THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
PREVIOUS CHAPTER - NEXT CHAPTER - HELP - FB - TWITTER - GR VIDEOS - GR FORUMS - GR YOUTUBE
THROUGH THE IMPUTATION OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST;
explained, confirmed, and vindicated
by John Owen
General Considerations, previous unto the Explanation of the Doctrine of JUSTIFICATION First, The general nature of justification. — State of the person to be justified antecedently thereunto, Romans 4:5; 3:19; 1:32; Galatians 3:10; John 3:18,36; Galatians 3:22 — The sole inquiry on that state — Whether it be any thing that is our own inherently, or what is only imputed unto us, that we are to trust unto for our acceptance with God — The sum of this inquiry — The proper ends of teaching and learning the doctrine of justification — Things to be avoided therein Secondly, A due consideration of God, the Judge of all, necessary unto the right stating and apprehension of the doctrine of justification, Romans 8:33; Isaiah 43:25; 45:25; Psalm 143:2; Romans 3:20. — What thoughts will be ingenerated hereby in the minds of men, Isaiah 33:14; Micah 6:6,7; Isaiah 6:5 — The plea of Job against his friends, and before God, not the same, Job 40:3-5, 43:406 — Directions for visiting the sick given of old — Testimonies of Jerome and Ambrose — Sense of men in their prayers, Daniel 9:7,18; Psalm 143:2, 130:3, — Paraphrase of Austin on that place — Prayer of Pelagius — Public liturgies Thirdly, A due sense of our apostasy from God, the depravation of our nature thereby, with the power and guilt of sin, the holiness of the law, necessary unto a right understanding of the doctrine of justification. — Method of the apostle to this purpose, Romans 1,2, — Grounds of the ancient and present Pelagianism, in the denial of these things — Instances thereof — Boasting of perfection from the same ground — Knowledge of sin and grace mutually promote each other Fourthly, Opposition between works and grace, as unto justification. — Method of the apostle, in the Epistle to the Romans, to manifest this opposition — A scheme of others contrary thereunto — Testimonies witnessing this opposition — Judgment to be made on them — Distinctions whereby they are evaded — The uselessness of them — Resolution of the case in hand by Bellarmine, Daniel 9:18; Luke 17:10 Fifthly, A commutation as unto sin and righteousness, by imputation, between Christ and believers, represented in the Scripture. — The ordinance of the scapegoat, Leviticus 16:21, — The nature of expiatory sacrifices, Leviticus 4:29, etc. — Expiation of an uncertain murder, Deuteronomy 21:1-9 — The commutation intended proved and vindicated, Isaiah 53:5,6; Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:3,4; Galatians 3:13,14; 1 Peter 2:24; Deuteronomy 21:23 — Testimonies of Justin Martyr, Gregory Nyseen, Augustine, Chrysostom, Bernard, Taulerus, Pighius, to that purpose — The proper actings of faith with respect thereunto, Romans 5:11; Matthew 11:28; Psalm 38:4; Genesis 4:13; Isaiah 53:11; Galatians 3:1; Isaiah 45:22; John 3:14, — A bold calumny answered Sixthly, Introduction of grace by Jesus Christ into the whole of our relation unto God, and its respect unto all the parts of our obedience. — No mystery of grace in the covenant of works — All religion originally commensurate unto reason — No notions of natural light concerning the introduction of the mediation of Christ and mystery of grace, into our relation to God, Ephesians 1:17-19 — Reason, as corrupted, can have no notions of religion but what are derived from its primitive state — Hence the mysteries of the gospel esteemed folly — Reason, as corrupted, repugnant unto the mystery of grace — Accommodation of spiritual mysteries unto corrupt reason, wherefore acceptable unto many — Reasons of it — Two parts of corrupted nature’s repugnancy unto the mystery of the gospel: —
1. That which would reduce it unto the private reason of men — Thence the Trinity denied, and the incarnation of the Son of God; without which the doctrine of justification cannot stand — Rule of the Socinians in the interpretation of the Scripture —
2. Want of a due comprehension of the harmony that is between all the parts of the mystery of grace — This harmony proved — Compared with the harmony in the works of nature — To be studied — But it is learned only of them who are taught of God; and in experience — Evil effects of the want of a due comprehension hereof — Instances of them — All applied unto the doctrine of justification Seventhly, General prejudices against the imputation of the righteousness of Christ: —
1. That it is not in terms found in the Scripture, answered —
2. That nothing is said of it in the writings of the evangelists, answered, John 20:30, — Nature of Christ’s personal ministry — Revelations by the Holy Spirit immediately from Christ — Design of the writings of the evangelists —
3. Differences among Protestants themselves about this doctrine, answered — Sense of the ancients herein — What is of real difference among Protestants, considered Eighthly, Influence of the doctrine of justification into the first Reformation. — Advantages unto the world by that Reformation — State of the consciences of men under the Papacy, with respect unto justification before God — Alterations made therein by the light of this doctrine, though not received — Alterations in the Pagan unbelieving world by the introduction of Christianity — Design and success of the first reformers herein — Attempts for reconciliation with the Papists in this doctrine, and their success — Remainders of the ignorance of the truth in the Roman church — Unavoidable consequences of the corruption of this doctrine I. Justifying faith; the causes and object of it declared.
Justification by faith generally acknowledged — The meaning of it perverted — The nature and use of faith in justification proposed to consideration — Distinctions about it waived — A twofold faith of the gospel expressed in the Scripture — Faith that is not justifying, Acts 8:13; John 2:23,24; Luke 8:13; Matthew 7:22, — Historical faith; whence it is so called, and the nature of it — Degrees of assent in it — Justification not ascribed unto any degree of it — A calumny obviated — The causes of true saving faith — Conviction of sin previous unto it — The nature of legal conviction, and its effects — Arguments to prove it antecedent unto faith — Without the consideration of it, the true nature of faith not to be understood — The order and relation of the law and gospel, Romans 1:17 — Instance of Adam — Effects of conviction — Internal: Displicency and sorrow; fear of punishment; desire of deliverance — External: Abstinence from sin; performance of duties; reformation of life — Not conditions of justification; not formal disposition unto it; not moral preparations for it — The order of God in justification — The proper object of justifying faith — Not all divine verity equally; proved by sundry arguments — The pardon of our own sins, whether the first object of faith — The Lord Christ in the work of mediation, as the ordinance of God for the recovery of lost sinners, the proper object of justifying faith — The position explained and proved, Acts 10:43; 16:31; 4:12; Luke 24:25-27; John 1:12; 3:16, 36; 6:29, 47; 7:38; Acts 26:18; Colossians 2:6; Romans 3:24,25; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:7,8; 2 Corinthians 5:19 II. The nature of justifying faith.
The nature of justifying faith in particular, or of faith in the exercise of it, whereby we are justified — The heart’s approbation of the way of the justification and salvation of sinners by Christ, with its acquiescency therein — The description given, explained and confirmed: —
1. From the nature of the gospel — Exemplified in its contrary, or the nature of unbelief, Proverbs 1:30; Hebrews 2:3; 1 Peter 2:7; 1 Corinthians 1:23,24; Corinthians 4:3 — What it is, and wherein it does consist. —
2. The design of God in and by the gospel — His own glory his utmost end in all things — The glory of his righteousness, grace, love, wisdom, etc. — The end of God in the way of the salvation of sinners by Christ, Romans 3:25; John 3:16; 1 John 3:16; Ephesians 1:5,6; Corinthians 1:24; Ephesians 3:10; Romans 1:16; 4:16; Ephesians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 4:6 —
4. Order of the acts of faith, or the method in believing — Convictions previous thereunto — Sincere assent unto all divine revelations, Acts 26:27 — The proposal of the gospel unto that end, Romans 10:11-17; Corinthians 3:18, etc. — State of persons called to believe — Justifying faith does not consist in any one single habit or act of the mind or will — The nature of that about which is the first act of faith — Approbation of the way of salvation by Christ, comprehensive of the special nature of justifying faith — What is included there in: —
2. Consent of the will unto this way, John 14:6 —
4. Trust in God. —
5. Faith described by trust — The reason of it — Nature and object of this trust inquired into — A double consideration of special mercy — Whether obedience be included in the nature of faith, or be of the essence of it — A sincere purpose of universal obedience inseparable from faith — How faith alone justifies — Repentance, how required in and unto justification — How a condition of the new covenant — Perseverance in obedience is so also — Definitions of faith III. The use of faith in justification; its especial object farther cleared.
Use of faith in justification; various conceptions about it — By whom asserted as the instrument of it; by whom denied — In what sense it is affirmed so to be — The expressions of the Scripture concerning the use of faith in justification; what they are, and how they are best explained by an instrumental cause — Faith, how the instrument of God in justification — How the instrument of them that do believe — The use of faith expressed in the Scripture by apprehending, receiving; declared by an instrument — Faith, in what sense the condition of our justification — Signification of that term, whence to be learned IV. Of justification; the notion and signification of the Word in Scripture.
The proper sense of these words, justification, and to justify, considered — Necessity thereof — Latin derivation of justification — Some of the ancients deceived by it — From “jus”, and “justum”; “justus filius”, who — The Hebrew “hitsdik” — Use and signification of it — Places where it is used examined, 2 Samuel 15:4; Deuteronomy 25:1; Proverbs 17:15; Isaiah 5:23; 50:8, 9; 1 Kings 8:31,32; Chronicles 6:22, 23; Psalm 82:3; Exodus 23:7; Job 27:5; Isaiah 53:11; Genesis 44:16; Daniel 12:3 — The constant sense of the word evinced — “Diakaio-oo”, use of it in other authors, to punish — What it is in the New Testament, Matthew 11:19; 12:37; Luke 7:29; 10:29; 16:15; 18:14; Acts 13:38,39; Romans 2:13; 3:4 — Constantly used in a forensic sense — Places seeming dubious, vindicated, Romans 8:30; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:5-7; Revelation 22:11 — How often these words, “diakaio-oo” and “dikaioumai”, are used in the New Testament — Constant sense of this — The same evinced from what is opposed unto it, Isaiah 1:8,9; Proverbs 17:15; Romans 5:116, 18; 8:33, — And the declaration of it in terms equivalent, Romans 4:6,11; 5:9, 10; 2 Corinthians 5:20,21; Matthew 1:21; Acts 13:39; Galatians 2:16, etc. — Justification in the Scripture, proposed under a juridical scheme, and of a forensic title — The parts and progress of it — Inferences from the whole Distinction of a first and second justification — The whole doctrine of the Roman church concerning justification grounded on this distinction — The first justification, the nature and causes of it, according unto the Romanists — The second justification, what it is in their sense — Solution of the seeming difference between Paul and James, falsely pretended by this distinction — The same distinction received by the Socinians and others — The latter termed by some the continuation of our justification — The distinction disproved — Justification considered, either as unto its essence or its manifestation — The manifestation of it twofold, initial and final — Initial is either unto ourselves or others — No second justification hence ensues — Justification before God, legal and evangelical — Their distinct natures — The distinction mentioned derogatory to the merit of Christ — More in it ascribed unto ourselves than unto the blood of Christ, in our justification — The vanity of disputations to this purpose — All true justification overthrown by this distinction — No countenance given unto this justification in the Scripture — The second justification not intended by the apostle James — Evil of arbitrary distinctions — Our first justification so described in the Scripture as to leave no room for a second — Of the continuation of our justification; whether it depend on faith alone, or our personal righteousness, inquired — Justification at once completed, in all the causes and effects of it, proved at large — Believers, upon their justification, obliged unto perfect obedience — The commanding power of the law constitutes the nature of sin in them who are not obnoxious unto its curse — Future sins, in what sense remitted at our first justification — The continuation of actual pardon, and thereby of a justified estate; on what it does depend — Continuation of justifications the act of God; whereon it depends in that sense — On our part, it depends on faith alone — Nothing required hereunto but the application of righteousness imputed — The continuation of our justification is before God — That whereon the continuation of our justification depends, pleadable before God — This not our personal obedience, proved: —
1. By the experience of all believers —
2. Testimonies of Scripture —
3. Examples — The distinction mentioned rejected VI. Evangelical personal righteousness, the nature and use of it. — Final judgment, and its respect unto justification Evangelical personal righteousness; the nature and use of it — Whether there be an angelical justification on our evangelical righteousness, inquired into — How this is by some affirmed and applauded — Evangelical personal righteousness asserted as the condition of our righteousness, or the pardon of sin — Opinion of the Socinians — Personal righteousness required in the gospel — Believers hence denominated righteous — Not with respect unto righteousness habitual, but actual only — Inherent righteousness the same with sanctification, or holiness — In what sense we may be said to be justified by inherent righteousness — No evangelical justification on our personal righteousness — The imputation of the righteousness of Christ does not depend thereon — None have this righteousness, but they are antecedently justified — A charge before God, in all justification before God — The instrument of this charge, the law or the gospel — From neither of them can we be justified by this personal righteousness — The justification pretended needless and useless — It has not the nature of any justification mentioned in the Scripture, but is contrary to all that is so called — Other arguments to the same purpose — Sentential justification at the last day — Nature of the last judgment — Who shall be then justified — A declaration of righteousness, and an actual admission into glory, the whole of justification at the last day — The argument that we are justified in this life in the same manner, and on the same grounds, as we shall be judged at the last day, that judgment being according unto works, answered; and the impertinency of it declared VII. Imputation, and the nature of it; with the imputation of the righteousness of Christ in particular.
Imputation, and the nature of it — The first express record of justification determines it to be by imputation, Genesis 15:6 — Reasons of it — The doctrine of imputation cleared by Paul; the occasion of it — Maligned and opposed by many — Weight of the doctrine concerning imputation of righteousness, on all hands acknowledged — Judgment of the Reformed churches herein, particularly of the church of England — By whom opposed, and on what grounds — Signification of the word — Difference between “reputare” and “imputare” — Imputation of two kinds: —
1. Of what was ours antecedently unto that imputation, whether good or evil — Instances in both kinds — Nature of this imputation — The thing imputed by it, imputed for what it is, and nothing else. —
2. Of what is not ours antecedently unto that imputation, but is made so by it — General nature of this imputation — Not judging of others to have done what they have not done — Several distinct grounds and reasons of this imputation: —
1. “Ex justitia”; —
(1.) “Propter relationem foederalem;” —
(2.) “Propter relationem naturalem;” —
3. “Ex injuria”, 1 Kings 1:21. —
4. “Ex mera gratia,” Romans — Difference between the imputation of any works of ours, and of the righteousness of God — Imputation of inherent righteousness is “ex justitia” — Inconsistency of it with that which is “ex mera gratia,” Romans — Agreement of both kinds of imputation — The true nature of the imputation of righteousness unto justification explained — Imputation of the righteousness of Christ —The thing itself imputed, not the effect of it; proved against the Socinians VIII. Imputation of the sins of the church unto Christ. — Grounds of it — The nature of his suretiship — Causes of the new covenant — Christ and the church one mystical person — Consequents thereof Imputation of sin unto Christ — Testimonies of the ancients unto that purpose — Christ and the church one mystical person — Mistakes about that state and relation — Grounds and reasons of the union that is the foundation of this imputation — Christ the surety of the new covenant; in what sense, unto what ends — Hebrews 7:22, opened — Mistakes about the causes and ends of the death of Christ — The new covenant, in what sense alone procured and purchased thereby — Inquiry whether the guilt of our sins was imputed unto Christ — The meaning of the words, “guilt,” and “guilty” — The distinction of “reatus culpae”, and “reatus poenae”, examined — Act of God in the imputation of the guilt of our sins unto Christ — Objections against it answered — The truth confirmed IX. The formal cause of justification, or the righteousness on the account whereof believers are justified before God. — Objections answered Principal controversies about justification: —
1. Concerning the nature of justification, stated —
2. Of the formal cause of it —
3. Of the way whereby we are made partakers of the benefits of the mediation of Christ — What intended by the formal cause of justification, declared — The righteousness on the account whereof believers are justified before God alone, inquired after under these terms — This the righteousness of Christ, imputed unto them — Occasions of exceptions and objections against this doctrine — General objections examined — Imputation of the righteousness of Christ consistent with the free pardon of sin, and with the necessity of evangelical repentance — Method of God’s grace in our justification — Necessity of faith unto justification, on supposition of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ — Grounds of that necessity — Other objections, arising mostly from mistakes of the truth, asserted, discussed, and answered X. Arguments for justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. The first argument from the nature and use of our own personal righteousness.
Arguments for justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ — Our own personal righteousness not that on the account whereof we are justified in the sight of God — Disclaimed in the Scriptures, as to any such end — The truth and reality of it granted — Manifold imperfection accompanying it, rendering it unmeet to be a righteousness unto the justification of life XIV. The exclusion of all sorts of works from an interest in justification.
What is intended by “the law,” and the “works” of it, in the epistles of Paul — All works whatever are expressly excluded from any interest in our justification before God — What intended by the works of the law — Not those of the ceremonial law only — Not perfect works only, as required by the law of our creation — Not the outward works of the law, performed without a principle of faith — Not works of the Jewish law — Not works with a conceit of merit — Not works only wrought before believing, in the strength of our own wills — Works excluded absolutely from our justification, without respect unto a distinction of a first and second justification — The true sense of the law in the apostolical assertion that none are justified by the works thereof — What the Jews understood by the law — Distribution of the law under the Old Testament — The whole law a perfect rule of all inherent moral or spiritual obedience — What are the works of the law, declared from the Scripture, and the argument thereby confirmed — The nature of justifying faith farther declared XV. Faith alone.
Of faith alone XVI. The truth pleaded farther confirmed by testimonies of Scripture. — Jeremiah 23:6 Testimonies of Scripture confirming the doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ — Jeremiah 23:6, explained and indicated XVII. Testimonies out of the evangelists considered.
Testimonies out of the evangelists considered — Design of our Savior’s sermon on the mount — The purity and penalty of the law vindicated by him — Arguments from thence — Luke 18:9-14, the parable of the Pharisee and publican explained and applied to the present argument — Testimonies out of the gospel by John, chap. 1:12; 3:14-18, etc.
XVIII. The nature of justification as declared in the epistles of St. Paul, in that unto the Romans especially. — Chap. 3 (4, 5, 10; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 3:8,9.)
Testimonies out of the Epistles of Paul the apostle — His design in the fifth chapter to the Romans — That design explained at large, and applied to the present argument — Chap. 3:24-26 explained, and the true sense of the words vindicated — The causes of justification enumerated — Apostolical inference from the consideration of them — Chap. 4, design of the disputation of the apostle therein Analysis of his discourse — Verses 4, 5, particularly insisted on; their true sense vindicated — What works excluded from the justification of Abraham — Who it is that works not — In what sense the ungodly are justified — All men ungodly antecedently unto their justification — Faith alone the means of justification on our part — Faith itself, absolutely considered, not the righteousness that is imputed unto us — Proved by sundry arguments Romans 5:l2-21 — Boasting excluded in ourselves, asserted in God — The design and sum of the apostle’s argument — Objection of Socinus removed — Comparison between the two Adams, and those that derive from them — Sin entered into the world — What sin intended — Death, what it comprises, what intended by it — The sense of these words, “inasmuch,” or, “in whom all have sinned,” cleared and vindicated — The various oppositions used by the apostle in this discourse: principally between sin or the fall, and the free gift; between the disobedience of the one, and the obedience of another; judgment on the one hand, and justification unto life on the other — The whole context at large explained, and the argument for justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, fully confirmed Romans 10:3,4, explained and insisted on to the same purpose 1 Corinthians 1:30 — Christ, how of God made righteousness unto us — Answer of Bellarmine unto this testimony removed — That of Socinus disproved — True sense of the words evinced 2 Corinthians 5:21 — In what sense Christ knew no sin — Emphasis in that expression — How he was made sin for us — By the imputation of sin unto him — Mistakes of some about this expression — Sense of the ancients — Exception of Bellarmine unto this testimony answered, with other reasonings of his to the same purpose — The exceptions of others also removed Galatians 2:16 Ephesians 2:8-10 — Evidence of this testimony — Design of the apostle from the beginning of the chapter — Method of the apostle in the declaration of the grace of God — Grace alone the cause of deliverance from a state of sin — Things to be observed in the assignation of the causes of spiritual deliverances — Grace, how magnified by him — Force of the argument and evidence from thence — State of the case here proposed by the apostle — General determination of it, “By grace are ye saved” — What is it to be saved, inquired into — The same as to be justified, but not exclusively — The causes of our justification declared positively and negatively — The whole secured unto the grace of God by Christ, and our interest therein through faith alone — Works excluded — What works? — Not works of the law of Moses — Not works antecedent unto believing — Works of true believers — Not only in opposition to the grace of God, but to faith in us — Argument from those words — Reason whereon this exclusion of works is founded — To exclude boasting on our part — Boasting, wherein it consists — Inseparable from the interest of works in justification — Danger of it — Confirmation of this reason, obviating an objection — The objection stated — If we be not justified by works, of what use are they? answered Philippians 3:8, — Heads of argument from this testimony — Design of the context — Righteousness the foundation of acceptance with God — A twofold righteousness considered by the apostle — Opposite unto one another, as unto the especial and inquired after — Which of these he adhered unto, his own righteousness, or the righteousness of God; declared by the apostle with vehemency of speech — Reasons of his earnestness herein — The turning point whereon he left Judaism — The opposition made unto this doctrine by the Jews — The weight of the doctrine, and unwillingness of men to receive it — His own sense of sin and grace — Peculiar expressions used in this place, for the reasons mentioned, concerning Christ; concerning all things that are our own — The choice to be made on the case stated, whether we will adhere unto our own righteousness, or that of Christ’s, which are inconsistent as to the end of justification — Argument from this place — Exceptions unto this testimony, and argument from thence, removed — Our personal righteousness inherent, the same with respect unto the law and gospel — External righteousness only required by the law, an impious imagination — Works wrought before faith only rejected — The exception removed — Righteousness before conversion, not intended by the apostle XIX. Objections against the doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ — Personal holiness and obedience not obstructed, but furthered by it — Objections against the doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ — Nature of these objections — Difficulty in discerning aright the sense of some men in this argument — Justification by works, the end of all declension from the righteousness of Christ — Objections against this doctrine derived from a supposition thereof alone — First principal objection: Imputed righteousness overthrows the necessity of a holy life — This objection, as managed by them of the church of Rome, an open calumny — How insisted on by some among ourselves — Socinus’ fierceness in this charge — His foul dishonesty therein — False charges on men’s opinions making way for the rash condemnation of their persons — Iniquity of such censures — The objection rightly stated — Sufficiently answered in the previous discourses about the nature of faith, and force of the moral law — The nature and necessity of evangelical holiness elsewhere pleaded — Particular answers unto this objection — All who profess this doctrine do not exemplify it in their lives — The most holy truths have been abused — None by whom this doctrine is now denied exceeds them in holiness by whom it is formerly professed, and the power of it attested — The contrary doctrine not successful in the reformation of the lives of men — The best way to determine this difference — The one objection managed against the doctrine of the apostle in his own days — Efficacious prejudices against this doctrine in the minds of men — The whole doctrine of the apostle liable to be abused — Answer of the apostle unto this objection — He never once attempts to answer it by declaring the necessity of personal righteousness, or good works, unto justification before God — He confines the cogency of evangelical motives unto obedience only unto believers — Grounds of evangelical holiness asserted by him, in compliance with his doctrine of justification: — 1 Divine ordination — Exceptions unto this ground removed —
2. Answer of the apostle vindicated — The obligation of the law unto obedience — Nature of it, and consistency with grace — This answer of the apostle vindicated — Heads of other principles that might be pleaded to the same purpose XX. The doctrine of the apostle James concerning faith and works — Its agreement with that of St. Paul — Seeming difference, no real contradiction, between the apostles Paul and James, concerning justification — This granted by all — Reasons of the seeming difference — The best rule of the interpretation of places of Scripture wherein there is an appearing repugnancy — The doctrine of justification according unto that rule principally to be learned from the writings of Paul — The reasons of his fullness and accuracy in the teaching of that doctrine — The importance of the truth; the opposition made unto it, and abuse of it — The design of the apostle James — Exceptions of some against the writings of St. Paul, scandalous and unreasonable — Not, in this matter, to be interpreted by the passage in James insisted on, chap.
2. — That there is no repugnancy between the doctrine of the two apostles demonstrated — Heads and grounds of the demonstration — Their scope, design, and end, not the same — That of Paul; the only case stated and determined by him — The design of the apostle James; the case proposed by him quite of another nature — The occasion of the case proposed and stated by him — No appearance of difference between the apostles, because of the several cases they speak unto — Not the same faith intended by them — Description of the faith spoken of by the one, and the other — Bellarmine’s arguments to prove true justifying faith to be intended by James, answered — Justification not treated of by the apostles in the same manner, nor used in the same sense, nor to the same end — The one treats of justification, as unto its nature and causes; the other, as unto its signs and evidence — Proved by the instances insisted on — How the Scripture was fulfilled, that Abraham believed in God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness, when he offered his son on the altar — Works the same, and of the same kind, in both the apostles — Observations on the discourse of James — No conjunction made by him between faith nor works in our justification, but an opposition — No distinction of a first and second justification in him — Justification ascribed by him wholly unto works — In what sense — Does not determine how a sinner may be justified before God; but how a professor may evidence himself so to be — The context opened from verse 14, to the end of the chapter PREFATORY NOTE There is a pregnant and striking passage in one of the charges of Bishop Horsley, which may be said to embody the substance and intimate the scope of the following work on justification, — a work which has been esteemed one of the best productions of Dr. Owen. “That man is justified,” says Horsley, “by faith, without the works of the law, was the uniform doctrine of our first Reformers. It is a far more ancient doctrine, — it was the doctrine of the whole college of apostles; it is more ancient still, — it was the doctrine of the prophets; it is older than the prophets, — it was the religion of the patriarchs; and no one who has the least acquaintance with the writings of the first Reformers will impute to them, more than to the patriarchs, the prophets, or apostles, the absurd opinion, that any man leading an impenitent, wicked life, will finally, upon the mere pretense of faith (and faith connected with an impenitent life must always be a mere pretense), obtain admission into heaven.”
Dr Owen, in the “general considerations” with which he opens the discussion of this momentous subject, shows that the doctrine of justification by faith was clearly declared in the teaching of the ancient church. Among other testimonies, he adduces the remarkable extract from the epistle to Diognetus, which, though commonly printed among the works of Justin Martyr, has been attributed by Tillemont to some author in the first century. Augustine, in his contest with Pelagian error, powerfully advocated the doctrines of grace. That he clearly apprehended the nature of justification by grace appears from the principle so tersely enunciated by him, “Opera bona non faciunt justum, sed justificatus facit bona opera.” The controversy, however in which he was the great champion of orthodox opinions, turned mainly upon the renovation of the heart by a divine and supernatural influence; not so directly on the change of state effected by justifying grace. It was the clear apprehension and firm grasp of this doctrine which ultimately emancipated Luther from the thralldom of Romish error, and he clung to it with a zeal proportioned to his conviction of the benefit which his own soul had derived from it. He restored it to its true place and bearings in the Christian system, and, in emphatic expression of its importance, pronounced it “Articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae.” It had to encounter, accordingly, strong opposition from all who were hostile to the theology of the Reformation. Both Socinus and Bellarmine wrote against it, — the former discussing the question in connection with his general argument against orthodox views on the subject of the person and work of Christ; the latter devoting a separate treatise expressly to the refutation of the doctrine of the Reformed churches regarding justification. Several Roman Catholic authors followed in his wake, to whom Dr. Owen alludes in different parts of his work. The ability with which Bellarmine conducted his argument cannot be questioned; though sometimes, in meeting difficulties and disposing of objections to his views from Scripture, he evinces an unscrupulous audacity of statement. His work still continues, perhaps the ablest and most systematic attempt to overthrow the doctrine of justification by faith. In supplying an antidote to the subtle disquisitions of the Romish divine, Dr. Owen is in reality vindicating that doctrine at all the points where the acumen of his antagonist had conceived it liable to be assailed with any hope of success.
To counteract the tendency of the religious mind when it proceeded in the direction of Arminianism, Calvinistic divines, naturally engrossed with the points in dispute, dwelt greatly on the workings of efficacious grace in election, regeneration, and conversion, if not to the exclusion of the free offer of the gospel, at least so as to cast somewhat into the shade the free justification offered in it. The Antinomianism which arose during the time of the Commonwealth has been accounted the reaction from this defect.
Under these circumstances, the attention of theologians was again drawn to the doctrine of justification. Dissent could not, in those times, afford to be weakened by divisions; and partly under the influence of his own pacific dispositions, and partly to accomplish a public service to the cause of religion, Baxter made an attempt to reconcile the parties at variance, and to soothe into unity the British churches. Rightly conceiving that the essence of the question lay in the nature of justification, he published in 1649 his “Aphorisms on Justification,” in opposition to the Antinomian tendencies of the day, and yet designed to accommodate the prevailing differences; on terms, however, that were held to compromise the gratuitous character of justification. He had unconsciously, by a recoil common in every attempt to reconcile essentially antagonistic principles, made a transition from the ground of justification by faith, to views clearly opposed to it. Though his mind was the victim of a false theory, his heart was practically right; and he subsequently modified and amended his views. But to his “Aphorisms” Bishop Barlow traces the first departure from the received doctrine of the Reformed churches on the subject of justification. In 1669, Bishop Bull published his “Apostolical Harmony,” with the view of reconciling the apostles Paul and James. There is no ambiguity in regard to his views as to the ground of a sinner’s acceptance with God. According to Bull “faith denotes the whole condition of the gospel covenant; that is, comprehends in one word all the works of Christian piety.” It is the just remark of Bickersteth, that “under the cover of justification by faith, this is in reality justification by works.” A host of opponents sprung up in reply to Baxter and Bull; but they were not left without help in maintaining their position. In support of Baxter, Sir Charles Wolsley, a baronet of some reputation, who had been a member of Cromwell’s Council of State, and who sat in several parliaments after the Restoration, published, in 1667, his “Justification Evangelical.” In a letter to Mr. Humfrey, author of the “Peaceable Disquisition”, published subsequently to Owen’s work and partly in refutation of it, Sir Charles, referring to Dr. Owen, remarks, “I suppose you know his book of Justification was written particularly against mine.” There is reason to believe that Owen had a wider object in view than the refutation of any particular treatise. In the preface to his great work, which appeared in 1677, he assures the reader that, whatever contests prevailed on the subject of justification, it was his design to mingle in no personal controversy with any author of the day. Not that his seasonings had no bearing on the pending disputes, for, from the brief review we have submitted of the history of this discussion, it is clear that, with all its other excellencies, the work was eminently seasonable and much needed; but he seems to have been under a conviction, that in refuting specially Socinus and Bellarmine, he was in effect disposing of the most formidable objections ever urged against the doctrine of justification by grace, while he avoided the impleasantness of personal collision with the Christian men of his own times whose views might seem to him deeply erroneous on the point; and the very coincidence of these views, both in principle and tendency, with Socinian and Popish heresies, would suggest to his readers, if not a conclusive argument against them, at least a good reason why they should be carefully examined before they were embraced. His work, therefore, is not a Meager and ephemeral contribution to the controversy as it prevailed in his day, and under an aspect in which it may never again be revived. It is a formal review of the whole amount of truth revealed to us in regard to the justification of the sinner before God; and, if the scope of the treatise is considered, the author cannot be blamed for prolixity in the treatment of a theme so wide. On his own side of the question, it is still the most complete discussion in one language of the important doctrine to which it relates. Exception has been taken to the abstruse definitions and distinctions which he introduces. He had obviously no intention to offend in this way; for, at the close of chap. 14, he makes a quaint protest against the admission of “exotic learning,” “philosophical notions,” and “arbitrary distinctions,” into the exposition of spiritual truth. In the refutation of complicated error, there is sometimes a necessity to track it through various sinuosities; but, in the main, the treatise is written in a spirit which proves how directly the author was resting on divine truth as the basis of his own faith and hope, and how warily he strove and watched that his mind might not “be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ”. “A curious fact”, says Mr. Orme, “respecting this book, is mentioned in the Life of Mr. Joseph Williams, of Kidderminster: —’At last, the time of his (Mr Grimshawe’s, an active clergyman of the Church of England) deliverance came. At the house of one of his friends he lays his hand on a book, and opens it, with his face towards a pewter shelf. Instantly his face is saluted with an uncommon flash of heat. He turns to the title-page, and finds it to be Dr. Owen on Justification. Immediately he is surprised with such another flash. He borrows the book, studies it, is led into God’s method of justifying the ungodly, has a new heart given unto him; and now, behold, he prays!’ Whether these flashes were electrical or galvanic, as Southey in his Life of Wesley supposes, it deserves to be noticed, that it was not the flash but the book which converted Grimshawe. The occurrence which turned his attention to it, is of importance merely as the second cause, which, under the mysterious direction of Providence, led to a blessed result.”
Analysis. — The causes, object, nature, and use of faith are successively considered, chap. 1-3. The nature of justification is next discussed; — first, under an inquiry into the meaning of the different terms commonly employed regarding it; and, secondly, by a statement of the juridical and forensic aspect under which it is represented in Scripture, 4. The theory of a twofold justification, as asserted by the Church of Rome, and another error which ascribes the initial justification of the sinner to faith, but the continuance of his state as justified to his own personal righteousness, are examined, and proved untenable, 5. Several arguments are urged in disproof of a third erroneous theory, broached and supported by Socinians, that justification depends upon evangelical righteousness as the condition on which the righteousness of Christ is imputed, 6. A general statement follows of the nature of imputation, and of the grounds on which imputation proceeds, 7. A full discussion ensues of the doctrine that sin is imputed to Christ, grounded upon the mystical union between Christ and the church, the suretiship of the former in behalf of the church, and the provisions of the new covenant,8. The chief controversies in regard to justification are arranged and classified, and the author fixes on the point relating to the formal cause of justification as the main theme of the subsequent reasonings, 9.
At this stage, the second division of the treatise may be held to begin, — the previous disquisitions being more of a preliminary character. The scope of what follows is to prove that the sinner is justified, through faith, by the imputed righteousness of Christ. This part of the work embraces four divisions; — general arguments for the doctrine affirmed; testimonies from Scripture in support of it; the refutation of objections to it; and the reconciliation of the passages in the Epistles of Paul and James which have appeared to some to be inconsistent.
Under the head of “general arguments”, he rebuts briefly the general objections to imputation, and contends for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as the ground of justification; — first, from the insufficiency of our own righteousness, or, in other words, from the condition of guilt in which all men are by nature involved, 10; secondly, from the nature of the obedience required unto justification, according to the eternal obligation of the divine law,11; and, as a subsidiary and collateral consideration, from the necessity which existed that the precept of the law should be fulfilled as well as that atonement should be rendered for the violation of it, — in short, from the active as well as the passive righteousness of Christ; and here the three objections of Socinius, that such an imputation of Christ’s obedience is impossible, useless, and pernicious, receive s detailed confutation, 12; thirdly, from the difference between the two covenants,13; and fourthly, from the express terms in which all works see excluded from justification in Scripture, 14; while faith is exhibited in the gospel as the sole instrument by which we are interested in the righteousness of Christ,15. The “testimony of Scripture” is then adduced at great length, — passages being quoted and commented on from the prophets,16; from the evangelists,17; and from the epistles of Paul,18. The “objections” to the doctrine of justification are reviewed, and the chief objection, — namely, that the doctrine overthrows the necessity of holiness and subverts moral obligation, — is repelled by a variety of arguments, 19.
Lastly, the concluding chapter is devoted to an explanation of the passages in Paul and James which are alleged to be at variance but which are proved to be in perfect harmony, 20. — Ed.
TO THE READER I shall not need to detain the reader with an account of the nature and moment of that doctrine which is the entire subject of the ensuing discourse; far although sunder persons, even among ourselves, have various apprehensions concerning it, yet that the knowledge of the truth therein is of the highest importance unto the souls of men is on all hands agreed unto. Nor, indeed, is it possible that any man who knows himself to be a sinner, and obnoxious thereon to the judgment of God, but he must desire to have some knowledge of it, as that alone whereby the way of delivery from the evil state and condition wherein he finds himself is revealed. There are, I confess, multitudes in the world who, although they cannot avoid some general convictions of sin, as also of the consequent of it, yet do fortify their minds against a practical admission of such conclusions as, in a just consideration of things, do necessarily and unavoidably ensue thereon. Such persons, wilfully deluding themselves with vain hopes and imaginations, do never once seriously inquire by what way or means they may obtain peace with God and acceptance before him, which, in comparison of the present enjoyment of the pleasures of sin, they value not at all. And it is in vain to recommend the doctrine of justification unto them who neither desire nor endeavor to be justified. But where any persons are really made sensible of their apostasy from God, of the evil of their natures and lives, with the dreadful consequences that attend thereon, in the wrath of God and eternal punishment due unto sin, they cannot well judge themselves more concerned in any thing than in the knowledge of that divine way whereby they may be delivered from this condition. And the minds of such persons stand in no need of arguments to satisfy them in the importance of this doctrine; their own concernment in it is sufficient to that purpose. And I shall assure them that, in the handling of it, from first to last, I have had no other design but only to inquire diligently into the divine revelation of that way, and those means, with the causes of them, whereby the conscience of a distressed sinner may attain assured peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. I lay more weight on the steady direction of one soul in this inquiry, than on disappointing the objections of twenty wrangling or fiery disputers. The question, therefore, unto this purpose being stated, as the reader will find in the beginning of our discourse, although it were necessary to spend some time in the explication of the doctrine itself, and terms wherein it is usually taught, get the main weight of the whole lies in the interpretation of scripture testimonies, with the application of them unto the experience of them who do believe, and the state of them who seek after salvation by Jesus Christ. There are, therefore, some few things that I would desire the reader to take notice of, that he may receive benefit by the ensuing discourse; at least, if it be not his own fault, be freed from prejudices against it, or a vain opposition unto it.
1. Although there are at present various contests about the doctrine of justification, and may books published in the way of controversy about it, yet this discourse was written with no design to contend with or contradict any, of what sort or opinion soever. Some few passages which seem of that tendency are, indeed, occasionally inserted; but they are such as every candid reader will judge to have been necessary. I have ascribed no opinion unto any particular person, — much less wrested the words of any, reflected on their persons, censured their abilities, taken advantage of presumed prejudices against them, represented their opinions in the deformed reflections of strained consequences, fancied intended notions, which their words do not express, nor, candidly interpreted, give any countenance unto, — or endeavored the vain pleasure of seeming success in opposition unto them; which, with the like effects of weakness of mind and disorder of affections, are the animating principles of many late controversial writings. To declare and vindicate the truth, unto the instruction and edification of such as love it in sincerity, to extricate their minds from those difficulties (in this particular instance) which some endeavor to cast on all gospel mysteries, to direct the consciences of them that inquire after abiding peace with God, and to establish the minds of them that do believe, are the things I have aimed at; and an endeavor unto this end, considering all circumstances, that station which God has been pleased graciously to give me in the church, has made necessary unto me.
2. I have written nothing but what I believe to be true, and useful unto the promotion of gospel obedience. The reader may not here expect an extraction of other men’s notions, or a collection and improvement of their arguments, either by artificial seasonings or ornament of style and language; but a naked inquiry into the nature of the things treated on, as revealed in the Scripture, and as evidencing themselves in their power and efficacy on the minds of them that do believe. It is the practical direction of the consciences of men, in their application unto God by Jesus Christ for deliverance from the curse due unto the apostate state, and peace with him, with the influence of the way thereof unto universal gospel obedience, that is alone to be designed in the handling of this doctrine.
And, therefore, unto him that would treat of it in a due manner, it is required that he weigh every thing he asserts in his own mind and experience, and not dare to propose that unto others which he does not abide by himself, in the most intimate recesses of his mind, under his nearest approaches unto God, in his surprisals with dangers, in deep afflictions, in his preparations for death, and most humble contemplations of the infinite distance between God and him. Other notions and disputations about the doctrine of justification, not seasoned with these ingredients, however condited unto the palate of some by skill and language, are insipid and useless, immediately degenerating into an unprofitable strife of words.
3. I know that the doctrine here pleaded for is charged by many with an unfriendly aspect towards the necessity of personal holiness, good works, and all gospel obedience in general, yea, utterly to take it away. So it was at the first clear revelation of it by the apostle Paul, as he frequently declares. But it is sufficiently evinced by him to be the chief principle of, and motive unto, all that obedience which is accepted with God through Jesus Christ, as we shall manifest afterwards. However, it is acknowledged that the objective grace of the gospel, in the doctrine of it, is liable to abuse, where there is nothing of the subjective grace of it in the hearts of men; and the ways of its influence into the life of God are uncouth unto the seasonings of carnal minds. So was it charged by the Papists, at the first Reformation, and continues yet so to be. Yet, as it gave the first occasion unto the Reformation itself, so was it that whereby the souls of men, being set at liberty from their bondage unto innumerable superstitious fears and observances, utterly inconsistent with true gospel obedience, and directed into the ways of peace with God through Jesus Christ, were made fruitful in real holiness, and to abound in all those blessed effects of the life of God which were never found among their adversaries. The same charge as afterwards renewed by the Socinians, and continues still to be managed by them. But I suppose wise and impartial men will not lay much weight on their accusations, until they have manifested the efficacy of their contrary persuasion by better effects and fruits than yet they have done. What sort of men they were who first coined that system of religion which they adhere unto, one who knew them well enough, find sufficiently inclined unto their Antitrinitarian opinions, declares in one of the queries that he proposed unto Socinus himself and his followers. “If this,” says he, “be the truth which you contend for, whence comes it to pass that is declared only by persons ‘nulla pietatis commendatione, nulla laudato prioris vitae exemplo commendatos; imo ut prerumque videmus, per vagabundos, et contentionum zeli carnalis plenos homines, alios ex castris, aulis, graneis, prolatam esse. Scrupuli ab excellenti viro propositi, inter oper. Socin.’” The fiercest charges of such men against any doctrines they oppose as inconsistent with the necessary motives unto godliness, are a recommendation of it unto the minds of considerative men. And there cannot be a more effectual engine plied for the ruin of religion, than for men to declaim against the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and other truths concerning the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, as those which overthrow the necessity of moral duties, good works, and gospel obedience; whilst, under the conduct of the opinions which they embrace in opposition unto them, they give not the least evidence of the power of the truth or grace of the gospel upon their own hearts, or in their lives.
Whereas, therefore, the whole gospel is the truth which is after godliness, declaring and exhibiting that grace of God which teaches us “to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and that we should live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this world;” we being fallen into those times wherein, under great and fierce contests about notions, opinions, and practices in religion, there is a horrible decay in true gospel purity and holiness of life amongst the generality of men, I shall readily grant that, keeping a due regard unto the only standard of truth, a secondary trial of doctrines proposed and contended for may and ought to be made, by the ways, lives, walkings, and conversations of them by whom they are received and professed. And although it is acknowledged that the doctrine pleaded in the ensuing discourse be liable to be abused, yea, turned into licentiousness, by men of corrupt minds, through the prevalence of vicious habits in them (as is the whole doctrine of the grace of God by Jesus Christ); and although the way and means of its efficacy and influence into universal obedience unto God, in righteousness and true holiness, be not discernible without some beam of spiritual light, nor will give an experience of their power unto the minds of men utterly destitute of a principle of spiritual life; yet, if it cannot preserve its station in the church by this rule, of its useful tendency unto the promotion of godliness, and its necessity thereunto, in all them by whom it is really believed and received in its proper light and power, and that in the experience of former and present times, I shall be content that it be exploded.
4. Finding that not a few have esteemed it compliant with their interest to publish exceptions against some few leaves which, in the handling of a subject of another nature, I occasionally wrote many years ago on this subject, I am not without apprehensions, that either the same persons or others of a like temper and principles, may attempt an opposition unto what is here expressly tendered thereon. On supposition of such an attempt, I shall, in one word, let the authors of it know wherein alone I shall be concerned. For, if they shall make it their business to cavil at expressions, to wrest my words, wire-draw inferences and conclusions from them not expressly owned by me, — to revile my person, to catch at advantages in any occasional passages, or other unessential parts of the discourse, — laboring for an appearance of success and reputation to themselves thereby, without a due attendance unto Christian moderation, candor, and ingenuity, — I shall take no more notice of what they say or write than I would do of the greatest impertinencies that can be reported in this world. The same I say concerning oppositions of the like nature unto another writings of mine, — a work which, as I hear, some are at present engaged in. I have somewhat else to do than to cast away any part of the small remainder of my life in that kind of controversial writings which good men bewail, and wise men deride. Whereas, therefore, the principal design of this discourse is to state the doctrine of justification from the Scripture, and to confirm it by the testimonies thereof, I shall not esteem it spoken against, unless our exposition of Scripture testimonies, and the application of them unto the present argument, be disproved by just rules of interpretation, and another sense of them be evinced. All other things which I conceive necessary to be spoken unto, in order unto the right understanding and due improvement of the truth pleaded for, are comprised and declared in the ensuing general discourses to that purpose.
These few things I thought meet to mind the reader of. J.O.
From my study, May the 30th, 1677.
THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH General Considerations, previous unto the Explanation of the Doctrine of Justification First The general nature of justification — State of the person to be justified antecedently thereunto, Romans 4:5; 3:19; 1:32; Galatians 3:10; John 3:18,36; Galatians 3:22 — The sole inquiry on that state — Whether it be any thing that is our own inherently, or what is only imputed unto us, that we are to trust unto for our acceptance with God — The sum of this inquiry — The proper ends of teaching and learning the doctrine of justification — Things to be avoided therein That we may treat of the doctrine of justification usefully unto its proper ends, which are the glory of God in Christ, with the peace and furtherance of the obedience of believers, some things are previously to be considered, which we must have respect unto in the whole process of our discourse.
And, among others that might be insisted on to the same purpose, these that ensue are not to be omitted: —
1. The first inquiry in this matter, in a way of duty, is after the proper relief of the conscience of a sinner pressed and perplexed with a sense of the guilt of sin. For justification is the way and means whereby such a person does obtain acceptance before God, with a right and title unto a heavenly inheritance. And nothing is pleadable in this cause but what a man would speak unto his own conscience in that state, or unto the conscience of another, when he is anxious under that inquiry. Wherefore, the person under consideration (that is, who is to be justified) is one who, in himself, is “asethes”, Romans 4:5, — “ungodly;” and thereon “hupodikos tooi Theooi”, chap. 3:19, — “guilty before God;” that is, obnoxious, subject, liable, “tooi dikaioomati tou Theou”, chap. 1:32, — to the righteous sentential judgment of God, that “he who committeth sin,” who is any way guilty of it, is “worthy of death.” Hereupon such a person finds himself “hupo kataran”, Galatians 3:10, — under “the curse,” and “the wrath of God” therein abiding on him,” John 3:18,36. In this condition he is “anapologetos”, — without plea, without excuse, by any thing in and from himself, for his own relief; his “mouth is stopped,” Romans 3:19. For he is, in the judgment of God, declared in the Scripture, “sungkekleismenos huph’ hamartian”, Galatians 3:22, — every way “shut up under sin” and all the consequents of it. Many evils in this condition are men subject unto, which may be reduced unto those two of our first parents, wherein they were represented. For, first, they thought foolishly to hide themselves from God; and then, more foolishly, would have charged him as the cause of their sin. And such, naturally, are the thoughts of men under their convictions. But whoever is the subject of the justification inquired after, is, by various means, brought into his apprehensions who cried, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 2. With respect unto this state and condition of men, or men in this state and condition, the inquiry is, “What that is upon the account whereof God pardons all their sins, receives them into his favor, declares or pronounces them righteous and acquitted from all guilt, removes the curse, and turns away all his wrath from them, giving them right and title unto a blessed, immortality or life eternal?” This is that alone wherein the consciences of sinners in this estate are concerned. Nor do they inquire after any thing, but what they may have to oppose unto or answer the justice of God in the commands and curse of the law, and what they may retake themselves unto for the obtaining of acceptance with him unto life and salvation.
That the apostle does thus, and no otherwise, state this whole matter, and, in an answer unto this inquiry, declare the nature of justification and all the causes of it, in the third and fourth chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, and elsewhere, shall be afterwards declared and proved. And we shall also manifest, that the apostle James, in the second chapter of his epistle, does not speak unto this inquiry, nor give an answer unto it; but it is of justification in another sense, and to another purpose, whereof he treats.
And whereas we cannot either safely or usefully treat of this doctrine, but with respect unto the same ends for which it is declared, and whereunto it is applied in the Scripture, we should not, by any pretenses, be turned aside from attending unto this case and its resolution, in all our discourses on this subject; for it is the direction, satisfaction, and peace of the consciences of men, and not the curiosity of notions or subtlety of disputations, which it is our duty to design. And, therefore, I shall, as much as I possibly may, avoid all these philosophical terms and distinctions wherewith this evangelical doctrine has been perplexed rather than illustrated; for 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.
3. Now the inquiry, on what account, or for what cause and reason, a man may be so acquitted or discharged of sin, and accepted with God, as before declared, does necessarily issue in this: — “Whether it be any thing in ourselves, as our faith and repentance, thee renovation of our natures, inherent habits of grace, and actual works of righteousness which we have done, or may do? Or whether it be the obedience, righteousness, satisfaction, and merit of the Son of God our mediator, and surety of the covenant, imputed unto us?” One of these it must be, — namely, something that is our own, which, whatever may be the influence of the grace of God unto it, or causality of it, because wrought in and by us, is inherently our own in a proper sense; or something which, being not our own, nor inherent in us, nor wrought by us, is yet imputed unto us, for the pardon of our sins and the acceptation of our persons as righteous, or the making of us righteous in the sight of God. Neither are these things capable of mixture or composition, Romans 11:6. Which of these it is the duty, wisdom, and safety of a convinced sinner to rely upon and trust unto, in his appearance before God, is the sum of our present inquiry.
4. The way whereby sinners do or ought to betake themselves unto this relief, on supposition that it is the righteousness of Christ, and how they come to be partakers of, or interested in, that which is not inherently their own, unto as good benefit and as much advantage as if it were their own, is of a distinct consideration. And as this also is clearly determined in the Scripture, so it is acknowledged in the experience of all them that do truly believe. Neither are we in this matter much to regard the senses or arguing of men who were never thoroughly convinced of sin, nor have ever in their own persons “fled for refuge unto the hope set before them.” 5. These things, I say, are always to be attended unto, in our whole disquisition into the nature of evangelical justification; for, without a constant respect unto them, we shall quickly wander into curious and perplexed questions, wherein the consciences of guilty sinners are not concerned; and which, therefore, really belong not unto the substance or truth of this doctrine, nor are to be immixed therewith. It is alone the relief of those who are in themselves “hupodikoi tooi Theoo”, — guilty before, or obnoxious and liable to, the judgment of God, — that we inquire after.
That this is not any thing in or of themselves, nor can so be, — that it is a provision without them, made in infinite wisdom and grace by the mediation of Christ, his obedience and death therein, — is secured in the Scripture against all contradiction; and it is the fundamental principle of the gospel, Matthew 11:28.
6. It is confessed that many things, for the declaration of the truth, and the order of the dispensation of God’s grace herein, are necessary to be insisted on, — such are the nature of justifying faith, the place and use of it in justification, and the causes of the new covenant, the true notion of the mediation and suretiship of Christ, and the like; which shall all of them be inquired into. But, beyond what tends directly unto the guidance of the minds and satisfaction of the souls of men, who seek after a stable and abiding foundation of acceptance with God, we are not easily to be drawn unless we are free to lose the benefit and comfort of this most important evangelical truth in needless and unprofitable contentions. And amongst many other miscarriages which men are subject unto, whilst they are conversant about these things, this, in an especial manner, is to be avoided.
7. For the doctrine of justification is directive of Christian practice, and in no other evangelical truth is the whole of our obedience more concerned; for the foundation, reasons, and motives of all our duty towards God are contained therein. Wherefore, in order unto the due improvement of them ought it to be taught, and not otherwise. That which alone we aim (or ought so to do) to learn in it and by it, is how we may get and maintain peace with God, and so to live unto him as to be accepted with him in what we do. To satisfy the minds and consciences of men in these things, is this doctrine to be taught. Wherefore, to carry it out of the understandings of ordinary Christians, by speculative notions and distinctions, is disserviceable unto the faith of the church; yea, the mixing of evangelical revelations with philosophical notions has been, in sundry ages, the poison of religion. Pretense of accuracy, and artificial skill in teaching, is that which gives countenance unto such a way of handling sacred things. But the spiritual amplitude of divine truths is restrained hereby, whilst low, mean, philosophical senses are imposed on them. And not only so, but endless divisions and contentions are occasioned and perpetuated. Hence, when any difference in religion is, in the pursuit of controversies about it, brought into the old of metaphysical respects and philosophical terms, whereof there is “polus nomos entha kai entha” — sufficient provision for the supply of the combatants on both sides, — the truth for the most part, as unto any concernment of the souls of men therein, is utterly lost and buried in the rubbish of senseless and unprofitable words. And thus, in particular, those who seem to be well enough agreed in the whole doctrine of justification, so far as the Scripture goes before them, and the experience of believers keeps them company, when once they engage into their philosophical definitions and distinctions, are at such an irreconcilable variance among themselves, as if they were agreed on no one thing that does concern it. For as men have various apprehensions in coining such definitions as may be defensible against objections, which most men aim at therein; so no proposition can be so pain, (at least in “materia probabili, ”) but that a man ordinarily versed in pedagogical terms and metaphysical notions, may multiply distinctions on every word of it.
8. Hence, there has been a pretense and appearance of twenty several opinions among Protestants about justification, as Bellarmine and Vasguez, and others of the Papists, charge it against them out of Osiander, when the faith of them all was one and the same, Bellar., lib 5 cap. l; Vasq. in 1, 2, quest. 113, disp. 202; whereof we shall speak elsewhere. When men are once advanced into that field of disputation, which is all overgrown with thorns of subtleties, perplexed notions, and futilous terms of art, they consider principally how they may entangle others in it, scarce at all how they may get out of it themselves. And in this posture they oftentimes utterly forget the business which they are about, especially in this matter of justification, — namely, how a guilty sinner may come to obtain favor and acceptance with God. And not only so, but I doubt they oftentimes dispute themselves beyond what they can well abide by, when they return home unto a sedate meditation of the state of things between God and their souls. And I cannot much value their notions and sentiments of this matter, who object and answer themselves out of a sense of their own appearance before God; much less theirs who evidence an open inconformity unto the grace and truth of this doctrine in their hearts and lives.
9. Wherefore, we do but trouble the faith of Christians, and the peace of the true church of God, whilst we dispute about expressions, terms, and notions, when the substance of the doctrine intended may be declared and believed, without the knowledge, understanding, or use of any of them.
Such are all those in whose subtle management the captious art of wrangling does principally consist. A diligent attendance unto the revelation made hereof in the Scripture, and an examination of our own experience thereby, is the sum of what is required of us for the right understanding of the truth herein. And every true believer, who is taught of God, knows how to put his whole trust in Christ alone, and the grace of God by him, for mercy, righteousness, and glory, and not at all concern himself with those loads of thorns and briers, which, under the names of definitions, distinctions, accurate notions, in a number of exotic pedagogical and philosophical terms, some pretend to accommodate them withal.
10. The Holy Ghost, in expressing the most eminent acts in our justification, especially as unto our believing, or the acting of that faith whereby we are justified, is pleased to make use of many metaphorical expressions. For any to use them now in the same way, and to the same purpose, is esteemed rude, undisciplinary, and even ridiculous; but on what grounds? He that shall deny that there is more spiritual sense and experience conveyed by them into the hearts and minds of believers (which is the life and soul of teaching things practical), than in the most accurate philosophical expressions, is himself really ignorant of the whole truth in this matter. The propriety of such expressions belongs and is confined unto natural science; but spiritual truths are to be taught, “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” God is wiser than man; and the Holy Ghost knows better what are the most expedient ways for the illumination of our minds with that knowledge of evangelical truths which it is our duty to have and attain, than the wisest of us all. And other knowledge of or skill in these things, than what is required of us in a way of duty, is not to be valued.
It is, therefore, to no purpose to handle the mysteries of the gospel as if Hilcot and Bricot, Thomas and Gabriel, with all the Sententiarists, Summists, and Quodlibetarians of the old Roman peripatetical school, were to be raked out of their graves to be our guides. Especially will they be of no use unto us in this doctrine of justification. For whereas they pertinaciously adhered unto the philosophy of Aristotle, who knew nothing of any righteousness but what is a habit inherent in ourselves, and the acts of it, they wrested the whole doctrine of justification unto a compliance wherewithal. So Pighius himself complained of them, Controv. 2, “Dissimulate non possumus, hanc vel primam doctrinae Christianae partem (de justificatione) obscuram magis quam illustratam a scholasticis, spinosis plerisque quaestionibus, et definitionibus, secundum quas nonnulli magno supercilio primam in omnibus autoritatem arrogantes”, etc.
Secondly A due consideration of God, the Judge of all, necessary unto the right stating and apprehension of the doctrine of justification, Romans 8:33; Isaiah 43:25; 45:25; Psalm 143:2; Romans 3:20 — What thoughts will be ingenerated hereby in the minds of men, Isaiah 33:14; Micah 6:6,7; Isaiah 6:5 — The plea of Job against his friends, and before God, not the same, Job 40:3-5, 43:406 — Directions for visiting the sick given of old — Testimonies of Jerome and Ambrose — Sense of men in their prayers, Daniel 9:7,18; Psalm 143:2, 130:3, — Paraphrase of Austin on that place — Prayer of Pelagius — Public liturgies Secondly, A due consideration of him with whom in this matter we have to do, and that immediately, is necessary unto a right stating of our thoughts about it. The Scripture expresses it emphatically, that it is “God that justifieth,” Romans 8:33; and he assumes it unto himself as his prerogative to do what belongs thereunto. “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins,” Isaiah 43:25. And it is hard, in my apprehension, to suggest unto him any other reason or consideration of the pardon of our sins, seeing he has taken it on him to do it for his own sake; that is, “for the Lord’s sake,” Daniel 9:17, in whom “all the seed of Israel are justified,” Isaiah 45:25. In his sight, before his tribunal, it is that men are justified or condemned.
Psalm 143:2, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” And the whole work of justification, with all that belongs thereunto, is represented after the manner of a juridical proceeding before God’s tribunal; as we shall see afterwards. “Therefore,” says the apostle, “by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight,” Romans 3:20. However any man be justified in the sight of men or angels by his own obedience, or deeds of the law, yet in his sight none can be so.
Necessary it is unto any man who is to come unto a trial, in the sentence whereof he is greatly concerned, duly to consider the judge before whom he is to appear, and by whom his cause is finally to be determined. And if we manage our disputes about justification without continual regard unto him by whom we must be cast or acquitted, we shall not rightly apprehend what our plea ought to be. Wherefore the greatness, the majesty, the holiness, and sovereign authority of God, are always to be present with us in a due sense of them, when we inquire how we may be justified before him. Yet is it hard to discern how the minds of some men are influenced by the consideration of these things, in their fierce contests for the interest of their own works in their justification: “Precibus aut pretio ut in aliqua parte haereant.” But the Scripture does represent unto us what thoughts of him and of themselves, not only sinners, but saints also, have had, and cannot but have, upon near discoveries and effectual conceptions of God and his greatness. Thoughts hereof ensuing on a sense of the guilt of sin, filled our first parents with fear and shame, and put them on that foolish attempt of hiding themselves from him. Nor is the wisdom of their posterity one jot better under their convictions, without a discovery of the promise. That alone makes sinners wise which tenders them relief. At present, the generality of men are secure, and do not much question but that they shall come off well enough, one way or other, in the trial they are to undergo. And as such persons are altogether indifferent what doctrine concerning justification is taught and received; so for the most part, for themselves, they incline unto that declaration of it which best suits their own reason, as influenced with self-conceit and corrupt affections. The sum whereof is, that what they cannot do themselves, what is wanting that they may be saved, be it more or less, shall one way or other be made up by Christ; either the use or the abuse of which persuasion is the greatest fountain of sin in the world, next unto the depravation of our nature. And whatever be, or may be, pretended unto the contrary, persons not convinced of sin, not humbled for it, are in all their ratiocinations about spiritual things, under the conduct of principles so vitiated and corrupted. See Matthew 18:3,4. But when God is pleased by any means to manifest his glory unto sinners, all their prefidences and contrivances do issue in dreadful horror and distress. An account of their temper is given us, Isaiah 33:14, “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness has surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”
Nor is it thus only with some peculiar sort of sinners. The same will be the thoughts of all guilty persons at some time or other. For those who, through sensuality, security, or superstition, do hide themselves from the vexation of them in this world, will not fail to meet with them when their terror shall be increased, and become remediless. Our “God is a consuming fire;” and men will one day find how vain it is to set their briers and thorns against him in battle array. And we may see what extravagant contrivances convinced sinners will put themselves upon, under any real view of the majesty and holiness of God, Micah 6:6,7, “Wherewith,” says one of them, “shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousand of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Neither shall I ever think them meet to be contended withal about the doctrine of justification who take no notice of these things, but rather despise them.
This is the proper effect of the conviction of sin, strengthened and sharpened with the consideration of the terror of the Lord, who is to judge concerning it. And this is that which, in the Papacy, meeting with an ignorance of the righteousness of God, has produced innumerable superstitious inventions for the appeasing of the consciences of men who by any means fall under the disquietments of such convictions. For they quickly see that nothing of the obedience which God requires of them, as it is performed by them, will justify them before this high and holy God.
Wherefore they seek for shelter in contrivances about things that he has not commanded, to try if they can put a cheat upon their consciences, and find relief in diversions.
Nor is it thus only with profligate sinners upon their convictions; but the best of men, when they have had near and efficacious representations of the greatness, holiness, and glory of God, have been cast into the deepest self-abasement, and most serious renunciation of all trust or confidence in themselves. So the prophet Isaiah, upon his vision of the glory of the Holy One, cried out, “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips,” chap. 6:5; — nor was he relieved but by an evidence of the free pardon of sin, verse 7. So holy Job, in all his contests with his friends, who charged him with hypocrisy, and his being a sinner guilty in a peculiar manner above other men, with assured confidence and perseverance therein, justified his sincerity, his faith and trust in God, against their whole charge, and every parcel of it. And this he does with such a full satisfaction of his own integrity, as that not only he insists at large on his vindication, but frequently appeals unto God himself as unto the truth of his plea; for he directly pursues that counsel, with great assurance, which the apostle James so long after gives unto all believers. Nor is the doctrine of that apostle more eminently exemplified in any one instance throughout the whole Scripture than in him; for he shows his faith by his works, and pleads his justification thereby. As Job justified himself, and was justified by his works, so we allow it the duty of every believer to be. His plea for justification by works, in the sense wherein it is so, was the most noble that ever was in the world, nor was ever any controversy managed upon a greater occasion.
At length this Job is called into the immediate presence of Gods to plead his own cause; not now, as stated between him and his friends, whether he were a hypocrite or no, or whether his faith or trust in God was sincere; but as it was stated between God and him, wherein he seemed to have made some undue assumptions on his own behalf. The question was now reduced unto this, — on what grounds he might or could be justified in the sight of God? To prepare his mind unto a right judgment in this case, God manifests his glory unto him, and instructs him in the greatness of his majesty and power. And this he does by a multiplication of instances, because under our temptations we are very slow in admitting right conceptions of God. Here the holy man quickly acknowledged that the state of the case was utterly altered. All his former pleas of faith, hope, and trust in God, of sincerity in obedience, which with so much earnestness he before insisted on, are now quite laid aside. He saw well enough that they were not pleadable at the tribunal before which he now appeared, so that God should enter into judgment with him thereon, with respect unto his justification. Wherefore, in the deepest self-abasement and abhorrence, he retakes himself unto sovereign grace and mercy. For “then Job answered the LORDS and said, Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no farther,” Job 40:3-5. And again, “Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak; I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself; and repent in dust and ashes,” chap. 42:4-6. Let any men place themselves in the condition wherein now Job was, — in the immediate presence of God; let them attend unto what he really speaks unto them in his word, — namely, what they will answer unto the charge that he has against them, and what will be their best plea before his tribunal, that they may be justified. I do not believe that any man living has more encouraging grounds to plead for an interest in his own faith and obedience, in his justification before God, than Job had; although I suppose he had not so much skill to manage a plea to that purpose, with scholastic notions and distinctions, as the Jesuits have; but however we may be harnessed with subtle arguments and solutions, I fear it will not be safe for us to adventure farther upon God than he durst to do.
There was of old a direction for the visitation of the sick, composed, as they say, by Anselm, and published by Casparus Ulenbergius, which expresses a better sense of these things than some seem to be convinced of: — “Credisne te non posse salvari nisi per mortem Christi? Respondet infirmus, ‘Etiam”. Tum dicit illi, Age ergo dum superest in te anima, in hac sola morte fiduciam tuam constitue; in nulla alia re fiduciam habe huic morti te totum committe, hac sola te totum contege totum immisce te in hac morte, in hac morte totum te involve. Et si Dominus te voluerit judicare, dic, ‘Domine, mortem Domini nostri Jesus Christi objicio inter me et tuum judicium, aliter tecum non contendo’. Et si tibi eixerit quia peccator es, dic, ‘Mortem Domini nostri Jesus Christi pono inter me et peccte mea’. Si dixerit tibi quot meruisti damnationem; dic, ‘Domine, mortem Domini nostri Jesus Christi obtendo inter te et mala merita mea, ipsiusque merita offero pro merito quod ego debuissem habere nec habeo’.
Si dixerit quod tibi est iratus, dic, ‘Domine, mortem Domini Jesu Christi oppono inter me et iram tuam;’” — that is, “Dost thou believe that thou canst not be saved but by the death of Christ? The sick man answers, ‘Yes, ’ then let it be said unto him, Go to, then, and whilst thy soul abideth in thee, put all thy confidence in this death alone, place thy trust in no other thing; commit thyself wholly to this death, cover thyself wholly with this alone, cast thyself wholly on this death, wrap thyself wholly in this death. And if God would judge thee, say, ‘Lord, I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thy judgment; and otherwise I will not contend or enter into judgment with thee.’ And if he shall say unto thee that thou art a sinner, say, ‘I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and my sins.’ If he shall say unto thee that thou hast deserved damnation, say, ‘Lord, I put the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and all my sins; and I offer his merits for my own, which I should have, and have not.’ If he say that he is angry with thee, say, ‘Lord, I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thy anger.’” Those who gave these directions seem to have been sensible of what it is to appear before the tribunal of God, and how unsafe it will be for us there to insist on any thing in ourselves. Hence are the words of the same Anselm in his Meditations: “Conscientia mea meruit damnation, et poenitentia mea non sufficit ad satisfactionem; set certum est quod misericordia tua superat omnem offensionem;” — “My conscience has deserved damnation, and my repentance is not sufficient for satisfaction; but most certain it is that thy mercy aboundeth above all offense.” And this seems to me a better direction than those more lately given by some of the Roman church; — such as the prayer suggested unto a sick man by Johan. Polandus, lib. Methodus in adjuvandis morientibus: “Domine Jesus, conjunge, obsecro, obsequium meum cum omnibus quae tu egisti, et pssus s ex tam perfecta charitate et obedientia. Et cum divitiis satisfactionum et meritorum dilectionis, patri aeterno, illud offere digneris.” Or that of a greater author, Antidot. Animae, fol. 17, “Tu hinc o rosea martyrum turba offer pro me nunc et in hora mortis mee, merita, fidelitatum, constantiae, et pretiosi sanguinis, cum sanguine agni immaculati, pro omnium salute effusi.” Jerome, long before Anselm, spake to the same purpose: “Cum dies judicii aut dormitionis advenerit, omnes manus dissolventur; quibus dicitur in alio loco, confortamini manus dissolutae; dissolventur autem manus, quia nullum opus dignum Dei justitia reperiatur, et non justificabitur in conspectu ejus omnis vivens, unde propheta dicit in psalmo, ‘Si iniquitates attends Domine, quis sustinebit’”, lib. 6 in Isaiah 13:6,7; — “When the day of judgment or of death shall come, all hands will be dissolved” (that is, faint or fall down); “unto which it is said in another place, ‘Be strengthened, ye hands that hang down.’ But all hands shall be melted down” (that is, all men’s strength and confidence shall fail them), “because no works shall be found which can answer the righteousness of God; for no flesh shall be justified in his sight. Whence the prophet says in the psalm, ‘If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquity, who should stand?” “And Ambrose, to the same purpose: “Nemo ergo sibi arroget, nemo de meritis glorietur, nemo de ostate se jactet, omnes speremus per Dominum Jesus misericordiam invenire, quoniam omnes ante tribunal ejus stabimus. De illo veniam, de illo indulgentiam postulabo. Quaenam spes alia peccatoribus?” in Psalm 119. Resh, — “Let no man arrogate any thing unto himself, let no man glory in his own merits or good deeds, let no man boast of his power: let us all hope to find mercy by our Lord Jesus; for we shall all stand before his judgment-seat. Of him will I beg pardon, of him will I desire indulgence; what other hope is there for sinners?”
Wherefore, if men will be turned off from a continual regard unto the greatness, holiness, and majesty of God, by their inventions in the heat of disputation; if they do forget a reverential consideration of what will become them, and what they may retake themselves unto when they stand before his tribunal; they may engage into such apprehensions as they dare not abide by in their own personal trial. For “how shall man be just with God?” Hence it has been observed, that the schoolmen themselves, in their meditations and devotional writings, wherein they had immediate thoughts of God, with whom they had to do, did speak quite another language as to justification before God than they do in their wrangling, philosophical, fiery disputes about it. And I had rather learn what some men really judge about their own justification from their prayers than their writings. Nor do I remember that I did ever hear any good man in his prayers use any expressions about justification, pardon of sin, and righteousness before God, wherein any plea from any thing in ourselves was introduced or made use of. The prayer of Daniel has, in this matter, been the substance of their supplications: “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces. We do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; for thine own sake, O my God,” Daniel 9:7,18,19. Or that of the psalmist, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified,” Psalm 143:2. Or, “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O LORD, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared,” Psalm 130:3,4. On which words the exposition of Austin is remarkable, speaking of David, and applying it unto himself: “Ecce clamat sub molibus iniquitatum suarum. Circumspexit se, circumspexit vitam suam, vidit illam undique flagitiis coopertam; quacunque respexit, nihil in se boni invenit: et cum tante et tam multa peccata undique videret, tanquam expavescens, exclamavit, ‘Si iniquitates observaris Domine, quis sustinebit?’ Vidit enim prope totam vitam humanam circumlatrari peccatis; accusari omnes conscientias cogitationius suis; non inveniri cor castum praesumens de justitia; quod quia inveniri non potest, praesumat ergo omnium cor de misericordi Domini Dei sui, et dicat Deo, ‘Si iniquitates observaris Domine, Domine quis sustinebit?’ Quae autem est spes? Quoniam apud te propitiatio est”. And whereas we may and ought to represent unto God, in our supplications, our faith, or what it is that we believe herein, I much question whether some men can find in their hearts to pray over and plead before him all the arguments and distinctions they make use of to prove the interest of our works and obedience in our justification before him, or “enter into judgment” with him upon the conclusions which they make from them. Nor will many be satisfied to make use of that prayer which Pelagius taught the widow, as it was objected to him in the Diospolitan Synod: “To nosti, Domine, quam sanctae, quam innocentes, quam purae ab omni fraude et rapina quas ad te expando manus; quam justa, quam immaculata labia et ab omni mendacio libera, quibus tibi ut mihi miserearis preces fundo;” — “Thou knowest, O Lord, how holy, how innocent, how pure from all deceit and rapine, are the hands which I stretch forth unto thee; how just, how unspotted with evil, how free from lying, are those lips wherewith I pour forth prayers unto thee, that thou wouldst have mercy on me.” And yet, although he taught her so to plead her own purity, innocency, and righteousness before God, he does it not as those whereon she might be absolutely justified, but only as the condition of her obtaining mercy. Nor have I observed that any public liturgies (the mass-book only excepted, wherein there is a frequent recourse unto the merits and intercession of saints) do guide men in their prayers before God to plead any thing for their acceptance with him, or as the means or condition thereof, but grace, mercy, — the righteousness and blood of Christ alone.
Wherefore I cannot but judge it best (others may think of it as they please), for those who would teach or learn the doctrine of justification in a due manner, to place their consciences in the presence of God, and their persons before his tribunal, and then, upon a due consideration of his greatness, power, majesty, righteousness, holiness, — of the terror of his glory and sovereign authority, to inquire what the Scripture and a sense of their own condition direct them unto as their relief and refuge, and what plea it becomes them to make for themselves. Secret thoughts of God and ourselves, retired meditations, the conduct of the spirit in humble supplications, deathbed preparations for an immediate appearance before God, faith and love in exercise on Christ, speak other things, for the most part, than many contend for.
Thirdly , A due sense of our apostasy from God, the depravation of our nature thereby, with the power and guilt of sin, the holiness of the law, necessary unto a right understanding of the doctrine of justification — Method of the apostle to this purpose, Romans 1,2, — Grounds of the ancient and present Pelagianism, in the denial of these things — Instances thereof — Boasting of perfection from the same ground — Knowledge of sin and grace mutually promote each other Thirdly. A clear apprehension and due sense of the greatness of our apostasy from, God, of the depravation of our natures thereby, of the power and guilt of sin, of the holiness and severity of the law, are necessary unto a right apprehension of the doctrine of justification.
Therefore, unto the declaration of it does the apostle premise a large discourse, thoroughly to convince the minds of all that seek to be justified with a sense of these things, Romans 1,2,3. The rules which he has given us, the method which he prescribes, and the ends which he designs, are those which we shall choose to follow. And he lays it down in general, “That the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith;” and that “the just shall live by faith,” chap. 1:17. But he declares not in particular the causes, nature, and way of our justification, until he has fully evinced that all men are shut up under the state of sin, and manifested how deplorable their condition is thereby; and in the ignorance of these things, in the denying or palliating of them, he lays the foundation of all misbelief about the grace of God. Pelagianism, in its first root, and all its present branches, is resolved whereinto. For, not apprehending the dread of our original apostasy from God, nor the consequence of it in the universal depravation of our nature, they disown any necessity either of the satisfaction of Christ or the efficacy of divine grace for our recovery or restoration. So upon the matter the principal ends of the mission both of the Son of God and of the Holy Spirit are renounced; which issues in the denial of the deity of the one and the personality of the other. The fall which we had being not great, and the disease contracted thereby being easily curable, and there being little or no evil in those things which are now unavoidable unto our nature, it is no great matter to he freed or justified from all by a mere act of favor on our own endeavors; nor is the efficacious grace of God any way needful unto our sanctification and obedience; as these men suppose.
When these or the like conceits are admitted, and the minds of men by them kept off from a due apprehension of the state and guilt of sin, and their consciences from being affected with the terror of the Lord, and curse of the law thereon, justification is a notion to be dealt withal pleasantly or subtlety, as men see occasion. And hence arise the differences about it at present, — I mean those which are really such, and not merely the different ways whereby learned men express their thoughts and apprehensions concerning it.
By some the imputation of the actual apostasy and transgression of Adam, the head of our nature, whereby his sin became the sin of the world, is utterly denied. Hereby both the grounds the apostle proceeds on in evincing the necessity of our justification, or our being made righteous by the obedience of another, and all the arguments brought in the confirmation of the doctrine of it, in the fifth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, are evaded and overthrown. Socinus, de Servitor. par. 4 cap. 6, confesses that place to give great countenance unto the doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ; and therefore he sets himself to oppose, with sundry artifices, the imputation of the sin of Adam unto his natural posterity. For he perceived well enough that, upon the admission thereof, the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto his spiritual seed would unavoidably follow, according unto the tenor of the apostle’s discourse.
Some deny the depravation and corruption of our nature, which ensued on our apostasy from God, and the loss of his image; or, if they do not absolutely deny it, yet they so extenuate it as to render it a matter of no great concern unto us. Some disease and distemper of the soul they will acknowledge, arising from the disorder of our affections, whereby we are apt to receive in such vicious habits and customs as are in practice in the world; and, as the guilt hereof is not much, so the danger of it is not great.
And as for any spiritual filth or stain of our nature that is in it, it is clean washed away from all by baptism. That deformity of soul which came upon us in the loss of the image of God, wherein the beauty and harmony of all our faculties, in all their acting in order unto their utmost end, did consist; that enmity unto God, even in the mind, which ensued thereon; that darkness which our understandings were clouded, yea, blinded withal, — the spiritual death which passed on the whole soul, and total alienation from the life of God; that impotency unto good, that inclination unto evil, that deceitfulness of sin, that power and efficacy of corrupt lusts, which the Scriptures and experience so fully charge on the state of lost nature, are rejected as empty notions or fables. No wonder if such persons look upon imputed righteousness as the shadow of a dream, who esteem those things which evidence its necessity to be but fond imaginations. And small hope is there to bring such men to value the righteousness of Christ, as imputed to them, who are so unacquainted with their own unrighteousness inherent in them. Until men know themselves better, they will care very little to know Christ at all.
Against such as these the doctrine of justification may be defended, as, we are obliged to contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints, and as the mouths of gainsayers are to be stopped; but to endeavor their satisfaction in it, whilst they are under the power of such apprehensions, is a vain attempt. As our Savior said unto them unto whom he had declared the necessity of regeneration, “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things” so may we say, If men will not believe those things, whereof it would be marvelous, but that the reason of it is known, that they have not an undeniable evidence and experience in themselves, how can they believe those heavenly mysteries which respect a supposition of that within themselves which they will not acknowledge?
Hence some are so far from any concernment in a perfect righteousness to be imputed unto them, as that they boast of a perfection in themselves. So did the Pelagians of old glory in a sinless perfection in the sight of God, even when they were convinced of sinful miscarriages in the sight of men; as they are charged by Jerome, lib. 2 Dialog.; and by Austin, lib. 2 contra Julian., cap.
8. Such persons are not “subjects capacia auditionis evangelicae.” Whilst men have no sense in their own hearts and consciences of the spiritual disorder of their souls, of the secret continual acting of sin with deceit and violence, obstructing all that is good, promoting all that is evil, defiling all that is done by them through the lusting of the flesh against the Spirit, as contrary unto it, though no outward perpetration of sin or actual omission of duty do ensue thereon, who are not engaged in a constant watchful conflict against the first motions of sin, — unto whom they are not the greatest burden and sorrow in this life, causing them to cry out for deliverance from them, — who can despise those who make acknowledgments in their confession unto God of their sense of these things, with the guilt wherewith they are accompanied, — (they) will, with an assured confidence, resect and condemn what is offered about justification through the obedience and righteousness of Christ imputed to us. For no man will be so fond as to be solicitous of a righteousness that is not his own, who has at home in a readiness that which is his own, which will serve his turn. It is, therefore, the ignorance of these things alone that can delude men into an apprehension of their justification before God by their own personal righteousness. For if they were acquainted with them, they would quickly discern such an imperfection in the best of their duties, such a frequency of sinful irregularities in their minds and disorders in their affections, such an unsuitableness in all that they are and do, from the inward frames of their hearts unto all their outward actions, unto the greatness and holiness of God, as would abate their confidence in placing any trust in their own righteousness for their justification.
By means of these and the like presumptuous conceptions of unenlightened minds, the consciences of men are kept off from being affected with a due sense of sin, and a serious consideration how they may obtain acceptance before God. Neither the consideration of the holiness or terror of the Lord, nor the severity of the law, as it indispensably requires a righteousness in compliance with its commands; nor the promise of the gospel, declaring and tendering a righteousness, the righteousness of God, in answer whereunto; nor the uncertainty of their own minds upon trials and surprisals, as having no stable ground of peace to anchor on; nor the constant secret disquietment of their consciences, if not seared or hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, can prevail with them whose thought are prepossessed with such slight conceptions of the state and art of sin to fly for refuge unto the only hope that is set before them, or really and distinctly to comport with the only way of deliverance and salvation.
Wherefore, if we would either teach or learn the doctrine of justification in a due manner, a clear apprehension of the greatness of our apostasy from God, a due sense of the guilt of sin, a deep experience of its power, all with respect unto the holiness and law of God, are necessary unto us. We have nothing to do in this matter with men, who, through the fever of pride, have lost the understanding of their own miserable condition. For, “Natura sic apparet vitiata, ut hoc majoris vitii sit non videre”, Austin.
The whole need not the physician, but the sick. Those who are pricked unto the heart for sin, and cry out, “What shall we do to be saved?” will understand what we have to say. Against others we must defend the truth, as God shall enable. And it may be made good by all sorts of instances, that as men rise in their notions about the extenuation of sin, so they fall in their regard unto the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is no less true also, on the other hand, as unbelief works in men a disesteem of the person and righteousness of Christ, they are cast inevitably to seek for countenance unto their own consciences in the extenuation of sin. So insensibly are the minds of men diverted from Christ, and seduced to place their confidence in themselves. Some confused respect they have unto him, as a relief they know not how nor wherein; but they live in that pretended height of human wisdom, to trust to themselves. So they are instructed to do by the best of the philosophers: “Unum bonum est, quod beatae vitae causa et firmamentum est, sibi fidere”, Senec. Epist.
31. Hence, also, is the internal sanctifying grace of God, among many, equally despised with the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. The sum of their faith, and of their arguments in the confirmation of it, is given by the learned Roman orator and philosopher. “Virtutem”, says he, “nemo unquam Deo acceptam retulit; nimirum recte. Propter virtutem enim jure landamur, et in virtute recte gloriamur, quod non contingeret, si donum a Deo, non a nobis haberemus”, Tull. de Nat. Deor.
Fourthly Opposition between works and grace, as unto justificatio — Method of the apostle, in the Epistle to the Romans, to manifest this opposition — A scheme of others contrary thereunto — Testimonies witnessing this opposition — Judgment to be made on them — Distinctions whereby they are evaded — The uselessness of them — Resolution of the case in hand by Bellarmine, Daniel 9:18; Luke 17:10 Fourthly. The opposition that the Scripture makes between grace and works in general, with the exclusion of the one and the assertion of the other in our justification, deserves a previous consideration. The opposition intended is not made between grace and works, or our own obedience, as unto their essence, nature, and consistency, in the order and method of our salvation; but only with respect unto our justification. I do not design herein to plead any particular testimonies of Scripture, as unto their especial sense, or declaration of the mind of the Holy Ghost in them, which will afterward be with some diligence inquired into; but only to take a view which way the eye of the Scripture guides our apprehensions, and what compliance there is in our own experience with that guidance.
The principal seat of this doctrine, as will be confessed by all, is in the Epistles of Paul unto the Romans and Galatians, whereunto that also to the Hebrews may be added: but in that unto the Romans it is most eminently declared; for therein is it handled by the apostle ex professo at large, and that both doctrinally and in the way of controversy with them by whom the truth was opposed. And it is worth our consideration what process he makes towards the decoration of it, and what principles he proceeds upon therein.
He lays it down as the fundamental maxim which he would proceed upon, or as a general thesis, including the substance of what he designed to explain and prove, that in the gospel the “righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith,” Romans 1:17. All sorts of men who had any knowledge of God and themselves, were then, as they must be always, inquiring, and in one degree or other laboring, after righteousness. For this they looked on, and that justly, as the only means of an advantageous relation between God and themselves.
Neither had the generality of men any other thoughts, but that this righteousness must be their own, — inherent in them, and performed by them; as Romans 10:3. For as this is the language of a natural conscience and of the law, and suited unto all philosophical notions concerning the nature of righteousness; so whatever testimony was given of another kind in the law and the prophets (as such a testimony is given unto a “righteousness of God without the law,” chap. 3:21), there was a vail upon it, as to the understanding of all sorts of men. As, therefore, righteousness is that which all men seek after, and cannot but seek after, who design or desire acceptance with God; so it is in vain to inquire of the law, of natural conscience, of philosophical reason, after any righteousness but what consists in inherent habits and acts of our own. Neither law, nor natural conscience, nor reason, do know any other. But in opposition unto this righteousness of our own, and the necessity thereof, testified unto by the law in its primitive constitution, by the natural light of conscience, and the apprehension of the nature of things by reason, the apostle declares, that in the gospel there is revealed another righteousness, which is also the righteousness of another, the righteousness of God, and that from faith to faith. For not only is the righteousness itself reveals alien from those other principles, but also the manner of our participation of it, or its communication unto us, “from faith to faith” (the faith of God in the revelation, and our faith in the acceptation of it, being only here concerned), is an eminent revelation. Righteousness, of all things, should rather seem to be from works unto works, — from the work of grace in us to the works of obedience done by us, as the Papists affirm. “No,” says the apostle, “it is ‘from faith to faith;’” whereof afterward.
This is the general thesis the apostle proposes unto confirmation; and he seems therein to exclude from justification every thing but the righteousness of God and the faith of believers. And to this purpose he considers all persons that did or might pretend unto righteousness, or seek after it, and all ways and means whereby they hoped to attain unto it, or whereby it might most probably be obtained, declaring the failing of all persons, and the insufficiency of all means as unto them, for the obtaining a righteousness of our own before God. And as unto persons, —
1. He considers the Gentiles, with all their notions of God, their practice in religious worship, with their conversation thereon: and from the whole of what might be observed amongst them, he concludes, that they neither were nor could be justified before God; but that they were all, and most deservedly, obnoxious unto the sentence of death. And whatever men may discourse concerning the justification and salvation of any without the revelation of the righteousness of God by the gospel, “from faith to faith,” it is expressly contradictory to his whole discourse, chap. 1, from verse to the end.
2. He considers the Jews, who enjoyed the written law, and the privileges wherewith it was accompanied, especially that of circumcision, which was the outward seal of God’s covenant: and on many considerations, with many arguments, he excludes them also from any possibility of attaining justification before God, by any of the privileges they enjoyed, or their own compliance wherewithal, chap.
2. And both sorts he excludes distinctly from this privilege of righteousness before God, with this one argument, that both of them sinned openly against that which they took for the rule of their righteousness, — namely, the Gentiles against the light of nature, and the Jews against the law; whence it inevitably follows, that none of them could attain unto the righteousness of their own rule. But he proceeds farther, unto that which is common to them all; and, —
3. He proves the same against all sorts of persons, whether Jews or gentiles, from the consideration of the universal depravation of nature in them all, and the horrible effects that necessarily ensue thereon in the hearts and lives of men, chap. 3; so evidencing that as they all were, so it could not fall out but that all must be shut up under sin, and come short of righteousness. So, from persons he proceeds to things, or means of righteousness. And, —
4. Because the law was given of God immediately, as the whole and only rule of our obedience unto him, and the works of the law are therefore all that is required of us, these may be pleaded with some pretense, as those whereby we may be justified. Wherefore, in particular, he considers the nature, use, and end of the law, manifesting its utter insufficiency to be a means of our justification before God, chap. 3:19, 20.
5. It may be yet objected, that the law and its works may be thus insufficient, as it is obeyed by unbelievers in the state of nature, without the aids of grace administered in the promise; but with respect unto them who are regenerate and do believe, whose faith and works are accepted with God, it may be otherwise. To obviate this objection, he gives an instance in two of the most eminent believers under the Old Testament, — namely, Abraham and David, declaring that all works whatever were excluded in and from their justification, chap. 4.
On these principles, and by this gradation, he peremptorily concludes that all and every one of the sons of men, as unto any thing that is in themselves, or can be done by them, or be wrought in them, are guilty before God, obnoxious unto death, shut up under sin, and have their mouths so stopped as to be deprived of all pleas in their own excuse; that they had no righteousness wherewith to appear before God; and that all the ways and means whence they expected it were insufficient unto that purpose.
Hereon he proceeds with his inquiry, how men may be delivered from this condition, and come to be justified in the sight of God. And in the resolution hereof he makes no mention of any thing in themselves, but only faith, whereby we receive the atonement. That whereby we are justified, he says, is “the righteousness of God which is by the faith of Christ Jesus;” or, that we are justified “freely by grace through the redemption that is in him,” chap. 3:22-24. And not content here with this answer unto the inquiry how lost convinced sinners may come to be justified before God, — namely, that it is by the “righteousness of God, revealed from faith to faith, by grace, by the blood of Christ,” as he is set forth for a propitiation, — he immediately proceeds unto a positive exclusion of every thing in and of ourselves that might pretend unto an interest herein, as that which is inconsistent with the righteousness of God as revealed in the gospel, and witnessed unto by the law and the prophets.
How contrary their scheme of divinity is unto this design of the apostle, and his management of it, who affirm, that before the law, men were justified by obedience unto the light of nature, and some particular revelations made unto them in things of their own especial private concernment; and that after the giving of the law, they were so by obedience unto God according to the directions thereof! as also, that the heathen might obtain the same benefit in compliance with the dictates of reason, — cannot be contradicted by any who have not a mind to be contentious.
Answerable unto this declaration of the mind of the Holy Ghost herein by the apostle, is the constant tenor of the Scripture speaking to the same purpose. The grace of God, the promise of mercy, the free pardon of sin, the blood of Christ, his obedience, and the righteousness of God in him, rested in and received by faith, are everywhere asserted as the causes and means of our justification, in opposition unto any thing in ourselves, so expressed as it uses to express the best of our obedience, and the utmost of our personal righteousness. Wherever mention is made of the duties, obedience, and personal righteousness of the best of men, with respect unto their justification, they are all renounced by them, and they betake themselves unto sovereign grace and mercy alone. Some places to this purpose may be recounted.
The foundation of the whole is laid in the first promise; wherein the destruction of the work of the devil by the suffering of the seed of the woman is proposed as the only relief for sinners, and only means of the recovery of the favor of God. “It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel,” Genesis 3:15. “Abraham believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness,” Genesis 15:6. “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 unto a land not inhabited,” Leviticus 16:21,22. “I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only,” Psalm 71:16. “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O LORD, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared,” Psalm 130:3,4. “Enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified,” Psalm 143:2. “Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly: how much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust?” Job 4:18,19. “Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together. Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me,” Isaiah 27:4,5. “Surely, shall one say, In the LORD have I righteousness and strength: in the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory,” chap. 45:24, 25. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities,” chap. 53:6, 11. “This is his name whereby he shall be called, The LORD our Righteousness,” Jeremiah 23:6. “But ye are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” Isaiah 64:6. “He shall finish the transgression, and make an end of sins, and make reconciliation for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness,” Daniel 9:24. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name,” John 1:12. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life,” chap. 3:14, 15. “Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” Acts 13:38,39. “That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me,” chap. 26:18. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay; but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” Romans 3:24-28. “For if Abraham were justified by works, he has whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the Scriptures Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin,” chap. 4:2-8. “But not as the offense, so also is the free gift. For if through the offense of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, has abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offenses unto justification. For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore, as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,” chap. 5:15-19. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, 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,” chap. 8:l-4. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth,” chap. 10:4. “And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work,” chap. 11:6. “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” 1 Corinthians 1:30. “For he has 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. “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh he justified,” Galatians 2:16. “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us,” chap. 3:11-13. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them,” Ephesians 2:8-10. “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith,” Philippians 3:8,9. “Who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” Timothy 1:9. “That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life,” Titus 3:7. “Once in the end of the world has he appeared, to put away sin,” Hebrews 9:26,28. “Having by himself purged our sins,” chap. 1:3. “For by one offering he has perfected forever them that are sanctified,” chap. 10:14. “The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin,” 1 John 1:7. Wherefore, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen,” Revelation 1:5,6.
These are some of the places which at present occur to remembrance, wherein the Scripture represents unto us the grounds, causes, and reasons, of our acceptation with God. The especial import of many of them, and the evidence of truth that is in them, will be afterwards considered. Here we take only a general view of them. And every thing in and of ourselves, under any consideration whatever, seems to be excluded from our justification before God, faith alone excepted, whereby we receive his grace and the atonement. And, on the other side, the whole of our acceptation with him seems to be assigned unto grace, mercy, the obedience and blood of Christ; in opposition unto our own worth and righteousness, or our own works and obedience. And I cannot but suppose that the soul of a convinced sinner, if not prepossessed with prejudice, will, in general, not judge amiss whether of these things, that are set in opposition one to the other, he should retake himself unto, that he may be justified.
But it is replied, — These things are not to be understood absolutely, and without limitations. Sundry distinctions are necessary, that we may come to understand the mind of the Holy Ghost and sense of the Scripture in these ascriptions unto grace, and exclusions of the law, our own works and righteousness from our justification. For, —
2. Works required by the law are either wrought before faith, without the aid of grace; or after believing, by the help of the Holy Ghost.
The former are excluded from our justification, but not the latter.
3. Works of obedience wrought after grace received may be considered either as sincere only, or absolutely perfect, according to what was originally required in the covenant of works. Those of the latter sort are excluded from any place in our justification, but not those of the former.
4. There is a twofold justification before God in this life, — a first and a second; and we must diligently consider with respect unto whether of these justifications any thing is spoken in the Scripture.
5. Justification may be considered either as to its beginning or as unto its continuation; — and so it has divers causes under these diverse respects.
6. Works may be considered either as meritorious “ex condigno”, so as their merit should arise from their own intrinsic worth; or “ex congruo” only, with respect unto the covenant and promise of God. Those of the first sort are excluded, at least from the first justification: the latter may have place both in the first and second.
7. Moral causes may be of many sorts: preparatory, dispository, meritorious, conditionally efficient, or only “sine quibus non”. And we must diligently inquire in what sense, under the notion of what cause or causes, our works are excluded from our justification, and under what notions they are necessary thereunto. And there is no one of these distinctions but it needs many more to explain it; which, accordingly, are made use of by learned men. And so specious a color may be put on these things, when warily managed by the art of disputation, that very few are able to discern the ground of them, or what there is of substance in that which is pleaded for; and fewer yet, on whether side the truth does lie. But he who is really convinced of sin, and, being also sensible of what it is to enter into judgment with the holy God, inquires for himself, and not for others, how he may come to be accepted with him, will be apt, upon the consideration of all these distinctions and sub-distinctions wherewith they are attended, to say to their authors, “Fecistis probe, incertior sum multo, quam dudum.”
My inquiry is, How shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? How shall I escape the wrath to come? What shall I plead in judgment before God, that I may be absolved, acquitted, justified? Where shall I have a righteousness that will endure a trial in his presence? If I should be harnessed with a thousand of these distinctions, I am afraid they would prove thorns and briers, which he would pass through and consume.
The inquiry, therefore is, upon the consideration of the state of the person to be justified, before mentioned and described, and the proposal of the reliefs in our justification as now expressed, whether it be the wisest and safest course for such a person seeking to be justified before God, to retake himself absolutely, his whole trust and confidence, unto sovereign grace, and the mediation of Christ, or to have some reserve for, or to place some confidence in, his own graces, duties, works, and obedience? In putting this great difference unto umpirage, that we may not be thought to fix on a partial arbitrator we shall refer it to one of our greatest and most learned adversaries in this cause. And he positively gives us in his determination and resolution in those known words, in this case: “Propter incertitudinem propriae justitiae, et periculum inanis gloriae, tutissimum est fiduciam totam in sola misericordia Dei et benignitate reponere”, Bellar. de Justificat., lib. 5 cap. 7, prop. 3; — “By reason of the uncertainty of our own righteousness, and the danger of vain glory, it is the safest course to repose our whole trust in the mercy and kindness or grace of God alone.”
And this determination of this important inquiry he confirms with two testimonies of Scripture, as he might have done it with many more. But those which he thought meet to mention are not impertinent. The first is Daniel 9:18, “We do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies;” and the other is that of our Savior, Luke 17:10, “When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants.” And after he has confirmed his resolution with sundry testimonies of the fathers, he closes his discourse with this dilemma: “Either a man has true merits, or he has not. If he has not, he is perniciously deceived when he trusts in any thing but the mercy of God alone, and seduces himself, trusting in false merits; if he has them, he loses nothing whilst he looks not to them, but trusts in God alone. So that whether a man have any good works or no, as to his justification before God, it is best and safest for him not to have any regard unto them, or put any trust in them.” And if this be so, he might have spared all his pains he took in writing his sophistical books about justification, whose principal design is to seduce the minds of men into a contrary opinion. And so, for aught I know, they may spare their labor also, without any disadvantage unto the church of God or their own souls, who so earnestly contend for some kind of interest or other for our own duties and obedience in our justification before God; seeing it will be found that they place their own whole trust and confidence in the grace of God by Jesus Christ alone. For to what purpose do we labor and strive with endless disputations, arguments, and distinctions, to prefer our duties and obedience unto some office in our justification before God, if; when we have done all, we find it the safest course in our own persons to abhor ourselves with Job in the presence of God, to retake ourselves unto sovereign grace and mercy with the publican, and to place all our confidence in them through the obedience and blood of Christ?
So died that great emperor, Charles V, as Thuanus gives the account of his Novissima. So he reasoned with himself: “Se quidem indignum esse, qui propriis meritis regnum coelorum obtineret; set Dominum Deum suum qui illud duplici jure obtineat, et Patris haereditate, et passionis merito, altero contentum esse, alterum sibi donare; ex cujus dono illud sibi merito vendicet, hacque fiducia fretus minime confundatur; neque enim oleum misericordiae nisi in vase fiduciae poni; hanc hominis fiduciam esse a se deficientis et innitentis domino suo; alioquin propriis meritis fidere, non fidei esse sed perfidiae; peccata deleri per Dei indulgentiam, ideoque credere nos debere peccata deleri non posse nisi ab eo cui soli peccavimus, et in quem peccatum non cadit, per quem solum nobis peccata condonentur;” — “That in himself he was altogether unworthy to obtain the kingdom of heaven by his own works or merits; but that his Lord God, who enjoyed it on a double right or title, by inheritance of the Father, and the merit of his own passion, was contented with the one himself, and freely granted unto him the other; on whose free grant he laid claim thereunto, and in confidence thereof he should not be confounded; for the oil of mercy is poured only into the vessel of faith or trust: that this is the trust of a man despairing in himself, and resting in his Lord; otherwise, to trust unto his own works or merits, is not faith, but treachery: that sins are blotted out by the mercy of God; and therefore we ought to believe that our sins can be pardoned by him alone, against whom alone we have sinned, with whom there is no sin, and by whom alone sins are forgiven.”
This is the faith of men when they come to die, and those who are exercised with temptations whilst they live. Some are hardened in sin, and endeavor to leave this world without thoughts of another; some are stupidly ignorant, who neither know nor consider what it is to appear in the presence of God, and to be judged by him; some are seduced to place their confidence in merits, pardons, indulgences, and future suffrages for the dead: but such as are acquainted with God and themselves in any spiritual manner, who take a view of the time that is past, and approaching eternity, into which they must enter by the judgment-seat of God, however they may have thought, talked, and disputed about their own works and obedience, looking on Christ and his righteousness only to make up some small defects in themselves, will come at last unto a universal renunciation of what they have been, and are, and retake themselves unto Christ alone for righteousness or salvation. And in the whole ensuing discourse I shall as little as is possible immix myself in any curious scholastical disputes. This is the substance of what is pleaded for, — that men should renounce all confidence in themselves, and every thing that may give countenance whereunto; retaking themselves unto the grace of God by Christ alone for righteousness and salvation. This God designs in the gospel, 1 Corinthians 1:29-31; and herein, whatever difficulties we may meet withal in the explication of some propositions and terms that belong unto the doctrine of justification, about which men have various conceptions, I doubt not of the internal concurrent suffrage of them who know any thing as they ought of God and themselves.
Fifthly A commutation as unto sin and righteousness, by imputation, between Christ and believers, represented in the Scripture — The ordinance of the scapegoat, Leviticus 16:21, — The nature of expiatory sacrifices, Leviticus 4:29, etc. — Expiation of an uncertain murder, Deuteronomy 21:1-9 — The commutation intended proved and vindicated, Isaiah 53:5,6; Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:3,4; Galatians 3:13,14; 1 Peter 2:24; Deuteronomy 21:23 — Testimonies of Justin Martyr, Gregory Nyseen, Augustine, Chrysostom, Bernard, Taulerus, Pighius, to that purpose — The proper actings of faith with respect thereunto, Romans 5:11; Matthew 11:28; Psalm 38:4; Genesis 4:13; Isaiah 53:11; Galatians 3:1; Isaiah 45:22; John 3:14, — A bold calumny answered Fifthly. 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.
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, Hebrews 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,” Leviticus 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, Deuteronomy 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,” Isaiah 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 Corinthians 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, Romans 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,” Galatians 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,” Peter 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,” Deuteronomy 21:23.
But because some, who, for reasons best known unto themselves, do take all occasions to except against my writings, have in particular raised an impertinent glamor about somewhat that I formerly delivered to this purpose, I shall declare the whole of my judgment herein in the words of some of those whom they can pretend no quarrel against, that I know of.
The excellent words of Justin Martyr deserve the first place: “Autos ton idion huion apedoto lutron huper hemoon, ton hagion huper anomoon, ton akakon huper toon kakoon, ton dikaion huper toon adikoon, ton aftarton huper toon ftartoon, ton atanaton huper toon tnetoon, ti gar allo tas hamartias hemoon edunete kalupsai, e ekeinou dikaiosune; en tini dikaiootenai dunaton tous anomous hemas kai aseteis, e en monooi tooi huioo tou Theou; oo tes glukeias antallages, oo tes anexichniastou demiourgias, oo toon aprosdoketoon euergesioon, hina anomia men polloon en dikaiooi heni krute, dikaiosune de henos pollous anomous dikaioosei,” Epist. ad Diognet.; — “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.” And Gregory Nyssen speaks to the same purpose: “Metatheis gar pros heauton ton toon hemoon hamartioon thupon, metedooke moi tes heautou kathapotetos, koinoonon me tou heautou kallous apergasamenos”, Orat. in Cant.; — “He has transferred unto himself the filth of my sins, and communicated unto me his purity, and made me partaker of his beauty.”
So Augustine, also: “Ipse peccatum ut nos justitia, nec nostra sed Dei, nec in nobis sed in ipso; sicut ipse peccatum, non suum sed nostrum, nec in se sed in nobis constitutum”, Enchirid. ad Laurent., cap. 41; — “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.” The old Latin translation renders those words, Psalm 22:1, “divrei sha’agati” — “Verba delictorum meorum”. He thus comments on the place: “Quomodo ergo dicit, ‘Delictorum meorum?’ nisi quia pro delictis nostris ipse precatur; et delicta nostra delicta sua fecit, ut justitiam suam nostram justitiam faceret;” — “How says he, ‘Of my sins?’ Because he prayeth for our sins; he made our sins to be his, that he might make his righteousness to be ours. “Oo tes glukeias antallages.” “O sweet commutation and change!” And Chrysostom, to the same purpose, on those words of the apostle, — “That we might be made the righteousness of God in him:” Poios tauta logos, poios tauta parastesai dunesetai vous; ton gar dikaion, fesin, epoiesen hamartoolon, hina tous hamartoolous poiesei dikaious, mallon de oude houtoos eipen, alla ho pollooi mekzon en, ou gar hexin ethekein, all’ auten ten poioteta, ou gar eipen, epoiesen hamartoolon, all’ hamartian, ouchi ton me hamartanonta monon, alla ton mede gnonta hamartian, hina kai hemeis genoometha, ouk eipe, dikaioi, alle dikaiosune, kai Theou dikaiosune, Theou gar estin haute, hotan me ex ergoon (hotan kai kelida ananke tina me heurethenai) all’ apo xaritos dikaioothoomen, entha pasa hamartia efanistai”, 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.” So Bernard also, Epist. 190, ad Innocent: — “Homo siquidem qui debuit; homo qui solvit. Nam ‘si unus, ’ inquit, ‘pro omnibus mortuus est, ergo omnes mortui sunt;’ ut videlicet satisfactio unius omnibus imputetur, sicut omnium peccata unus ille portavit: nec alter jam inveniatur, qui forisfecit, alter qui satisfecit; quia caput et corpus unus est Christus.” And many more speak unto the same purpose. Hence Luther, before he engaged in the work of reformation, in an epistle to one George Spenlein, a monk, was not afraid to write after this manner: “Mi dulcis frater, disce Christum et hunc crucifixum, disce ei cantare, et de teipso desperant dicere ei; tu Domine Jesu es justitia mea, ego autem sum peccatum tuum; tu assumpsisti meum, et dedisti mihi tuum; assumpsisti quod non eras, et dedisti mihi quod non eram. Ipse suscepit te et peccata tua fecit sua, et suam justitiam fecit tuam; maledictus qui haec non credit!”
Epist. an. 1516, hom. If those who show themselves now so quarrelsome almost about every word that is spoken concerning Christ and his righteousness, had ever been harassed in their consciences about the guilt of sin, as this man was, they would think it no strafe matter to speak and write as he did. Yea, some there are who have lived and died in the communion of the church of Rome itself, that have given their testimony unto this truth. So speaks Taulerus, Meditat. Vitae Christ. cap. 7: “Christus omnia mundi peccata in se recepit, tantumque pro illis ultro sibi assumpsis dolerem cordis, ac si ipse ea perpetrasset;” — “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”. And again, speaking in the person of Christ: “Quandoquidem peccatum Adae multum abire non potest, obsecro te Pater coelestis, ut ipsum in me vindices. Ego enim omnia illius peccata in me recipio. Si haec irae tempestas, propter me orta est, mitte me in mare amarissimae passionis;” — “Whereas the great sin of Adam cannot go away, I beseech thee, heavenly Father, punish it in me. For I take all his sins upon myself If, then, this tempest of anger be risen for me, cast me into the sea of my most bitter passion.” See, in the justification of these expressions, Hebrews 10:5-10. The discourse of Albertus Pighius to this purpose, though often cited and urged, shall be once again repeated, both for its worth and truth, as also to let some men see how fondly they have pleased themselves in reflecting on some expressions of mine, as though I had been singular in them. His words are, after others to the same purpose: “Quoniam quidem inquit (apostolus) Deus erat in Christo, mundum reconcilians sibi, non imputans hominibus sua delicta, et deposuit apud nos verbum reconciliationis; in illo ergo justificamur coram Deo, non in nobis; non nostra sed illius justitia, quae nobis cum illo jam communicantibus imputatur. Propriae justitiae inopes, extra nos, in illo docemur justitiam quaerere. Cum inquit, ui peccatum non noverat, pro nobis peccatum fecit; hoc est, hostiam peccati expiatricem, ut nos efficeremur justitia Dei in ipso, non nostra, sed Dei justitia justi efficimur in Christo; quo jure? Amicitiae, quae communionem omnium inter amicor facit, juxta vetus et celebratissimum proverbium; Christo insertis, conglutinatis, et unitis, et sua nostra facit, suas divitias nobis communicat, suam justitiam inter Patris judicium et nostram injustitiam interponit, et sub ea veluti sub umbone ac clypeo a divina, quam commeruimus, ira nos abscondit, tuetur ac protegit; imo eandem nobis impertit et nostram facit, qua tecti ornatique audacter et secure jam divino nos sistamus tribunali et judicio: justique non solum appareamus, sed etiam simus. Quemadmodum enim unius delicto peccatoris nos etiam factor affirmat apostolus: ita unius Christi justitiam in justificandis nobis omnibus efficacem esse; et sicut per inobedientiam unius hominis peccatores constituti sunt multi sic per obedientiam unius justi (inquit) constituentur multi. Haec est christi justitia, ejus obedientia, qua voluntatem Patris sui perfecit in omnibus; sicut contra nostra injustitia est nostra inobedientia, et mandatorum Dei praevaricatio. In Christi autem obedientia quod nostra collocatur justitia inde est, quod nobis illi incorporatis, ac si nostra esset, accepta ea fertur: ut ea ipsa etiam nos justi habeamur. Et velut ille quondam Jacob, quum nativitate primogenitus non esset, sub habitu fratris occultatus, atque ejus veste indutus, quae odorem optimum spirabat, seipsum insinuavit patri, ut sub aliena persona benedictionem primogeniturae acciperet: ita et nos sub Christi primogeniti fratris nostri preciosa puritate delitescere, bono ejus odore fragrare, ejus perfectione vitia nostra sepeliri et obtegi, atque ita nos pissimo Patri ingerere, ut justitiae benedictionem ab eodem assequamur, necesse est”. And afterwards: “Justificat erno nos Deus Pater bonitate sua gratuita, qua nos in Christo complectitur, dum eidem insertos innocentia et justitia Christi nos induit; quae una et vera et perfecta est, quae Dei sustinere conspectum potest, ita unam pro nobis sisti oportet tribunali divini judicii et veluti causae nostrae intercessorem eidem repraesentari: qua subnixi etiam hic obtineremus remissionem peccatorum nostrorum assiduam: cujus puritate velatae non imputentur nobis sordes nostrae, imperfectionum immunditiae, sed veluti sepultae conteguntur, ne in judicium Dei veniant: donec confecto in nobis, et plane extincto veteri homine, divina bonitas nos in beatam pacem cum novo Adam recipiat;” — “‘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 savor, 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 savor, 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”. So far he, expressing the power which the influence of divine truth had on his mind, contrary to the interest of the cause wherein he was engaged, and the loss of his reputation with them; for whom in all other things he was one of the fiercest champions. And some among the Roman church, who cannot bear this assertion of the commutation of sin and righteousness by imputation between Christ and believers, no more than some among ourselves, do yet affirm the same concerning the righteousness of other men: “Mercaturam quandam docere nos Paulus videtur. Abundatis, inquit, vos pecunia, et estis inopes justitiae; contra, illi abundant justitia et sunt inopes pecuniae; fiat quaedam commutatio; date vos piis egentibus pecuniam quae vobis affluit, et illis deficit; sic futurum est, ut illi vicissim justitiam suam qua abundant, et qua vos estis destituti, vobis communicent.” Hosius, De Expresso Dei Verbo, tom. 2 p.21. But I have mentioned these testimonies, principally to be a relief unto some men’s ignorance, who are ready to speak evil of what they understand not.
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,” Romans 5:11. Christ calls unto him all those that “labor and are heavy laden,” Matthew 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,” Psalm 38:4. Such was Cain’s apprehension of his guilt, Genesis 4:13. This burden Christ bare, when it was laid on him by divine estimation. For so it is said, “wa’awonotam hu jisbol”, Isaiah 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,” Galatians 3:1. In the view which faith has of Christ crucified (for faith is a “looking unto him,” Isaiah 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.
The reader may be pleased to observe, that I am not debating these things argumentatively, in such propriety of expressions as are required in a scholastic disputation; which shall be done afterwards, so far as I judge it necessary. But I am doing that which indeed is better, and of more importance, — namely, declaring the experience of faith in the expressions of the Scripture, or such as are analogous unto them. And I had rather be instrumental in the communication of light and knowledge unto the meanest believer, than to have the clearest success against prejudiced disputers. Wherefore, by faith thus acting are we justified, and have peace with God. Other foundation in this matter can no man lay, that will endure the trial.
Nor are we to be moved, that men who are unacquainted with these things in their reality and power do reject the whole work of faith herein, as an easy effort of fancy or imagination. For the preaching of the cross is foolishness unto the best of the natural wisdom of men; neither can any understand them but by the Spirit of God. Those who know the terror of the Lord, who have been really convinced and made sensible of the guilt of their apostasy from God, and of their actual sins in that state, and what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God, — seeking thereon after a real solid foundation whereon they may be accepted with him, — have other thoughts of these things, and do find believing a thing to be quite of another nature than such men suppose. It is not a work of fancy or imagination unto men, to deny and abhor themselves, to subscribe unto the righteousness of God in denouncing death as due to their sins, to renounce all hopes and expectations of relief from any righteousness of their own, to mix the word and promise of God concerning Christ and righteousness by him with faith, so as to receive the atonement, and wherewithal to give up themselves unto a universal obedience unto God.
And as for them unto whom, through pride and self-conceit on the one hand, or ignorance on the other, it is so, we have in this matter no concernment with them. For unto whom these things are only the work of fancy, the gospel is a fable.
Something unto this purpose I had written long since, in a practical discourse concerning “Communion with God.” And whereas some men of an inferior condition have found it useful, for the strengthening themselves in their dependencies on some of their superiors, or in compliance with their own inclinations, to cavil at my writings and revile their author, that book has been principally singled out to exercise their faculty and good intentions upon. This course is steered of late by one Mr. Hotchkis, in a book about justification, wherein, in particular, be falls very severely on that doctrine, which, for the substance of it, is here again proposed, p.81.
And were it not that I hope it may be somewhat useful unto him to be a little warned of his immoralities in that discourse, I should not in the least have taken notice of his other impertinencies. The good man, I perceive, can be angry with persons whom he never saw, and about things which he can not or will not understand, so far as to revile them with most opprobrious language. For my part, although I have never written any thing designedly on this subject, or the doctrine of justification, before now, yet he could not but discern, by what was occasionally delivered in that discourse, that I maintain no other doctrine herein but what was the common faith of the most learned men in all Protestant churches. And the reasons why I am singled out for the object of his petulancy and spleen are too manifest to need repetition. But I shall yet inform him of what, perhaps, he is ignorant, — namely, that I esteem it no small honor that the reproaches wherewith the doctrine opposed by him is reproached do fall upon me. And the same I say concerning all the reviling and contemptuous expressions that his ensuing pages are filled withal. But as to the present occasion, I beg his excuse if I believe him not, that the reading of the passages which he mentions out of my book filled him with “horror and indignation,” as he pretends. For whereas he acknowledges that my words may have a sense which he approves of (and which, therefore, must of necessity be good and sound), what honest and sober person would not rather take them in that sense, then wrest them unto another, so as to cast himself under the disquietment of a fit of horrible indignation? In this fit I suppose it was, if such a fit, indeed, did befall him (as one evil begets another), that he thought he might insinuate something of my denial of the necessity of our own personal repentance and obedience. For no man who had read that book only of all my writings, could, with the least regard to conscience or honesty, give countenance unto such a surmise, unless his mind was much discomposed by the unexpected invasion of a fit of horror.
But such is his dealing with me from first to last; nor do I know where to fix on any one instance of his exceptions against me, wherein I can suppose he had escaped his pretended fit and was returned unto himself, — that is, unto honest and ingenuous thoughts; wherewith I hope he is mostly conversant. But though I cannot miss in the justification of this charge by considering any instance of his reflections, yet I shall at present take that which he insists longest upon, and fills his discourse about it with most scurrility of expressions. And this is in the 164th page of his book, and those that follow; for there he disputes fiercely against me for making this to be an “undue end of our serving God, — namely, that we may flee from the wrath to come”. And who would not take this for an inexpiable crime in any, especially in him who has written so much of the nature and use of threatening under the gospel, and the fear that ought to be in generated by them in the hearts of men, as I have done Wherefore so great a crime being the object of them all, his revilings seem not only to be excused but allowed. Eat what if all this should prove a wilful prevarication, not becoming a good man, much less a minister of the gospel? My words, as reported and transcribed by himself; are these: “Some there are that do the service of the house of God as the drudgery of their lives; the principle they yield obedience upon is a spirit of bondage unto fear; the rule they do it by is the law in its dread and rigor, exacting it of them to the utmost without mercy or mitigation; the end they do it for is to fly from the wrath to come, to pacify conscience, and to seek for righteousness as it were by the works of the law.” What follow unto the same purpose he omits, and what he adds as my words are not so, but his own; “ubi pudor, ubi fides?” That which I affirmed to be a part of an evil end, when and as it makes up one entire end, by being mixed with sundry other things expressly mentioned, is singled out, as if I had denied that in any sense it might be a part of a good end in our obedience: which I never thought, I never said; I have spoken and written much to the contrary.
And yet, to countenance himself in this disingenuous procedure, besides many other untrue reflections, he adds that I insinuate, that those whom I describe are “Christians that seek righteousness by faith in Christ”, p.167.
I must needs tell this author that my faith in this matter is, that such works as these will have no influence in his justification; and that the principal reason why I suppose I shall not, in my progress in this discourse, take any particular notice of his exceptions, either against the truth or me, — next unto this consideration, that they are all trite and obsolete, and, as to what seems to be of any force in them, will occur unto me in other authors from whom they are derived, — is, that I may not have a continual occasion to declare how forgetful he has been of all the rules of ingenuity, yea, and of common honesty, in his dealing with me.
For that which gave the occasion unto this present unpleasing digression, — it being no more, as to the substance of it, but that our sins were imputed unto Christ, and that his righteousness is imputed unto us, — it is that in the faith whereof I am assured I shall live and die, though he should write twenty as learned books against it as those which he has already published; and in what sense I do believe these things shall be afterwards declared. And although I judge no men upon the expressions that fall from them in polemical writings, wherein, on many occasions, they do affront their own experience, and contradict their own prayers; yet, as to those who understand not that blessed commutation of sins and righteousness, as to the substance of it, which I have pleaded for, and the acting of our faith with respect thereunto, I shall be bold to say, “that if the gospel be hid, it is hid to them that perish.”
Sixthly Introduction of grace by Jesus Christ into the whole of our relation unto God, and its respect unto all the parts of our obedience — No mystery of grace in the covenant of works — All religion originally commensurate unto reason — No notions of natural light concerning the introduction of the mediation of Christ and mystery of grace, into our relation to God, Ephesians 1:17-19 — Reason, as corrupted, can have no notions of religion but what are derived from its primitive state — Hence the mysteries of the gospel esteemed folly — Reason, as corrupted, repugnant unto the mystery of grace — Accommodation of spiritual mysteries unto corrupt reason, wherefore acceptable unto many — Reasons of it — Two parts of corrupted nature’s repugnancy unto the mystery of the gospel: — Sixthly. We can never state our thoughts aright in this matter, unless we have a clear apprehension of, and satisfaction in, the introduction of grace by Jesus Christ into the whole of our relation unto God, with its respect unto all parts of our obedience. There was no such thing, nothing of that nature or kind, in the first constitution of that relation and obedience by the law of our creation. We were made in a state of immediate relation unto God in our own persons, as our creator, preserver, and rewarder. There was no mystery of grace in the covenant of works. No more was required unto the consummation of that state but what was given us in our creation, enabling us unto rewardable obedience. “Do this, and live,” was the sole rule of our relation unto God. There was nothing in religion originally of that which the gospel celebrates under the name of the grace, kindness, and love of God, whence all our favorable relation unto God does now proceed, and whereinto it is resolved; nothing of the interposition of a mediator with respect unto our righteousness before God, and acceptance with him; — which is at present the life and soul of religion, the substance of the gospel, and the center of all the truths revealed in it. The introduction of these things is that which makes our religion a mystery, yea, a “great mystery,” if the apostle may be believed, 1 Timothy 3:16.
All religion at first was suited and commensurable unto reason; but being now become a mystery, men for the most part are very unwilling to receive it. But so it must be; and unless we are restored unto our primitive rectitude, a religion suited unto the principles of our reason (of which it has none but what answer that first state) will not serve our turns.
Wherefore, of this introduction of Christ and grace in him into our relation unto God, there are no notions in the natural conceptions of our minds; nor are they discoverable by reason in the best and utmost of its exercise, 1 Corinthians 2:14. For before our understanding were darkened, and our reason debased by the fall, there were no such things revealed or proposed unto us; yea, the supposition of them is inconsistent with, and contradictory unto, that whole state and condition wherein we were to live to God, — seeing they all suppose the entrance of sin. And it is not likely that our reason, as now corrupted, should be willing to embrace that which it knew nothing of in its best condition, and which was inconsistent with that way of attaining happiness which was absolutely suited unto it: for it has no faculty or power but what it has derived from that state; and to suppose it is now of itself suited and ready to embrace such heavenly mysteries of truth and grace as it had no notions of, nor could have, in the state of innocence, is to suppose that by the fall our eyes were opened to know good and evil, in the sense that the serpent deceived our first parents with an expectation of. Whereas, therefore, our reason was given us for our only guide in the first constitution of our natures, it is naturally unready to receive what is above it; and, as corrupted, has an enmity thereunto.
Hence, in the first open proposal of this mystery, — namely, of the love and grace of God in Christ, of the introduction of a mediator and his righteousness into our relation unto God, in that way which God in infinite wisdom had designed, — the whole of it was looked on as mere folly by the generality of the wise and rational men of the world, as the apostle declares at large, 1 Corinthians 1; neither was the faith of them ever really received in the world without an act of the Holy Ghost upon the mind in its renovation. And those who judge that there is nothing more needful to enable the mind of man to receive the mysteries of the gospel in a due manner but the outward proposal of the doctrine thereof, do not only deny the depravation of our nature by the fall, but, by just consequence, wholly renounce that grace whereby we are to be recovered.
Wherefore, reason (as has been elsewhere proved), acting on and by its own innate principles and abilities, conveyed unto it from its original state, and as now corrupted, is repugnant unto the whole introduction of grace by Christ into our relation unto God, Romans 8:7. An endeavor, therefore, to reduce the doctrine of the gospel, or what is declared therein concerning the hidden mystery of the grace of God in Christ, unto the principles and inclinations of the minds of men, or reason as it remains in us after the entrance of sin, — under the power, at least, of those notions and conceptions of things religious which it retains from its first state and condition, — is to debase and corrupt them (as we shall see in sundry instances), and so make way for their rejection.
Hence, very difficult it is to keep up doctrinally and practically the minds of men unto the reality and spiritual height of this mystery; for men naturally do neither understand it nor like it: and therefore, every attempt to accommodate it unto the principles and inbred notions of corrupt reason is very acceptable unto many, yea, unto the most; for the things which such men speak and declare, are, without more ado, — without any exercise of faith or prayer, without any supernatural illumination, — easily intelligible, and exposed to the common sense of mankind. But whereas a declaration of the mysteries of the gospel can obtain no admission into the minds of men but by the effectual working of the Spirit of God, Ephesians 1:17-19, it is generally looked on as difficult, perplexed, unintelligible; and even the minds of many, who find they cannot contradict it, are yet not at all delighted with it. And here lies the advantage of all them who, in these days, do attempt to corrupt the doctrine of the gospel, in the whole or any part of it; for the accommodation of it unto the common notions of corrupted reason is the whole of what they design. And in the confidence of the suffrage hereof, they not only oppose the things themselves, but despise the declaration of them as enthusiastical canting. And by nothing do they more prevail themselves than by a pretense of reducing all things to reason, and contempt of what they oppose, as unintelligible fanaticism. But I am not more satisfied in any thing of the most uncontrollable evidence, than that the understandings of these men are no just measure or standard of spiritual truth. Wherefore, notwithstanding all this fierceness of scorn, with the pretended advantages which some think they have made by traducing expressions in the writings of some men, it may be improper, it maybe only not suited unto their own genius and capacity in these things, we are not to be “ashamed of the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth”.
Of this repugnancy unto the mystery of the wisdom and grace of God in Christ, and the foundation of its whole economy, in the distinct operations of the persons of the holy Trinity therein, there are two parts or branches: —
(1.) The doctrine of the Trinity itself is denied, impugned, yea, derided by them; and that solely on this account. They plead that it is incomprehensible by reason; for there is in that doctrine a declaration of things absolutely infinite and eternal, which cannot be exemplified in, nor accommodated unto, things finite and temporal. This is the substance of all their pleas against the doctrine of the holy Trinity, that which gives a seeming life and sprightly vigor to their objections against it; wherein yet, under the pretense of the use and exercise of reason, they fall, and resolve all their seasonings into the most absurd and irrational principles that ever the minds of men were besotted withal. For unless you will grant them that what is above their reason, is, therefore, contradictory unto true reason; that what is infinite and eternal is perfectly comprehensible, and in all its concerns and respects to be accounted for; that what cannot be in things finite and of a separate existence, cannot be in things infinite, whose being and existence can be but one; with other such irrational, yea, brutish imaginations; all the arguments of these pretended men of reason against the Trinity become like chaff that every breath of wind will blow away. Hereon they must, as they do, deny the distinct operations of any persons in the Godhead in the dispensation of the mystery of grace; for if there are no such distinct persons, there can be no such distinct operations. Now, as upon a denial of these things no one article of faith can be rightly understood, nor any one duty of obedience be performed unto God in an acceptable manner; so, in particular, we grant that the doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ cannot stand.
(2.) On the same ground the incarnation of the Son of God is rejected as “atopoon atopootaton”, — the most absurd conception that ever befell the minds of men. Now it is to no purpose to dispute with men so persuaded, about justification; yea, we will freely acknowledge that all things we believe about it are “graoodeis muthoi”, — no better than old wives’ tales, — if the incarnation of the Son of God be so also. For I can as well understand how he who is a mere man, however exalted, dignified, and glorified, can exercise a spiritual rule in and over the hearts, consciences, and thoughts of all the men in the world, being intimately knowing of and present unto them all equally at all times (which is another of their fopperies), as how the righteousness and obedience of one should be esteemed the righteousness of all that believe, if that one be no more than a man, if he be not acknowledged to be the Son of God incarnate.
Whilst the minds of men are prepossessed with such prejudices, nay, unless they firmly assent unto the truth in these foundations of it, it is impossible to convince them of the truth and necessity of that justification of a sinner which is revealed in the gospel. Allow the Lord Christ to be no other person but what they believe him to be, and I will grant there can be no other way of justification than what they declare; though I cannot believe that ever any sinner will be justified thereby. These are the issues of an obstinate refusal to give way unto the introduction of the mystery of God and his grace into the way of salvation and our relation unto him.
And he who would desire an instance of the fertility of men’s inventions in forging and coining objections against heavenly mysteries, in the justification of the sovereignty of their own reason, as unto what belongs to our relation unto God, need go no farther than the writings of these men against the Trinity and incarnation of the eternal Word. For this is their fundamental rule, in things divine and doctrines of religion, — That not what the Scripture says is therefore to be accounted true, although it seems repugnant unto any reasonings of ours, or is above what we can comprehend; but what seems repugnant unto our reason, let the words of the Scripture be what they will, that we must conclude that the Scripture does not say so, though it seem never so expressly so to do. “Itaque non quia utrumque Scripture dicat, propterea haec inter se non pugnare concludendum est; sed potius quia haec inter se pugnant, ideo alterutrum a Scriptura non dici statuendum est”, says Schlichting ad Meisn. Def. Socin. p.102; — “Wherefore, because the Scripture affirms both these” (that is the efficacy of God’s grace and the freedom of our wills), “we cannot conclude from thence that they are not repugnant; but because these things are repugnant unto one another, we must determine that one of them is not spoken in the Scripture:” — no, it seems, let it say what it will. This is the handsomest way they can take in advancing their own reason above the Scripture; which yet savors of intolerable presumption. So Socinus himself, speaking of the satisfaction of Christ, says, in plain terms: “Ego quidem etiamsi non semel sed saepius id in sacris monumentis scriptum extaret, non idcirco tamen ita prorsus rem se habere crederem, ut vos opinamini; cum enim id omnino fieri non possit non secus atque in multis llis Scripturae Testimoniis, una cum caeteris omnibus facio; aliqua, quae minus incommoda videretur, interpretatione adhibita, eum sensum ex ejusmodi verbis elicerem qui sibi constaret;” — “For my part, if this (doctrine) were extant and written in the holy Scripture, not once, but often, yet would I not therefore believe it to be so as you do; for where it can by no means be so (whatever the Scripture says), I would, as I do with others in other places, make use of some less incommodious interpretation, whereby I would draw a sense out of the words that should be consistent with itself.” And how he would do this he declares a little before: “Sacra verba in alium sensum, quam verba sonant, per inusitatos etiam tropos quandoque explicantur”. He would explain the words into another sense than what they sound or propose, by unusual tropes. And, indeed, such uncouth tropes does he apply, as so many engines and machines, to pervert all the divine testimonies concerning our redemption, reconciliation, and justification by the blood of Christ.
Having therefore fixed this as their rule, constantly to prefer their own reason above the express words of the Scripture, which must, therefore, by one means or other, be so perverted or wrested as to be made compliant therewith, it is endless to trace them in their multiplied objections against the holy mysteries, all resolved into this one principle, that their reason cannot comprehend them, nor does approve of them. And if any man would have an especial instance of the serpentine wits of men winding themselves from under the power of conviction by the spiritual light of truth, or at least endeavoring so to do, let him read the comments of the Jewish rabbins on Isaiah, chap. 53, and of the Socinians on the beginning of the Gospel of John.
2. The second branch of this repugnancy springs from the want of a due comprehension of that harmony which is in the mystery of grace, and between all the parts of it. This comprehension is the principal effect of that wisdom which believers are taught by the Holy Ghost. For our understanding of the wisdom of God in a mystery is neither an art nor a science, whether purely speculative or more practical, but a spiritual wisdom. And this spiritual wisdom is such as understands and apprehends things, not so much, or not only in the notion of them, as in their power, reality, and efficacy, towards their proper ends. And, therefore, although it may be very few, unless they be learned, judicious, and diligent in the use of means of all sorts, do attain unto it clearly and distinctly in the doctrinal notions of it; yet are all true believers, yea, the meanest of them, directed and enabled by the Holy Spirit, as unto their own practice and duty, to act suitably unto a comprehension of this harmony, according to the promise that “they shall be all taught of God.” Hence, those things which appear unto others contradictory and inconsistent one with another, so as that they are forced to offer violence unto the Scripture and their own experience in the rejection of the one or the other of them, are reconciled in their minds and made mutually useful or helpful unto one another, in the whole course of their obedience. But these things must be farther spoken unto.
A full comprehension of it no creature can in this world arise unto. Only, in the contemplation of faith, we may arrive unto such an understanding admiration of it as shall enable us to give glory unto God, and to make use of all the parts of it in practice as we have occasion. Concerning it the holy man mentioned before cried out, “O anexichniastou demiourgias” — “O unsearchable contrivance and operations”. And so is it expressed by the apostle, as that which has an unfathomable depth of wisdom in it, “O bathos ploutou”, etc. — “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding Romans 11:33-36. See to the same purpose, Ephesians 3:8-10.
There is a harmony, a suitableness of one thing unto another, in all the works of creation. Yet we see that it is not perfectly nor absolutely discoverable unto the wisest and most diligent of men. How far are they from an agreement about the order and motions of the heavenly bodies, of the sympathies and qualities of sundry things here below, in the relation of causality and efficiency between one thing and another! The new discoveries made concerning any of them, do only evidence how far men are from a just and perfect comprehension of them. Yet such a universal harmony there is in all the parts of nature and its operations, that nothing in its proper station and operation is destructively contradictory either to the whole or any part of it, but every thing contributes unto the preservation and use of the universe. But although this harmony be not absolutely comprehensible by any, yet do all living creatures, who follow the conduct or instinct of nature, make use of it, and live upon it; and without it neither their being could be preserved, nor their operations continued.
But in the mystery of God and his grace, the harmony and suitableness of one thing unto another, with their tendency unto the same end, is incomparably more excellent and glorious than that which is seen in nature or the works of it. For whereas God made all things at first in wisdom, yet is the new creation of all things by Jesus Christ ascribed peculiarly unto the riches, stores, and treasures of that infinite wisdom. Neither can any discern it unless they are taught of God; for it is only spiritually discerned.
But yet is it by the most despised. Some seem to think that there is no great wisdom in it; and some, that no great wisdom is required unto the comprehension of it: few think it worth the while to spend half that time in prayer, in meditation, in the exercise of self-denial, mortification, and holy obedience, doing the will of Christ, that they may know of his word, to the attaining of a due comprehension of the mystery of godliness, as some do in diligence, study, and trial of experiments, who design to excel in natural or mathematical sciences. Wherefore there are three things evident herein: —
1. That such an harmony there is in all the parts of the mystery of God, wherein all the blessed properties of the divine nature are glorified, our duty in all instances is directed and engaged, our salvation in the way of obedience secured, and Christ, as the end of all, exalted. Wherefore, we are not only to consider and know the several parts of the doctrine of spiritual truths but their relation, also, one unto another, their consistency one with another in practice, and their mutual furtherance of one another unto their common end. And a disorder in our apprehensions about any part of that whose beauty and use arises from its harmony, gives some confusion of mind with respect unto the whole.
2. That unto a comprehension of this harmony in a due measure, it is necessary that we be taught of God; without which we can never be wise in the knowledge of the mystery of his grace. And herein ought we to place the principal part of our diligence, in our inquiries into the truths of the gospel.
3. All those who are taught of God to know his will, unless it be when their minds are disordered by prejudices, false opinions, or temptations, have an experience in themselves and their own practical obedience, of the consistency of all parts of the mystery of God’s grace and truth in Christ among themselves, — of their spiritual harmony and cogent tendency unto the sane end. The introduction of the grace of Christ into our relation unto God, makes no confusion or disorder in their minds, by the conflict of the principles of natural reason, with respect unto our first relation unto God, and those of grace, with respect unto that whereunto we are renewed.
From the want of a due comprehension of this divine harmony it is, that the minds of men are filled with imaginations of an inconsistency between the most important parts of the mystery of the gospel, from whence the confusions that are at this day in Christian religion do proceed.
Thus the Socinians can see no consistency between the grace or love of God and the satisfaction of Christ, but imagine if the one of them be admitted, the other must be excluded out of our religion. Wherefore they principally oppose the latter, under a pretense of asserting and vindicating the former. And where these things are expressly conjoined in the same proposition of faith, — as where it is said that “we are justified freely by the grace of God, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,” Romans 3:24,25, — they will offer violence unto common sense and reason, rather than not disturb that harmony which they cannot understand. For although it be plainly affirmed to be a redemption by his blood, as he is a propitiation, as his blood was a ransom or price of redemption, yet they will contend that it is only metaphorical, — a mere deliverance by power, like that of the Israelites by Moses. But these things are clearly stated in the gospel; and therefore not only consistent, but such as that the one cannot subsist without the other. Nor is there any mention of any especial love or grace of God unto sinners, but with respect unto the satisfaction of Christ as the means of the communication of all its effects unto them. See John 3:16; Romans 3:23-25; 8:30-33; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21; Ephesians 1:7; etc.
In like manner, they can see no consistency between the satisfaction of Christ and the necessity of holiness or obedience in them that do believe.
Hence they continually glamor, that, by our doctrine of the mediation of Christ, we overthrow all obligations unto a holy life. And by their sophistical reasonings unto this purpose, they prevail with many to embrace their delusion, who have not a spiritual experience to confront their sophistry withal. But as the testimony of the Scripture lies expressly against them, so those who truly believe, and have real experience of the influence of that truth into the life of God, and how impossible it is to yield any acceptable obedience herein without respect thereunto, are secured from their snares.
These and the like imaginations arise from the unwillingness of men to admit of the introduction of the mystery of grace into our relation unto God. For suppose us to stand before God on the old constitution of the covenant of creation, which alone natural reason likes and is comprehensive of, and we do acknowledge these things to be inconsistent.
But the mystery of the wisdom and grace of God in Christ cannot stand without them both.
So, likewise, God’s efficacious grace in the conversion of sinners, and the exercise of the faculties of their minds in a way of duty, are asserted as contradictory and inconsistent. And although they seem both to be positively and frequently declared in the Scripture, yet, say these men, their consistency being repugnant to their reason, let the Scripture say what it will, yet is it to be said by us that the Scripture does not assert one of them. And this is from the same cause; men cannot, in their wisdom, see it possible that the mystery of God’s grace should be introduced into our relation and obedience unto God. Hence have many ages of the church, especially the last of them, been filled with endless disputes, in opposition to the grace of God, or to accommodate the conceptions of it unto the interests of corrupted reason.
But there is no instance more pregnant unto this purpose than that under our present consideration. Free justification, through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, is cried out against, as inconsistent with a necessity of personal holiness and obedience: and because the Socinians insist principally on this pretense, it shall be fully and diligently considered apart; and that holiness which, without it, they and others deriving from them do pretend unto, shall be tried by the unerring rule.
1. That it is unsuited, yea foolish, and, as some speak, childish, unto the principles of unenlightened and unsanctified reason or understandings of men. And this we conceive to be the principal cause of all the oppositions that are made unto it, and all the deprivations of it that the church is pestered withal. Hence are the wits of men so fertile in sophistical cavils against it, so ready to load it with seeming absurdities, and I know not what unsuitableness unto their wondrous rational conceptions. And no objection can be made against it, be it never so trivial, but it is highly applauded by those who look on that introduction of the mystery of grace, which is above their natural conceptions, as unintelligible folly.
2. That the necessary relation of these things, one unto the other, — namely, of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, and the necessity of our personal obedience, — will not be clearly understood, nor duly improved, but by and in the exercise of the wisdom of faith. This we grant also; and let who will make what advantage they can of this concession. True faith has that spiritual light in it, or accompanying of it, as that it is able to receive it, and to conduct the soul unto obedience by it. Wherefore, reserving the particular consideration hereof unto its proper place, I say, in general, —
(1.) That this relation is evident unto that spiritual wisdom whereby we are enabled, doctrinally and practically, to comprehend the harmony of the mystery of God, and the consistency of all the parts of it, one with another.
(2.) That it is made evident by the Scripture, wherein both these things — justification through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, and the necessity of our personal obedience — are plainly asserted and declared. And we defy that rule of the Socinians, that seeing these things are inconsistent in their apprehension or unto their reason, therefore we must say that one of them is not taught in the Scripture: for whatever it may appear unto their reason, it does not so to ours; and we have at least as good reason to trust unto our own reason as unto theirs. Yet we absolutely acquiesce in neither, but in the authority of God in the Scripture; rejoicing only in this, that we can set our seal unto his revelations by our own experience. For, —
(3.) It is fully evident in the gracious conduct which the minds of them that believe are under, even that of the Spirit of truth and grace, and the inclinations of that new principle of the divine life whereby they are acted; for although, from the remainders of sin and darkness that are in them, temptations may arise unto a continuation in sin because grace has abounded, yet are their minds so formed and framed by the doctrine of this grace, and the grace of this doctrine, that the abounding of grace herein is the principal motive unto their abounding in holiness, as we shall see afterward.
1. If the passive righteousness (as it is commonly called), that is, his death and suffering, be imputed unto us, there is no need, nor can it be, that his active righteousness, or the obedience of his life, should be imputed unto us; and so on the contrary: for both together are inconsistent.
2. That if all sin be pardoned, there is no need of the righteousness; and so on the contrary, if the righteousness of Christ be imputed unto us, there is no room for, or need of, the pardon of sin.
3. If we believe the pardon of our sins, then are our sins pardoned before we believe, or we are bound to believe that which is not so.
4. If the righteousness of Christ be imputed unto us, then are we esteemed to have done and suffered what, indeed, we never did nor suffered; and it is true, that if we are esteemed our selves to have done it, imputation is overthrown.
5. If Christ’s righteousness be imputed unto us, then are we as righteous as was Christ himself.
6. If our sins were imputed unto Christ, then was he thought to have sinned, and was a sinner subjectively.
7. If good works be excluded from any interest in our justification before God, then are they of no use unto our salvation.
8. That it is ridiculous to think that where there is no sin, there is not all the righteousness that can be required.
9. That righteousness imputed is only a putative or imaginary righteousness, etc.
Now, although all these and the like objections, however subtilely managed (as Socinus boasts that he had used more than ordinary subtlety in this cause, — “In quo, si subtilius aliquanto quam opus esse videretur, quaedam a nobis disputate sunt”, De Servat., par. 4, cap. 4.), are capable of plain and clear solutions, and we shall avoid the examination of none of them; yet at present I shall only say, that all the shades which they cast on the minds of men do vanish and disappear before the light of express Scripture testimonies, and the experience of them that do believe, where there is a due comprehension of the mystery of grace in any tolerable measure.
Seventhly General prejudices against the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. —
1. That it is not in terms found in the Scripture, answered —
2. That nothing is said of it in the writings of the evangelists, answered, John 20:30,31 — Nature of Christ’s personal ministry — Revelations by the Holy Spirit immediately from Christ — Design of the writings of the evangelists —
3. Differences among Protestants themselves about this doctrine, answered — Sense of the ancients herein — What is of real difference among Protestants, considered Seventhly. There are some common prejudices, that are usually pleaded against the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ; which, because they will not orderly fall under a particular consideration in our progress, may be briefly examined in these general previous considerations: —
1. It is usually urged against it, that this imputation of the righteousness of Christ is nowhere mentioned expressly in the Scripture. This is the first objection of Bellarmine against it. “Hactenus”, says he, “nullum omnino locum invenire putuerunt, ubi legeretur Christi justitiam nobis imputari ad justitiam; vel nos justos esse per Christi justitiam nobis imputatam”, De Justificat., lib. 2 cap. 7; — an objection, doubtless, unreasonably and immodestly urged by men of this persuasion; for not only do they make profession of their whole faith, or their belief of all things in matters of religion, in terms and expressions nowhere used in the Scripture, but believe many things also, as they say, with faith divine, not at all revealed or contained in the Scripture, but drained by them out of the traditions of the church. I do not, therefore, understand how such persons can modestly manage this as an objection against any doctrine, that the terms wherein some do express it are not “rhetoos”, — found in the Scripture just in that order of one word after another as by them they are used; for this rule may be much enlarged, and yet be kept strait enough to exclude the principal concerns of their church out of the confines of Christianity. Nor can I apprehend much more equity in others, who reflect with severity on this expression of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as unscriptural, as if those who make use thereof were criminal in no small degree, when themselves, immediately in the declaration of their own judgment, make use of such terms, distinctions, and expressions, as are so far from being in the Scripture, as that it is odds they had never been in the world, had they escaped Aristotle’s mint, or that of the schools deriving from him.
And thus, although a sufficient answer has frequently enough (if any thing can be so) been returned unto this objection in Bellarmine, yet has one of late amongst ourselves made the translation of it into English to be the substance of the first chapter of a book about justification; though he needed not to have given such an early intimation unto whom he is beholding for the greatest part of his ensuing discourse, unless it be what is taken up in despiteful revilings of other men. For take from him what is not his own, on the one hand, and impertinent cavils at the words and expressions of other men, with forged imputations on some of them, on the other, and his whole book will disappear. But yet, although he affirms that none of the Protestant writers, who speak of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto us (which were all of them, without exception, until of late), have precisely kept to the form of wholesome words, but have rather swerved and varied from the language of the Scripture; yet he will excuse them from open error, if they intend no more thereby but that we are made partakers of the benefits of the righteousness of Christ. But if they intend that the righteousness of Christ itself imputed unto us (that is, so as to be our righteousness before God, whereon we are pardoned and accepted with him, or do receive the forgiveness of sins, and a right to the heavenly inheritance), then are they guilty of that error which makes us to be esteemed to do ourselves what Christ did; and so on the other side, Christ to have done what we do and did, chap. 2, 3. But these things are not so. For, if we are esteemed to have done any thing in our own persons, it cannot be imputed unto us as done for us by another; as it will appear when we shall treat of these things afterwards. But the great and holy persons intended, are as little concerned in the accusations or apologies of some writers, as those writers seem to be acquainted with that learning, wisdom, and judgment, wherein they did excel, and the characters whereof are so eminently conspicuous in all their writings. But the judgment of most Protestants is not only candidly expressed, but approved of also by Bellarmine himself in another place. “Non esset”, says he, “absurdum, si quis diceret nobis imputari Christi justitiam et merita; cum nobis donentur et applicentur; ac si nos ipsi Deo satisfecissemus”. De Justif., lib. 2, cap. 10; — “It were not absurd, if any one should say that the righteousness and merits of Christ are imputed unto us, when they are given and applied unto us, as if we ourselves had satisfied God.” And this he confirms with that saying of Bernard, Epist. ad Innocent. 190, “Nam ‘si unus pro omnibus mortuus est, ergo omnes mortui sunt, ’ ut videlicet satisfactio unius omnibus imputetur, sicut omnium peccata unus ille portavit”. And those who will acknowledge no more in this matter, but only a participation “quovis modo”, one way or other, of the benefits of the obedience and righteousness of Christ, wherein we have the concurrence of the Socinians also, might do well, as I suppose, plainly to deny all imputation of his righteousness unto us in any sense, as they do, seeing the benefits of his righteousness cannot be said to be imputed unto us, what way soever we are made partakers of them. For to say that the righteousness of Christ is imputed unto us, with respect unto the benefits of it, when neither the righteousness itself is imputed unto us, nor can the benefits of it be imputed unto us, as we shall see afterward, does minister great occasion of much needless variance and contests.
Neither do I know any reason why men should seek countenance unto this doctrine under such an expression as themselves reflect upon as unscriptural, if they be contented that their minds and sense should be clearly understood and apprehended; — for truth needs no subterfuge.
The Socinians do now principally make use of this objection. For, finding the whole church of God in the use of sundry expressions, in the declaration of the most important truths of the gospel, that are not literally contained in the Scripture, they hoped for an advantage from thence in their opposition unto the things themselves. Such are the terms of the Trinity, the incarnation, satisfaction, and merit of Christ, as this also, of the imputation of his righteousness. How little they have prevailed in the other instances, has been sufficiently manifested by them with whom they have had to do. But as unto that part of this objection which concerns the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto, believers, those by whom it is asserted do say, —
(1.) That it is the thing alone intended which they plead for. If that be not contained in the Scripture, if it be not plainly taught and confirmed therein, they will speedily relinquish it. But if they can prove that the doctrine which they intend in this expression, and which is thereby plainly declared unto the understandings of men, is a divine truth sufficiently witnessed unto in the Scripture; then is this expression of it reductively scriptural, and the truth itself so expressed a divine verity. To deny this, is to take away all use of the interpretation of the Scripture, and to overthrow the ministry of the church. This, therefore, is to be alone inquired into.
(2.) They say, the same thing is taught and expressed in the Scripture in phrases equipollent. For it affirms that “by the obedience of one” (that is Christ), “many are made righteous”, Romans 5:19; and that we are made righteous by the imputation of righteousness unto us, “Blessed is the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,” chap. 4:6. And if we are made righteous by the imputation of righteousness unto us, that obedience or righteousness whereby we are made righteous is imputed unto us. And they will be content with this expression of this doctrine, — that the obedience of Christ whereby we are made righteous, is the righteousness that God imputes unto us.
Wherefore, this objection is of no force to disadvantage the truth pleaded for.
2. Socinus objects, in particular, against this doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, and of his satisfaction, that there is nothing said of it in the “Evangelists”, nor in the “report of the sermons of Christ unto the people, nor yet in those of his private discourses with his disciples”; and he urges it vehemently and at large against the whole of the expiation of sin by his death, De Servator., par. 4, cap.
9. And as it is easy “malis inventis pejora addere”, this notion of his is not only made use of and pressed at large by one among ourselves, but improved also by a dangerous comparison between the writings of the evangelists and the other writings of the New Testament. For to enforce this argument, that the histories of the gospel, wherein the sermons of Christ are recorded, do make no mention of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (as in his judgment they do not), nor of his satisfaction, or merit, or expiation of sin, or of redemption by his death (as they do not in the judgment of Socinus), it is added by him, that for his part he is “apt to admire our Savior’s sermons, who was the author of our religion, before the writings of the apostles, though inspired men”.
Whereunto many dangerous insinuations and reflections on the writings of St. Paul, contrary to the faith and sense of the church in all ages, are subjoined. See pp.240, 241.
But this boldness is not only unwarrantable, but to be abhorred. What place of Scripture, what ecclesiastical tradition, what single precedent of any one sober Christian writer, what theological reason, will countenance a man in making the comparison mentioned, and so determining thereon?
Such juvenile boldness, such want of a due apprehension and understanding of the nature of divine inspiration, with the order and design of the writings of the New Testament, which are the springs of this precipitate censure, ought to be reflected on. At present, to remove this pretense out of our way, it may be observed, —
(1.) That what the Lord Christ taught his disciples, in his personal ministry on the earth, was suited unto that economy of the church which was antecedent unto his death and resurrection. Nothing did he withhold from them that was needful to their faith, obedience, and consolation in that state. Many things he instructed them in out of the Scripture, many new revelations he made unto them, and many times did he occasionally instruct and rectify their judgments; howbeit he made no clear, distinct revelation of those sacred mysteries unto them which are peculiar unto the faith of the New Testament, nor were to be distinctly apprehended before his death and resurrection.
(2.) What the Lord Christ revealed afterward by his Spirit unto the apostles, was no less immediately from himself than was the truth which he spoke unto them with his own mouth in the days of his flesh. An apprehension to the contrary is destructive of Christian religion. The epistles of the apostles are no less Christ’s sermons than that which he delivered on the mount. Wherefore —
(3.) Neither in the things themselves, nor in the way of their delivery or revelation, is there any advantage of the one sort of writings above the other. The things written in the epistles proceed from the same wisdom, the same grace, the same love, with the things which he spoke with his own mouth in the days of his flesh, and are of the same divine veracity, authority, and efficacy. The revelation which he made by his Spirit is no less divine and immediate from himself, than what he spoke unto his disciples on the earth. To distinguish between these things, on any of these accounts, is intolerable folly.
(4.) The writings of the evangelists do not contain the whole of all the instructions which the Lord Christ gave unto his disciples personally on the earth. For he was seen of them after his resurrection forty days, and spoke with them of “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God,” Acts 1:3; and yet nothing hereof is recorded in their writings, but only some few occasional speeches. Nor had he given before unto them a clear and distinct understanding of those things which were delivered concerning his death and resurrection in the Old Testament; as is plainly declared, Luke 24:25-27. For it was not necessary for them, in that state wherein they were. Wherefore, —
(5.) As to the extent of divine revelations objectively those which he granted, by his Spirit, unto his apostles after his ascension, were beyond those which he personally taught them, so far as they are recorded in the writings of the evangelists. For he told them plainly, not long before hit death, that he had many things to say unto them which “then they could not bear,” John 16:12. And for the knowledge of those things, he refers them to the coming of the Spirit to make revelation of them from himself, in the next words, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you,” verses 13, 14. And on this account he had told them before, that it was expedient for them that he should go away, that the Holy Spirit might come unto them, whom he would send from the Father, verse 7. Hereunto he referred the full and clear manifestation of the mysteries of the gospel. So false, as well as dangerous and scandalous, are those insinuations of Socinus and his followers.
(6.) The writings of the evangelists are full unto their proper ends and purposes. These were, to record the genealogy, conception, birth, acts, miracles, and teachings of our Savior, so far as to evince him to be the true, only-promised Messiah. So he testifies who wrote the last of them: “Many other signs truly did Jesus, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” John 22:30, 31. Unto this end every thing is recorded by them that is needful unto the ingenerating and establishing of faith. Upon this confirmation, all things declared in the Old Testament concerning him — all that was taught in types and sacrifices — became the object of faith, in that sense wherein they were interpreted in the accomplishment; and that in them this doctrine was before revealed, shall be proved afterward. It is, therefore, no wonder if some things, and those of the highest importance, should be declared more fully in other writings of the New Testament than they are in those of the evangelists (7.) The pretense itself is wholly false; for there are as many pregnant testimonies given unto this truth in one alone of the evangelists as in any other book of the New Testament, — namely, in the book of John. I shall refer to some of them, which will be pleaded in their proper place, chap. 1:12, 17; 3:14-18, 36; 5:24.
But we may pass this by, as one of those inventions concerning which Socinus boasts, in his epistle to Michael Vajoditus, that his writings were esteemed by many for the singularity of things asserted in them.
3. The difference that has been among Protestant writers about this doctrine is pleaded in the prejudice of it. Osiander, in the entrance of the reformation, fell into a vain imagination, that we were justified or made righteous with the essential righteousness of God, communicated unto us by Jesus Christ. And whereas he was opposed herein with some severity by the most learned persons of those days, to countenance himself in his singularity, he pretended that there were “twenty different opinions amongst the Protestants themselves about the formal cause of our justification before God”. This was quickly laid hold on by them of the Roman church, and is urged as a prejudice against the whole doctrine, by Bellarmine, Vasquez, and others. But the vanity of this pretense of his has been sufficiently discovered; and Bellarmine himself could fancy but four opinions among them that seemed to be different from one another, reckoning that of Osiander for one, De Justificat., lib. 2, cap.
1. But whereas he knew that the imagination of Osiander was exploded by them all, the other three that he mentions are indeed but distinct parts of the same entire doctrine. Wherefore, until of late it might be truly said, that the faith and doctrine of all Protestants was in this article entirely the same.
For however they differed in the way, manner, and methods of its declaration, and too many private men were addicted unto definitions and descriptions of their own, under pretense of logical accuracy in teaching, which gave an appearance of some contradiction among them; yet in this they generally agreed, that it is the righteousness of Christ, and not our own, on the account whereof we receive the pardon of sin, acceptance with God, are declared righteous by the gospel, and have a right and title unto the heavenly inheritance. Hereon, I say, they were generally agreed, first against the Papists, and afterwards against the Socinians; and where this is granted, I will not contend with any man about his way of declaring the doctrine of it.
And that I may add it by the way, we have herein the concurrence of the fathers of the primitive church. For although by justification, following the etymology of the Latin word, they understood the making us righteous with internal personal righteousness, — at least some of them did so, as Austin in particular, — yet that we are pardoned and accepted with God on any other account but that of the righteousness of Christ, they believed not. And whereas, especially in their controversy with the Pelagians, after the rising of that heresy, they plead vehemently that we are made righteous by the grace of God changing our hearts and natures, and creating in us a principle of spiritual life and holiness, and not by the endeavors of our own free will, or works performed in the strength thereof, their words and expressions have been abused, contrary to their intention and design.
For we wholly concur with them, and subscribe unto all that they dispute about the making of us personally righteous and holy by the effectual grace of God, against all merit of works and operations of our own free will (our sanctification being every way as much of grace as our justification, properly so called); and that in opposition unto the common doctrine of the Roman church about the same matter: only they call this our being made inherently and personally righteous by grace, sometimes by the name of justification, which we do not. And this is laid hold on as an advantage by those of the Roman church who do not concur with them in the way and manner whereby we are so made righteous. But whereas by our justification before God, we intend only that righteousness whereon our sins are pardoned, wherewith we are made righteous in his sight, or for which we are accepted as righteous before him, it will be hard to find any of them assigning of it unto any other causes than the Protestants do. So it is fallen out, that what they design to prove, we entirely comply with them in; but the way and manner whereby they prove it is made use of by the Papists unto another end, which they intended not.
But as to the way and manner of the declaration of this doctrine among Protestants themselves, there ever was some variety and difference in expressions; nor will it otherwise be whilst the abilities and capacities of men, whether in the conceiving of things of this nature, or in the expression of their conceptions, are so various as they are. And it is acknowledged that these differences of late have had by some as much weight laid upon them as the substance of the doctrine generally agreed in.
Hence some have composed entire books, consisting almost of nothing but impertinent cavils at other men’s words and expressions. But these things proceed from the weakness of some men, and other vicious habits of their minds, and do not belong unto the cause itself. And such persons, as for me, shall write as they do, and fight on until they are weary. Neither has the multiplication of questions, and the curious discussion of them in the handling of this doctrine, wherein nothing ought to be diligently insisted on but what is directive of our practice, been of much use unto the truth itself, though it has not been directly opposed in them.
That which is of real difference among persons who agree in the substance of the doctrine, may be reduced unto a very few heads; as, —
(1.) There is something of this kind about the nature of faith whereby we are justified, with its proper object in justifying, and its use in justification. And an instance we have herein, not only of the weakness of our intellects in the apprehension of spiritual things, but also of the remainders of confusion and disorder in our minds; at least, how true it is that we know only in part, and prophesy only in part, whilst we are in this life. For whereas this faith is an act of our minds, put forth in the way of duty to God, yet many by whom it is sincerely exercised, and that continually, are not agreed either in the nature or proper object of it. Yet is there no doubt but that some of them who differ amongst themselves about these things, have delivered their minds free from the prepossession of prejudices and notions derived from other artificial seasonings imposed on them, and do really express their own conceptions as to the best and utmost of their experience.
And notwithstanding this difference, they do yet all of them please God in the exercise of faith, as it is their duty, and have that respect unto its proper object as secures both their justification and salvation. And if we cannot, on this consideration, bear with, and forbear, one another in our different conceptions and expressions of those conceptions about these things, it is a sign we have a great mind to be contentious, and that our confidences are built on very weak foundations. For my part, I had much rather my lot should be found among them who do really believe with the heart unto righteousness, though they are not able to give a tolerable definition of faith unto others, than among them who can endlessly dispute about it with seeming accuracy and skill, but are negligent in the exercise of it as their own duty. Wherefore, some things shall be briefly spoken of in this matter, to declare my own apprehensions concerning the things mentioned, without the least design to contradict or oppose the conceptions of others.
(2.) There has been a controversy more directly stated among some learned divines of the Reformed churches (for the Lutherans are unanimous on the one side), about the righteousness of Christ that is said to be imputed unto us. For some would have this to be only his suffering of death, and the satisfaction which he made for sin thereby, and others include therein the obedience of his life also. The occasion, original, and progress of this controversy, the persons by whom it has been managed, with the writings wherein it is so, and the various ways that have been endeavored for its reconciliation, are sufficiently known unto all who have inquired into these things. Neither shall I immix myself herein, in the way of controversy, or in opposition unto others, though I shall freely declare my own judgment in it, so far as the consideration of the righteousness of Christ, under this distinction, is inseparable from the substance of the truth itself which I plead for.
(3.) Some difference there has been, also, whether the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us, or the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, may be said to be the formal cause of our justification before God; wherein there appears some variety of expression among learned men, who have handled this subject in the way of controversy with the Papists. The true occasion of the differences about this expression has been this, and no other: Those of the Roman church do constantly assert, that the righteousness whereby we are righteous before God is the formal cause of our justification; and this righteousness, they say, is our own inherent, personal righteousness, and not the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us: wherefore they treat of this whole controversy — namely, what is the righteousness on the account whereof we are accepted with God, or justified — under the name of the formal cause of justification; which is the subject of the second book of Bellarmine concerning justification. In opposition unto them, some Protestants, contending that the righteousness wherewith we are esteemed righteous before God, and accepted with him, is the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us, and not our own inherent, imperfect, personal righteousness, have done it under this inquiry, — namely, What is the formal cause of our justification? Which some have said to be the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, some, the righteousness of Christ imputed. But what they designed herein was, not to resolve this controversy into a philosophical inquiry about the nature of a formal cause, but only to prove that that truly belonged unto the righteousness of Christ in our justification which the Papists ascribed unto our own, under that name. That there is a habitual, infused habit of grace, which is the formal cause of our personal, inherent righteousness, they grant: but they all deny that God pardons our sins, and justifies our persons, with respect unto this righteousness, as the formal cause thereof; nay, they deny that in the justification of a sinner there either is, or can be, any inherent formal cause of it. And what they mean by a formal cause in our justification, is only that which gives the denomination unto the subject, as the imputation of the righteousness of Christ does to a person that he is justified.
Wherefore, notwithstanding the differences that have been among some in the various expression of their conceptions, the substance of the doctrine of the reformed churches is by them agreed upon and retained entire. For they all agree that God justifies no sinner, — absolves him not from guilt, nor declares him righteous, so as to have a title unto the heavenly inheritance, — but with respect unto a true and perfect righteousness; as also, that this righteousness is truly the righteousness of him that is so justified; that this righteousness becomes ours by God’s free grace and donation, — the way on our part whereby we come to be really and effectually interested therein being faith alone; and that this is the perfect obedience or righteousness of Christ imputed unto us: in these things, as they shall be afterwards distinctly explained, is contained the whole of that truth whose explanation and confirmation is the design of the ensuing discourse. And because those by whom this doctrine in the substance of it is of late impugned, derive more from the Socinians than the Papists, and make a nearer approach unto their principles, I shall chiefly insist on the examination of those original authors by whom their notions were first coined, and whose weapons they make use of in their defense.
Eighthly Influence of the doctrine of justification into the first Reformation — Advantages unto the world by that Reformation — State of the consciences of men under the Papacy, with respect unto justification before God — Alterations made therein by the light of this doctrine, though not received — Alterations in the Pagan unbelieving world by the introduction of Christianity — Design and success of the first reformers herein — Attempts for reconciliation with the Papists in this doctrine, and their success — Remainders of the ignorance of the truth in the Roman church — Unavoidable consequences of the corruption of this doctrine Eighthly. To close these previous discourses, it is worthy our consideration what weight was laid on this doctrine of justification at the first Reformation and what influence it had into the whole work thereof.
However the minds of men may be changed as unto sundry doctrines of faith among us, yet none can justly own the name of Protestant, but he must highly value the first Reformation: and they cannot well do otherwise whose present even temporal advantages are resolved thereinto.
However, I intend none but such as own an especial presence and guidance of God with them who were eminently and successfully employed therein.
Such persons cannot but grant that their faith in this matter, and the concurrence of their thoughts about its importance, are worthy consideration.
This those mentioned declared to be “Articulus stantis aut cadentis eccleseae”, and that the vindication thereof alone deserved all the pains that were taken in the whole endeavor of reformation. But things are now, and that by virtue of their doctrine herein, much changed in the world, though it be not so understood or acknowledged. In general, no small benefit redounded unto the world by the Reformation, even among them by whom it was not, nor is received, though many bluster with contrary pretensions: for all the evils which have accidentally ensued thereon, arising most of them from the corrupt passions and interests of them by whom it has been opposed, are usually ascribed unto it; and all the light, liberty, and benefit of the minds of men which it has introduced, are ascribed unto other causes. But this may be signally observed with respect unto the doctrine of justification, with the causes and effects of its discovery and vindication. For the first reformers found their own, and the consciences of other men, so immersed in darkness, so pressed and harassed with fears, terrors, and disquietments under the power of it, and so destitute of any steady guidance into the ways of peace with God, as that with all diligence (like persons sensible that herein their spiritual and eternal interest was concerned) they made their inquiries after the truth in this matter; which they knew must be the only means of their deliverance.
All men in those days were either kept in bondage under endless fears and anxieties of mind upon the convictions of sin, or sent for relief unto indulgences, priestly pardons, penances, pilgrimages, works satisfactory of their own, and supererogatory of others, or kept under chains of darkness for purgatory unto the last day. Now, he is no way able to compare things past and present, who sees not how great an alteration is made in these things even in the papal church. For before the Reformation, whereby the light of the gospel, especially in this doctrine of justification, was diffused among men, and shone even into their minds who never comprehended nor received it, the whole almost of religion among them was taken up with, and confined unto, these things. And to instigate men unto an abounding sedulity in the observation of them, their minds were stuffed with traditions and stories of visions, apparitions, frightful spirits, and other imaginations that poor mortals are apt to be amazed withal, and which their restless disquitments gave countenance unto. “Somnia, terrores magici, miracula, sagae Nocturni lemures, portentaque Thessala,” — (Hor., Ep.2, 2, 209.) were the principal objects of their creed, and matter of their religious conversation. That very church itself comparatively at ease from these things unto what it was before the Reformation; though so much of them is still retained as to blind the eyes of men from discerning the necessity as well as the truth of the evangelical doctrine of justification.
It is fallen out herein not much otherwise than it did at the first entrance of Christianity into the world. For there was an emanation of light and truth from the gospel which affected the minds of men, by whom yet the whole of it, in its general design, was opposed and persecuted. For from thence the very vulgar sort of men became to have better apprehensions and notions of God and his properties, or the original and rule of the universe, than they had arrived unto in the midnight of their paganism. And a sort of learned speculative men there were, who, by virtue of that light of truth which sprung from the gospel, and was now diffused into the minds of men, reformed and improved the old philosophy, discarding many of those falsehoods and impertinencies wherewith it had been encumbered. But when this was done, they still maintained their cause on the old principles of the philosophers. And, indeed, their opposition unto the gospel was far more plausible and pleadable than it was before. For after they had discarded the gross conceptions of the common sort about the divine nature and rule, and had blended the light of truth which brake forth in Christian religion with their own philosophical notions, they made a vigorous attempt for the reinforcement of heathenism against the main design of the gospel. And things have not, as I said, fallen out much otherwise in the Reformation. For as by the light of truth which therein brake forth, the consciences of even the vulgar sort are in some measure freed from those childish affrightments which they were before in bondage unto; so those who are learned have been enabled to reduce the opinions and practices of their church into a more defensible posture, and make their opposition unto the truths of the gospel more plausible than they formerly were. Yea, that doctrine which, in the way of its teaching and practice among them, as also in its effects on the consciences of men, was so horrid as to drive innumerable persons from their communion in that and other things also, is now, in the new representation of it, with the artificial covering provided for its former effects in practice, thought an argument meet to be pleaded for a return unto its entire communion.
But to root the superstitions mentioned out of the minds of men, to communicate unto them the knowledge of the righteousness of God, which is revealed from faith to faith, and thereby to deliver them from their bondage, fears, and distress, directing convinced sinners unto the only way of solid peace with God, did the first reformers labor so diligently in the declaration and vindication of the evangelical doctrine of justification; and God was with them. And it is worth our consideration, whether we should, on every cavil and sophism of men not so taught, not so employed, not so tried, not so owned of God as they were, and in whose writings there are not appearing such characters of wisdom, sound judgment, and deep experience, as in theirs, easily part with that doctrine of truth wherein alone they found peace unto their own souls, and whereby they were instrumental to give liberty and peace with God unto the souls and consciences of others innumerable, accompanied with the visible effects of holiness of life, and fruitfulness in the works of righteousness, unto the praise of God by Jesus Christ.
In my judgment, Luther spake the truth when he said, “Amisso articulo justificationis, simul amissa est tota doctrina Christiana”. And I wish he had not been a true prophet, when he foretold that in the following ages the doctrine thereof would be again obscured; the causes whereof I have elsewhere inquired into.
Some late writers, indeed, among the Protestants have endeavored to reduce the controversy about justification with the Papist unto an appearance of a far less real difference than is usually judged to be in it.
And a good work it is, no doubt, to pare off all unnecessary occasions of debate and differences in religion, provided we go not so near the quick as to let out any of its vital spirits. The way taken herein is, to proceed upon some concessions of the most sober among the Papists, in their ascriptions unto grace and the merit of Christ, on the one side; and the express judgment of the Protestants, variously delivered, of the necessity of good works to them that are justified, on the other. Besides, it appears that in different expressions which either party adhere unto, as it were by tradition, the same things are indeed intended. Among them who have labored in this kind, Ludovicus le Blanc, for his perspicuity and plainness, his moderation and freedom from a contentious frame of spirit, is “pene solus legi dignus”. He is like the ghost of Tiresias in this matter. But I must needs say, that I have not seen the effect that might be desired of any such undertaking. For, when each party comes unto the interpretation of their own concessions, which is, “ex communi jure”, to be allowed unto them, and which they will be sure to do in compliance with their judgment on the substance of the doctrine wherein the main stress of the difference lies, the distance and breach continue as wide as ever they were. Nor is there the least ground towards peace obtained by any of our condescensions or compliance herein. For unless we can come up entirely unto the decrees and canons of the Council of Trent, wherein the doctrine of the Old and New Testament is anathematized, they will make no other use of any man’s compliance, but only to increase the glamor of differences among ourselves. I mention nothing of this nature to hinder any man from granting whatever he can or please unto them, without the prejudice of the substance of truths professed in the protestant churches; but only to intimate the uselessness of such concessions, in order unto peace and agreement with them, whilst they have a Procrustes’ bed to lay us upon, and from whose size they will not recede.
Here and there one (not above three or four in all may be named, within this hundred and thirty years) in the Roman communion has owned our doctrine of justification, for the substance of it. So did Albertus Pighius, and the Antitagma Coloniense, as Bellarmine acknowledges. And what he says of Pighius is true, as we shall see afterwards; the other I have not seen. Cardinal Contarinus, in a treatise of justification, written before, and published about the beginning of the Trent Council, delivers himself in the favor of it. But upon the observation of what he had done, some say he was shortly after poisoned; though I must confess I know not where they had the report.
But do what we can for the sake of peace, as too much cannot be done for it, with the safety of truth, it cannot be denied but that the doctrine of justification, as it works effectually in the church of Rome, is the foundation of many enormities among them, both in judgment and practice. They do not continue, I acknowledge, in that visible predominancy and rage as formerly, nor are the generality of the people in so much slavish bondage unto them as they were; but the streams of them do still issue from this corrupt fountain, unto the dangerous infection of the souls of men. For missatical expiatory sacrifices for the tiring and the dead, the necessity of auricular confession, with authoritative absolution, penances, pilgrimages, sacramentals, indulgences, commutations, works satisfactory and supererogatory, the merit and intercession of saints departed, with especial devotions and applications to this or that particular saint or angel, purgatory, yea, on the matter, the whole of monastic devotion, do depend thereon. They are all nothing but ways invented to pacify the consciences of men, or divert them from attending to the charge which is given in against them by the law of God; sorry supplies they are of a righteousness of their own, for them who know not how to submit themselves to the righteousness of God. And if the doctrine of free justification by the blood of Christ were once again exploded, or corrupted and made unintelligible, unto these things, as absurd and foolish as now unto some they seem to be, or what is not one jut better, men must and will again betake themselves. For if once they are diverted from putting their trust in the righteousness of Christ, and grace of God alone, and do practically thereon follow after, take up with, or rest in, that which is their own, the first impressions of a sense of sin which shall befall their consciences will drive them from their present hold, to seek for shelter in any thing that tenders unto them the least appearance of relief. Men may talk and dispute what they please, whilst they are at peace in their own minds, without a real sense either of sin or righteousness, yea, and scoff at them who are not under the power of the same security; but when they shall be awakened with other apprehensions of things than yet they are aware of, they will be put on new resolutions. And it is in vain to dispute with any about justification, who have not duly been convinced of a state of sin, and of its guilt; for such men neither understand what they say, nor that whereof they dogmatize.
We have, therefore, the same reasons that the first reformers had, to be careful about the preservation of this doctrine of the gospel pure and entire; though we may not expect the like success with them in our endeavors unto that end. For the minds of the generality of men are in another posture than they were when they dealt with them. Under the power of ignorance and superstition they were; but yet multitudes of them were affected with a sense of the guilt of sin. With us, for the most part, things are quite otherwise. Notional light, accompanied with a senselessness of sin, leads men unto a contempt of this doctrine, indeed of the whole mystery of the gospel. We have had experience of the fruits of the faith which we now plead for in this nation, for many years, yea, now for some ages; and it cannot well be denied, but that those who have been most severely tenacious of the doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, have been the most exemplary in a holy life:
I speak of former days. And if this doctrine be yet farther corrupted, debased, or unlearned among us, we shall quickly fall into one of the extremes wherewith we are at present urged on either side. For although the reliefs provided in the church of Rome, for the satisfaction of the consciences of men, are at present by the most disliked, yea, despised, yet, if they are once brought to a loss how to place their whole trust and confidence in the righteousness of Christ, and grace of God in him, they will not always live at such an uncertainty of mind as the best of their own personal obedience will hang them on the briers of; but retake themselves unto somewhat that tenders them certain peace and security, though at present it may seem foolish unto them. And I doubt not but that some, out of a mere ignorance of the righteousness of God, which either they have not been taught, or have had no mind to learn, have, with some integrity in the exercise of their consciences, betaken themselves unto that pretended rest which the church of Rome offers unto them. For being troubled about their sins, they think it better to retake themselves unto that great variety of means for the ease and discharge of their consciences which the Roman church affords, than to abide where they are, without the least pretense of relief; as men will find in due time, there is no such thing to be found or obtained in themselves. They may go on for a time with good satisfaction unto their own minds; but if once they are brought unto a loss through the conviction of sin, they must look beyond themselves for peace and satisfaction, or sit down without them to eternity. Nor are the principles and ways which others take up withal in another extreme, upon the rejection of this doctrine, although more plausible, yet at all more really useful unto the souls of men than those of the Roman church which they reject as obsolete, and unsuited unto the genius of the present age. For they all of them arise from, or lead unto, the want of a due sense of the nature and guilt of sin, as also of the holiness and righteousness of God with respect thereunto. And when such principles as these do once grow prevalent in the minds of men, they quickly grow careless, negligent, secure in sinning, and end for the most part in atheism, or a great indifference, as unto all religion, and all the duties thereof.