Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article XI (Part 2)

Section II. — Scriptural Proof.

I. SENSE of the word Justification.

The word which we render just or righteous (namely, δίκαιος, or in the Hebrew צַדִּיק) has two principal significations: the one popular, the other accurate. In its popular signification, it is nearly equivalent to good, holy, pious, (ἄγαθος, εὐσεβὴς, חָסִיד); and is used commonly of men, who are living a pious and upright life, not according to the perfect standard of the law of God, but subject to such imperfection and impurity as is common to man. Examples of this usage may be found in the following, among many other passages: Gen. vi. 9. Ps. xxxvii. 12. Prov. iv. 18; xxiv. 16. Matt. i. 19; x. 41; xxiii. 29. Mark vi. 20. Luke ii. 25. Acts x. 22. James v. 16. In its more accurate sense, δίκαιος signifies absolutely, strictly, and perfectly righteous or just, without defect or impurity, like the holy Angels, or like God Himself. As for instance, in Job ix. 2. Matt. xxvii. 19. Luke xxiii. 47. Rom. ii. 13; iii. 10. 1 Tim. i. 9. In which, as in most similar passages, the word particularly seems to express innocent, not guilty, with reference to a tribunal of justice, or question of crime. The same distinction is equally observable in the substantive righteousness (צֶדֶק δικαιοσύνη); which at one time stands for strict and perfect justice, (as in Acts xvii. 31. Rom. iii. 5. Rev. xix. 11, &c.); at other times for such goodness, holiness, or good deeds, as men under the grace of God are capable of (as in Ps. xv. 2. Isai. xxxii. 17. Matt. v. 10, 20; vi. 33. Acts xiii. 10. Rom. vi. 18, 19, 20; viii. 10; xiv. 17. Eph. v. 9; vi. 14. Heb. xii. 11).

The verb δικαίοω, which strictly corresponds with the Hebrew causative verb הִצְדִיק, and is translated in English “to justify,” in some degree partakes of the ambiguity of the adjective, from which it is formed; yet, not so as, fairly considered, to introduce much difficulty into the doctrine of which we have to treat.

1. The literal signification of the verb, whether in Hebrew or in Greek, is “to make righteous.” It may therefore, of course, be used for something like an infusion of righteousness into the mind or character of a man; and the passive may signify the possession of that righteousness so infused; and such a sense appears probably to belong to it in Rev. xxii. 11, “He that is righteous, let him be righteous still” (ὁ δίκαιος δικαιωθήτω, in some MSS. from a gloss δικαιοσύνην ποιησάτω.”)[1]

2. But a very slight examination of the question can scarcely fail to convince us, that the commoner use of this verb in the Scriptures is in the sense of a judicial sentence; and

(1) It signifies to execute a judicial act, in the general, towards a person, and to do him right, whether in acquitting or in condemning him. Thus in 2 Sam. xv. 4: “Oh! that I were made a judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, (והצדקתיו καὶ δικαιώσω αὐτὸν) and I would justify him,” that is, do him right.

So Ps. lxxxii. 3: “Defend the poor and the fatherless, justify (הצדיקו δικαιώσατε) the poor and needy,” i. e. do them right.

(2) Especially it signifies to pronounce sentence in a man’s favour, acquit him, free him from punishment. Deut. xxv. 1: “The judges . . . . shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.”

1 Kings viii. 32. 2 Chron. vi. 23: “Then hear Thou in Heaven, and do, and judge Thy servants, condemning the wicked, to bring his way upon his head; and justifying the righteous, to give him according to his righteousness.”

Prov. xvii. 15: “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination unto the Lord.” So Exod. xxiii. 7. Psalm li. 4.

And so in the new Testament, Matt xii. 37: “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (i. e. in the day of Judgment: see ver. 36).

(3) In consequence of this sense of the word to justify, it is sometimes used in general for to approve or esteem a person just. So Matt. xi. 19, “Wisdom is justified of her children.” In Luke x. 29; xvi. 15, we read of people who “justified themselves.” Luke xviii. 14, “The publican went home justified,” (i. e. approved either by God or his own conscience,) “rather than the Pharisee.” Luke vii. 29, “All the people justified God,” (i. e. declared their approbation of God’s dealings in the mission of John,) “being baptized with John’s baptism.”

(4) So again, to justify is used for to free from burdens or obligations, such as the obligations which a particular law imposes on us, as Rom. vi. 7, “He that is dead is freed from sin” (literally is “justified,” δεδικαίωται).

It appears, then, that in passages where the word “to justify” occurs with no particular reference to the doctrine of this Article, it is almost always used in a sense more or less connected with the ideas of acquittal, pardon, acceptance, or approbation: i. e. in a forensic or judicial sense. It remains to see, whether this is the sense in which St. Paul uses it, when directly and especially treating on justification by faith. Now this will appear, if we consider and compare the following passages. In Rom. v. 9, we read, “Being justified by His Blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” With this compare Eph. i. 7, “in whom we have redemption through His Blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Again, if we compare Rom. iii. 24, 25, 26, we cannot fail to conclude that justification is a synonym for remission of sins. “Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath 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, I say, His righteousness, that He might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.”

Then the word justify is used as equivalent to count or impute righteousness and to cover sin. This appears plainly from Rom. iv. 5, 6, 7.

Again, by comparing Rom. v. 9 with Rom. v. 10, it seems that to justify is synonymous with to reconcile with God; for πολλῷ μᾶλλον δικαιωθέντες, “much more being justified,” in the one verse, answers to πολλῷ μᾶλλον καταλλαγέντες, “much more being reconciled,” in the other.

Once more, justification is directly opposed to condemnation, as in Rom. v. 18, “By the offence 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.”[2] Again, in Rom. viii. 33, 34, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?[3]

But which is more important than the comparison of particular passages, if we consider the whole course of St. Paul’s reasoning in the earlier chapters of the Romans, we must be led to conclude that by justification he means acquittal from guilt and acceptance with God. He begins by proving that all men, Jews and Gentiles, are condemned by the law (whether of Moses or of nature) under which they lived (Rom. i. ii.) He shows from the Law itself that the Jews as well as the Gentiles were guilty before God (Rom. iii. 9‒19); and that therefore all the world (if the Gospel be not taken into account) are lying under God’s wrath and subject to His condemnation. And this course of reasoning leads him to the conclusion, that if we would have justification at all it must be not by the works of law, but by the faith of Christ (Rom. iii. 20). Now in such a connection, what must justification mean? Man subject to the law (whether revealed or natural) had so much sinned as to be subject to condemnation. The thing to be desired was his justification; which justification could be only by the free grace of God through Christ. Surely then that justification must mean pardon for the sins which he had committed, and deliverance from the condemnation into which his sins had thrown him.

This is further shown immediately afterwards by the case and the language of saints of the old Testament. Abraham was justified (or as it is explained, “accounted righteous”) by faith, not by his own good works and deservings. And David looks on a state of blessedness as one in which a man has “his iniquities forgiven, and his sins covered” (Rom. iv. 1‒8). The thing then which all the world needed, and which could be obtained only through God’s mercy in Christ, was covering of sin, and forgiveness of iniquity. This therefore must be what St. Paul means by the term Justification.

II. Sense of the word Faith.

Having arrived at a conclusion as to the sense of the words justify and justification, it becomes necessary, in order to appreciate the meaning of the words Justification by faith, and the doctrine expressed by those words, to examine the usages of the term faith in Scripture, and especially in the writings of St. Paul.

According to its derivation the word should mean persuasion of the truth of anything. But this does not decide its force as a theological virtue, still less its signification in the peculiar language of St. Paul. There can be little doubt that it is used in very different senses in different parts of Scripture.

For example: —

1. It is used to signify truth or good faith (like אֶמֶת fides) in Matt, xxiii. 23, “the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy, and faith;” and in Rom. iii. 3: “Shall their unbelief make the faith (or faithfulness) of God without effect?”

2. It is used of the assurance given by one person to another, Acts xvii. 31, “whereof He hath given assurance unto all men” (πίστιν παράσχων πᾶσι).

3. It is used as a term to designate the Christian Religion, “the faith” or “the faith of Christ.” So Acts vi. 7, “were obedient to the faith.” Acts xiii. 8, “seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.” Rom. i. 5, “for obedience to the faith among all nations,” εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ἔθνεσι (i. e. to convert all nations to the Christian Religion). So xvi. 26. Comp. Eph. iii. 17; iv. 5. Phil. i. 25. 1 Tim. iv. 1. Tit. i. 1, 4. James ii. 1. Jude, 3, 20. Rev. ii. 13 ; xiv. 12. In this sense St. Paul appears especially to use it in his Epistle to the Galatians; where perhaps we may consider, that in his constant antithesis of Law and Faith, he is contrasting the Law of Moses, or the Religion of the Jews, with the Faith of Christ, or the Religion of the Gospel. Some of the more obvious usages of the word in this sense in the Epistle to the Galatians are in the following: Gal. i. 23, “now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed,” iii. 23, “Before faith came (πρὸ τοῦ δὲ ἐλθεῖν τὴν πίστιν), we were kept under the Law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed” (εἰς τὴν μέλλουσαν ἀποκαλυϕθῆναι πίστιν). The same sense is apparent in the whole context (vv. 24, 25, 26); where it is taught us, that both Jews and Gentiles become children of God by the faith (i. e. by embracing the religion or Gospel) of Jesus Christ, having put on Christ by being baptized into Him.

Accordingly, Gal. vi. 10, we read of Christians as being οἰκεῖοι τῆς πίστεως, servants of the Gospel, domestics of the Christian faith.[4]

4. There are passages in the Epistles in which it seems plain that faith is spoken of as separable from its results, as an assent to Christian truth without the heart being duly moved by it, and so the life corresponding with it. That is to say, faith is used in that sense which the schoolmen called fides informis.

Thus St. Peter (2 Pet. i. 5) bids men “add to their faith virtue” and all other Christian graces, as though faith might be considered as apart from other graces. St. Paul (1 Cor. xiii. 2) speaks of a faith strong enough to move mountains, and yet capable of being conceived of as without charity, and so of no value; and in the same chapter (ver. 13) speaks of faith, hope, charity, as three distinct graces, two of which shall pass away, and one, namely, charity, shall abide; and declares this charity to be the greatest of the three. Especially St. James (ii. 14‒26) considers the case of faith without works, and declares such a faith unable to justify.

5. Yet, on the other hand, since it is the nature of faith to open the eye of the mind to things spiritual, and to bring home to it the view of Heaven, and hell, of God’s justice and mercy, of man’s liability to judgment, and Christ’s Atonement and Mediation; therefore it is most commonly spoken of as an operative and active principle, “purifying the heart” (Acts xv. 9), and “working by love” (Gal. v. 6). Accordingly, in Heb. xi. St. Paul attributes to the energy of faith all the holiness and heroism of the saints and martyrs in times of old.

6. Especially, as the principal subjects of God’s revelations are His promises, therefore faith came to mean πεποίθησις, fiducia, reliance on the truth of God’s promises, or trust in His mercy and grace.

Of such a nature was that faith which gave men strength to benefit by the miraculous powers of Christ and His Apostles, Matt. ix. 2, 22: “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” Acts xiv. 9, St. Paul perceived that the cripple at Lystra “had faith to be healed.” See also, Matt viii. 16; ix. 29; xvii. 20; xxi. 21. Mark ii. 5; iv. 40; v. 34; x. 52; xi. 22. Luke v. 20; vii. 9; viii. 25, 48; xvii. 5, 6; xviii. 42. Acts iii. 16. Jam. v. 15.

So St. James speaks of “praying in faith, nothing wavering” (James i. 6), that is, praying in a spirit of trust in God and reliance on His promises. St. Peter (1 Pet. v. 9) tells us to resist the devil “stedfast in the faith,” i. e. steadily relying on the help of God. Of such a nature seems to be “the shield of faith” (Eph. vi. 16), which can “quench the fiery darts of the wicked one.” So we read of “faith and patience,” of “the patience and faith of the saints,” (Rev. ii. 19; xiii. 10), evidently signifying their resignation and trust in God under trials and afflictions. So perhaps we may say that in the above-cited eleventh of Hebrews, faith is represented as a full conviction that what God had promised He was able and willing to perform; hence a trust or reliance on God’s truth and promises, by which men overcame earthly temptations and difficulties, despised the world, and fought a good fight. See especially vv. 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 19, 26, 27.

Thus much of faith generally. The question next arises, In what sense does St. Paul use the word when he speaks of faith as justifying? Is justifying faith a bare historical assent? Is it but a synonym for the religion of Christ? Is it trust and confidence in God? Is it to be considered, as full of its fruits and lively in its operation, or apart from all such, or at least prior to them?

Let us examine those passages of Scripture, whether St. Paul’s or not, in which it is certain or probable that faith and justification are considered together, and see what attributes are assigned to the faith so spoken of.

Justifying faith then is: —

1. The work and gift of God.

Matt. xvi. 17. John vi. 29, 44, 45. Phil. i. 29.

2. The character of the regenerate.

Compare Gal. v. 6, with Gal. vi. 15; whence it will appear that regeneration and justifying faith are used convertibly.

3. The sign of regeneration.

1 John v. 1: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,” his faith being the proof of his regeneration.

4. It is seated in the heart, not merely in the understanding.

Rom. x. 10: “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.”

5. Is not dead.

See James ii. 14‒26; which proves clearly that, if faith is dead and so without works, it does not profit.

6. But, on the contrary, is a full conviction of the truth of God’s promises and reliance on them.

See Heb. xi. 19, where Abraham’s faith, when he offered up Isaac, is described as an “accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead;” which is the very example adduced by St. Paul, when he is specially treating on the subject of justifying faith (Rom. iv. 18‒20), and by St. James, when he is rectifying errors on the same important subject (James ii. 23, &c.)

7. It worketh by love.

Gal. v. 6; where we read that that which “availeth” (i. e. justifieth) “in Christ Jesus,” is “faith which worketh by love.”

8. Accordingly it sanctifies.

Acts xxvi. 18: “That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me.”

9. It purifies the heart. Acts xv. 9: “Purifying their hearts by faith.”

10. It overcomes the world.

1 John v. 4: “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”

Compare Hebrews xi., throughout the whole of which we have a description of faith as that which overcomes the world. And with this again compare (as before) Rom. iv.; where the same kind of reasoning is used, and the same example adduced concerning justifying faith, as in Heb. xi. concerning faith in the general.

11. It is evidently connected with its results, and by a kind of synecdoche considered as containing them,[5] or pregnant with them.

This will plainly appear, if we examine the three passages in which Abraham’s faith is said to have been imputed to him for righteousness, i. e. to have been justifying.

Those three passages are Gen. xv. 6. Rom. iv. James ii. 21‒23, to which may be added Heb. xi. 8‒10.

In Gen. xv. we read of God’s promise to Abraham, that he should have a son in his old age, whose seed should be as the stars of heaven for multitude. And unlikely as this was, and against all natural probability, Abraham “believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness,” ver. 6.

In Rom. iv. St. Paul quotes this instance of Abraham’s faith, and illustrates it thus (ver: 18‒22): “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb; he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what He had promised He was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.”

Now St. James (ii. 21‒23) reasons on the subject thus: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God.”

And similar effects of his faith St. Paul himself speaks of, Heb. xi. 8: “By faith, Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.”

See also verses 9‒12.

From all which passages it is sufficiently apparent, that when the Scriptures speak of the faith of Abraham, which justified him, they understand by it a faith of such nature that a man is persuaded by it to disregard all earthly considerations, and to resign himself, contrary to all his worldly interests, to obedient conformity with the will of God.

12. As it was seen of faith in general, that it had special reference to the promises and mercies of God, so it will be found that justifying faith has special reference to the Person, sufferings, and mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to God’s promises in Him. For example, John iii. 14, 15: “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.” John vi. 40: “This is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life.” Ver. 47: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.” Acts x. 43: “Through His Name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” xvi. 31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Rom. iii. 25, 26: “Whom God hath 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, I say, at this time, His righteousness, that He might be just, and the justifier of Him which believeth in Jesus.” x. 9: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” See also John i. 12; iii. 16, 18, 36; v. 24; vi. 29, 35; xi. 25, 26; xvi. 27; xvii. 25. Acts xiii. 38, 39; xx. 21. Rom. iii. 22; iv. 5, 24; x. 4. Philem. 5. 1 John iii. 23; v. 1.

So much indeed is this the character of faith, (at least of that active faith which, as we have seen, is the faith which justifies,) that by it Christ is said to dwell in the heart. Ephes. iii. 17: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” And so it not only has reference to the work of Christ for us, but it is both the proof of Christ’s dwelling in us, and the instrument whereby He dwells in us.

III. General View of Justification in Scripture.

Having premised thus much concerning the meaning attached to the term Justification, and to the grace of justifying faith, by the inspired writers in the new Testament, we may now perhaps proceed to state more fully and formally the doctrine of Scripture concerning justification, or pardon and acceptance with God.

In the general, then, we may state concerning the justification of man, that

1. The moving cause is God’s mercy.

2. The meritorious cause is Christ’s Atonement.

But we know, that, notwithstanding the infinite mercy of God, and the fulness and all-sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ, yet all men do not benefit by this grace. Therefore we learn that there is need of something internal to connect with the external work of our salvation; Christ in the heart connecting with Christ on the cross; the work of the Spirit to be united to the work of the Redeemer. Hence

3. The immediate efficient cause is the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart by His influences, leads to Christ, regenerates and renews.

4. The first instrument by which God conveys pardon, under ordinary circumstances, is Baptism. Hence this is the first instrument of justification. This will appear from the following.

Even John’s baptism (a fortiori Christ’s) was a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,” i. e. for justification. Mark i. 4. Luke iii. 3. When our Lord instituted His baptism, it was with the promise that all who so far believed the preaching of the Apostles as to embrace the faith of Christ and be baptized into it, “should be saved,” Mark xvi. 16. When the Apostles were asked by their converts what they should do, they replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” Acts ii. 37, 38. After St. Paul’s conversion to the faith, Ananias called on him to “arise and be baptized, and wash away his sins,” Acts xxii. 16.

The Apostle couples being “washed” with “sanctified and justified,” 1 Cor. vi. 11; speaks of the Church as “cleansed with the washing of water,” Eph. v. 26; and places the “washing of regeneration” as a synonym or parallel with the “being justified,” Tit. iii. 5, 7. See likewise Rom. vi. 4, 7. Col. ii. 12, 14. 1 Pet. iii. 21, &c.

Baptism is that which places us in a state of covenant with God, and hence, in St. Paul’s words, is that in which “we put on Christ,” and are esteemed “the children of God by the faith in Christ,” Gal. iii. 26, 27. Hence a person receiving baptism is put in a position to receive from God the gifts which He has covenanted to give to us in His Son; and the first of those gifts is acceptance into His favour and remission of our sins, that is, justification.

5. The state of heart in which a man must be, who is accepted or justified, is a state of faith, Rom. x. 10. Eph. iii. 17. Accordingly, when justification is considered subjectively, or as connected with the state of the Christian’s heart, the instrument is said to be faith. Faith, therefore, may be considered either as the instrument, or as the state of justification.

6. When a man is said by St. James to be justified by works; it is not because his works procure him acceptance meritoriously, but because they are the sign, and fruit, and necessary results of that sanctification by the Spirit which unites him to the Atonement of Christ, and are the necessary and inseparable concomitants — or, in fact, parts — of his faith, as much as light is part of the sun, or fruit is part of the tree which bears it.

Such may be fairly considered as a general view of the doctrine of justification as commonly taught in Scripture. But in order to a full investigation of this question [sic], it is necessary to understand the peculiar signification attached by St. Paul to what may be considered his favorite formula, namely: —

IV. Justification by faith.

Now it is quite clear that St. Paul’s great object in the Epistle to the Romans was to put down all claims on the part of man to reward, for services done by him to God. Accordingly, in the first three chapters he shows all men, whether Jews or Gentiles, to be sinners, and so deserving, not justification or acquittal, but condemnation. His conclusion is, that if we are saved, it must be by the merits of Christ or by free grace only; without any claims on our part on the score of desert. This truth he expresses under the formula of “Justification by faith.”

Hence we conclude, that, in the language of St Paul, “justification by faith,” and “free salvation by grace,” are (as it has been seen that Melancthon, the Confession of Augsburg, and our own Article and Homilies, teach) correlative or convertible expressions. The former means the latter.

That this is the case will appear more plainly, if we read connectedly but a very few of the passages in which St. Paul especially propounds his doctrine of justification, e. g. Rom. iii. 23, 24, 28: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom, &c. . . . therefore we conclude, that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

Eph. ii. 8: “By grace are ye saved through faith,” &c.

Tit. iii. 4, 5, 7: “After that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us . . . that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

So Rom. iv. 25; v. 1, 9, 16, 20, 21, compared together, clearly show the same thing. “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God,” Rom. iv. 25; v. 1. “Much more then, being now justified by His Blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him,” v. 9. “The judgment was by one to condemnation; but the free gift is of many offences unto justification,” ver. 16. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ,” vv. 20, 21.

But although we may readily come to the conclusion that justification by faith is little more than a synonymous expression for justification or salvation by free grace; yet we can scarcely doubt, that there is something in the nature of faith which especially qualifies it to be put in a formula to denote grace in opposition to claims.

Now this would be the case, if faith in the argument of the Epistle to the Romans meant nothing more than “the Christian Religion;” which it sometimes appears to mean, especially in the Epistle to the Galatians. For, as the religion of Christ is that by embracing which we embrace God’s offers and promises of pardon, it might naturally be put to represent those promises and that grace by which pardon is given. But we can hardly conclude that this is the signification of justifying faith in the Epistle to the Romans; because St. Paul especially adduces the case of Abraham, as a subject of justifying faith (Rom. iv. 1, &c). But Abraham could no more have been considered as justified by the Gospel or the religion of Christ, than any other person under the old dispensation; and could not have been spoken of, as living under the Gospel, in opposition to such as lived under the Law.

It should appear, therefore, that it is not Christ’s religion, considered as a whole, which is meant by the Apostle when he speaks of justifying faith; but that it is that special religious grace which is called faith, and the qualities of which we have lately investigated. Accordingly we must search for something in the nature of faith itself, or of its objects, which renders it fit to be put in the formula of St. Paul, as the representative of grace, and as opposed to self-justifying claims.

1. First then, faith is a state of heart in which a man is, and is not an enumeration of so many works or good deeds, which a man has done, and for which he may be supposed to claim reward. It therefore fitly and naturally represents a state of grace, in contradistinction to a state of claim, or self-justification. It is that state in which a man is who is regenerate, and so in union with Christ. Yet at the same time, as in the case of the penitent thief upon the cross, it may exist even before it can have brought forth external good works, and therefore obviously cannot recommend us to God on the score of meritorious services, which we have rendered to Him. It is therefore the symbol of acceptance by free mercy, apart from human claims.

2. Next, its character is to rely on the power and promises of God, and not on the strength or works of man. For the eye of faith, seeing Him who is invisible, contrasts His power with its own weakness. Hence it becomes nearly identified with trust (fiducia). Such emphatically was the character of Abraham’s faith, so specially referred to by the Apostle, which led him to leave his country and sacrifice his son, because “he counted Him faithful who had promised.” Hence faith becomes a fit symbol for renunciation of claims and deserts, and trust in God’s mercy and pardoning grace.

3. Faith is, perhaps even more than other graces, clearly and obviously the gift of God. We know that we cannot force or control our own belief, and therefore feel that we require the eyes of our understanding to be enlightened by inspiration from above. Therefore again faith is less likely than other graces to be made a ground for boasting.

4. Lastly, although this may not be its exclusive object, yet its peculiar and principal object is Christ, and His Atonement and Mediation. Hence, according to Luther, faith is “full of Christ.” Hence, according to a greater than Luther, “Christ dwells in our hearts by faith.” Hence faith, leading to Christ and looking to Christ, is, by a natural transition, spoken of in Scripture as if it were invested with attributes which are really above it, and as though it effected that of which it is but the instrument, and whose cause and Author is God in Christ.

To the belief indeed, that justifying faith, as spoken of by St. Paul, means merely a reliance on the Atonement, the often-adduced instance of Abraham seems at first sight opposed. For Abraham, whom St. Paul brings forward as the type of justifying faith, is not spoken of as having full confidence in the pardoning grace of Christ; but his faith, in the instance alluded to (Gen. xv. 5, 6), had reference to God’s promise, that his seed should be as numerous as the stars of Heaven. It was this faith that was counted to him for righteousness; and, though it may be argued that there was in this promise of God concerning his offspring virtually contained a promise of the Messiah; yet it can hardly be said, that Abraham’s belief that God would multiply his seed, meant a belief that he should himself be saved by the merits of Christ, and that, on this account, it was justifying faith.

We must then probably infer that some of the general characters of faith above referred to, rendered Abraham acceptable to God; and that so his faith was counted for righteousness. And this consideration certainly causes some little difficulty in our appreciation of the doctrine laid down by St. Paul. Still, if we examine the whole of his reasoning in the first five chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, we shall find that the great object on which he speaks of the Christian’s faith as fixed is the work of Christ, and God’s acceptance of us in Him. Even where he adduces the example of Abraham, and insists that Abraham was justified, not by his own merits, but by his faith; he concludes, that, in like manner, faith shall be imputed to us for righteousness, “if we believe in Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification” (Rom. iv. 24, 25). And the following chapter is all devoted to considering the reparation which the righteousness of Christ has made for the ruin which Adam’s sin had produced.

It appears, therefore, that the faith of Abraham must have been alleged, rather as illustrative of, than as identical with, the faith of the Christian. It was of the same kind with the Christian’s faith, in so far as all faith has the same general characters, and has therefore a similar acceptableness with God. But the peculiar faith of the Christian is that by which he apprehends Christ. As the High-priest laid his hand upon the head of the scapegoat, and by confessing, conveyed the sins of the congregation to the scapegoat, that they might be taken away, so the believer lays his hand on the Head of the Great Sacrifice. He believes in the Redeemer of the world, and in God’s love through Him. His soul rests upon his Saviour. His faith therefore is a bond of union with the incarnate Godhead; and so becomes the instrumental cause of justification in us; the meritorious cause of which is all in Christ.

And on this ground most especially it seems, that the Apostle, when labouring to show that human merit and human efforts must fail to bring us to God, and to render us acceptable to Him, produces, and insists so strongly on his peculiar statement of “Justification by faith.”[6]

V. Certain questions on the Doctrine of Justification.

1. Is justification an act or a state?

Some persons have decided that it is an act, taking place at a particular moment, never to be repeated. Others, that it is a state, which continues or is lost, as the case may be.

If it be the former, it must be limited either (1) to baptism, when, as has been shown, there is promise of remission of sins; or (2) to the moment which may be considered as the turning-point from a life of sin to a life of repentance, faith, and holiness, — a moment known only to God; or (3) to the day of Judgment, when the wicked shall be condemned, and the pious shall be absolved or justified. Either or all of these may be considered as the moment of transition from condemnation to justification, or pardon and acceptance.

But Scripture seems rather to represent justification, as a state of acceptance before God. It is quite certain, that some persons are represented as in favour, grace, or acceptance with God, that is justified; others as under His wrath, and liable to condemnation. The prophet Ezekiel (xxxiii. vv. 12‒19) contrasts the condition of the righteous and the wicked, showing the one to be a condition of acceptance, the other of condemnation: the former continuing so long as the character continues the same, and lost as soon as that character is lost; the latter in like manner continuing, until the wickedness is forsaken and the life renewed, and then giving place to the former, the condition of favour or pardon. In like manner our Lord (John xv. 1‒10) speaks of His disciples as clean through His word, and continuing so whilst they abide in Him; but if they abide not in Him, then to be cast forth as a branch, withered, and even burned (see especially vv. 3‒6). Language just similar to this is used by St. Paul (see Rom. vi. 1, 2, 19; xi. 20, 21. Gal. v. 4. Col. i. 22, 23. Heb. x. 38, 39). From all which we can hardly fail to conclude that justification before God is a state in which a person continues so long as he continues united to Christ, abiding in Him, having Christ dwelling in his heart, being the subject of His grace, and of the sanctification of the Spirit.

If therefore the premises are correct, we may define justification to be a state of pardon and acceptance in the presence of God, bestowed upon us freely for Christ’s sake, by the mercy of God, which is first given in baptism to all who receive that sacrament aright, which continues so long as the subject continues in a state of faith, which fails when he falls from the state of faith, and which is restored again when by grace and repentance he is restored to a state of faith. So that we may say, whilst in a state of faith, so long in a state of justification: whilst a believer, so long a justified person. Hence too, concerning the distinction drawn by Luther, that faith is alone when it justifies, and that after justification is effected, then come in charity, and good works, and holiness, we may infer that such a distinction can be true only when considered in the abstract, but not as a matter of practical experience. For practically and really, where there is acceptance, there is faith and sanctification, and, springing from them and reigning with them, are all the graces of a Christian’s life.

2. It having been laid down, that faith (fœta operibus) may be considered, either as the state or the instrument of justification, it may be a question, whether we ought to say that faith, or faith and good works, or faith and holiness, are the condition or conditions of justification.

The answer to this question, as given by many divines of high authority in the Church, has been in the affirmative. But the question is, whether or not we can deduce an affirmative answer from the Scripture. No doubt, faith and holiness are, as regards justification, graces sine quibus non. There is no justification nor salvation where there is not faith, love, holiness, obedience. But when we state that faith and good works are conditions, we in effect suppose the Almighty to offer us what have been called the Terms of the Gospel; terms that is [sic] of the following kind: “Now that by Christ’s mediation God’s wrath has been appeased, if you will repent, believe, and obey, you shall be saved.” Conditions imply a bargain of this kind. Now there may be no objection to looking on the matter in some such light as this; but it does not appear to be the form in which the Scriptures represent God’s dealings with us. The new Testament seems to speak of us as pensioners on the bounty of God’s grace. Especially when justification by faith is spoken of, “it is of faith, that it might be by grace” Rom. iv. 16. And though it is true that it would be an act of immeasurable grace for God to pardon our past sins, on condition that, by His help, we avoided sin and lived holily for the future, yet this does not appear to be the statement anywhere made by the Apostles; nor does such an act of grace come up to the standard of that infinite mercy of God in Christ Jesus, which is revealed to us in the Gospel. It has already been shown that one peculiar reason why justification by faith represents free salvation by grace is, that faith is itself most clearly “the gift of God.” Therefore it is spoken of as the instrument of our justification, not because it is a condition, which we can make with Him, but because it is itself a gift which He bestows on us.

Besides, if we could make conditions with God, even after He had accepted an atonement for the past, it might be hard to say that “boasting” was altogether “excluded” (Rom. iii. 27). Excluded indeed it might be in strict justice, because the forgiving of past sins, and the accepting of imperfect obedience for the future, would be, of itself, an act of boundless grace, when we deserve nothing but condemnation. But still, comparing ourselves with ourselves, we might easily be inclined to feel proud of even imperfect obedience, if it were made the condition of our salvation. Therefore, we may perhaps fairly conclude, that salvation is not of works, not merely not as the cause, but not even as the terms or conditions of our justification. Nor is faith itself the condition on which God accepts us, although it is the instrument by which He justifies us, and the state in which we are when justified.

3. Whereas it is taught by St. Paul that a man is justified by faith, and yet it is taught both by St. Paul and throughout the new Testament that we shall be judged according to our works,[7] are we driven to conclude that there is an inconsistency in the statements of Scripture?

The answer to this is, that as all persons who are justified are regenerate and in a state of faith, their faith and regeneration will necessarily be to them the source of holiness and good works. Now the clearest tokens both to men and angels of their internal condition of faith and sanctification must be their good works; nay, the clearest proof even to themselves. Hence, that they should be judged by their works, and rewarded according to their works, is thoroughly consistent with God’s dispensations. The meritorious cause indeed of their salvation is Christ’s Atonement; the instrument by which they are brought into covenant with God is baptism; the means whereby their state of acceptance is maintained is faith; but the criterion by which their final state will be determined shall be works. And all these are so knit up together in the redeemed, regenerate, believing, sanctified Christian, that it is nowise derogating from the excellence of the one to ascribe its proper office, in the economy of salvation, to the other.

4. The ordinary instruments of justification being baptism and faith, can a person be justified where either of these is wanting?

That persons can be justified without faith where faith is impossible, may appear from the case of infants. Though they are too young for active faith, yet clearly are they not so for salvation, nor therefore for justification. Our Lord bids us bring little children to Him, and says that “of such is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mark x. 14). And St. Paul says, the children of believing parents are holy (1 Cor. vii. 14). And if infant baptism be a custom for which we have sufficient authority, then, as baptism is for the remission of sins, it follows that infants in baptism may receive remission of sins or justification, though not yet capable of faith. Similar reasoning is applicable to the case of idiots, or persons otherwise irresponsible, who, like infants, are incapable of active faith, but of whom we may reasonably hope that they are not incapable of salvation. As regards baptism, that, as a general rule, it is the ordinance of God, without which we cannot look for the promises of God, is quite apparent from passages already referred to, such as Mark xvi. 16. Acts xxii. 16. Gal. iii. 26, 27, &c. In these and similar passages remission of sins is promised to such as believe the Gospel, and submit to baptism. Yet, as we have seen concerning faith, that though generally necessary, yet cases may and do exist where it is impossible, and so not required, in like manner we may reasonably conclude that cases may exist, in which baptism may be dispensed with. Though Christ has appointed baptism, and we have no right to look for His blessing if we neglect it, yet we cannot presume to limit His mercy even by His own ordinances. Indeed, we find in the Acts of the Apostles (x. 4, 44) a case, the case of Cornelius, in which God accepted and poured His Holy Spirit on a person who had not been baptized; and though St. Peter thought it necessary that baptism should be at once administered to him, and thereby taught us the deep value of that Sacrament, still this case sufficiently shows that God does at times work without the intervention of means appointed by Himself, and therefore teaches us that we must not exclude from salvation those who, from ignorance or inability, have not received the blessing of baptism.

5. Is the language of, St. James opposed to the doctrine of St. Paul?

It has been already seen that St. Paul means by Justification by faith, free salvation by God’s grace; and that, where he speaks of faith as the instrument of justification, he means a lively faith, productive of good works. (See especially Rom. vi.) St. James probably wrote against such as abused the doctrine of St. Paul, and taught that a speculative barren faith, or mere orthodoxy, was sufficient for salvation without the fruits of faith. Accordingly, he asks, “Can this faith save him?” He says, “Faith, if it have not works, is dead, being alone.”[8] But it must be observed that St. Paul never speaks of a dead faith as profiting. On the contrary, he declares that faith without charity would be nothing (1 Cor. xiii. 2). It is plain, therefore, that St. Paul considers faith as pregnant with its results, though not as justifying because of its results, and does not design to put in opposition to one another faith and the good works which naturally spring out of a lively faith, but rather faith and legal works, — “the works of the Law,” — works done in a self-justifying spirit, and looked on as meriting reward. Faith, therefore, he declares, justifies without such works, — the works of the Law; but he does not say that a faith which does not bring forth the works of faith, will justify. On the other hand, St. James asserts that faith will not justify, if it do not bring forth good works; but by good works he means evangelical works, the works of faith, not legal works, the works of the Law. Hence, there is no necessary contradiction in the language of the two Apostles. St. James simply considers justifying faith as including the works of faith. St. Paul considers justifying faith as excluding the works of the Law.[9]

Notes

  1. The following passages have also been thought to have the word in this sense, but perhaps without sufficient ground: Job xxxv. 7, 8. Ezek. xvi. 52. Ecclus. xviii. 22; xxxi. 5.
  2. It has been argued, (Bellarm. De Justif. 1. 2, c. 3,) that as Adam’s sin was infused into his posterity, so this passage must mean that in justification Christ’s righteousness is infused into His disciples. To which it has been replied, (Barrow, II. Sermon v. p. 80,) that justification and condemnation being “both acts of God, and it being plain that God condemning doth not infuse any inherent unrighteousness into man, neither doth He justifying (formally) (if the antithesis must be pat) put any inherent righteousness into him: inherent unrighteousness in the former case may be a consequent of that condemnation and inherent righteousness may be connected with this justification; but neither that nor this may formally signify those qualities respectively: as the inherent unrighteousness consequent upon Adam’s sin is not included in God’s condemning, so neither is the inherent unrighteousness proceeding from our Saviour’s obedience contained in God’s justifying men.”
  3. The antithesis is not in the least degree altered, if the punctuation and traslation of this passage, which is more probably correct, be adopted. Τίς ἐγκαλέσει κατὰ ἐκλεκτῶν Θεοῦ; Θεὸς ὁ δικαιῶν; τίς ὁ κατακρίνων; Χριστὸς ὁ ἀποθανὼν, κ. τ. λ.: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Shall God who justifieth? Who is he that condemneth? Is it Christ, who died, &c.?”
  4. So אֶמֶת is used for “true religion,” Ps. lxxxvi. 11.
  5. See Barrow.
  6. This is excellently expressed in the following passage from Cardinal Toletus (in cap. iii. ad Roman. annot. 17) quoted by Bp. Forbes, Considerationes Modestæ de Justificatione, Lib. I. c. III. § 17: — Quia nempe in fide magis manifestatur, hominem non propria virtute, sed Christi merito justificari: sicut enim in aspectu in serpentem Deus posuit sanitatem in deserto, quia aspectus magis indicabat, sanari virtute serpentis, non operis alicujus proprii aut medicinæ alicujus; ita fides ostendit, justificari peccatores virtute et merito Christi, in quam credentes salvi fiunt, non propria ipsorum virtute et merito. Ea causa est cur fidei tribuitur (justificatio) maxime a S. Paulo qui a justificatione legis opera et humanum meritum aut efficaciam excludere, et in sola Christi virtute et merito collocare nitebatur: idcirco meminit fidei in Christum. Hoc nec pœnitentia nec dilectio nec spes habent. Fides enim immediatius ac distinctius in Eum fertur, cujus virtute justificamur.
  7. See, for instance, Matt. xvi. 27; Rom. ii. 6; 1 Cor. iii. 8; 2 Cor. v. 10; 1 Peter i. 17; Rev. ii. 23, xx. 13, xxii. 12.
  8. James ii. 14, 17. Many people have endeavoured to reconcile St. Paul and St. James, by supposing that the former speaks of justification before God, the latter of justification in the sight of men. But it is quite clear that St. James speaks of the same kind of justification as St. Paul, from James ii. 14, 23. In the former verse he speaks of faith without works as not capable of saving a man; i. e. of course, of justifying him before God, for justification before man can never save. And in the latter verse, he adduces the case of Abraham, as of one who had a faith which brought forth works and says, it was this kind of faith which was imputed to him for righteousness, i. e. clearly before God. Evidently the two apostles differ in their use of the word “faith,” not in their use of the word “justify.” Both speak of justification before God: but one says that we are justified by faith, i. e. by a living faith; the other denies that we are justified by mere faith, i. e. (according to his own explanation) by a dead faith.
  9. Sine operibus fidei, non legis, mortua est fides. — Hieron. in Gal. iii. Ille dicit de operibus quæ fidem præcedunt, iste de iis quæ fidem sequuntur. — Augustin. Liber de Diversis Quæstionibus. Quæst. 76. Tom. vi. p. 68. [On the dispute with regard to fides informis and fides formata (see p. 291), the following remark deserves attention: “There is probably some truth on each side. We are justified by a faith which is at least potentially a fides formata; although the office of justifying belongs not to the works of faith but to faith itself.” England vs. Rome (H. B. Swete), p. 35, note. — J. W.]

 


E. Harold Browne

(Edward) Harold Browne was an English bishop, born at Aylesbury and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1836, and two years later was elected senior tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1843 to 1849 he was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter, and in 1854 was appointed Norrisian professor of divinity at Cambridge. His best-known book is the Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles (vol. i., Cambridge, 1850; vol. ii., London, 1853), which remained for many years a standard work on the subject and is still beloved today. In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Ely.


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