« Prev 8. Relation of Faith to Justification. Next »

§ 8. Relation of Faith to Justification.

All who profess to be Christians admit the doctrine of justification by faith. There are different views, however, as to the relation between faith and justification, as has been already intimated.

1. Pelagians and rationalists teach that faith in God’s being and perfection, or in the great principles of moral and religious truth, is the source of that moral excellence on account of which we are accepted of God. It is perhaps only a different way of expressing the same idea, to say that God, in the case of Abraham, and, therefore, of other men, accepts the pious state of mind involved in the exercise of faith or confidence in God, in lieu of perfect righteousness.

2. Romanists make faith mere assent. It does not justify as a virtue, or as apprehending the offered righteousness of Christ. It is neither the formal nor the instrumental cause of justification, it is merely the predisposing or occasional cause. A man assents to the truth of Christianity, and to the more special truth that the Church is a divine institution for saving men. He therefore comes to the Church and receives the sacrament of baptism, by which, “ex opere operato,” a habit of grace, or spiritual life is infused into the soul, which is the formal cause of justification; i.e., it renders the soul inherently just or holy. In this sense the sinner may be said to be justified by faith. This is the first justification. After the man is thus rendered holy or regenerated, then the exercises of faith have real merit, and enter into the ground of his second justification, by which he becomes entitled to eternal life. But here faith stands on a level with other Christian graces. It is not the only, nor the most important ground of justification. It is in this view inferior to love, from which faith indeed derives all its virtue as a Christian grace. It is then “fides formata,” i.e., faith of which love s the essence, the principle which gives it character.


The Romish Doctrine.

According to the Romish scheme (1.) God is the efficient cause of justification, as it is by his power or supernatural grace that the soul is made just. (2.) Christ is the meritorious cause, as it is for his sake God grants this saving grace, or influence of the Spirit to the children of men. (3.) Inherent righteousness is the formal cause, since thereby the soul is made really just or holy. (4.) Faith is the occasional and predisposing cause, as it leads the sinner to seek justification (regeneration), and disposes God to grant the blessing. In this aspect it has the merit of congruity only, not that of condignity. (5.) Baptism is the essential instrumental cause, as it is only through or by baptism that inherent righteousness is infused or justification is effected. So much for the first justification. After this justification, which makes the sinner holy, then, (6.) Good works, all the fruits and exercises of the new life, have real merit and constitute the ground of the Christian’s title to eternal life.

The language of the Council of Trent on this subject is as follows: “Hujus justificationis causæ sunt, finalis quidem, gloria Dei et Christi, ac vita æterna: efficiens vero, misericors Deus, qui gratuito abluit et sanctificat, signans et ungens Spiritu promissionis sancto, . . . . meritoria autem dilectissimus unigenitus suus, Dominus noster, Jesus Christus, qui, cum essemus inimici, propter nimiam caritatem, qua dilexit nos, sua sanctissima passione in ligno crucis nobis justificationem [i.e., regeneration] meruit et pro nobis Deo Patri satisfecit: instrumentalis item, sacramentum baptismi, quod est sacramentum fidei, sine qua nulli unquam contigit justificatio: demum unica formalis causa est justitia Dei, non qua ipse justus est, sed qua nos justos facit: qua videlicet ab eo donati, renovamur spiritu mentis nostræ, et non modo reputamur, sed vere justi nominamur, et sumus, justitiam in nobis recipientes, unusquisque suam secundum mensuram, quam Spiritus Sanctus partitur singulis prout vult, et secundum propriam cujusque dispositionem et cooperationem.” Again, it is said: “Quæ enim justitia nostra dicitur, quia per eam nobis inhærentem justificamur; illa eadem Dei est, quia a Deo nobis infunditur per Christi meritum.175175Sess. VI. cap. 7, 16; Streitwolf, Libri Symbolici, Göttingen, 1846, vol. i. pp. 24, 25, 32. All this relates to the first justifications or regeneration, in which the soul passes from spiritual death to spiritual Life. Of the second justification, which gives a title to eternal life, Bellarmin says,176176De Justificatione, v. 1; Disputationes, Paris, 1608, p. 949, a.Habet communis catholicorum 167omnium sententia, opera bona justorum vere, ac proprie esse merita, et merita non cujuscunque præmii, sed ipsius vitæ æternæ.” The thirty-second canon of the Tridentine Council at this sixth session anathematizes any one who teaches a different doctrine. “Si quis dixerit, hominis justificati bona opera ita esse dona Dei, ut non sint etiam bona ipsius justificati merita; aut ipsum justificatum bonis operibus, quæ ab eo per Dei gratiam et Jesu Christi meritum, cujus vivum membrum est, fiunt, non vere mereri augmentum gratiæ, vitam æternam, et ipsius vitæ æternæ, si tamen in gratia decesserit, consecutionem, atque etiam gloriæ augmentum; anathema sit.” It appears from all this that, according to the doctrine of the Church of Rome, faith has no special or direct connection with justification, and that “justification by faith” in that Church means something entirely different from what is intended by those words in the lips of evangelical Christians.

Remonstrant View.

3. According to the Remonstrants or Arminians, faith is the ground of justification. Under the Gospel God accepts our imperfect obedience including faith and springing from it, in place of the perfect obedience demanded by the law originally given to Adam. There is one passage in the Bible, or rather one form of expression, which occurs in several places, which seems to favour this view of the subject. In Romans iv. 3, it is said, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness;” and again in ver. 22 of that chapter, and in Galatians iii. 6. If this phrase be interpreted according to the analogy of such passages as Romans ii. 26, “Shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?” it does mean that faith is taken or accepted for righteousness. The Bible, however, is the word of God and therefore self-consistent. Consequently if a passage admits of one interpretation inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible in other places, and of another interpretation consistent with that teaching, we are bound to accept the latter. This rule, simple and obvious as it is, is frequently violated, not only by those who deny the inspiration of the Scriptures, but even by men professing to recognize their infallible authority. They seem to regard it as a proof of independence to make each passage mean simply what its grammatical structure and logical connection indicate, without the least regard to the analogy of Scripture. This is unreasonable. In Genesis xv. we are told that Abraham lamented before the Lord that he was childless, and that one born in his house was  168to be his heir. And God said unto him, “This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels, shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them. And he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord: and He counted it to him for righteousness.” Taking this passage by itself, it is inferred that the object of Abraham’s faith was the promise of a numerous posterity. Supposing this to be true, which it certainly is not, what right has any one to assume that Abraham’s faith’s being imputed to him for righteousness, means anything more than when it is said that the zeal of Phinehas was imputed for righteousness (Ps. cvi. 31); or when in Deuteronomy xxiv. 13, it is said that to return a poor man’s pledge “shall be righteousness unto thee before the Lord thy God.” No one supposes that one manifestation of zeal, or one act of benevolence, is taken for complete obedience to the law. All that the phrase “to impute for righteousness” by itself means, according to Old Testament usage, is, to esteem as right, to approve. The zeal of Phinehas was right. Returning a poor man’s pledge was right. These were acts which God approved. And so He approved of Abraham’s faith. He gained the favour of God by believing. Now while this is true, far more, as the Apostle teaches, is true. He teaches, first, that the great promise made to Abraham, and faith in which secured his justification, was not that his natural descendants should be as numerous as the stars of heaven, but that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed; secondly, that the seed intended was not a multitude, but one person, and that that one person was Christ (Gal. iii. 16); and, thirdly, that the blessing which the seed of Abraham was to secure for the world was redemption. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: . . . . that the blessing ol Abraham (i.e., the promise made to Abraham) might come on” us. The promise made to Abraham, therefore, was redemption through Christ. Hence those who are Christ’s, the Apostle teaches, are Abraham’s seed and heirs of his promise. What, therefore, Abraham believed, was that the seed of the woman, the Shiloh, the promised Redeemer of the world, was to be born of him. He believed in Christ, as his Saviour, as his righteousness, and deliverer, and therefore it was that he was accepted as righteous, not for the merit of his faith, and not on the ground of faith, or by taking faith in lieu of righteousness, but because he received and rested on Christ alone for his salvation.


Unless such be the meaning of the Apostle, it is hard to see how there is any coherence or force in his arguments. His object is to prove that men are justified, not by works, but gratuitously; not for what they are or do, but for what is done for them. They are saved by a ransom; by a sacrifice. But it is absurd to say that trust in a ransom redeems, or is taken in place of the ransom; or that faith in a sacrifice, and not the sacrifice itself, is the ground of acceptance. To prove that such is the Scriptural method of justification, Paul appeals to the case of Abraham. He was not justified for his works, but by faith in a Redeemer. He expected to be justified as ungodly. (Rom. iv. 5.) This, he tells us, is what we must do. We have no righteousness of our own. We must take Christ for our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. In the immediately preceding chapter the Apostle had said we are justified by faith in the blood of Christ, as a propitiation for sin; and for him to prove this from the fact that Abraham was justified on account of his confiding, trusting state of mind, which led him to believe that, although a hundred years old, he should be the father of a numerous posterity, would be a contradiction.

Besides, it is to be remembered, not only that the Scriptures never say that we are justified “on account” of faith (διὰ πίστιν), but always “by,” or “through” faith (διὰ or ἐκ πίστεως or πίστει); but also that it is not by faith as such; not by faith in God, nor in the Scriptures; and not by faith in a specific divine promise such as that made to Abraham of a numerous posterity, or of the possession of the land of Canaan; but only by faith in one particular promise, namely, that of salvation through Christ. It is, therefore, not on account of the state of mind, of which faith is the evidence, nor of the good works which are its fruits, but only by faith as an act of trust in Christ, that we are justified. This of necessity supposes that He, and not our faith, is the ground of our justification. He, and not our faith, is the ground of our confidence. How can any Christian wish it to be otherwise? What comparison is there between the absolutely perfect and the infinitely meritorious righteousness of Christ, and our own imperfect evangelical obedience as a ground of confidence and peace!

This doctrine is moreover dishonouring to the Gospel. It supposes the Gospel to be less holy than the law. The law required perfect obedience; the Gospel is satisfied with imperfect obedience. And how imperfect and insufficient our best obedience is 170the conscience of every believer certifies. If it does not satisfy us, how can it satisfy God?

The grand objection, however, to this Remonstrant doctrine is to the relation between faith and justification, is that it is in direct contradiction to the plain and pervading teachings of the Word of God. The Bible teaches that we are not justified by works. This doctrine affirms that we are justified by works. The Bible teaches that we are justified by the blood of Christ; that it is for his obedience that the sentence of justification is passed on men. This doctrine affirms that God pronounces us righteous because of our own righteousness. The Bible from first to last teaches that the whole ground of our salvation or of our justification is objective, what Christ as our Redeemer, our ransom, our sacrifice, our surety, has done for us. This doctrine teaches us to look within, to what we are and to what we do, as the ground of our acceptance with God. It may safely be said that this is altogether unsatisfactory to the awakened conscience. The sinner cannot rely on anything in himself. He instinctively looks to Christ, to his work done for us as the ground of confidence and peace. This in the last resort is the hope of all believers, whatever their theory of justification may be. Whether Papist, Remonstrant, or Augustinian, they all cast their dying eyes on Christ. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Protestant Doctrine.

4. The common doctrine of Protestants on this subject is that faith is merely the instrumental cause of justification. It is the act of receiving and resting upon Christ, and has no other relation to the end than any other act by which a proffered good is accepted. This is clearly the doctrine of Scripture, (1.) Because we are constantly said to be justified by, or through faith. (2.) Because the faith which justifies is described as a looking, as a receiving, as a coming, as a fleeing for refuge, as a laying hold of, and as a calling upon. (3.) Because the ground to which our justification is referred, and that on which the sinner’s trust is placed, is declared to be the blood, the death, the righteousness, the obedience of Christ. (4.) Because the fact that Christ is a ransom, a sacrifice, and as such effects our salvation, of necessity supposes that the faith which interests us in the merit of his work is a simple act of trust. (5.) Because any 171other view of the case is inconsistent with the gratuitous nature of justification, with the honour of Christ, and with the comfort and confidence of the believer.

« Prev 8. Relation of Faith to Justification. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection