Wednesday, December 23, 2009

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)

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