of crucial significance and should be rightly understood by those who claim Christ as their banner. If justification is misunderstood, being the pillar upon which the church stands or falls, then what will the rest of our doctrine look like? Will it be a nominal Christianity? Would it be works righteousness? I think it would. To understand that we must be clothed in the righteousness of Christ for safety in the Day of Judgment is of vital import.

As I believe the doctrine of seeking is all but lost in our day, I also believe the doctrine of justification is slowly being forgotten. Friends, without it we are lost. Without understanding it we will not truly perceive the great wonder of the grace of God in Christ. It is my hope that in this section of the website such a glorious truth may be exalted beyond measure, that it may bring a great amount of glory to the one true and living God of the Ages. Let us think rightly about one of the most, if not the most important doctrine in the entire bible, the Doctrine of Justification by Faith alone. (C. Matthew McMahon, Justification by Faith Alone: A Plea for Understanding)

A.W. Pink: Everyone should know how to be right with God

A.W. Pink explains the importance of justification, which involves our standing before the holy, sovereign, and just God of all:

... the truth of justification is far from being a mere piece of abstract speculation. No, it is a statement of Divinely revealed fact; it is a statement of fact in which every member of our race ought to be deeply interested in. Each one of us has forfeited the favor of God, and each one of us needs to be restored to His favor. If we are not restored, then the outcome must inevitably be our utter ruin and hopeless perdition. How fallen creatures, how guilty rebels, how lost sinners, are restored to the favor of God, and given a standing before Him inestimably superior to that occupied by the holy angels, will (D. V.) engage our attention as we proceed with our subject. (A.W. Pink, Justification, ch. 1)

John Owen via A.W. Pink: Importance of justification

A.W. Pink quotes John Owen on the importance of justification:

More weight is to be put on the steady guidance of the mind and conscience of one believer, really exercised about the foundation of his peace and acceptance with God, than on the confutation of ten wrangling disputers. (John Owen, quoted by Pink in Justification, ch. 1)

R.L. Dabney: Justification is central to all doctrines of theology

R.L. Dabney explains the central importance of justification within history (Reformation vs. Romanism) and within Christian theology (the person and work of Christ, the nature of the Triune God, how man is right with God, and so forth):

It is obvious to the first glance, that it is a question of the first importance to sinners, ‘How shall man be just with God?’ The doctrine of justification was the radical principle, as we have seen, out of which grew the Reformation from Popery. It was by adopting this that the Reformers were led out of darkness into light. Indeed, when we consider how many of the fundamental points of theology are connected with justification, we can hardly assign it too important a place. Our view of this doctrine must determine, or be determined by our view of Christ’s satisfaction; and this, again, carries along with it the whole doctrine concerning the natures and person of Christ. And if the proper deity of Him be denied, that of the Holy Spirit will very certainly fall along with it; so that the very doctrine of the Trinity is destroyed by extreme views concerning justification. Again, "It is God that justifieth." How evident, then, that our views of justification will involve those of God’s law and moral attributes? The doctrine of original sin is also brought in question, when we assert the impossibility of man’s so keeping the law of God, as to justify himself. It is a more familiar remark, that the introduction of the true doctrine of justification excludes that whole brood of Papal inventions, purgatory and penance, works of supererogation, indulgences, sacrifice of the mass, and merit of congruity acquired by alms and mortifications. (R.L. Dabney, Systematic Theology, ch. 23: Justification)

John Calvin: Justification by faith is the main hinge on which religion turns

John Calvin explains the importance of the doctrine of justification:

And we must so discuss them [the doctrines of justification by faith] as to bear in mind that this is the main hinge on which religion turns, so that we devote the greater attention and care to it. (John Calvin, Institutes, 3:11:1)

William Cunningham: Arminians err fatally on the doctrine of the atonement

William Cunningham pinpoints the Arminian deviations from the biblical doctrine of Christ's atonement in substituting Himself to satisfy the requirements of the Law for His chosen people to reconcile them to God:

The Arminians, holding the universality of the atonement, and rejecting the doctrine of election, regard the death of Christ as equally fitted, and equally intended, to promote the spiritual welfare and eternal salvation of all men. ... Arminians teach that Christ, by his sufferings and death, impetrated or procured pardon and reconciliation for all men ... in substance, he removed legal obstacles, and opened a door for God to bestow pardon and reconciliation upon all who would accept. The reason why they do not receive is because they refuse the offer made to them. Contrast: WCOF -- “To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same.” An impetration which may possibly not be followed by application ... which will leave many for whom it was undertaken and effected, to perish forever, unpardoned and unreconciled, -- does not correspond with, or come up to, the doctrines of substitution and satisfaction taught us in Scripture ... Reconciliation was purchased by Christ’s sacrifice of himself, and purchased for certain men. Remember: the nature of the atonement determines its extent. Those who hold to universal atonement, in a greater and lesser degree, have defective and erroneous views with respect to the substitution and satisfaction of Christ. (William Cunningham, Historical Theology)

A.W. Pink: Arminianism and Dispensationalism deviate from the Reformed understanding of faith and justification

A.W. Pink highlights an important deviation within Arminian theology in grounding justification within faith itself, rather than the faith that believes unto Christ and His righteousness:

What is the relation of faith to justification? The Arminian answer to the question, refined somewhat by the Plymouth Brethren, is, that the act of believing is imputed to us for righteousness. One error leads to another. Mr. Darby denied that Gentiles were ever under the law, hence he denied also that Christ obeyed the law in His people’s stead, and therefore as Christ’s vicarious obedience is not reckoned to their account, he had to seek elsewhere for their righteousness. This he claimed to find in the Christian’s own faith, insisting that their act of believing is imputed to them "for righteousness." To give his theory respectability, he clothed it in the language of several expressions found in Romans 4, though he knew quite well that the Greek afforded no foundation whatever for that which he built upon it.

In Romans 4 we read "his faith is counted for righteousness" (v. 5), "faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness" (v. 9), "it was imputed to him for righteousness" (v. 22). Now in each of these verses the Greek preposition is "eis" which never means "in the stead of," but always signifies "towards, in order to, with a view to": it has the uniform force of "unto." Its exact meaning and force is unequivocally plain in Romans 10:10, "with the heart man believeth unto ["eis"] righteousness": that is, the believing heart reaches out toward and lays hold of Christ Himself. "This passage (Rom. 10:10) may help us to understand what justification by faith is, for it shows that righteousness there comes to us when we embrace God’s goodness offered to us in the Gospel. We are then, for this reason, made just: because we believe that God is propitious to us through Christ" (J. Calvin). (A.W. Pink, Justification, ch. 8)

John Gerstner: The church always taught "Sola Fide" implicitly, and the Reformers explicitly defended the doctrine against apostate Romanists

John Gerstner explains the history of "Sola Fide" within the church:

One may say generally of the history of the doctrine of justification that solafideanism (justification-by-faith-alone-ism) was taught implicitly, but not explicitly, from the beginning of the church. That is, it was known in the early church that salvation was by faith alone, but not until the sixteenth century was the church called upon to define that teaching more precisely. Those in the church who had quietly apostasized opposed this essential truth (adherents of Tridentine Roman Catholicism), while the faithful (Protestants), affirmed it. The Reformers defined and refined the doctrine in the fires of controversy. (Dr. John Gerstner, History of the Doctrine of Justification)

A.W. Pink: Justification is grounded in imputation of Christ's righteousness alone

A.W. Pink explains that justification involves remission and acceptance:

Justification, strictly speaking, consists in God’s imputing to His elect the righteousness of Christ, that alone being the meritorious cause or formal ground on which He pronounces them righteous: the righteousness of Christ is that to which God has respect when He pardons and accepts the sinner. By the nature of justification we have reference to the constituent elements of the same, which are enjoyed by the believer. These are, the non-imputation of guilt or the remission of sins, and second, of the investing of the believer with a legal title to Heaven. The alone ground on which God forgives any man’s sins, and admits him into His judicial favour, is the vicarious work of his Surety—that perfect satisfaction which Christ offered to the law on his behalf. It is of great importance to be clear on the fact that Christ was "made under the law" not only that He might redeem His people "from the curse of the law" (Gal. 3:13), but also that they might "receive the adoption of sons" (Gal. 4:4, 5), that is, be invested with the privileges of sons. (A.W. Pink, Justification, ch. 5)

Joel R. Beeke: Christ's righteousness, alien to the believer, is the formal cause of justification, and faith is the instrumental cause

Joel R. Beeke explains that faith is the instrumental cause of justification and that Christ's righteousness -- alien to the believer and imputed to him -- is the formal or meritorious cause, the ground upon which we are justified:

Protestant theology, on the other hand [set against Romanism], maintained that faith is the instrumental cause of justification, while the alien righteousness of Christ, external to the believer and imputed to him, is the formal cause, i.e., the ground upon which God can justly justify sinners. ‘For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21; cf. Romans 3:26). It is critical to maintain that this formal cause of justification resides in Christ’s righteousness alone, for all the Scriptures dealing with the fundamentally depraved nature of man make clear that there is no righteousness inherent in the natural man upon which a divine verdict of justification could be based. ‘They are all gone aside, they are together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one’ (Psalm 14:3). For the Reformers, faith was the conscious, personal immediate reliance of a sinner on Christ alone. (Dr. Joel R. Beeke, Justification by Faith Alone, Soli Deo Gloria (1995), p. 90)

Archibald Alexander: The righteousness of Christ alone is the ground of justification

Archibald Alexander explains that Christ's perfect obedience in keeping the law and satisfying the penalty encompasses the righteousness by which we are justified:

By the righteousness of Christ, we mean, all that he did and suffered to satisfy the broken law of God, for those whose salvation he undertook to secure. … as has been correctly observed by Dr. Owen and others, 'in suffering he obeyed, and in obeying he suffered.' It is sufficient, that we find in him, a full satisfaction both to the penal and preceptive requisitions of the law. (Archibald Alexander, A Treatise on Justification by Faith Alone)

Charles Hodge: Christ's righteousness, not works or faith, is the ground of justification

Charles Hodge explains the ground of justification as the righteousness of Christ -- His penal (passive/negative) and preceptive (active/positive) obedience -- which refutes all notions of inherent righteousness within works or even within the true faith by which we take hold of and become united with Christ:

“The ground of justification is the righteousness of Christ, active and passive, i.e., including his perfect obedience to the law as a covenant, and his enduring the penalty of the law in our stead and on our behalf.” –Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (vol. 3)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

R.C. Sproul: Forensic justification is the article by which the sinner stands or falls before God's supreme tribunal

R.C. Sproul explains the forensic nature of justification as the doctrine by which the sinner stands or falls before God:

At the heart of the controversy between Roman Catholic and Reformation theology is the nature of justification itself. It is a debate not merely about how or when or by what means a person is justified, but about the very meaning of justification itself.

Reformed theology insists that the biblical doctrine of justification is forensic in nature. What does this mean? In the popular jargon of religion, the word forensic is used infrequently. The word is not foreign, however, to ordinary language. It appears daily in the news media, particularly with reference to criminal investigations and trials. We hear of "forensic evidence" and "forensic medicine" as we listen to the reports of criminologists, coroners, and pathologists. Here the term forensic refers to the judicial system and judicial proceedings.

The term forensic is also used to describe events connected with public speaking. Schools hold forensic contests or events that feature formal debates or the delivery of speeches.

The link between these ordinary usages of forensic and its theological use is that justification has to do with a legal or judicial matter involving some type of declaration. We can reduce its meaning to the concept of legal declaration.

The doctrine of justification involves a legal matter of the highest order. Indeed it is the legal issue on which the sinner stands or falls: his status before the supreme tribunal of God. (R.C. Sproul, Imputed Righteousness: The Evangelical Doctrine)

James Buchanan: Four major points of controversy regarding justification

There are four major points regarding justification, according to James Buchanan (Justification, p. 113-114): 1) “The nature of Justification …”; 2) “the ground of Justification …”; 3) “the means of Justification …”; 4) “the effect of Justification …” “Under one or other of these topics every question of any real importance on the subject of Justification may be conveniently ranked; and they were all involved in the great controversy between the Reformers and the Church of Rome.”
  • Nature: “…the fundamental error of the Church of Rome consisted in confounding [justification] with sanctification. … Justification, considered as an act of God, is the mere infusion, in the first instance, and the mere recognition, in the second, of a righteousness inherent in the sinner himself; and not an act of God’s grace, acquitting him of guilt, delivering him from condemnation, and receiving him into His favour and friendship” (pp. 114-115)
  • Ground: “…the fundamental error of the Church of Rome consisted in substituting the inherent righteousness of the regenerate, for the imputed righteousness of the Redeemer. … The merits of Christ were rather, according to their doctrine, the procuring cause of that regenerating grace by which we are made righteous; while the inherent personal righteousness which is thus produced, is the real proximate ground of our justification. … But that His righteousness imputed is the sole and all-sufficient ground of our justification, which neither requires nor admits of any addition being made to it in the shape either of suffering or obedience, and which is effectual, for that end, without the aid of any other righteousness, infused and inherent,--the strenuously denied.” (pp. 116-117).
  • Means: “… the fundamental error of the Church of Rome consisted in denying that we are justified by that faith which ‘receives and rests on Christ alone for salvation, as He is freely offered to us in the Gospel.’ They affirmed that we are justified, not simply by faith in Christ, for faith might exist where there is no justification, but by faith informed with charity, or love, which is the germ of new obedience;--that this faith is first infused by baptism, so as to delete all past sin,--original sin, in the case of infants, and both original and actual sin in the case of adults, duly prepared to receive it,--while it is restored or renewed, in the event of post-baptismal sin, by confession and absolution, which effectually deliver the sinner from all punishment, except such as is endured in penance, or in purgatory. … Accordingly faith, to which so much efficacy and importance are everywhere ascribed in Scripture, was, first of all, defined as a mere intellectual belief, or assent to revealed truth, such as an unrenewed mind might acquire in the exercise of its natural faculties, without the aid of divine grace, and described as having, in itself, no necessary connection with salvation, but as being only one of seven antecedent dispositions or qualifications, which always precede, in the case of adults, but are not invariably followed by, Justification” (p. 118-119).
  • Effect: “… the fundamental error of the Church of Rome consisted in holding, that it was neither so complete in its own nature, nor so infallibly secured, as to exempt him from the necessity of making some further satisfaction for sin, or to warrant the certain hope of eternal life” (p. 122).

John Calvin: We take hold upon Christ and are clothed in His righteousness by faith

John Calvin explains that justification is the legal declaration of God that we are righteous in Christ, as we take hold upon Him and are clothed in His righteousness by faith, not by works:

Now he is justified who is reckoned in the condition not of a sinner, but of a righteous man; and for that reason, he stands firm before God’s judgment seat while all sinners fall. … justified by faith is he who, excluded from the righteousness of works, grasps the righteousness of Christ through faith, and clothed in it, appears in God’s sight not as a sinner but as a righteous man. (John Calvin, Institutes, III:11:2)

For faith totters if it pays attention to work, since no one, even of the most holy, will find there anything on which to rely. (John Calvin, Institutes, III:11:11)

Farewell, then, to the dream of those who think up a righteousness flowing together of faith and works. (John Calvin, Institutes, III:11:13)

William Cunningham: The Reformers agreed on faith alone, but faith is not meritorious

William Cunningham explains the loose sense in which we are justified by faith alone, not by any inherent righteousness within us:

The Reformers were unanimous and decided in maintaining the doctrine that faith alone justified; that men were justified by faith only; and this gave rise to a great deal of discussion between them and the Romanists … By this position that faith alone justifies, the Reformers meant in general that faith was the only thing in a man himself, to the exclusion of all personal righteousness, habitual or actual, of all other Christian graces, and of all good works, to which his forgiveness and acceptance with God are attributed or ascribed in Scripture … They did not teach that this faith which alone justified was ever alone, or unaccompanied with other graces; but, on the contrary, they maintain that, to adopt the words of our Confession, ‘it is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love’ [Larger Catechism, q. 153]. … Again, the Reformers did not ascribe to faith, in the matter of justification, any meritorious or inherent efficacy in producing the result, but regarded it simply as the instrument or hand by which a man apprehended or laid hold of, and appropriated to himself, the righteousness of Christ; and it was only in that very general and, strictly speaking, loose and improper sense, which was consistent with this view of its function and operation in the matter, that they called it, as Calvin does … the cause of justification. (William Cunningham, Historical Theology [vol. 2], p. 23; published by Still Waters Revival Books)

William Ames: Christ is our righteousness, and faith is the instrument by which we take hold upon Christ's righteousness

William Ames explains that faith is the instrument of justification, which lays hold upon the righteousness of Christ:

Faith precedes justification as the instrumental cause, laying hold of the righteousness of Christ from which justification being apprehended follows; therefore, righteousness is said to be from faith, Rom. 9:30; 10:6. And justification is said to be by faith, Rom. 3:28. … For justifying faith goes before justification itself, as a cause goes before its effect. But faith apprehending justification necessarily presupposes and follows justification as an act follows the object towards which it is directed. … That faith is properly called justifying by which we rely upon Christ for the remission of sins and for salvation. For Christ is a sufficient object for justifying faith. Faith justifies only by apprehending the righteousness by which we are justified. That righteousness does not lie in the truth of some proposition to which we give assent, but in Christ alone Who has been made sin for us that we might be righteousness in him, 2 Cor. 5:21. … Therefore, words are often repeated in the New Testament which show that justification is to be sought in Christ alone: John 1:12; 3:15, 16; 6:40, 47; 14:1, 12; Rom. 4:5; 3:26; Acts 10:43; 26:18; and Gal. 3:26. (William Ames, Justification)

Theodore Beza: The Spirit gives us faith by which to take hold upon Christ and His righteousness

Theodore Beza explains the Holy Spirit's work of creating faith within us, as the instrument by which we take hold of Christ's righteousness in justification:

But it is necessary, in the first place, that the Holy Spirit makes us suitable and ready to receive Jesus Christ. This is what He does in creating in us, by His pure goodness and Divine mercy, that which we call 'faith' (Eph. 1: 17; Phil 1: 29; 2 'Mess 3:2), the sole instrument by which we take hold of Jesus Christ when He is offered to us, the sole vessel to receive Him (John 3:1-13, 33-36). (Theodore Beza, Faith and Justification)

Horatius Bonar: Not Faith, but Christ, is our Righteousness

Horatius Bonar asserts that Christ, not faith, is our righteousness; faith simply unites us to Christ and is accounted unto righteousness (cf. Rom. 10:10):

Yet, after all, faith is not our righteousness. It is accounted to us in order to righteousness (Rom 4:5), but not as righteousness. For in that case it would be a work like any other doing of man and as such would be incompatible with the righteousness of the Son of God -- the “righteousness which is by faith.” Faith connects us with the righteousness and is therefore totally distinct from it. To confound the one with the other is to subvert the whole gospel of the grace of God. Our act of faith must ever be a separate thing from that which we believe.

… So faith is not our righteousness: it merely knits us to the righteous One and makes us partakers of His righteousness. By a natural figure of speech, faith is often magnified into something great; whereas it is really nothing but our consenting to be saved by another. Its supposed magnitude is derived from the greatness of the object which it grasps, the excellence of the righteousness which it accepts. Its preciousness is not its own, but the preciousness of Him to whom it links us. (Horatius Bonar, Not Faith, But Christ)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Charles Hodge: We are justified by faith that unites us to Christ as our righteousness

Charles Hodge explains that faith is not inherently virtuous so as to provide a meritorious grounds for acceptance with God, but that justifying righteousness is alien to ourselves:

It is not on account of any virtue or goodness in faith, but as it unites us to Christ, and involves the acceptance of Him as our righteousness. Thus it is we are justified “by faith alone, without any manner of virtue or goodness of our own.” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3: Justification)

R.L. Dabney: Faith is the instrument of receiving Christ's justifying righteousness

R.L. Dabney explains that the relative strength or weakness of our faith does not determine the degree to which we are justified in God's sight:

The important principle has already been stated, that justification must be as complete as its meritorious ground. Since faith is only the instrument of its reception, the comparative weakness or strength of faith will not determine any degrees of justification in different Christians. Feeble faith which is living truly leads to Christ, and Christ is our righteousness alone. Our justifying righteousness is in Christ. The office of faith, is simply to be the instrument for instituting the union of the believing soul to Him; so that it may "receive of His fullness grace for grace." (R.L. Dabney, Systematic Theology, Chapter 23: Justification)

John Murray: Faith is the means by which we take hold upon God's justifying righteousness

John Murray explains that faith brings us into possession of the righteousness required for justification, but faith itself is not the righteousness:

... the righteousness contemplated in justification is not faith itself but something that comes into our possession by faith ... [it is] righteousness by faith in contrast with righteousness by works ... [it is] a God-righteousness and it is a faith-righteousness ... [it is] brought to bear upon us by faith. (John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, Appendix A: Justification)

John Calvin: Faith does not justify but insofar as it receives and rests solely upon Christ

John Calvin explains that God alone justifies and that faith is a vessel that comes empty to receive and rest upon Christ and His righteousness alone:

I willingly concede Osiander's objection that faith of itself does not possess the power of justifying, but only in so far as it receives Christ. For if faith justified of itself or through some intrinsic power, so to speak, as it is always weak and imperfect it would effect this only in part; thus the righteousness that conferred a fragment of salvation upon us would be defective. Now we imagine no such thing, but we say that, properly speaking, God alone justifies; then we transfer this same function to Christ because he was given to us for righteousness. We compare faith to a kind of vessel; for unless we come empty and with the mouth of our soul open to seek Christ's grace, we are not capable of receiving Christ. From this it is to be inferred that, in teaching that before his righteousness is received Christ is received in faith, we do not take the power of justifying away from Christ. (John Calvin, Institutes, III:11:7)

R.J. Rushdoony: Justification is not on account of faith as a pietistic work

R.J. Rushdoony affirms the reformational understanding of faith as taking hold upon Christ and His righteousness alone, not looking inwardly to itself as the meritorious cause for our pardon and acceptance before God:

Justification is often discussed after regeneration and conversion because the emphasis is on justification by faith. The convert’s awareness of justification and its meaning comes with faith, but it is a serious error to assume that it is on account of faith. Scripture never says that we are justified on account of faith, but only through or by faith. Faith acknowledges that it is Jesus Christ and His righteousness which alone redeems us, but that faith does not in itself justify us. The doctrine of justification by faith began as a rejection of humanistic salvation, by works, merit, knowledge, or anything in and of man. Unhappily, the term is now often popularly used to set forth the belief that it is man’s faith which releases God’s saving power and justification. The doctrine of justification by faith is thereby converted into exactly that which it originally sought to destroy. Instead of setting forth the Reformation doctrine, it now serves to undercut and destroy the Reformation. We are in process of a return to medieval pietism and its emphasis on feeling and experience, on man and his ‘works’ which includes man’s ‘faith’ in this non-Biblical sense. (R.J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, pp. 534-535)

Louis Berkhof: Faith is instrumental, not meritorious, in justification

Louis Berkhof explains the nature of true faith that takes hold on Christ and His righteousness alone in our justification:

... faith is the instrument by which we appropriate Christ and His righteousness. ... Scripture never says that we are justified ... on account of faith. This means that faith is never represented as the ground of our justification. If this were the case, faith would have to be regarded as a meritorious work of man. … And this would be the introduction of the doctrine of justification by works, which the apostle opposes consistently ... The apostle does not leave it doubtful that, strictly speaking, only the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, is the ground of our justification. But faith is so thoroughly receptive in the appropriation of the merits of Christ, that it can be put figuratively for the merits of Christ which it receives. ‘Faith’ then is equivalent to the contents of faith, that is, to the merits or the righteousness of Christ. (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Banner of Truth ed., pp. 520-521)

John Owen: The Imputation of Believers' Sins to Christ and His Righteousness to Us

Excerpted from John Owen's marvelous book: The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, Through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated

"A commutation as unto sin and righteousness, by imputation, between Christ and believers, represented in the Scripture"

There is in the Scripture represented unto us a commutation between Christ and believers, as unto sin and righteousness; that is, in the imputation of their sins unto him, and of his righteousness unto them. In the improvement and application hereof unto our own souls, no small part of the life and exercise of faith does consist.

This was taught the church of God in the offering of the scapegoat: "And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities," Lev.16:21,22. Whether this goat sent away with this burden upon him did live, and so was a type of the life of Christ in his resurrection after his death; or whether he perished in the wilderness, being cast down the precipice of a rock by him that conveyed him away, as the Jews suppose; it is generally acknowledged, that what was done to him and with him was only a representation of what was done really in the person of Jesus Christ. And Aaron did not only confess the sins of the people over the goat, but he also put them all on his head, "wenatan 'otam al-rosh hassa'ir",--"And he shall give them all to be on the head of the goat." In answer whereunto it is said, that he bare them all upon him. This he did by virtue of the divine institution, wherein was a ratification of what was done. He did not transfuse sin from one subject into another, but transferred the guilt of it from one to another; and to evidence this translation of sin from the people unto the sacrifice, in his confession, "he put and fixed both his hands on his head." Thence the Jews say, "that all Israel was made as innocent on the day of expiation as they were on the day of creation;" from verse 30. Wherein they came short of perfection or consummation thereby the apostle declares, Heb.10. But this is the language of every expiatory sacrifice, "Quod in ejus caput sit;"-- "Let the guilt be on him." Hence the sacrifice itself was called "chatat" and "'ashan",--"sin" and "guilt," Lev.4:29; 7:2; 10:17. And therefore, where there was an uncertain murder, and none could be found that was liable to punishment thereon, that guilt might not come upon the land, nor the sin be imputed unto the whole people, a heifer was to be slain by the elders of the city that was next unto the place where the murder was committed, to take away the guilt of it, Deut.21:1-9. But whereas this was only a moral representation of the punishment due to guilt, and no sacrifice, the guilty person being not known, those who slew the heifer did not put their hands on him, so as to transfer their own guilt to him, but washed their hands over him, to declare their personal innocence. By these means, as in all other expiatory sacrifices, did God instruct the church in the transferring of the guilt of sin unto Him who was to bear all their iniquities, with their discharge and justification thereby.

So "God laid on Christ the iniquities of us all," that "by his stripes we might be healed," Isa.53:5,6. Our iniquity was laid on him, and he bare it, verse 11; and through his bearing of it we are freed from it. His stripes are our healing. Our sin was his, imputed unto him; his merit is ours, imputed unto us. "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might become the righteousness of God in him," 2 Cor.5:21. This is that commutation I mentioned: he was made sin for us; we are made the righteousness of God in him. God not imputing sin unto us, verse 19, but imputing righteousness unto us, does it on this ground alone that "he was made sin for us." And if by his being made sin, only his being made a sacrifice for sin is intended, it is to the same purpose; for the formal reason of any thing being made an expiatory sacrifice, was the imputation of sin unto it by divine institution. The same is expressed by the same apostle, Rom.8:3,4, "God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us." The sin was made his, he answered for it; and the righteousness which God requireth by the law is made ours: the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, not by our doing it, but by his. This is that blessed change and commutation wherein alone the soul of a convinced sinner can find rest and peace. So he "has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, that the blessing of Abraham might come on us," Gal.3:13,14. The curse of the law contained all that was due to sin. This belonged unto us; but it was transferred on him. He was made a curse; whereof his hanging on a tree was the sign and token. Hence he is said to "bear our sins in his own body on the tree," 1 Pet.2:24; because his hanging on the tree was the token of his bearing the curse: "For he that is hanged is the curse of God," Dent.21:23. And in the blessing of faithful Abraham all righteousness and acceptation with God is included; for Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.

... [Justin Martyr said:] "He gave his Son a ransom for us;--the holy for transgressors; the innocent for the nocent; the just for the unjust; the incorruptible for the corrupt; the immortal for mortals. For what else could hide or cover our sins but his righteousness? In whom else could we wicked and ungodly ones be justified, or esteemed righteous, but in the Son of God alone? O sweet permutation, or change! O unsearchable work, or curious operation! O blessed beneficence, exceeding all expectations that the iniquity of many should be hid in one just one, and the righteousness of one should justify many transgressors."

... [Gregory of Nyssa said:] "He has transferred unto himself the filth of my sins, and communicated unto me his purity, and made me partaker of his beauty."

... [Augustine said:] "He was sin, that we might be righteousness; not our own, but the righteousness of God; not in ourselves, but in him; as he was sin, not his own, but ours,--not in himself, but in us."

... [Chrysostom said in 2 Epist. ad Corinth. cap.5 Hom.11:] " What word, what speech is this? What mind can comprehend or express it? For he says, 'He made him who was righteous to be made a sinner, that he might make sinners righteous. Nor yet does he say so neither, but that which is far more sublime and excellent; for he speaks not of an inclination or affection, but expresses the quality itself. For he says not, he made him a sinner, but sin; that we might be made, not merely righteous, but righteousness, and that the righteousness of God, when we are justified not by works (for if we should, there must be no spot found in them), but by grace, whereby all sin is blotted out."

... [Taulerus said:] "Christ took upon him all the sins of the world, and willingly underwent that grief of heart for them, as if he himself had committed them."

... [Albertus Pighius said:] "'God was in Christ,' says the apostle, 'reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing unto men their sins,' ['and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.'] In him, therefore, we are justified before God; not in ourselves, not by our own, but by his righteousness, which is imputed unto us, now communicating with him. Wanting righteousness of our own, we are taught to seek for righteousness without ourselves, in him. So he says, 'Him who knew no sin, he made to be sin for us' (that is, an expiatory sacrifice for sin), 'that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.' We are made righteous in Christ, not with our own, but with the righteousness of God. By what right? The right of friendship, which makes all common among friends, according unto the ancient celebrated proverb. Being in grafted into Christ, fastened, united unto him, he makes his things ours, communicates his riches unto us, interposes his righteousness between the judgment of God and our unrighteousness: and under that, as under a shield and buckler, he hides us from that divine wrath which we have deserved, he defends and protects us therewith; yea, he communicates it unto us and makes it ours, so as that, being covered and adorned therewith, we may boldly and securely place ourselves before the divine tribunal and judgment, so as not only to appear righteous, but so to be. For even as the apostle affirms, that by one man's fault we were all made sinners, so is the righteousness of Christ alone efficacious in the justification of us all: 'And as by the disobedience of one man many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man,' says he, 'many are made righteous.' This is the righteousness of Christ, even his obedience, whereby in all things he fulfilled the will of his Father; as, on the other hand, our unrighteousness is our disobedience and our transgression of the commands of God. But that our righteousness is placed in the obedience of Christ, it is from hence, that we being incorporated into him, it is accounted unto us as if it were ours; so as that therewith we are esteemed righteous. And as Jacob of old, whereas he was not the firstborn, being hid under the habit of his brother, and clothed with his garment, which breathed a sweet savour, presented himself unto his father, that in the person of another he might receive the blessing of the primogeniture; so it is necessary that we should lie hid under the precious purity of the First-born, our eldest brother, be fragrant with his sweet savour, and have our sin buried and covered with his perfections, that we may present ourselves before our most holy Father, to obtain from him the blessing of righteousness." And again: "God, therefore, does justify us by his free grace or goodness, wherewith he embraces us in Christ Jesus, when he clotheth us with his innocence and righteousness, as we are ingrafted into him; for as that alone is true and perfect which only can endure in the sight of God, so that alone ought to be presented and pleaded for us before the divine tribunal, as the advocate of or plea in our cause. Resting hereon, we here obtain the daily pardon of sin; with whose purity being covered, our filth, and the uncleanness of our imperfections are not imputed unto us, but are covered as if they were buried, that they may not come into the judgment of God; until, the old man being destroyed and slain in us, divine goodness receives us into peace with the second Adam."

... This blessed permutation as unto sin and righteousness is represented unto us in the Scripture as a principal object of our faith,-- as that whereon our peace with God is founded. And although both these (the imputation of sin unto Christ, and the imputation of righteousness unto us) be the acts of God, and not ours, yet are we by faith to exemplify them in our own souls, and really to perform what on our part is required unto their application unto us; whereby we receive "the atonement," Rom.5:11. Christ calls unto him all those that "labour and are heavy laden," Matt.11:28. The weight that is upon the consciences of men, wherewith they are laden, is the burden of sin. So the psalmist complains that his "sins were a burden too heavy for him," Ps.38:4. Such was Cain's apprehension of his guilt, Gen.4:13. This burden Christ bare, when it was laid on him by divine estimation. For so it is said, "wa'awonotam hu jisbol", Isa.53:11,-- "He shall bear their iniquities" on him as a burden. And this he did when God made to meet upon him "the iniquity of us all," verse 6. In the application of this unto our own souls, as it is required that we be sensible of the weight and burden of our sins and how it is heavier than we can bear; so the Lord Christ calls us unto him with it, that we may be eased. This he does in the preachings of the gospel, wherein he is "evidently crucified before our eyes," Gal.3:1. In the view which faith has of Christ crucified (for faith is a "looking unto him," Isa.45:22; 65:1, answering their looking unto the brazen serpent who were stung with fiery serpents, John 3:14,15), and under a sense of his invitation (for faith is our coming unto him, upon his call and invitation) to come unto him with our burdens, a believer considers that God has laid all our iniquities upon him; yea, that he has done so, is an especial object whereon faith is to act itself, which is faith in his blood. Hereon does the soul approve of and embrace the righteousness and grace of God, with the infinite condescension and love of Christ himself. It gives its consent that what is thus done is what becomes the infinite wisdom and grace of God; and therein it rests. Such a person seeks no more to establish his own righteousness, but submits to the righteousness of God. Herein, by faith, does he leave that burden on Christ which he called him to bring with him, and complies with the wisdom and righteousness of God in laying it upon him. And herewithal does he receive the everlasting righteousness which the Lord Christ brought in when he made an end of sin, and reconciliation for transgressors.