JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
By M. Valentine, D. D., LL.D. (DOC)
“They in like manner teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works; but that they are justified gratuitously for Christ’s sake, through faith; when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are remitted for the sake of Christ, who made satisfaction for our transgressions by his death. This faith God imputes for righteousness before him.” (Rom. iii. and iv.)
THE Fourth Article of the Confession, now before us for discussion, brings us into the very heart of the great work of the Reformation. More than any other, it is the memorial Article of that sublime movement. It was for the Evangelical doctrine of Justification by Faith, as apprehended in the depths of Luther’s experience, that the struggle was begun. When the conflict was ended, and the pure Gospel restored, this Article in the Confession of the regenerated and living Church, stood as the firm monumental column of the victory. It presents the central doctrine, about which the other Articles took shape in clear harmony with each other, and in the living unity of the Gospel system. Not only for this truth, but in a peculiar manner by it, was the great work wrought. Set forth in its purity and power, it became the open channel through which the life-currents of Christ’s grace came again into a reviving Church. No truth from the armory of the divine word became so distinctively ” the sword of the Spirit” in the conflict. D’Aubigne’s statement is apt and beautiful : “The powerful text, ‘The just shall live by faith’ was a creative word for the Reformer and the Reformation.” We cannot overestimate the historical and theological importance of the Article before us. Had our noble Confessors been asked to name the special doctrine for whose recovery and restoration into the midst of the Christian system they were striving even unto blood, they would have pointed to this. Indeed, Melanchthon did, in the very conflict at Augsburg, thus single out and exalt this as ” the principal and most important Article of the whole Christian doctrine.” Luther put it on the banner of the Reformation as the doctrine with which the Church must stand or fall. History has fully recognized this importance by not only characterizing it as the ” material principle of the Reformation,” but as the distinguishing fundamental doctrine of Protestantism.
Like the doctrine of the atonement, in close relation to which the truth of this Article stands, the doctrine of justification is one of pure revelation, and in its examination our appeal must necessarily be to the word of God. The suggestions of reason, and the dogmas of ecclesiastical authority, must all be held subject to its divine decisions. Thus we retain as inseparably joined with this “material principle of the Reformation,” the sole authority of the Holy Scriptures, recognized with equal historic clearness as its grand ” formal principle.”
The general analysis of the Article is easy. It has been so framed as to present the whole doctrine of justification under its negative and positive aspects, the former as renouncing the errors which had obtained destructive sway in the Romish Church, and the latter as declaring the true doctrine of the blessed Gospel. We shall probably best accomplish our object, to set forth at once the teachings of our Church and the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, on this subject, by treating it under these two aspects, and noting the historical and theological relations thus involved. The specific points in the confessional statement will thus be indicated, and covered in the discussion.
I. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF SELF-JUSTIFICATION.
The language of the Article is clear and emphatic : Our Churches teach that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and be justified before God by our own strength, merits, or works” This, as the exhibition of the subject on its negative side, sets forth a truth that is fundamental in Christian doctrine. The Confessors could not have maintained the integrity of the Gospel system of grace without this denial of a self-wrought righteousness.
I. The pressing necessity for it at the time was to witness against the false teaching of Rome. Her corruption of the doctrine of justification had been the point of the introduction of almost all the deadly errors that were holding sway over souls. Perversion of the truth here became an inevitable perversion of many of the most vital and practical forces of Christianity. It was, like an obscuration of the sun, the shrouding of everything in darkness. The heavy shadows of mediaeval history, and the deep paralysis of the whole Church, bear painful testimony to the widespread consequences. The words of Luther on Gen. xxi. were verified in the sad experience : ” This is the chief article of faith, and if it is taken away or corrupted, the Church cannot stand, nor can God retain his glory, which is that he may exercise mercy, and for the sake of his Son forgive and save.” The manifold cry that was going up to heaven for a reformation of the Church arose from the hiding of the way of salvation in a perversion of this prime and vital doctrine. No correction of external abuses alone could heal her hurt and restore her health and power. The remedial process must touch the deep point whence all the disorders went forth. The error had hidden “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” from the view of perishing men. The false teaching of Rome was twofold:
First, Instead of exhibiting justification in its true nature as an external forensic act of God, she represented it as subjective and internal. The error was one of long growth. Its rise may be traced back through a development of centuries. The germ of it was involved in the statement of Augustine : ” Justificat impium Deus, non solum dimittendo, quae mala facit, sed etiam donando caritatem, quae declinat a malo et facit bonum per Spiritum Sanctum.’” The name and authority of Augustine, like a royal stamp on coin, gave currency to this representation. From this day the idea was developed, confounding justification with sanctification, and making it, not an objective divine act, but something subjective and transitive, constituting men internally and essentially righteous. It was regarded as a making righteous by the communication of the Divine life in fellowship with Christ. Perhaps, in its earlier announcement, this view was meant to guard against the tendency to rely on a merely nominal faith, and to hold saving faith in its undivorced connection with the new life of grace. Without a divine vitality in union with faith, Christianity would lose its transforming and uplifting power. But, unfortunately, instead of showing the necessary relation of regeneration and sanctification to the faith in which God’s justification of the sinner is conditioned, it introduced a confusion of thought and expression, in which the objective Divine act and the subjective attending change were confounded and identified. Most of the prominent Schoolmen made justification consist in the subjective character of the believer, as constituted intrinsically holy in the effectual operation of faith. The product of grace in the soul was made its basis and condition. By Thomas Aquinas it was represented as involving an infusion of the Divine life, infusio gratiae. “Justificatio primo ac proprie dictum factio justitiae, secundario vero et quasi improprie potest dici justificatio significatio Justitiae, vel dispositio ad justitiam. Sed si loquamur de justificatione proprie dicta, justitia potest accipi prout est in habitu, vel prout est in actu. Et secundum hoc justificatio dupliciter dicitur, uno guidem modo, secundum quod homo fit justus adipiscens habitum justitiae, aho vero modo, secundum quod opera Justitiae operatur, ut secundum hoc justificatio nihil ahud sit quam justitiae executio. Justitia autem, sicut et aliae virtutes, potest accipi et acquisita, et infusa. * * Acquisita quidem causatur ex operibus, sed infuse causatur ab ipso Deo per ejus gratiam!” This infusio gratiae was necessary to the forgiveness of sin by God. Though some, by deeper experiences of grace, clearer recognition of the witness of their Christian consciousness, and better insight into Scripture teaching, were led to more objective views, their truer sentiments were so feebly sustained as to make no impression on the settled opinion. So that the decision of the Council of Trent may be regarded as setting forth the doctrine of the times on this point: “Justification is not remission of sins merely, but also sanctification and the renewal of the inner man by the voluntary reception of grace and divine gifts, so that he who was unrighteous is made righteous, and the enemy becomes a friend and an heir according to the hope of eternal life.” According to this justification becomes the renewal and transformation of the believer’s nature. It is a transitive process, making him really and internally righteous. The vigorous vindication of this doctrine by Bellarmin, De Justif., demonstrates the strength with which the error had laid hold of the mind of the age.
This view involves, as necessary sequence, the existence of degrees of justification, according to the extent of the Divine operation within the believer. Made to consist in a subjective holiness, of varied development but always imperfect, no certain assurance of forgiveness and acceptance with God could be enjoyed. For the evidence of his justification, the Christian had to look within himself, and measure it in the degree in which he had been made really righteous. He had to base his assurance of hope, not on the objective perfect righteousness and work of Christ, but on a righteousness wrought in partial measure by the Divine operation in his heart. What might be the minimum of infused righteousness necessary for justification could not be known. No one could settle the point of a sure grade of self-worthiness for acceptance before an infinitely holy God. Hence it was taught that no one could, without a particular revelation, be assured of his salvation. No wonder that Luther could find no peace for his stricken soul, till a truer view of justification shed the Divine light on his mind. No wonder that the Reformers so emphatically declare that the doctrine of Rome could give no relief and comfort to the sin-burdened conscience. As long as men are directed to look only on the righteousness that is personal and inherent in them, at the very best defective, and coupled with vile and condemning sin, it is impossible to find a reliable consolation and rest. The unhappy error stands in the boldest and most self-rebuking contrast with the declaration of St. Paul, ” Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Rom. V. I.
The second element in the false teaching of Rome was the inclusion of good works in the ground of justification. Those were represented and looked upon as meritorious, and, at least in part, influential in securing the sinner’s acceptance. It is but just, however, to say that Rome did not mean to be understood as wholly and absolutely excluding the work of Christ from the foundation of the sinner’s justification. In a certain sense there was a recognition of indebtedness to his redeeming grace for it. But the conception of Christ’s relation to it was so confused and overloaded with qualifying explanations as to present, practically and really, a doctrine of justification by human works and merit. A certain ability to perform acceptable works without grace was claimed for man. And though grace was regarded as influential in engrafting the sinner’s nature into the sources of the divine life, both in the earlier and later stages of the work there was an inclusion of the idea of worthiness and merit. The very products of grace, in the progressive justification which was based on intrinsic and growing holiness, were viewed as deserving and justly securing the favor of God. The human good work was represented as acting in conjunction with the merit of Christ, in attaining justification before God. Melanchthon’s declaration in the Apology expresses the result : “When the scholastics attempt to define how man is justified before God, they teach only the righteousness and piety of a correct external deportment before the world, and of good works, and in addition devise the dream that human reason is able, without the aid of the Holy Spirit, to love God above all things.” ” In this manner our adversaries have taught that men merit the remission of sins. The subtle distinction between meritum de congruo and meritum de condigno, originated by Thomas Aquinas, and employed by Romish theologians in explanation of their doctrine, does not save its character. For although Christ alone was represented as having originally and in himself a meritum condigni, yet a meritum congrui was claimed as attainable by the sinner prior to grace, and then the meritum condigni was connected with all his good works. Before his conversion, and independently of the primam gratiam or habitum, of which they sometimes spoke as gained for him by Christ, he could perform good works which formed this merit of congruity, rendering it meet, proper, equitable, and necessary for God to reward with grace. The Apology presents the idea clearly : “They maintain that the Lord God must of necessity give grace unto those who do such good works ; not, indeed, that he is compelled, but because this is the order, which God will not transgress or alter.” Through this kind of merit he was supposed to attain the habitum or quickened disposition and inclination to love God. Then by love, patience, zeal, and good works, he attained the merit of congruity, which could claim a recompense and eternal life on the score of desert and justice. ” The Papists,” writes Luther, on Gal. ii. 16, “say, that a good work before grace is able to obtain grace of congruity (which they call meritum de congruo), because it is meet that God should reward such a work. But when grace is obtained, the work following deserveth everlasting life of due debt and worthiness, which they call meritum de condigno” Besides this, it must be remembered that they taught that Christ made satisfaction in his obedience and death only for original sin, leaving actual sins to be covered by the believer’s penances and good works; denying, at the same time, that the Redeemer by His work and sufferings has secured any such righteousness as may be imputed to the sinner and justify him in the sight of God. The Gospel of grace was thus thoroughly overthrown in a more than semi-Pelagian scheme of justification by human strength and good works. The merit of Christ was displaced from its sacred position as the only and sufficient ground of the sinner’s acceptance, and the way of grace was no more grace.
The following admirable summary of these aspects of the false teachings of Rome, is drawn from a treatise, ‘’De Justitia Inherent, contra Pontificios,’’ by John Peter Konow, Wittenberg, 1687. “In the first place the Papists teach that an adult, while yet unrenewed can, by the natural powers of his free will, with the aid of inciting and assisting grace, perform some spiritually good works. Not only is he able, but if he desires to be justified, he is obliged to perform acts of faith, fear, hope, love, penitence, reception of the provided sacraments, of new life and obedience to the commands of God. Just as in natural changes, certain dispositions must precede, by which the subject is prepared to receive the new form, so in justification, man, who is to undergo a spiritual change, must dispose
and prepare himself for the attainment of righteousness.”
They represent also that, through faith, which comes by hearing, man is freely moved toward God by believing those things which have been revealed and promised by him, especially that the sinner is justified through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. This faith is itself the beginning, and, as it were, the first root of justification, which in a manner opens the way for fear, hope, love, and
other equally needful dispositions ; this alone is by no means sufficient. * * * They teach further that these dispositions, among which faith is the first in order, are not merely results wrought in a passive subject, but belong to his active agency; not in the way of an instrumental cause, apprehending the merits of Christ, but as a meritorious cause, by its own proper act obtaining and deserving justification; not, indeed, de condigno, on the ground of justice and intrinsic goodness, but as acceptable to God, and fitting and honorable.
Now, after man has prepared himself in this way, they say that with the remission, that is, as they explain, the expulsion of sin, God infuses into him a principle (habitus) of righteousness, by which he is formally rendered righteous and accepted for eternal life. This habitus is not single and simple, but embraces principles, (habitus) of faith, hope, charity, and repentance. * * * * For justification is distinguished by the Papists into first and second. They call that the first in which sinful man becomes righteous, through infused principles of faith, hope, love, patience, &c. They make that the second by which the righteous man is made more righteous through works of righteousness, performed from the infused principles or inclinations, maintaining, nourishing, increasing, and perfecting an habitual righteousness. For this first justification they suppose the principle of faith, joined with the other infused principles of righteousness, sufficient. And so primarily regenerate infants are justified without any actual faith of their own. Thus, also, adults who do not continue to live after their conversion. With this difference, however, that infants are justified through the principle of faith, hope, and love alone, without any previous disposition, but adults through these same principles, preceded by dispositions from prevenient grace. Both are justified without the works of righteousness, performed from the infused principle — adults not without preparatory acts which are also numbered among good works. In the second justification, of adults who live after conversion and the remission of their sins, works of righteousness proceeding from the infused principles are also required; and these are properly meritorious, deserving not only an increase of habitual righteousness, but also life and eternal salvation. * * * * But to state the whole doctrine in a few words, the Papists agree in representing the justification of man in the sight of God as threefold. First, inchoative, in inceptive dispositions in which a formal righteousness is begun : Secondly, Formally, through an infused principle (habits) of righteousness : Thirdly, meritoriously, through the exercise of the infused principle, or the works which follow that principle. All this righteousness of man thus justified in the way of inceptive dispositions, formally and meritoriously, they call inherunt ; whether it exist as a quality or an activity, and thus subsisting in the man, just as an attribute belongs to the subject in which it inheres. On account of this diversity they also distinguish inherent righteousness as Habitual and Actual. Habitual righteousness they treat as a permanent rectitude in the way of habits (habitus) or an infused principle out of which the rectitude of all the powers proceed, involving such spiritual affections in the believer, that, whenever he will, he may with readiness, ease, and delight, perform good works. To the Actual righteousness they refer, first, the person’s dispositions of faith, fear, hope, and other acts in which they desire the habitual righteousness to be begun. Then also, principally and specifically, they place Actual righteousness in the exercise of the Habitual righteousness, and declare it to be nothing else than the endeavor after good works by which the Christian maintains his justification, and by truly deserving it, secures for himself both an increase of righteousness and eternal life and salvation.” Cap. IV— X.
From this sad confounding of justification with sanctification in the doctrine of justification by an inherent righteousness, and the consequent belief in the meritoriousness of works, the way was open to the greatest absurdities and abuses. The deep poison of the error flowed out, in blighting power, through all the currents of the Church’s life. It could not but be that practical piety, cut off from its sources of true vitality, should be perverted into multitudinous false and unseemly manifestations. The merit of work and ascetic self-culture became the very soul of the monastic seclusions, pilgrimages, penances, and the circle of perverted and perverting will-worship, which at once deformed the Christian life and disgraced the church of that day. From the doctrine of personal justification by works, the step was easy to the conclusion that special zeal and devotion might do more than enough to justify. Here was the natural entrance of the doctrine of supererogatory works. These were regarded as forming a treasury of accumulated merit, at the disposal of the Church. Though at first the merits of Christ were held mainly to constitute the Church’s treasure, the doctrine was developed so as to refer almost exclusively to the superabounding merits of the saints, Out of this false doctrine arose the monstrous system of indulgences, into which the gross darkness of mediaeval Christianity culminated. The confounding of justification with regeneration and sanctification, and looking upon it as inherent, thus proved the direful source of nearly all the Church’s woes. It presented in vivid reality the truth of Luther’s words, ” Facente articulo justificationis omnia jacent’‘ Against an error so dishonoring to Christ and fruitful of evils, the Confessors felt called upon to bear emphatic and solemn testimony. Fidelity to the Redeemer, to His truth, and to imperiled and perishing souls, could not otherwise be maintained.
2. In this witnessing against Rome, they were taking a position sustained and demanded by the Holy Scriptures. Their renunciation of the Papal error was simply a clear statement of the emphatic teaching of the word of God. Recurrence to a few passages will suffice to show the harmony of the Confession with the Scriptures, and the solemn urgency with which they guard against the idea of justification by our “own merit, strength or works.”
“The man that doeth them shall live by them,” Gal. iii. 12, is given as the rule of the ” law of commandments.” Perfect obedience is made the legal condition of acceptance before God. That this is impossible with man, is asserted in the harmonious voice of all the Scriptures. St. Paul, Rom. iii. 9, 10, declares, ” We have proved both Jews and Gentiles under sin. * * * There is none righteous, no, not one.” ” Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law ; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” vs. 19, 23. From this condition of sin and condemnation, in which every man is by nature, there is declared to be no escape by his own strength, obedience, or works. ” The law worketh wrath,” Rom. iv. 15. “Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight,” Rom. iii. 20. “That no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, is evident: for the just shall live by faith,” Gal. iii. II. “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness had been by the law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin,” Gal. iii. 21, 22. All that the law can do with sinners is to condemn, and occasion the knowledge of sin. In the way of bringing men to salvation, this is declared to be its distinct and only office. No guilty soul can struggle back into the favor of God, by observance of its requisitions. It is “a schoolmaster” (not an instructor, but a servant whose office it was to conduct children to and from the public schools,) to lead to Christ, as the only provided righteousness. In these and many other passages, reiterating this truth in multiplied forms and with earnest emphasis, the Reformers saw an absolute exclusion of the hope of salvation by human strength, or works. The sinner is left helpless and hopeless in himself ” For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse,” Gal. iii. 10.
Not only in the general denial of justification by works, but in the particular repudiation of the idea of merit, were the Reformers but re-asserting a fundamental truth of God’s word. The whole notion of merit, in which the false theory of justification had been based by Rome, is opposed by the clear teaching of Scripture. The principle is laid down by our .Saviour, “When ye have done all these things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants : we have done that which was our duty to do,” Luke xvii. 10. The best fulfilment of the law, and the purest attainments of holiness, do not go beyond duty, and are not regarded by God as earning any claim before him. Hence the unequivocal statement which totally excludes the notion of merit, ” Ye are saved by grace — not of works, lest any man should boast,” Eph. ii. 8, 9. ” And if by grace, then it is 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,” Rom. xi. 6. Even the smallest share of merit is thus excluded from the observance of the law and the services of piety. Neither as supplementary to the work of Christ, nor in any combination with it, do the Scriptures tolerate a notion of human merit, in the foundation of the sinner’s justification.
3. This teaching of the Divine word is fully sustained by the decisions of enlightened reason. In this, the truth is fortified with additional strength. It is true, that reason is not to sit as a judge of the doctrines of revelation. Its concurring conclusions, however, aid in fixing our conviction of these doctrines. The truths of the word stand out in clearer demonstration and power, when they at once make answer for themselves to every man’s intellect and conscience. This truth is of this kind. Our Confessors, in throwing it into the bold foreground of their view of justification, were taking a position in which they could hear every voice from Scripture answered by consenting and confirmatory voices from the conscience and reason of mankind. The painful helplessness of our guilty race has ever been crying out, ” Wherewith shall a man come before God, or bow himself before the Almighty ?” Reason adjudges that an unfallen and sinless being may be accepted before God, on the principle, ” He that doeth them shall live by them.” An unbroken and perfect obedience by a holy being leaves no place for condemnation. But he that offends in a single point becomes a transgressor. And “there is no man that liveth and sinneth not.” We must thus view our race, as it really is, under condemnation for original and actual sin. The question as it must come up before our reason, concerns the justification of sinners, and the conclusion flows in rigid logical sequence from the premises. Sin, in its very nature, is a withholding from God what is his due. It involves opposition of the creature’s will to him, and refusal of the obedience and service which belong to him. This withholding what is due to God becomes both a crime and a debt. Thus, not only the obedience withheld, but satisfaction for the crime, must be required of the sinner. He has not only fallen into fatal arrears, but come under the penalty of a law and government on whose sacred inviolability the peace and order of a moral universe are hung. ” The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” as the eternal law of God’s holiness and love, announces the destruction into which the transgressor has brought himself. With his fallen nature, he is now able neither to keep the law nor to render satisfaction for its past violation. He cannot pay the debt. In his criminal inability, every effort to obey is defective and vitiated by sin. Could he even start anew, and render thenceforth a perfect obedience, the past would remain without satisfaction. All a man’s powers, his time, his talents, his skill and service, belong to God. There is not a moment in which he can feel released from the claims of God upon him, not a power of body, a faculty of mind, an endowment of energy, which is beyond the obligation of entire consecration to him. And were he. as a creature, enabled thenceforth to give to God a perfect service, he would only be doing his present duty, and could have no surplus of time or powers to atone for the past and pay the dreadful debt. Thus, on both points, man must come fatally short. His works can no longer justify him. This part of our Article is, therefore, sustained by the clearest deductions of reason, as well as by the emphatic teachings of the word of God.
The deep and deadly error of Rome has thus been renounced. Faithful and true witness is borne against it. That doctrine maintaining the meritoriousness of good works, and teaching men to rely upon them for justification before God, was falsifying the Gospel, and laying another foundation than that which is laid in Jesus Christ. ” Thus these men conceal Christ from us,” exclaims Melanchthon, ” and bury him anew, so that it is impossible for us to recognize him as a mediator.'” It was the all-perverting error, in which centered the crying necessity of the Reformation.
II. THE TRUE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION.
A more concise, comprehensive, and vigorous statement of the positive side of this great doctrine could scarcely be framed: “We obtain forgiveness of sins, and are justified before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, if we believe that Christ suffered for us, and that our sins are remitted unto us for Christ’s sake, who made satisfaction for our transgressions by his death. This faith God imputes for righteousness before him, Rom, iii. and iv.” This presents all the principal truths in the teaching of the Gospel on the subject. It calls our attention to the four great and all-inclusive points: I. The Source of Justification, “Grace,” (aus gnaden gratis); 2. The Ground of it, ” For Christ’s sake,” ” Christ suffered for us ” — “made satisfaction for our transgressions by his death;” 3. The Nature of it, ” We obtain forgiveness of sins, righteousness and eternal life;” 4. The Instrument, “Through Faith.” An intelligent view of the teaching of our Confession will be obtained by looking at these points in their order.
I. The Source.
This is the grace of God, which, in the technical language of Theology is denominated the efficient cause, causa efficiens, of justification. ” God forgives us our sins out of pure grace.” “Justified freely by his grace,” says St. Paul, Rom. iii. 24. ” God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” John iii. 16. It is needless to repeat the numerous texts which trace up our salvation to its source in the compassionate love and grace of God. They are varied and multiplied in rich profusion throughout the New Testament. Even faith, though most vitally involved in our justification, is in no sense its source or efficient cause. ” It is God that justifieth,” Rom. viii. 33, His own love having made the provision by which he can be just and yet thus justify the ungodly, Rom. iii. 25 ; iv. 5. The sense of the term grace, as used in this connection, must be clearly distinguished. It expresses neither any divine act done for us, nor any quality or excellence wrought in us, but the mercy and benevolence of God toward us. And this grace from which justification and salvation freely flow, must be referred to the one God, revealed as the Trinity in unity. ” I, even I, am the Lord ; and besides me there is no saviour,” Is. xliii. 11. Whilst maintaining the order and distinction of the Persons in the Trinity, the Scriptures clearly refer to the whole Godhead, in pointing us to the primal source of the sinner’s forgiveness and salvation. Hence our justification is interchangeably ascribed to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. John iii. 16 ; Gal. ii. 20 ; Rom. v. 5 ; Col. iii, 13 ; Is. liii. 1 1 ; I Cor. vi. 1 1. The connection of this fact with the use of the names of the three Persons of the Trinity in the formula of Baptism, is obvious and suggestive.
2. The Ground of Justification.
This, known as the meritorious cause, causa meritoria, is the whole work of Jesus Christ, by which he has atoned for human sins, and brought in a complete and everlasting righteousness : ”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,” Rom. iii. 24, 25. In this aggregate work of Christ, in which is laid the deep and secure foundation of our acceptance and salvation, there are three things to be considered :
I. It must be viewed as the work of the Godman. Both before and after the Reformation the question was agitated whether Christ is our righteousness, according to his divine or his human nature. The question was one which touched upon a deep and vital point of Christian doctrine, and the correct view becomes of great importance. The view that held to our justification by Christ’s righteousness, according to his divine nature alone, confounded the true, essential, unchangeable righteousness of the Son of God, in his true natural and essential divinity, with that vicarious work which forms the meritorious righteousness provided in his obedience and death, and imputed to the sinner; whilst the view which held that Christ is our righteousness according to his human nature alone failed to include what is indispensable to the efficacy, value and perfection of his redeeming work. We can be justified only by Christ as our righteousness, according to both natures.
It is necessary carefully to distinguish between the essential and immutable holiness of the Son of God, in his divine nature, and that righteousness which he came and wrought out for our fallen race. The essential holiness of that nature must indeed be recognized as a necessary condition of his work for us, but it is different from it. Neither his human nature nor his divine nature intrinsically is the basis of our justification, but the work done, the life lived, the obedience maintained, the sufferings endured for us in the one person of the Godman. The point is, that in looking for the ground of our justification we are not to regard the intrinsic character of the Deity of Christ as imputed to us, but the ” obedience unto death,” which he in his sinless Theanthropic person has provided as the basis of our pardon and acceptance. It is what he has done and furnished in the economy and work of redemption. Because of his sinless divine holiness he could become our righteousness, but he has actually become such by all that, in the unity of his divine-human person, he has done to supply what we had not done, and to release us from the consequences of our sins. This work of the Son of God
for us must be viewed as including his incarnation — the very act of his becoming Godman, in which he also becomes “our righteousness.” In other words, he became ”our righteousness” only in his becoming the Godman and the work then wrought in the union of both natures for us. In the Divine nature alone he could not have suffered and died, and without the communion of the Divine with the human in the unity of one person, the sufferings and obedience of Christ would have lacked the infinite merit necessary to their atoning efficacy. Hence the Form of Concord states with admirable clearness: “Christ is our righteousness, neither according to the divine nature alone, nor yet according to the human nature alone, but the whole Christ, according to both natures, in or through that obedience alone which he, as God and man, rendered to the Father even unto death, and by which he has merited for us forgiveness of sins and eternal life.” Epit. iii. i. “In this manner neither the divine nor the human nature of Christ by itself is imputed to us for righteousness, but the obedience of the person alone, who is at the same time God and man. Thus, too, the disputed point concerning the indwelling of the essential righteousness of God in us must be rightly explained. For though God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who is the eternal and essential righteousness, dwells, through faith, in the elect, who are justified through Christ and reconciled to God (for all Christians are temples of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), yet this indwelling of God is not that righteousness of faith concerning which St. Paul speaks, and which he calls justitia Dei, that is, the righteousness of God, on account of which we are justified before God.”
2. It embraces Christ’s active obedience for us. The whole of Christ’s earthly work must be regarded as vicarious. To act in our stead, He was “made under the law.” His incarnation, in which is seen the incipient act in his becoming ”our righteousness,” was preparatory not only to suffering for our sins, but to fulfilment of the law for us. An atonement, made by sacrificial death, releasing from an incurred penalty, is in itself not the full bringing in of a perfect righteousness by the imputation of which we will have all that we need. More than the negative condition of being simply pardoned, is necessary. We need to be looked upon as if we were positively righteous. The obedience of Christ, in which the law was kept and honored, was an essential element in furnishing for us what the Law and holiness of God demanded of us. Where we were sinners, he, acting mediatorially in a vicarious life, was perfectly righteous. This sinless active obedience of the Godman, must be viewed not simply as a needful condition to an efficaciously atoning death, but as being in itself an essential part of that righteousness which is imputed to us. Before men could inherit the blessings promised to obedience, the Divine Substitute had to fulfil for them all its holy precepts. Buddeus has presented the truth clearly : ” Christ did not only expiate our sins by his sufferings and death, but through his whole life most completely fulfilled the law in our stead. He thus made satisfaction for us, not only by a most precious sacrifice to offended Deity, but also by performing everything which the divine justice, so infinitely offended by the sins of men, could demand. Thus all obligation to punishment ceased and was taken away, and God, being thus reconciled, is prepared to forgive all our sins, and to receive us into the number of his children, when we embrace the merits of Christ in true faith.”
The inclusion of Christ’s active obedience in the ground of justification is a point of great importance. From the earliest ages of the Christian Church much stress was laid on this part of his work. Though his death has always been recognized as the crown of his saving love, his work was represented as carried on through all the stages of his life. This truth is involved in the well-known passage in Irenaeus, in which he speaks of Christ’s advancing through infancy, youth, and manhood, saving all ages, by living and acting for all. Both the perfect obedience of Christ, and the shedding of his blood as a ransom, unite in the system of Irenaeus, but he seems to have held the idea of a sacrifice in the background. Gregory of Nyssa mentions it, as an element in the work of redemption, that Christ maintained a pure disposition through all the moments of his life, In the scholastic age the active obedience of Christ continued to hold a high place in theological representations of the Redeemer’s vicarious work. So prominently did Anselm (A. D., 1093-1 109,) make this, that in the history of doctrines it is made a questiofi whether he did not altogether exclude the Satisfactio passiva from his view of Redemption.
Some modern theologians, however, exclude the active obedience of Christ from being, immediately and in itself, a part of the ground of justification. They admit that this obedience was indeed necessary, but only as a condition pre-requisite to fit him to offer a pure and acceptable sacrifice. Had he himself sinned, his sufferings could not be regarded as vicarious and accruing to the benefit of others. They connect his active obedience, not with the provision of a righteousness for us, but with his qualification to furnish an effectual vicarious sacrifice. A just and full view of Christ’s work, as the ground of our justification, must pronounce this theory defective and inadequate. If the doctrine is correct, which presents the righteousness by which we are justified as not the intrinsic holiness of the Saviour’s divine nature, but the work done by Him in His Theanthropic Person, on behalf of sinners, it follows directly and necessarily, that we must regard him as not only furnishing a basis of pardon by his innocent sufferings, but a ground of acceptance by fulfilling for us all righteousness. Hence whilst the Confession is silent on this precise point, the authors of the Form of Concord, who have most sharply and correctly presented the full doctrine of this Article, have included the Satisfactio activa in varied and emphatic phrase. They ground justification on ” the entire obedience of the whole Christ “ They mention both his ” obedience,” and his ” bitter sufferings,” as included. ” Faith looks upon the person of Christ, as the same was made under the law for us, bore our sins, and when proceeding to the Father rendered entire and perfect obedience to his heavenly Father for us poor sinners, from his holy birth unto his death; and thereby covered all our disobedience which inheres in our nature, in its thoughts, words, and deeds.” Hence that righteousness, which is imputed to faith, or to believers, before God, through grace alone, is the obedience, the sufferings, and the resurrection of Christ, by which he has rendered complete satisfaction unto the law for us, and made expiation for our sins. For, since Christ is not only man, but God and man in one undivided person, he was as little subject to the law, being Lord of the law, as it would have been necessary for him to suffer and die for his own person. ”His obedience, therefore, not only in suffering and dying, but in Jus being voluntarily put tender the law in our stead, and fulfilling it with such obedience, is imputed unto us for righteousness ; so that, for the sake of this perfect obedience, which he rendered unto his heavenly Father for us, in both doing and suffering, in his life and death, God forgives us our sins, accounts us as righteous and Just, and saves us eternally”
Scripture proof of the correctness of this view may be seen by a reference to a few passages. Rom. v. 19, St. Paul declares, “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” The reference is admitted to be to the justification of the sinner through Christ. Were it based on his death alone, the use of the different and comprehensive term obedience would be unaccountable. It may, and must, indeed, be recrarded as including his ” odedienee unto death “ or his suffering, but refers more directly to the aggregate work of satisfying the demands of the law. From the antithesis of the word to the disobedience of Adam, his active obedience, rather than his sufferings, seems to be the prominent idea. ” The entire holy life of our Saviour,” says Tholuck, ” is termed ὑπακοή, embracing in indivisible unity what the Church has termed the obedientia activa, and obedientia passiva. “ In loco. In v. i8, the apostle expresses the same idea in another form : ” By the righteousness, δικαίωμα, of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification, δικαίωσις of life.” In this passage the term ” righteousness” seems to be the equivalent of ” obedience, “ in v. 19. They are alike connected with justification, and are terms of more comprehensive import than would have been used had the apostle nothing in his view but Christ’s death. The same doctrine is implied in Ps. xl. 8, compared with John iv. 34.
3. It is completed in Christ’s passive obedience. The Confession gives prominence to this because it presents the most central conception of the atonement. As the basis of justification it refers to the great unparalleled fact, ” Christ suffered” — “made satisfaction for our transgressions by his death.”
The most casual reading of the Scriptures is sufficient to impress every one with a conviction of the vital relation of Christ’s sufferings and death with the sinner’s salvation. Text follows text, and declaration is added to declaration to keep Jesus before the sinner’s view as ” the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.”
The Old Testament points to this part of his mediatorial and saving work in type and shadow, bleeding victims and smoking altars, temple arrangements and prophetic announcements. Isaiah directs to a suffering Saviour, stricken, smitten, making his soul an offering for sin, and justifying many because of bearing their iniquities. Daniel beholds him as cut off, but not for himself In the New Testament we hear Christ himself declare, as he approaches the dreadful hour, ” For this purpose I came unto this hour.” And though his disciples at first could not understand this, and stumbled at it, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, leading them into the truth, they were ready to exclaim, ” God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Christ.” They resolved to know nothing among men but Christ and him crucified, and preached this as the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation. It is made the ceaseless theme of the Word of God.
The sufferings of the Redeemer have their relation to the punishment due our sins. As his life fulfilled all the requirements of the law in our stead, his agony and death satisfied all the penalty denounced upon our transgressions. ” The wages of sin is death.” But “when we were yet without strength in due time Christ died for the ungodly,” Rom. v. 6. God ” hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” 2 Cor. v. 2i. ” The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many,” Matt. XX. 28. The Church is spoken of as ” the Church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood,” Acts xx. 28. ” Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us,” Gal. iii. 13. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood,” Rom. iii. 25. ” Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” i Cor. xv. 3. “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us,” i Cor. v. 7. ” God commendeth his love towards us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him,” Rom. v. 8, 9. ” We also joy in God, by whom we have now received the atonement,” Rom. v. Ii. “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, he entered once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us,” Heb. ix. 12. “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many,” Heb. ix. 28. ” Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ,” i Pet. i. 18, 19. “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree,” i Pet. ii. 24. These passages and many others, illuminating all the pages of the New Testament with the light of redemption, set forth unequivocally, and with all the fervor of the Gospel message, that Christ in the unity of his two natures in one person, and acting in a vicarious character, bore the curse and punishment due to us, expiated all our offences, honored and satisfied the law, so that God might be just, and yet pardon and accept the ungodly.
The reason why, since the fall, such vicarious obedience and suffering are necessary to the sinner’s forgiveness and salvation, is found in the necessity of maintaining the inviolable sanctity of the Divine law and holiness. The wicked could not be justified on the simple ground of repentance and reformation. Repentance and reformation can have no atoning power over the past. It can neither satisfy the penalty of the broken law, nor vindicate the holiness and justice of God against the fearful crime of already committed sin. God must ” declare his righteousness,” as well as set forth his mercy. Thus the glorious message of salvation does not come as a departure from justice, or any relaxation of its demands, but offers its gracious blessings through the substitutionary fulfilment of both the practical and penal requirements of the law, by which mercy and truth have met together, and unite in perfect harmony. ” Once for altogether, Christ has done enough to remove the sins of all who come to him and believe on him.” Luth., on i Pet. iii. i8.
3. The Nature of Justification.
In the brief but clear terms of the Confession, amplified in the Apology and Form of Concord, the doctrine of the Gospel and of our Church on this point is most satisfactorily defined. Justification is mentioned as ” the remission of sins,” and the bestowal upon us of ” righteousness and eternal life.” The three essential elements of its nature are here involved:
I. Its judicial and objective character. In this, it contains a clear and absolute repudiation of the theory, which had been maintained, and still is, by Romish and some Protestant theologians. Over against all the notion of justification by an inherent righteousness, confounding justification with sanctification, the Reformers rigorously asserted the objective and forensic nature of this act, as an essential distinction in sound and Biblical theology. Although the language of Melanchthon, in the Apology, is, in a few cases, ambiguous on this point, undoubtedly the whole tenor of it, and many distinct and definitive passages, set forth its nature as outward and judicial. And the Form of Concord declares, ” If we wish to retain in its ‘purity the Article concerning justification, great diligence and care are to be observed, lest that which precedes faith and that which follows it, be at the same time intermingled and introduced into the Article concerning justification, as necessary and pertaining to it. For it is not one and the same thing to speak of conversion and justification.” “For, though the converted and believing have an incipient renewal, sanctification, love, virtue, and good works, yet these cannot and must not be referred to the article of justification before God, and confounded with it; so that Christ the Redeemer may not be deprived of his glory, and troubled consciences may not, since our new obedience is still imperfect and impure, be robbed of their sure consolation.”
The proof of the external and forensic, or perhaps, more properly, governmental nature of justification, is made manifest by a reference to a few passages of the Word of God. It is involved in the use of the word to justify. The Hebrew צָדַק, translated by the Seventy into the Greek words, δικαιόω, δικαιοσύνη, δίκαιος, κρίνειν, which are used in the New Testament to express this truth, includes the idea of an objective forensic acquittal. Ex. xxiii. 7, ” I will not
justify the wicked,” refers to no inner change, but to a relation to the law. In Prov. xvii. 15, ” He that justifieth the wicked and he that condemneth the innocent are both an abomination in the sight of the Lord,” the antithesis is between justification and condemnation, and both are objective in their character. In Matt. xii. 37, ” By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned,” there is no idea of an inner change, but a forensic decision. In Rom. v. 18, 19, and throughout the chapter, the nature of this doctrine is distinctly unfolded, and it is set forth in the clearest light as judicial and external. It is wrapped up in legal terms and relations. The phraseology implies a judge, guilt before the law, and an acquittal, by virtue of ” the righteousness of One ” who has made an ” atonement.” The judgment is to condemnation, εἰς κατάκριμα, the grace, to justification, εἰς δικαίωσις. “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth,” Rom. viii. 33, implies a judicial accusation, and a free divine absolution. Most plainly is this aspect of truth included in the representation of justification in 2 Cor. v. 1 9-2 1 : ” God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. * * * For He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” A correspondence is thus traced between it and the way in which Christ was made sin for us. We are made ” righteousness ” in Christ, in the same manner as he was made sin for us. But Christ was not made sin for us by actually becoming a sinner, but by bearing our sins imputatively. So we are justified, not by being made intrinsically righteous, or by an infusion, but only actu forensi. In short, the word to justify means, properly and generically, to pronounce any one righteous, either when he truly is so, or is really unrighteous. And it is to be remembered, that in the justification of the believer, the person is in fact a sinner, and the act is not a declaration of real moral character. It is not a divine judgment in reference to the moral condition of its object, but a holding of the truly guilty as acquitted for the sake of the vicarious sacrifice and righteousness of Jesus Christ.
2. It consists partly in pardon. ” Forgiveness of sins before God,” ” for Christ’s sake our sins are remitted to us,” are the phrases in which our Confession describes it. The frequency with which it sets it forth by these terms, indicates how accurately and fully they were regarded as expressing its nature. Forgiveness of sins, and justification before God, are used as interchangeable terms, though in fact justification was acknowledged as including in its full meaning somewhat more than pardon. The Scriptures themselves use the word justification, as an equivalent to forgiveness. St. Paul, in describing justification, Rom. iv. 7, 8, quotes as an Old Testament statement of it, the words of David, ” Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” So, too, in Acts xiii. 38, 39 : ” 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.” On the divine basis of Christ’s atonement, in which the penalty of sin has been suffered and the law satisfied, God freely forgives the penitent and believing sinner all his transgressions. On the ground of that death of the Just for the unjust, our offenses are wholly blotted out. The sinner is pardoned and looked upon in Christ, as though he had never sinned. It is a full absolution. He is acquitted of all charges and released from all penalties. God no longer imputes or charges to the sinner the offences of which he had been guilty. There is now no condemnation, to them who are in Christ Jesus.
3. It is completed in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. This meets the necessities of the sinner’s case, in a relation which reaches beyond the simple matter of pardon. Being forgiven, he is not left in the condition of a criminal merely released from punishment. He needs be held not only as absolved from wrath, but as having an acceptable righteousness. His condition must not be a mere negation, but one of positive fullness. Divested alike of his own sins and righteousness, he is not to be held henceforth as miserable and poor and naked, but as clothed in spotless garments and made rich indeed. Hence, in the very act of justification, along with the non-imputation of his sins, God imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to him. Thus, while pardon takes away from the sinner what he has, this imputation gives him what he has not. On one side the penalty of his transgressions is removed, and on the other, the complete righteousness of the Redeemer is placed to his account. The two sides of his need are thus fully meet, in the substitutionary provision of saving grace. The accuracy and beauty of the language of the Confession is, therefore, plainly seen, when, in addition to pardon, it declares ” righteousness and eternal life are bestowed upon us.” ” For God regards this faith, and imputes it as righteousness in his sight, Rom. iii. and iv.”
This is the great doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, which stands so centrally in the faith of orthodox Protestantism. It presents with vigor that grand and comforting truth of the Gospel, that the believer is ”complete in Christ who is the Head of all principality and power.” Able to work out for himself neither pardon nor righteousness, both are provided in the Saviour’s work, and freely and fully bestowed upon him in justification. Merely to forgive the sinner, and let him go, would not be a restoration to the blessedness of the Divine favor from which he is fallen. He needs to be taken back, and treated as righteous, in the fullness of fellowship and love. He is not left poor, but made rich. ” For your sakes He became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” 2 Cor. viii. 9. He is clothed in the wedding garment, Matt. xxii. 2-13. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, to every one that believeth,” Rom. x. 4. Instead of his own sin, the obedience of him who is “the Lord, our righteousness” is imputed to him. ” For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was imputed 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,” Rom. iv. 3-6. The fact that sometimes the “righteousness of Christ,” and at other times, our ” faith,” is said to be imputed to us, involves no contradiction. For faith is introduced merely as apprehending and appropriating the righteousness which is then set down to our account. Moreover, in the distinction made between pardon and this imputation, we are not to suppose any real division of the act of justification. Though forgiveness of sins is based entirely on Christy’s atoning work, and the imputation of his righteousness implies a reference to his whole obedience for us, our acceptance of Christ secures the benefit of both, which are thus united in the same act of justification. The one divine act of justification brings us both pardon of our past sins and the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness. It is, also, in this way clearly distinguished from a divine judgment upon the intrinsic character of the sinner, and becomes a free declaration of a gracious absolution and acceptance of the really guilty. And the whole nature of the act is summed up vigorously in the Form of Concord, “We believe, teach, and confess * * * that poor sinful man is justified before God, that is, absolved and declared free from his sins, and from the sentence of his well-deserved condemnation, and is adopted as a child and heir of eternal life, without any merit or worthiness, and without any antecedent, present or subsequent works, out of pure grace, for the sake of the merit, the perfect obedience, the bitter sufferings and death, and resurrection of Christ our Lord alone, whose obedience is imputed unto us for righteousness.”
4. The Relation of Faith to Justification.
The Confession declares we are justified “through faith — perfidem, durch den glauben. These terms express the instrumental cause of justification. This point is of such vital importance, and lies so truly in the very heart of this great doctrine of our Church, that its meaning and relations cannot be too accurately and fully grasped. The very characterizing feature of the Gospel is, that it presents salvation as attained through faith. It so fully expresses the essence of the system, that “the faith,” is made a synonym of Christianity. And both the object and the power of the Reformation, consisted in the disclosure of the full and indubitable relation of faith to the sinner’s justification and salvation. There are three elements in which its nature and office are seen.
1. Knowledge is implied. This is the first element of the definition of the older theologians, in which faith is made to consist in knowledge, notitia, assent of the mind, assensus, and confidence or trust, fiducia. The definition is to be accepted as, in substance, correct, but it needs some guarding statements. Undoubtedly, the historical facts and doctrinal verities of the Gospel must be known before the sinner can accept the hope and blessings they offer. Men must know the truth before it can make them free. “And this is eternal life, to know thee the true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent,” John xvii. 3. Conviction of sin and sense of spiritual need are divinely wrought through the truth in the hands of the Holy Spirit. Yet, however essential a knowledge of the objects of faith may be to its exercise, it is generically different from faith itself. It is rather a pre-requisite to faith. “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” Rom. x. 14. The contents of the logical understanding are not the same as an act of faith. And though our Saviour does not speak of knowing, γινώσκω, the true God and Jesus Christ as eternal life, the eternal life is not the immediate result of the knowledge, but the knowledge leads to faith, according to St. Paul’s words to Timothy, ” From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ,” 2 Tim. iii. 15. Men may have knowledge, even in richest stores, without a particle of real, saving faith. A mere acquaintance with the historical truths and wondrous doctrines of the Gospel, as treasures of the understanding, cannot, in itself, unite the human life to the life of Christ. On this point our Confessors fully rejected the Romish doctrine of the nature of faith. There had been no sharp or true distinction of essential faith from mere historical or doctrinal knowledge. “Our adversaries think that faith consists in knowledge of, or an acquaintance with, the history of Christ.” Art. XX., defining faith, declares, ” The Scriptures, speaking of faith, do not style faith such a knowledge as devils and wicked men have ; for it is taught concerning faith in Heb. xi. i, that a mere knowledge of the facts of history is not faith.” The deep intensity of Luther’s experience, in which he came into a true apprehension of the Gospel plan, and repose in Christ as his Saviour, necessarily led to a clear distinction of faith from this merely intellectual knowledge. It was impossible that he should teach a system in which these two things should be confounded. Melanchthon’s experience concurred with Luther’s; and the frequency with which he repeats, in the Apology, the caution against mistaking knowledge for faith, discloses how strongly he wished to place the doctrine of the Gospel on this point over against the error of Rome.
2. It implies the assent of the understanding. These truths and doctrines of Christ must not only be known, but approved. Their excellence and adaptedness must be recognized in an assenting judgment of the intellect. But here, as in knowledge, this assent is rather a condition precedent to saving faith than faith itself It is what may be accurately designated as historical faith. It is a yielding of the judgment to the contents of the knowledge. ” It is not enough for us to know and believe that Christ was born, that he suffered and rose from the dead.” This is a belief which the devils may have, without any submission of will or affections to the terms of pardon and salvation. The assent of reason to the truth, divinity, and reliableness of the remedial scheme of grace, though essential as a preliminary basis for the act of appropriating the offers of salvation, in which the essence of faith consists, must yet be regarded as but partial and inadequate. This represents the condition of the masses in Christian lands, who intellectually admit and consent to the truth and excellence of Christianity, but who live in utter indifference and neglect of Christ and salvation. The reason of the inadequacy of this merely assenting judgment of the mind is plain. It lies altogether in the sphere of the natural. It is only the same kind of mental assent as is given to any other historical or scientific truths. It implies no supernatural operation, as a work of grace in the heart, and fails to surrender the affections and life to the power and control of Christ.
3. The essential thing, which itself constitutes the reality and fulness of faith, is Trust or Confidence. It is the fiducia of the old theologians, and expresses the act in which the penitent reposes on the merit and grace of the Redeemer. In it he accepts Christ, who is a perfect Saviour, and lays an appropriating hold of him, as He has been made unto him wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. It brings the believing soul and Christ together. Faith takes Christ just as he is offered, in all the fullness of his redemption and offices of salvation, and reposes in the infallible promises of his love. It is essentially an appropriating act, and one of self surrender ; and whilst knowledge and assent belong wholly to the logical understanding, this surrender to Christ in confidence and reliance embraces the action of the will and the sensibilities. Hence St. Paul declares, with striking definiteness and force, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness. ”
We must not fail to understand that this faith makes a real appropriation of the merit of Christ. It truly ” puts on Christ.” The imputation of his righteousness is not to be supposed to be based upon anything short of such a vital union as is expressed by the apostle, ” I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” It is not by what faith is, that it justifies, but by what it embraces. It justifies not as a virtue, or intrinsic state of the soul, but as holding within its embrace Christ himself, in all his work and fullness. The divine Judge does not set over to the believer’s account, as a liquidation of his debt, and as accepted righteousness, what his faith has not really grasped. Faith must, therefore, be regarded as apprehending the gracious work and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Hence, Luther’s expression, ” Faith taketh hold of Christ, and hath him present, and holdeth him enclosed, as the ring doth the precious stone. And whosoever shall be found having this confidence in Christ apprehended in the heart, him will God account for righteous.” On Gal. ii. 16. “This is the record that God hath given to us, eternal life, and this life is in his Son,” i John v. 1 1. Hence it is that ” He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life,” i John v. 12. Yet it is not to be understood that it is Christ’s indwelling that becomes the ground of justification, but thus we are put by faith in such relation to him that his whole obedience, even unto death, is imputed to us. It is through such a reception of him, in the act of faith, that we appropriate the benefits of his vicarious work.
The particula exclusiva, the expression alone, by which the Reformers guarded so jealously the purity of the relation of faith to justification, was not only demanded by the antagonism of Rome to it, but by the interests of the truth and the Church for all ages. Against all schemes that admitted anything before, after, or alongside of Christ apprehended by a divinely wrought faith, it reasserted the truth into which the Holy Ghost had guided the apostle Paul, Rom. iii. 28. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
4. This faith is contemplated not as a product of nature, but as a gift of God. In Art. II. it is, in accordance with Scripture, declared that human nature since the fall is so under the power of original sin that it can of its own accord exercise no true faith in God. Consistently with this the Apology, Art. IV., sets forth, “Faith is the acceptance of this treasure [Christ’s merit] with our whole heart, and this is not our own act, present, or gift, our own work or preparation.” “This faith is a gift of God, through which we rightly acknowledge Christ our Redeemer in the word of the Gospel, and confide in him.” It is our confessional response to the divine word, ” By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves ; it is the gift of God,” Eph. ii. 8.
5. This act, as well as the subsequent life of faith, is to be rigorously separated from the idea of merit. Because of its instrumental relation, as conditioning our acceptance before God, there has been a disposition to look upon it as itself a good and meritorious work. There is no deserving worthiness in it. The only worthiness is in Christ, and faith, being itself God’s gift, is only the hand that receives the blessings of redemption. Its only activity is that of accepting God’s free salvation, and this activity itself is through the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit. The author of the Confession, therefore defines : “Faith does not justify us before God, as though it were itself our work, but solely because it receives the grace promised and offered without merit, and presented out of the rich treasures of mercy.” This is fully accordant with the statements of Scripture and the conclusions of reason. Though faith be accepted and imputed for righteousness, it is still, like every other grace in man, defective and incomplete, and, therefore, cannot become a foundation of confidence. So soon as the believer would trust to the worthiness of his faith, he would turn to something wrought within him and deny Christ as the only foundation. Melanchthon, to J. Brentz, 1531, writes, ” Faith alone justifies, not because it is the root, or is meritorious, but because it lays hold of Christ, for whose sake we arc accepted. “The words of Luther to Brentz concur in satisfying us that this is the doctrine meant to be set forth by the Reformers : — “In order that I may have a better view of this thing, I am wont to think of myself as having in my heart no such quality as faith or love : but in place of these, I put Christ himself, and say, ‘This is my righteousness.’ ”
6. In the nature of saving faith, is included, finally, an energy of spiritual transformation and fruitfulness. Though carefully distinguishing between justification and the spiritual change with which it is connected, our doctrine unequivocally asserts, that no other faith becomes the instrument of justification than a living and transforming one. It fully includes the truth of St. James, “Faith without works is dead.” It is no real and living recipient. Though the holiness and works wrought by faith have no merit, and are not to be mistaken as forming any part of the ground of justification, yet the faith that does really embrace Christ, does, and must work by love and purify the heart. ” We speak of faith,” says the Apology, “as being not an idle fancy, but a new light, life, and power in the heart, that renews the heart and disposition, transforms man into a new creature.” ” Faith wherever, and while it exists, bears good fruit.” ” Love and works must follow faith.” These are its evidences and seals. They prove its presence, reality and power, as springing grain and blooming flowers prove the presence and power of spring.
But as the connection of faith with good works forms the special subject of Art. XX, no further discussion of it is here needed, than this simple statement of the kind of faith referred to by our Confession in the doctrine of this Article.
We have thus recalled the teaching of this Article on the great subject which it sets forth. Together with an utter repudiation of the destructive error of Rome, it declares, in brief, but bold outline, the true doctrine of the Gospel and of our Church. It presents the Source of Justification wholly in the free grace of God. It asserts the only Ground of it to be found in the work of Jesus Christ, who, as the Godman, taking the sinner’s place, by his vicarious obedience and suffering, made satisfaction to justice and violated law, and brought in, for the guilty, a perfect and everlasting righteousness. The Nature of it is not that of an internal change, but a forensic or govermental absolution of the punishment due to sin, together with an imputation of Christ’s finished righteousness. This pardon and imputation are conditioned solely in a hearty reception of Christ, in a faith which is itself the gift of God, not meritorious, but living and transforming. And thus pardoned and accepted for Christ’s sake in justification, the same faith to which all this is graciously given, takes Christ also for sanctification, in which, as a divine internal operation, generically distinct from the forensic act of justification, the forgiven sinner becomes a new creature in Christ, and is made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.
It only remains now, in conclusion, to note, briefly, the harmony of other Confessions and orthodox Churches in the essential features of this doctrine, with their variations and differences from it in some of its aspects; and especially, to trace how absolutely and sharply it cuts off from itself and rejects the various errors of heterodox sects.
This is one of the great doctrines in which the Protestant Churches are essentially agreed. The Augsburg Confession, in accordance with the grand design of Luther, Melanchthon, and their co-laborers, was meant to set forth the broad, clear, and full doctrines of the Gospel in their true catholicity. The Augsburg Confession concludes with this assurance of its own design, “That it might be clearly perceived, that by us nothing is received, either in doctrine or ceremonies, which might be contrary to the Holy Scriptures, or opposed to the universal Church.” The denominational idea was unknown to them; and in declaring the truth of the Gospel, they designed the reformation of the aggregate church, and its restoration, in its universality, to its old foundations. Whilst, therefore, from its honorable priority, our Church, in its great Confession, took no denominational position, and gave itself no denominational marks and peculiarities, others co-laboring in the general reformatory aim, but, as we conceive, on narrower ground, framed for themselves more exclusive creeds and defined their position in denominational separation from the Augustana. It is to be regretted, that subsequently, a part of our Church, forsaking its original conception of embodying only the fundamental truths of revived universal Christianity, and accepting the partisan or denominational idea, sought in the Form of Concord to narrow our confessional basis, and define and restrict it in partisan and non-fundamental limitations. Yet the different denominations that separated by distinctive confessional tenets from the general Confession at Augsburg, have accepted, with hardly a variation, the great and central doctrine of this Article.
This happy agreement is made manifest by an examination of some of the principal confessions of the different Reformed or Calvinistic Churches, which took a doctrinal position’ denominationally distinct from the Church of the Augsburg Confession.
The Confession of Basle, 1547, Art. IX, declares, ” We acknowledge the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified One. Though this faith continually exercises, and manifests itself, by works of love, we do not ascribe righteousness and satisfaction for our sins to these works which are fruits of faith, but solely to true confidence and faith in the shed blood of the Lamb of God.”
The Gallican Confession, adopted by the Reformed Church in France, 1559, Art. XVIII, says, “We rely upon the obedience of Christ alone, which is imputed to us, so that all our sins are covered, and we attain favor before God. Art. XX, ” We believe that we become partakers of Christ’s righteousness by faith alone * * * and this occurs in such a way that the promises of life offered to us in Him (Christ) are then applied to our use, and rendered efficacious to us, when we embrace them, not doubting that those things will be fulfilled to us, of which we have been assured by the mouth of God.”
In the Palatine, or Heidelberg Catechism, 1563, probably the most important of all the Reformed Confessions, Question 60, ” How art thou justified before God ?” is answered : ” Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ ; so that though my conscience accuse me that I have grossly transgressed all the commands of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil, notwithstanding God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin ; yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ hath accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.”
In its definition of Faith, it declares, ” It is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the Gospel in my heart; that not only to others but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”
The Second Helvetic Confession, 1566, declares: “To justify is to remit sins, absolve from guilt and punishment, to receive into favor and declare righteous. * * * For Christ having taken the sins of the world upon himself, made satisfaction for them to divine justice. Therefore on account of Christ alone, who suffered and rose, God is merciful to our unrighteousness, and does not impute our sins unto us, but imputes to us the righteousness of Christ. * * * But since we receive this justification, not through any works, but through faith in Christ and the mercy of God, so we teach and believe with the Apostle, that the sinner is justified by faith alone in Christ, not by the law or by any works ; * * because faith receives Christ as our righteousness, and attributes all things to the grace of God in Christ, so that justification is attributed to faith, altogether on account of Christ, and not as our own work. For it is the gift of God.”
In the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, 1562, the definition of Justification, according to Dr. Short, was probably derived from Melanchthon’s Loci Communes, and thus closely harmonizes with the Augustana, in the declaration : ” We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works and deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.”
The Westminster Confession, 1647, Chap. XI, puts the doctrine into minute specifications : ” Those whom God effectually calls, he also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous: not for any work wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’t sake alone: not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience, to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith ; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is alone the instrument of justification ; yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.”
This doctrine is expressed in similar terms in the First Helvetic Confession, 1536, the Consensus Tigurinus, 1549, the Genevan Catechism, 1545, the Belgic Confession, 1562, the Bohemian, 1535, the Remonstrant, and other Confessions. They all agree in representing justification, over against the teaching of Rome, as a divine act, forensic in its character, based alone on the work and merit of’ Christ, through a true faith that apprehends and appropriates his vicarious obedience unto death, attended with renewal and good works, which, without forming in us the least merit, yet become the needed witness of the reality and power of the saving faith. This great heart-doctrine of the Reformation, in which revived Christianity re-asserted itself, has, therefore, flowed out, in its essential forms, from the great Confession at Augsburg, and become the inheritance of all orthodox Protestantism.
It must be noted, however, as necessary to a true and full view of this point, that though the article of justification, in its separate form, is thus found to agree in these various creeds, yet placed in the midst of a low Arminian theory on the one hand, or of the rigid Calvinistic system on the other, the doctrine has a somewhat different significance and import. It stands in the midst of different relations, and becomes theologically modified by its bearings as viewed from a new stand-point. Thus Arminianism, with its semi-naturalism and undue exaltation of human ability, diminishes the divine grace of the act of justification, under self-complacent and unscriptural notions of working out our own salvation. And in the scheme of an absolute Predestination, justification by faith, instead of being central in the economy of salvation, is forced into a merely subordinate place. It does not present the pivoting point on which a sinner’s free and gracious salvation really turns, or where God’s grace meeting human freedom, personal salvation is determined in the issue. It is not, as it is in the Lutheran theology, the presentation of an open door, where there is entrance provided and offered to a world of perishing men, redeemed by Jesus’ blood ; but it is simply a fixed and subordinate divine act, carrying out a particular divine decree of grace to the individual. The decree of predestination meets us at the outset, settling, at the very beginning, the final destiny of the elect person. From this decree everything takes start, by it everything is shaped and has its significance. Personal salvation stands, from the first, in the pronounced fiat of a Sovereign Will. The hidden decree has fixed everything; and the incarnation and death of Christ for the elect alone, the Gospel call, irresistible grace, justification and sanctification, come in simply as carrying out the decisive decree. Hence, the Westminster Confession, with the rigorous logic that bends all parts into the harmony of the system, adds to the part already quoted on this subject, ” God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect; and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless they are not justified until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.” The offer of the Gospel, therefore, is not thus a presentation of an open privilege through justification, in which their salvation may be decided, as the point where divine grace comes to human freedom, in a mysterious but real opportunity whose issue determines the question of personal salvation or ruin. It is simply an included step in the sinner’s already settled way to heaven. For it is to be remembered that the divine decrees, in this system, refer primarily not to any gift of grace to be offered to the sinner’s acceptance in Christ, but to the final destiny itself Leaping over all the intermediate space, they decide the end itself In this, we conceive, the Gospel offer of free justification loses its significance as presenting the deciding point in the matter of salvation. In the Scriptural predestination, as it appears to us to be correctly taught by our Church — “elect according to foreknowledge” — “Whom He did foreknow, He did also predestinate,” in which the divine decree is conditioned in foreknowledge, and not foreknowledge on the decree — justification by faith is the point where a redeemed race may come and realize forgiveness and salvation. But in the Calvinistic system, it presents no such free privilege save to the elect, and even in their case it is a point that decides nothing. The decision was fixed before, and this is only a stadium on the way. The Article of justification is shorn of its grand importance and its decisive relation. It is no longer the characterizing doctrine of the scheme of grace.
But in the doctrine of this Article, it is seen how rigorously and fully our Church bears testimony against all the heresies that have appeared on this subject in the history of Christianity. Its clear and decisive teaching cuts them all off in the sharpest rejection. It has already appeared how the deadly errors of Rome have been excluded. The Symbol of the Greek Church gives no definition of the doctrine. According to Kirpinski, however, the form of justification is made to consist in the forgiveness of sins, and a change of the heart to holiness. This constitutes it, in part, internal and transitive, and involves the very root of all the rejected Romish errors.
The error of the Anabaptists, who, in accordance with their fanatical subjective system, made justification an inward change to purity, is witnessed against in this Article.
The same is true of the Schwenkfeldian view, which taught that the righteousness of faith is not to be thought of as something existing without us in Christ, but as really implanted with Christ in our hearts and souls, through faith, so that it dwells in us, and we are thereby inwardly renewed.
The teaching of Osiander, who, starting with Luther’s frequent statement, that faith becomes the medium of the real indwelling of Christ, maintained that the righteousness of Christ thus passes into the inner life of the believer, who is thus justified, not by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, but by a real communication of it, is excluded by the doctrine of our Church.
The Socinians rightly regarded justification as a legal transaction, and, as to its objective character, maintained the Evangelical view; but by their rejection of the doctrine of a vicarious sacrifice, they have left no ground for any pardon and justification, and this truth becomes untruth in their system.
The Mennonites and the Quakers both have fallen into the common error of heresy, placing justification in the work wrought within the believer, and confounding it with renewal and sanctification. As is well illustrated in the history of these sects, nothing can save any system embodying such an error at its very heart from degenerating into multiform incongruities and distortions.
It is thus apparent that every form of false and destructive teaching on this subject includes one or more of the following errors: 1. Rejection of the vicarious atonement and obedience of Christ, as in Arian or Unitarian theologies, leaving no divine or possible ground of justification ; 2. Pelagian exaltation of human ability, and reliance on human strength and works ; 3. Denial of the purely forensic character of justification; 4. Making its nature consist in an internal change, according to some modification of the idea of an indwelling righteousness, thus confounding it with sanctification, and shutting out the penitent sinner from any hope of acceptance, save on the ground, or in view of, the holy life wrought within him.
Our Confession, however, maintains the positive truths that stand opposed to each and all of these errors, and insists on the central position and characterizing nature of justification by faith in the gospel of salvation. We rejoice in the historical priority and preeminence which Providence has given our Church in recovering this doctrine, in its purity and power, to Christendom from under the perversions of the Romish apostasy, and setting it forth again as showing the open way of salvation to a perishing world. We are glad of this great heritage. And we know of no more fitting language with which to conclude this discussion than the ringing words of Luther in the Smalcald Articles : ” Upon this Article depends all that we teach and do against the pope, the devil, and the world.” “Whatever may happen, though heaven and earth should fall, nothing in this article can be rescinded or repealed.” Part II., Art. I.