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§ 3. Works not the Ground of Justification.

In reference to men since the fall the assertion is so explicit and so often repeated, that justification is not of works, that that proposition has never been called in question by any one professing to receive the Scriptures as the word of God. It being expressly asserted that the whole world is guilty before God, that by the works of the law no flesh living can be justified, the only question open for discussion is, What is meant by works of the law?

To this question the following answers have been given, First, that by works of the law are meant works prescribed in the Jewish law. It is assumed that as Paul’s controversy was with those who taught that unless men were circumcised and kept the law af Moses, they could not be saved (Acts xv. 1, 24), all he intended 135to teach was the reverse of that proposition. He is to be understood as saying that the observance of Jewish rites and ceremonies is not essential to salvation; that men are not made righteous or good by external ceremonial works, but by works morally good. This is the ground taken by Pelagians and by most of the modern Rationalists. It is only a modification of this view that men are not justified, that is, that their character before God is not determined so much by their particular acts or works, as by their general disposition and controlling principles. To be justified by faith, therefore, is to be justified on the ground of our trust, or pious confidence in God and truth. Thus Wegscheider151151Institiones Theologiæ, III. iii. § 155, 5th edit. Halle, 1826, p. 476. says, “Homines non singulis quibusdam recte factis operibusque operatis, nec propter meritum quoddam iis attribuendum, sed sola vera fide, i.e., animo ad Christi exemplum ejusdemque præcepta composito et ad Deum et sanctissimum et benignissimum converso, ita, ut omnia cogitata et facta ad Deum ejusque voluntatem sanctissimam pie referant, Deo vere probantur et benevolentiæ Dei confisi spe beatitatis futuræ pro dignitate ipsorum morali iis concedendæ certissima imbuuntur.” Steudlin,152152Dogmatik, 2ter Th. § 134, 13, g, h; Göttingen, 1800, pp. 783, 784. expresses the same view. “All true reformation, every good act,” he says, “must spring from faith, provided we understand by faith the conviction that something is right, a conviction of general moral and religious principles.” Kant says that Christ in a religious aspect is the ideal of humanity. When a man so regards him and endeavours to conform his heart and life to that ideal, he is justified by faith.153153See Strauss, Dogmatik, Tübingen and Stuttgart, 1841, vol. ii. pp. 493, 494. According to all these views, mere ceremonial works are excluded, and the ground of justification is made to be our own natural moral character and conduct.

Romish Doctrine.

Secondly. The doctrine of Romanists on this subject is much higher. Romanism retains the supernatural element of Christianity throughout. Indeed it is a matter of devout thankfulness to God that underneath the numerous grievous and destructive errors of the Romish Church, the great truths of the Gospel are preserved. The Trinity, the true divinity of Christ, the true doctrine concerning his person as God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever; salvation through his blood, regeneration and sanctification through the almighty power of the 135Spirit, the resurrection of the body, and eternal life, are doctrines on which the people of God in that communion live, and which have produced such saintly men as St. Bernard, Fénélon, and doubtless thousands of others who are of the number of God’s elect. Every true worshipper of Christ must in his heart recognize as a Christian brother, wherever he may be found, any one who loves, worships, and trusts the Lord Jesus Christ as God manifest in the flesh and the only Saviour of men. On the matter of justification the Romish theologians have marred and defaced the truth as they have almost all other doctrines pertaining to the mode in which the merits of Christ are made available to our salvation. They admit, indeed, that there is no good in fallen man; that he can merit nothing and claim nothing on the ground of anything he is or can do of himself. He is by nature dead in sin; and until made partaker of a new life by the supernatural power of the Holy Ghost, he can do nothing but sin. For Christ’s sake, and only through his merits, as a matter of grace, this new life is imparted to the soul in regeneration (i.e., as Romanists teach, in baptism). As life expels death; as light banishes darkness, so the entrance of this new divine life into the soul expels sin (i.e., sinful habits), and brings forth the fruits of righteousness. Works done after regeneration have real merit, “meritum condigni,” and are the ground of the second justification the first justification consisting in making the soul inherently just by the infusion of righteousness. According to this view, we are not justified by works done before regeneration, but we are justified for gracious works, i.e., for works which spring from the principle of divine life infused into the heart. The whole ground of our acceptance with God is thus made to be what we are and what we do.

Remonstrant Doctrine.

Thirdly. According to the Remonstrants or Arminians the works which are excluded from our justification are works of the law as distinguished from works of the Gospel. In the covenant made with Adam God demanded perfect obedience as the condition of life. For Christ’s sake, God in the Gospel has entered into a new covenant with men, promising them salvation on the condition of evangelical obedience. This is expressed in different forms. Sometimes it is said that we are justified on account of faith. Faith is accepted in place of that perfect righteousness demanded by the Adamic law. But by faith is not meant the act of receiving and resting upon Christ alone for salvation. It is regarded 137as a permanent and controlling state of mind. And therefore it is often said that we are justified by a “fides obsequiosa,” an obedient faith; a faith which includes obedience. At other times, it is said that we are justified by evangelical obedience, i.e., that kind and measure of obedience which the Gospel requires, and which men since the fall, in the proper use of “sufficient grace” granted to all men, are able to render. Limborch says, “Sciendum, quando dicimus, nos fide justificari, nos non excludere opera, quæ fides exigit et tanquam fœcunda mater producit; sed ea includere.” And again, “Est itaque [fides] talis actus, qui, licet in se spectatus perfectus nequaquam sit, sed in multis deficiens, tamen a Deo, gratiosa et liberrima voluntate, pro pleno et perfecto acceptatur, et propter quem Deus homini gratiose remissionem peccatoram et vitæ æternæ premium conferre vult.” Again,154154Theologia Christiana, VI. iv. 32, 31, 37; edit. Amsterdam, 1725, pp. 705, b, a, 706 a. God, he says, demands, “obedientiam fidei, hoc est, non rigidam et ab omnibus æqualem, prout exigebat lex; sed tantam, quantam fides, id est, certa de divinis promissionibus persuasio, in unoquoque efficere potest.” Therefore justification, he says,155155Limborch, VI. iv. 18; ut supra, p. 703, a.Est gratiosa æstimatio, seu potius acceptatio justitiæ nostræ imperfectæ pro perfecta, propter Jesum Christum.

Protestant Doctrine.

Fourthly. According to the doctrine of the Lutherans and Reformed, the works excluded from the ground of our justification are not only ritual or ceremonial works, nor merely works done before regeneration, nor the perfect obedience required by the law given to Adam, but works of all kinds, everything done by us or wrought in us. That this is the doctrine of the Bible is plain, —

1. Because the language of Scripture is unlimited. The declaration is, that we are not justified “by works.” No specific kind of works is designated to the exclusion of all others. But it is “works;” what we do; anything and everything we do. It is, therefore, without authority that any man limits these general declarations to any particular class of works.

2. The word law is used in a comprehensive sense. It includes all revelations of the will of God as the rule of man’s obedience and, therefore, by “works of the law” must be intended all kinds of works. As νόμος means that which binds, it is used for the law of nature, or the law written on the heart (Rom. ii. 14), 138for the Decalogne, for the law of Moses, for the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures. (Rom. iii. 19.) Sometimes one, and sometimes another of these aspects of the law is specially referred to. Paul assures the Jews that they could not be justified by the works of the law, which was especially binding on them. He assures the Gentiles that they could not be justified by the law written on their hearts. He assures believers under the Gospel that they cannot be justified by works of the law binding on them. The reason given includes all possible works That reason is, that all human obedience is imperfect; all men are sinners: and the law demands perfect obedience. (Gal. iii. 10.) Therefore, it is that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified.” (Rom. iii. 20.)

3. The law of which Paul speaks is the law which says, “Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. vii. 7); the law which is spiritual (ver. 14); which is “holy, and just, and good” (ver. 12); the law of which the great command is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself. Besides, what are called works of the law are in Titus iii. 5 called “works of righteousness.” Higher works than these there cannot be. The Apostle repudiates any ground of confidence in his “own righteousness” (Phil. iii. 9), i.e., own excellence, whether habitual or actual. He censures the Jews because they went about to establish their own righteousness, and would not submit to the righteousness of God. (Rom. x. 3.) From these and many similar passages it is clear that it is not any one or more specific kinds of work which are excluded from the ground of justification, but all works, all personal excellence of every kind.

4. This is still further evident from the contrast constantly presented between faith and works. We are not justified by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ. (Gal. ii. 16, and often elsewhere.) It is not one kind of works as opposed to another; legal as opposed to evangelical; natural as opposed to gracious; moral as opposed to ritual; but works of every kind as opposed to faith.

5 The same is evident from what is taught of the gratuitous nature of our justification. Grace and works are antithetical. “To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” (Rom. iv. 4.) “If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” (Rom. xi. 6.) Grace of necessity excludes works of every kind, and more especially those of the highest kind, which might have some show of merit. 139But merit of any degree is of necessity excluded, if our salvation be by grace.

6. When the positive ground of justification is stated, it is always declared to be not anything done by us or wrought in us, but what was done for us. It is ever represented as something external to ourselves. We are justified by the blood of Christ (Rom. v. 9); by his obedience (Rom. v. 19); by his righteousness (ver. 18). This is involved in the whole method of salvation. Christ saves us as a priest; but a priest does not save by making those who come to him good. He does not work in them, but for them. Christ saves us by a sacrifice; but a sacrifice is effectual, not because of its subjective effect upon the offerer, but as an expiation, or satisfaction to justice. Christ is our Redeemer; he gave himself as a ransom for many. But a ransom does not infuse righteousness. It is the payment of a price. It is the satisfaction of the claims of the captor upon the captive. The whole plan of salvation, therefore, as presented in the Bible and as it is the life of the Church, is changed, if the ground of our acceptance with God be transferred from what Christ has done for us, to what is wrought in us or done by us. The Romish theologians do not agree exactly as to whether habitual or actual righteousness is the ground of justification. Bellarmin says it is the former.156156De Justificatione, II. 15; Disputationes, edit. Paris, 1608, vol. iv. p. 820, a. He says, “Solam esse habitualem justitiam, per quam formaliter justi nominamur, et sumus: justitiam vero actualem, id est, opera vere justa justificare quidem, ut sanctus Jacobus loquitur, cum ait cap. 2 ex operibus hominem justificari, sed meritorie, non formaliter.” This he says is clearly the doctrine of the Council of Trent, which teaches,157157See Session vi. cap. 7. Causam formalem justificationis esse justitiam, sive caritatem, quam Deus unicuique propriam infundit, secundum mensuram dispositionum, et quæ in cordibus justificatorum innæret.” This follows also, he argues, from the fact that the sacraments justify,158158Bellarmin, ut supra, p. 820, b. per modum instrumenti ad infusionem justitiæ habitualis.” This, however, only amounts to the distinction, already referred to, between the first and second justification. The infusion of righteousness renders the soul inherently righteous; then good works merit salvation. The one is the formal, the other the meritorious cause of the sinner’s justification. But according to the Scriptures, both habitual and actual righteousness, both inherent grace and its fruits are excluded from any share in the ground of our justification.


7. This still further and most decisively appears from the grand objection to his doctrine which Paul was constantly called upon to answer. That objection was, that if our personal goodness or moral excellence is not the ground of our acceptance with God, then all necessity of being good is denied, and all motive to good works is removed. We may continue in sin that grace may abound. This objection has been reiterated a thousand times since it was urged against the Apostles. It seems so unreasonable and so demoralizing to say as Paul says, Romans iii. 22, that so far as justification is concerned there is no difference between Jew and Gentile; between a worshipper of the true God and a worshipper of demons; between the greatest sinner and the most moral man in the world, that men have ever felt that they were doing God service in denouncing this doctrine as a soul-destroying heresy. Had Paul taught that men are justified for their good moral works as the Pelagians and Rationalists say; or for their evangelical obedience as the Remonstrants say; or for their inherent righteousness and subsequent good works as the Romanists say, there would have been no room for this formidable objection. Or, if through any misapprehension of his teaching, the objection had been urged, how easy had it been for the Apostle to set it aside. How obvious would have been the answer, ‘I do not deny that really good works are the ground of our acceptance with God. I only say that ritual works have no worth in his sight, that He looks on the heart; or, that works done before regeneration have no real excellence or merit; or, that God is more lenient now than in his dealing with Adam; that He does not demand perfect obedience, but accepts our imperfect, well-meant endeavours to keep his holy commandments.’ How reasonable and satisfactory would such an answer have been. Paul, however, does not make it. He adheres to his doctrine, that our own personal moral excellence has nothing to do with our justification; that God justifies the ungodly, that He receives the chief of sinners. He answers the objection in deed, and answers it effectually; but his answer supposes him to teach just what Protestants teach, that we are justified without works, not for our own righteousness, but gratuitously, without money and without price, solely on the ground of what Christ has done for us. His answer is, that so far from its being true that we must be good before we can be justified, we must be justified before we can be good; that so long as we are under the curse of the law we bring forth fruit unto death; that it is 141not until reconciled unto God by the death of his Son, that we bring forth fruit unto righteousness; that when justified by the righteousness of Christ, we are made partakers of his Spirit; being justified we are sanctified; that union with Christ by faith secures not only the imputation of his righteousness to our justification, but the participation of his life unto our sanctification, so that as surely as He lives and lives unto God, so they that believe on Him shall live unto God; and that none are partakers of the merit of his death who do not become partakers of the power of his life. We do not, therefore, he says, make void the law of God. Yea, we establish the law. We teach the only true way to become holy; although that way appears foolishness unto the wise of this world, whose wisdom is folly in the sight of God.

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