Archive for the ‘Historical Reformed Theology’ Category

Francis Turretin on the Use of Faith in Justification

October 21, 2008

Today we will continue with the thought of Francis Turretin on the use of faith in justification. In this section he is giving “proof that the act of believing is not our righteousness.”

Two things therefore must be done by us here. First, negatively (kat’ arsin), the false mode of the justification of faith (introduced by the Socinians and Romanists) must be removed. Second, affirmatively (kata thesin) true and genuine sense must be established. As to the former, faith or the act of believing is not considered as our righteousness with God by a gracious acceptation: (a) because what is only the instrument for receiving righteousness cannot be our righteousness itself formally. Now faith holds here only the relation (schesin) of an instrument, as is evident both from its proper act (which is instrumental and consists in the reception of Christ [Jn. 1:12] and the acceptance of righteousness [Rom. 5:17] and of the remission of sins [Acts 26:18]); and from the subordination of the causes of justification to the same effect (to wit, the grace of God, the redemption of Christ and faith). This is alluded to by Paul in Rom. 3:24 where faith cannot sustain any other meaning than that of an instrument, since the grace of God holds the relation of an efficient principle and the redemption of Christ that of the meritorious cause.

We started this line of thought by setting out John Owen’s five ways that faith can be used. When we say that justification is by faith alone, something is meant or intended regarding how faith is involved in justification. Here are the five ways that faith can be used: 1. It is used as an instrument. 2. It is a condition. 3. It is a causa sine qua non. The term sine qua non means “without which, not” and is something that is absolutely essential. The causa refers to a cause and so faith is seen as a cause that is utterly essential. 4. It prepares and disposes men to receive justification. 5. It merits justification in a congruous way. Turretin and Owen consider that faith must be thought of as an instrument of justification in order for justification to be by grace alone. In the previous paragraph Turretin’s words stand against faith being a condition, a causa sine qua non, and that it merits justification.

When we think of the words “by faith” in justification by faith alone, if we are going to attach any meaning to the words in the statement as a whole then “by faith” has to be understood in some way. Faith is either an instrument which receives Christ and grace or it has an active role in justification. Faith either receives righteousness as a free gift of God or it fulfills the condition of God and is in and of itself counted as righteousness. The texts that Turretin brings out are quite powerful in showing that faith is an instrument alone. John 1:12-13 show this clearly: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” In these verses receiving and believing are seen as the same thing. Christ is received by faith rather than coming as a result of anything else that faith is or does. Romans 5:17 shows that righteousness is a gift by grace rather than caused in some way by faith: “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”

So far we see that Christ is received by faith and that grace and righteousness are received. In other words, righteousness is not the same thing as faith. The righteousness of Christ and grace are received by faith rather than faith being counted righteous in and of itself. What we must see is the disorder that other views of faith bring into the Gospel of grace alone. If faith is something other than an instrument that receives, then faith is the efficient cause of justification rather than grace alone. If faith is something other than an instrument alone, then the redemption of Christ does not procure salvation but faith has some ability to do so. This makes faith to merit salvation in some way and to some degree rather than Christ alone. If faith itself is our righteousness, then we have earned righteousness by coming up with faith rather than our righteousness coming as a free gift when the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers. Romans 3:24 shows the place of faith when it ascribes all causes to grace, redemption, and Christ: “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” This shows us that when some say they believe in justification by faith alone, they think of faith as a work that they do. The Bible teaches that the only thing that faith does in is to be an instrument to receive Christ and His righteousness as all grace. If faith is anything but an instrument that receives grace apart from any work at all, the Gospel is not of Christ alone and it is not of grace alone. It would be Christ plus our faith or grace plus the work of faith. This is not only unacceptable, it is a different gospel which is no gospel at all.

Faith that Saves

October 18, 2008

We continue wrestling with the meaning of sola fide and what the Reformation teaching of justification by faith alone means. In the last two posts we looked at some of the thinking of Francis Turretin on this subject. He gave us the thought of the Socinians, Remonstrants (Arminians), and the Roman Catholics on this issue, which set out the contrast very well. The historical Protestant view has been that faith is the instrument by which the grace of God in Christ comes. It is not that faith is something that man has to work up and then act in his own power or even with some help from God, but that faith demonstrates the nothingness and inability in man. As Scripture teaches us, “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace” (Romans 4:16). Faith is that which receives grace rather than that by which man works to obtain righteousness.

It is true that a faith that saves is a faith that works. But notice something about the previous statement. In former times a faith that saved was a type of faith that was given by God and all it did was to receive grace. But it is said to be a faith that saves, though indeed the faith did not save but received Christ Himself and His grace which saves. To be consistent with that and with Scripture which speaks of works that flow from love, the faith which works is the faith which receives Christ Himself and His grace and so the works that flow from the person who has faith are really the works of the life of Christ in that person. Justification comes through faith because faith is the instrument through which Christ and His grace come. When a person is justified that person has the life of Christ in him or her as his or her life. That life must be expressed and yet it will only be expressed through the grace that is received. Faith is what receives grace, so faith has nothing to do with works that merit any favor before God.

Here is more from Turretin on the subject:

“However the orthodox differ wholly from them [Socinians, Remonstrants, Romanists]. They teach that faith is the organic and instrumental cause of our justification and that justification is ascribed to it, not properly and by itself (inasmuch as it is a work or as if it was the righteousness itself by which we are justified before God; or as if by its own worth or by the indulgence of God it deserves justification in whole or in part), but improperly and metonymically (inasmuch as Christ’s righteousness, which faith apprehends, is the foundation and meritorious cause on account of which we are justified). So that it is said to justify relatively and organically; relatively because the object of faith is our true righteousness before God; organically because faith is the instrument for receiving on our part and for applying to ourselves, that righteousness.”

This is a statement of massive importance that will help to clear the fog that surrounds the use of faith in justification. First, he says that the orthodox do not just differ a little from the other groups, but that they differ wholly from them. The teaching of those groups on the use of faith is so different from the orthodox that their view of justification is then wholly different. We must not miss the importance of this. Second, the orthodox teach that justification is indeed ascribed to faith, but in a wholly different way than the others (Socinians, etc) do. The others say that faith is that in and of itself which fulfills what God requires or that faith is that by which people can work to obtain righteousness which fulfils what God requires. In contrast to that Turretin says that orthodox position is that faith is said to justify because it is the object of faith that justifies. The sinner is said to be justified by faith, then, because the object of faith (Christ Himself) is our true righteousness before God. Christ Himself and His righteousness are the objects of faith and so one is said to be justified by faith.

This is exciting stuff from Turretin as the Gospel of grace alone and Christ alone opens into glorious view. Sinners are justified by faith alone because faith is the instrument of receiving Christ and His grace. Faith does not work but receives Christ and His righteousness by faith. When Christ and His righteousness are received, righteousness has been applied. Christ is united to the believer through faith and so when Christ is united and married to the believer, the believer has the very righteousness of Christ applied through faith. Instead of the Socinian and Arminian view which teach us that faith is what God requires instead of keeping the Law, we have faith as what is needed for Christ who alone can keep the righteous law of God perfectly. The object of faith is what is needed rather than faith itself being a work. Instead of the Roman Catholic view which teaches a faith that works and is then declared righteous, the orthodox and biblical view is that a sinner is declared just by faith because the sinner has received Christ and is given His perfect righteousness. How utterly glorious is Christ and His grace.

The Roman Catholic View of Faith

October 16, 2008

Last time we began to look at what Francis Turretin (1623-1687) had to say on the subject. He was a giant in his day and was truly got at the heart of Reformed theology in his day and in all times. In his Sixteenth Topic (Justification) and the seventh question of that Topic he writes this: “Does faith justify us properly and by itself or only relatively and instrumentally?” He takes his stand that it is instrumentally and denies that faith justifies us by itself in opposition to the Socinians, Remonstrants (Arminians), and the Romanists. Last time the quotes from him focused on what the Socinians said and what the Remonstrants (old way of referring to Arminians) agreed with. The next quote is what Turretin said about the Romanists (Roman Catholic):

The Romanists hold that faith is the disposing and cause sine qua non, which not only disposes to righteousness, but also begins and merits righteousness itself. “If anyone says that the wicked are justified by faith alone, so that he understands nothing else to be required to cooperate for obtaining the grace of justification and is necessary from no part, to be prepared and disposed with the motion of his own will, let him be accursed” (Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 9*, Schroeder, p. 43). Bellarmine says, “Faith justifies as the beginning and root of justification because it is the first motion towards God, for it behooves one approaching God to believe that God is” (De Justificatione, * 1.13 Opera [1858], 4:479). This opinion is founded upon a false hypothesis-as if justification consists in an infusion of righteousness and is a certain physical motion which demands previous dispositions in the subject before the introduction of the form.

What we must see is that Turretin is giving us direct quotes from the Council of Trent and then a major theologian of Roman Catholicism at the time. Regardless of how people spin this today, this is still the official position of Roman Catholicism. They cannot say that this is wrong or they will admit that their councils can be wrong and so the whole system would fall like a house of cards in a tornado. Their official position is that sinners are justified by faith. Many Protestants would loudly amen that and say our differences are in other areas. But again, notice their use of faith. They believe that faith disposes and is the cause without which one begins and merits righteousness. Their use of faith is that one must believe in God as a first motion toward God and then a true faith receives grace and works to be declared righteousness on the basis of the faith which obtains righteousness by works. Grace is what helps people work for righteousness, but the righteousness does not come as a free (uncaused by man in any way) act of God. It boils down to a system of works though that is not what they say. However, in their system faith is the cause of justification in that it is faith that works and merits the righteousness that is needed to be saved.

The distinction between the teaching of the Reformation and Roman Catholicism is startling in the contrast. Yet in the modern day people just smile and think those who cry out that there is a problem are just being proud or non-gracious. But there is only one Gospel and we must understand that Gospel. Now it is time to get nasty again. In the previous post, Turretin’s words on Socinian and the Remonstrants (Arminian) views were given. What I would like to point out is that the Socinian and Arminian view is very close to the Roman Catholic view in its own way. Both, however, deny that faith is an instrument of God which receives salvation as a totally free gift of grace.

“For the Socinians maintain that faith of the act of believing is the cause of our justification so that there is no other immediate and formal righteousness by which we are just before God than our faith; also justification is a universal affection of faith-‘Not because it is considered such by the gracious acceptation of God; by which it pleased him to reckon faith for perfect righteousness, or for perfect righteousness, or for a perfect fulfillment of the law, no otherwise than formally under the legal covenant, the perfect obedience of the law was that universal righteousness upon which life depended.'”

Rome believes that faith is needed to be justified because it is by faith that the sinner does his good works in order to merit righteousness and so be declared just. God’s covenant demands this. The Socinian and Arminian position sees faith as that which fulfills the covenant of God. In other words, all that God requires is for a person to have faith and once a person has faith that person has done all that God requires. Both positions have the fulfillment of the covenant by the work or works of the human being. Both positions have human beings using faith to do something that has not been earned or purchased by Christ. These positions deny the true meaning of “by faith alone” because they deny the truth of grace alone and Christ alone.

The Instrumental Use of Faith

October 14, 2008

We are continuing to look at what sola fide means in terms of justification. There are many ideas about the use of faith in justification, and we are looking at those. We have been looking at John Owen’s thoughts on five ways that people say faith is used. The first (used as an instrument) is considered to be the biblical one by the Reformed and evangelical people at least since the Reformation. William Cunningham, speaking of faith as an instrument, puts it this way: “as justifying simply as it is the appointed means by or through which men individually receive or lay hold of the righteousness of Christ,–was that which was taken by all the Reformers, and which has been ever since held by almost all the Protestants who have honestly and cordially embraced the theology of the Reformation.”

In other words, men who were considered to be Reformed in history did not teach that just because a person ascribes to justification by faith alone did not mean that they believed the historical and biblical teaching of justification by faith alone. The little word “by” teaches us that it is vital to know the truth of how faith is to be used in justification in order to protect justification by grace alone. Either the word “by” is used to mean that faith is the instrument in justification by grace alone through faith alone or it means something else. Again, this is not just some theological game of semantics, playing with words, or splitting hairs, this gets at the very essential part of the Gospel itself. We must always remember that there is only one Gospel.

What does this mean? It means that to believe in justification by faith alone as the older writers do is to defend faith as an instrument that God uses in justifying the sinner. It also shows the great danger of Arminians and the Reformed alike who do not understand, teach, or evangelize with the historical view of faith in mind. One can be vociferously Reformed in many ways and yet miss this point almost entirely. Yet it is utterly vital to the biblical teaching of grace alone and Christ alone. If justification is the hinge by which the Church stands or falls, then the use of faith as an instrument rather than the other views is the hinge on which the hinge itself turns.

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) was a giant in his day and his writings are still among the best available on the theology of Scripture. In his Sixteenth Topic (Justification) and the seventh question of that Topic he writes this: “Does faith justify us properly and by itself or only relatively and instrumentally?” He takes his stand that it is instrumentally and denies that faith justifies us by itself in opposition to the Socinians, Remonstrants (Arminians), and the Romanists.

However, it is not controverted whether faith justifies-for Scripture so clearly asserts this that no one dares to deny it. Rather we inquire regarding the manner in which it justifies, in describing which there is an amazing discrepancy of opinions… All our opponents agree in this-that faith justifies properly and by itself and so is our very righteousness-but with some differences. For the Socinians maintain that faith of the act of believing is the cause of our justification so that there is no other immediate and formal righteousness by which we are just before God than our faith; also justification is a universal affection of faith-“Not because it is considered such by the gracious acceptation of God; by which it pleased him to reckon faith for perfect righteousness, or for perfect righteousness, or for a perfect fulfillment of the law, no otherwise than formally under the legal covenant, the perfect obedience of the law was that universal righteousness upon which life depended” (as Socinus, De Iesu Christo Servatore [1594] frequently expresses it… The Remonstrants [Arminians] agreed with them on this point in their Confession, c. 21+ (cf. The Confession or Declaration of the…Remonstrants 18* [1676], p. 211).

The widespread cry in our day is that as long as people believe in justification by faith they are fine. There are still some who will stand for justification by faith alone. But even then the field is thinned down even more when we try to wrestle with the use of faith in justification. As Turretin pointed out, all the positions hold to justification by faith. That is beyond any real controversy with those who have any respect for Scripture at all. But despite the difficult language, notice how he sets out the difference in how people use faith. These positions are not just of words, they are conceptually an infinite distance apart. The Gospel in our day is maligned by many in the Reformed camp as well because they don’t struggle with the instrumental use of faith. They tell people to believe as if that is an intellectual act of believing some facts. It is not. It is a heart that has turned from trust and hope in its own ability to believe or do anything else to be saved and receive Christ Himself by grace alone.

The Reformation View of Justification

October 11, 2008

We are looking at what sola fide means. We are now looking at some of the issues that John Owen raised concerning faith. When someone says “justification by faith alone” we usually have no idea of what the person means by that. Each word in that phrase can be taken in so many ways. Our view of God and our view of Christ and of grace determine who we will view those things. Owen shows at least five ways men “express
what concerneth the use of faith.” He goes on to say that “all these notions of the use of faith are suited and
accommodated unto the opinions of men concerning the nature and principal causes of justification.” The five uses of faith that Owen gave are listed below. Last time we looked at what it means to use faith as an instrument.

  1. It is used as an instrument.
  2. It is a condition.
  3. It is a causa sine qua non. The term sine qua non means “without which, not” and is something that is absolutely essential. The causa refers to a cause and so faith is seen as a cause that is utterly essential.
  4. It prepares and disposes men to receive justification.
  5. It merits justification in a congruous way.

Last time I stated that from the Reformation until the time of John Owen (Owen defended the historical Reformed thought on this) faith was viewed as an instrument in justification. Let me quote from the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), and then the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (1689 BCF).

Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone. (WLC 70)

Those who God effectually calleth he also freely justifieth, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any things wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s 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. (WCF XI.I)

Those thus justified receive and rest by faith Christ’s righteousness; and this faith they have, not of themselves, but as the gift of God. (1689 BCF 11.1)

But the principal acts of saving faith relate in the first instance to Christ as the believer accepts, receives and rests upon Him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life; and all by virtue of the covenant of grace. (1689 BCF 14.2)

In all of the quotes above (in their own context) justification comes by faith alone and faith is what receives Christ and grace and so the sinner is justified by Christ and His grace which is received by faith. In each one justification and faith are explicitly set out as what they are and what they are not. It is not anything that a person does or that is worked in a person, but justification is totally and absolutely purchased by Jesus Christ. It is true that in some way faith is worked in a person. The context of what is said here is in the context of the Council of Trent which teaches that God justifies sinners through faith. The faith is said to work by grace and so when the grace has worked in the sinner and the sinner responds by works of faith the sinner is declared just. The Westminster divines were repudiating that. Justification is the work of Jesus Christ alone and it is given by grace alone and received by faith alone. Since the only thing that faith does is receive grace and it is a gift of God, it is an instrument that God uses to save sinners. God only saves sinners when they are saved by Christ alone and by His grace alone. This only happens when they do utterly nothing for salvation but receive Christ by grace. A true faith receives and trusts in Christ alone and not itself or its own faith in any way. True faith looks to Christ and His grace and rests in that.

Faith is the Instrument of God in Salvation

October 9, 2008

In the previous post I set out a quote from John Owen where he shows at least five ways men “express what concerneth the use of faith.” He goes on to say that “all these notions of the use of faith are suited and accommodated unto the opinions of men concerning the nature and principal causes of justification.” He spent a fair amount of time and ink showing that the way we conceive our use of faith in justification is where the real controversy consists. While this may sound like an archaic disputation or some way to split theological hairs to modern ears, this gets at the heart of justification by faith alone. Unless we understand the way that faith is used in justification, we might miss the real issue of justification. This is not some side issue; it is rather the very heart of it all. I will repeat the five uses of faith (paraphrased or condensed) that Owen listed in his works.

  1. It is used as an instrument.
  2. It is a condition.
  3. It is a causa sine qua non. The term sine qua non means “without which, not” and is something that is absolutely essential. The causa refers to a cause and so faith is seen as a cause that is utterly essential.
  4. It prepares and disposes men to receive justification.
  5. It merits justification in a congruous way.

From the Reformation until the time of John Owen faith was seen to be the instrumental cause of justification. But even then we must be careful because that is also used in different ways. Even the term “instrument” can be used in different ways and the word “cause” can be used in different ways. The term “instrumental cause” goes back to Aristotle who set out five distinctions between causes. This is what has been used to set this out since the time of the Reformation and so it is a time honored approach. We will use a chair made by a craftsman as the example.

Material Cause: It is that out of which something is made. The material cause of the chair is the wood.
Formal Cause: It is the design or idea that is followed in making something. The formal cause of the chair is the plan that the craftsman followed in making the chair.
Final Cause: The purpose for which the chair was made. The final cause of the chair was to sit on.
Efficient Cause: This is the agent that is causing the chair to be made. The efficient cause of the chair is the craftsman himself who is building the chair.
Instrumental Cause: This is the instrument by which something is made. The instrumental cause of the chair is the tools of the craftsman.

Using the term “instrumental cause” in this way can be misleading. It still sounds as if faith is either created or does something in creating something else. What this does is point to a particular type of cause rather than others. Faith is an instrument, but in whose hands is the instrument? Faith is the instrument of God to give the grace of salvation. While faith is something that man has, it is still a gift of God and in the hands of God (“help my unbelief”). This issue is utterly and extremely vital for the Gospel of grace alone. While it may seem tedious, we simply must get this correct or we will have a wrong understanding of the Gospel.

Let us look at the term in light of medical help to a clinically dead person. Let us imagine that an ambulance arrives at a hospital emergency room with a person that is clinically dead. This is simply to say that the person’s heart has stopped beating on its own and the person is not breathing on his or her own. The person is quickly attended to. Tubes are inserted and various procedures are done and the person’s heart begins to beat and s/he begins to breathe. In certain situations people are given shots for various reasons. The shot can be a stimulant or help thin the blood or other things. When the needle is inserted, the needle is an instrument by which the medication flows through. It is not the needle that does the work, but the medication does the work. The needle is an instrument in this case to get the medication to the patient. When a tube is inserted into a patient, the tube does not help the patient but is an instrument for other things that will help the patient. In one sense the patient is saved by the needle or the tube in the sense that it was the instrument by which the medication came through. Saving faith as an instrument is used (by analogy) in this way. Saving grace comes through faith and so we are said to be saved by faith or by means of the faith. Christ Himself dwells in the heart through faith and so we are said to be saved by faith. Faith is the instrument in justification but it is not what causes salvation to the sinner other than by receiving it. It is Christ alone who saves by grace alone and He is received by means of faith alone. Faith is the receiving instrument of salvation and is in the hands of Christ.

Different Views of Faith in Terms of Justification

October 7, 2008

In many ways we are at the heart of biblical and Reformed theology in the word “by” of justification by faith alone. As we saw in the last post, there is a massive amount of theology that this little word reflects. This also shows how deceptive it is for people to unite over the phrase “justification by faith alone” and say that all who believe it believe the Gospel. When the ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) pact came out in the mid-90’s, a few trumpeted how terrible that was because the real issue of justification was essentially ignored. Let us beware of doing the same thing in our day in a different way. Cunningham’s work as quoted in the previous post should make us acutely conscious that a massive amount of theological differences can be hidden in an agreement of a phrase. There are people today who agree that there is no essential difference between Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism. They are terribly deceived and monstrously wrong. What many of us must be awakened to, however, are the massive differences between what goes under the guise of Arminianism and then of Reformed people.

In Arminian Theology, the author Roger Olson wrote about the myths and realities of Arminianism. He believes that historical Arminianism is not understood that well and at least implies that much of what is thought of and about Arminianism is not truly Arminian. That is something that must be dealt with in our day. If what goes under the guise of Arminianism is not truly Arminian but is really Pelagianism, then unity with Arminianism in some quarters is really uniting with Pelagianism, which has been condemned by council after council and creed after creed. We have to know what people really mean before we can unite with them in any real way. It may be politically correct to gloss over true differences and be gracious to those who use orthodox words to hide true heresies, but it is not being faithful to the living God to do so.

In volume five of his works (pp. 107-108) John Owen sets out five ways that people approach or think of faith in terms of justification. He then goes on at length (15 pages or so) to discuss these differences. This has been a massively important focus in history. In the modern day we hear of a person that believes in justification by faith alone and we think that they must agree with the Gospel as taught in history. Indeed they agree with something taught in history, but it may not be the biblical Gospel. The quote that follows is from John Owen:

“When men have fixed their apprehensions about the principal matters in controversy, they express what concerneth the use of faith in an accommodation thereunto. Supposing such to be the nature of justification as they assert, it must be granted that the use of faith therein must be what they plead for. And if what is peculiar unto any in the substance of the doctrine be disproved, they cannot deny but that their notions about the use of faith do fall unto the ground. Thus is it with all who affirm faith to be either the instrument, or the condition, or the “causa sine qua non,” or the preparation and disposition of the subject, or a meritorious cause, by way of condecency or congruity, in and of our justification. For all these notions of the use of faith are suited and accommodated unto the opinions of men concerning the nature and principal causes of justification…I shall briefly speak unto these various conceptions about the use of faith in our justification, rather to find out and give an understanding of what is intended by them, than to argue about their truth and propriety, which depend on that wherein the substance if the controversy doth consist.”

Here we see what the Prince of Theologians from the Puritan era thought of how important it is to determine what people mean in their use of faith. What he says about the “use of faith” is precisely what the little word “by” in justification by faith alone is getting at. We are trying to look at how vital it is to see how faith is used in justification. Owen listed five headings (I say headings as people look at these five things differently) or ways that people use faith in justification. 1. It is used an instrument. 2. It is a condition. 3. It is a causa sine qua non. 4. It prepares and disposes men to receive justification. 5. It merits justification in a congruous way. Number 3, causa sine qua non, might require just a bit of a definition right off. The term sine qua non means “without which, not” and is something that is absolutely essential. The causa refers to a cause and so faith is seen as a cause that is utterly essential. How are we to determine which is the correct and biblical position? Owen takes many pages in an effort to be brief on the subject. We will look at these five uses of faith in future posts. For the moment, however, we can simply ask which one expresses the glory of God, the glory of God in Christ, and the glory of God in Christ by grace alone? That use of faith will be the biblical one.

Christ is the Sole Ground of Justification

October 5, 2008

As we continue our trek into the glories of sola fide, we must be constantly reminded that the fallen heart of human beings will fight the Gospel that is to the glory of God alone. Man always wants to leave something for him to do and at the least, that will be the deciding act or choice. The word “by” in justification by faith alone has stood in the writing and preaching of the Reformed as indicating that grace saves sinners by itself with no hope or cause within the sinner. William Cunningham said it this way in the second volume of his Historical Theology:

“We have good and sufficient grounds in Scripture for maintaining-first, the justification of the sinner is a purely gratuitous act of God, to the exclusion of all merit or desert on the part of the sinner himself; secondly, that the imputed righteousness of Christ is the sole ground, basis, or reason of the divine procedure in justifying a sinner,-the only thing to which God has respect or regard, as that on account of which He acts, in bestowing upon any one pardon and acceptance; and, thirdly, that faith in Jesus Christ is the only thing in men themselves, to the exclusion of all works, or mere obedience to law, to which their justification is ascribed, or which is represented as exerting, in any sense, anything like a causality or efficiency in obtaining for them pardon and acceptance at God’s hand” (pp. 68-69).

What we simply must see is the biblical theology applied with rigorous logic in the statements above. Justification of sinners is of grace and grace alone. When anything is credited to grace alone or accomplished and applied by grace alone, this is done without any merit or desert on the part of the sinner. Cunningham is using word upon word to show us the real nature of grace. When God acts by grace, it is by grace alone. By sheer definition of who God is and of what His grace is like, there is nothing that man is or can do regarding justification without making justification something other than God’s work by grace alone.

Cunningham then shows us what the sole ground, basis, or reason is for God to justify a sinner. It is Christ and His imputed righteousness alone. In the first point Cunningham shows us that there is nothing in man or that man can do to add to grace or move grace to justify. In the second part we see that Christ alone is the sole reason and basis for justification. He then moves to the third thing which in a sense is a conclusion of an argument. If we accept the fact that grace alone justifies which means that there is nothing that man is or can do to justify himself and that Christ alone is the only basis for justification at all, then the third point is seen with clarity. Faith in Jesus Christ is all that a person must have. However, it is not just that a person is to have some objective or subjective type of faith, but a person must have a true faith in the true Christ. A true faith in Jesus Christ by definition excludes all works, obedience to the law in the sense of any causality or efficiency in obtaining a pardon from God. The logic in applying these points is relentless and irresistible. They force us into a corner and we will either flee from the Gospel of Christ alone or we will bow in humble submission to it.

In the next paragraph and then following on for several pages Cunningham gets to the same issue that this BLOG has been dealing with. It has to do with the “by faith” in the phrase of justification by faith alone. Notice how in his statements listed above he has shown us how he sees that grace alone and Christ alone are linked to faith alone. But here is where people object and here is where true Pelagians true Arminians will object against the truly Reformed position. Again, the vital issue is over what Scripture says, but we must remember that Cunningham is giving us a condensed version of what he believes Scripture says. When people see the first two points as scriptural, they can go in different ways but in two central directions. In the first, they can simply deny that faith is necessary at all since there is nothing that man can do to merit or be the ground of justification and say that grace saves all human beings. The other primary direction is to manipulate what faith is to allow it to be an act of man but deny that it has merit or can provide a basis for the salvation of God. Cunningham understands this very well and says this: “men’s views of the place which faith holds, and the influence which it exerts, in the justification of sinners, are usually determined by the views they take of the other departments of this subject, and especially of the grounds or reasons on which God’s act in justification is based.” In other words, what we believe about faith in relation to justification will be determined by what we believe about God’s work in justification. To say it yet another way, our view of faith in justification is determined by our view of God, the work of Christ, and then of grace in justification. The little word “by” in justification by faith alone can hide terrible heresies of reflect the truth and love of the Gospel. It is a vital word to the teaching of the Gospel as it reflects a lot of doctrine under it.

The Glory of God in Justification

October 2, 2008

The issue in the past few posts has been on sola fide (faith alone), but even more of why faith alone must be seen in light of grace alone and Christ alone and to the glory of God alone. Some of these have focused on the word “by” which is key to the way many try to hide a work in the phrase of justification by faith alone and make justification out to be less than grace alone. Let me try to get at the issue in a different way for the moment by giving a magnificent quote from the second volume (p. 29) of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.

“Mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics. To be sure, the term ‘mystery’ (mustjhrion) in Scripture does not mean an abstract supernatural truth in the Roman Catholic sense. Yet Scripture is equally far removed from the idea that believers can grasp mysteries in a scientific sense. In truth, the knowledge that God has revealed of himself in nature and Scripture far surpasses human imagination and understanding. In that sense it is all mystery with which the science of dogmatics is concerned, for it does not deal with finite creatures, but from beginning to end looks past all creatures and focuses on the eternal and infinite One himself. From the very start of its labors, it faces the incomprehensible One. From him it derives its inception, for from him are all things. But also in the remaining loci, when it turns its attention to creatures, it views them only in relation to God as they exist from him and through him and for him [Rom. 11:36]. So then, the knowledge of God is the only dogma, the exclusive content, if the entire field of dogmatics. All the doctrines treated in dogmatics-whether they concern the universe, humanity, Christ, and so forth-are but the explication of the one central dogma of the knowledge of God. All things are considered in light of God, subsumed under him, traced back to him as the starting point. Dogmatics is always called upon to ponder and describe God and God alone, whose glory is in creation and re-creation, in nature and grace, in the world and in the church. It is the knowledge of him alone that dogmatics must put on display.”

The doctrine of justification by faith alone must be seen in light of what dogmatics and all things are meant to do. We must look at what justification by faith alone means for who God is and the display of His glory first and foremost as the most important aspect in determining what it means. If we start or end with human beings, we will not see what the doctrine really is. Sinners are justified by faith alone must be taken into the very glories of God Himself in order to understand how sinners are really justified. Justification is what God does to display His glory. The word “by” must be seen in light of who God is and how He manifests His glory in this. The word “faith” must reflect a way that God shines His glory into the human soul that is devoid of human works. The word “alone” shows us that it is in truth God alone who glorifies Himself in the salvation of sinners. Justification by faith alone, when seen in the light of God being the one central dogma, is now turned from how we can protect human responsibility and free will at all costs to how can we show this teaching for what it is in shining forth the glory of God. Bavinck’s statement is simply beautiful in that it points us to the source and end of all things. It helps us to keep justification by faith alone in its proper perspective. When justification is seen in the light of God and His glory, many of the issues are then seen in the brightness of His glory.

The starting point for justification, or at least the point by which all things are judged relative to, is the character of God as revealed in Scripture. The truth of a doctrine is only seen and can only be judged as true relative to God Himself who is the true standard of all things. This is one important facet of Scripture alone because we can only know God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. This leads us to Christ alone because Christ is how God has shone Himself and His glory out. This leads us to grace alone because God shines His glory out in Christ by grace alone. God does not do what He does because of sinners doing something to obligate Him by, but because He is God and does all things out of love for Himself as triune. The doctrine of justification is primarily how God justifies sinners (Romans 4:5; 8:33). God saves to demonstrate His righteousness (Romans 3:25) and so that He would be just and justifier of those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). He saves to the praise of the glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:6). Salvation is not primarily about human beings, it is primarily about the glory of God. Therefore, justification must be seen in light of the glory of God because it is primarily about God. When we examine justification as if it is primarily about man and defending his rights, we are looking at it upside down and will be deceived for eternity.

Justification by Faith Alone: What Do You Mean by “by”?

September 28, 2008

The historical Protestant and biblical teaching on justification by faith alone is that it is by grace and is not by faith. It is obvious from the previous sentence that I have either left my senses, have no grasp of logic, have no sense of word usage, or that the word “by” is being used in different ways. When a sentence is written like that, the equivocation is set out with clarity. Clearly one can believe and make a statement that one believes in justification by faith alone and believe something differently about it than others do. A lot of heretics agree that justification is by faith. In fact, Roman Catholicism believes that human beings are justified by faith. In history they were ready to put Luther to death because he declared that justification was by faith alone. The battle between Rome and Luther (in this sense and at this point) was over the word “alone.” It is also true, however, that in many ways the battle was also over the word “by”. If we use the word “by” in a certain way, it is a contradiction to what the Reformation battle “alone” was over. The battle was over the teaching of salvation by grace alone because it was by Christ alone and to the glory of God alone. The word “by” can mean either “on account of” or “through.” If it means on account of, then the word “alone” takes on a totally different meaning than if “by” means “through. In fact, the Pharisees might have agreed to justification by faith and perhaps to faith alone if we defined things in a way that many define them today. Justification by faith alone is only God-centered and to the glory of God alone to the degree that we show how the words “by” and “alone” are meant to protect grace alone.

The old Puritan Robert Trail set this out quite clearly:

“If we say that faith in Jesus Christ is neither work, nor condition, nor qualification, in justification; but is a mere instrument, receiving (as an empty hand receives the freely given alms) the righteousness of Christ; and that, in its very act, it is a renouncing of things but the gift of grace; the fire is kindled.”

The fire being kindled that he spoke of is the accusation of being an Antinomian (against Law). It drives people to calling others this name when the true Gospel is preached. There is utterly nothing a man can do to save himself and that includes coming up with faith itself. This shows that Trail did not believe that a person was saved because they came up with faith, but they were saved by the grace of God alone through faith. Saving faith is when the soul renounces all other things but grace and receives grace. If at any point an individual speaks about or believes that faith in Christ is a work, some condition that the sinner must come up with, or is a qualification for justification, that person demonstrates that he does not understand the biblical doctrine of grace alone through faith alone.

Romans 4:16 tells us this: “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace.” We must go over and over this verse and drill it into the depths of our hearts. Whatever faith is, it is only biblical faith if it is in accordance with grace. We know that whatever is of grace cannot be of works because a work would make grace to be no longer grace (Romans 11:6). Faith cannot be a work but can only operate in the sphere of grace alone. In a recent book on justification the author said that the real battle in the Reformation was over faith alone and not grace. The truth of the matter (in my opinion) is that the Reformation was over the glory of God in all things and in particular salvation. Since the battle was over the glory of God, it was over the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. The reason that there were so many words and ink spilled over faith alone was directly related to the tenacity of Luther over salvation to the glory of God alone by Christ who saves by grace alone.

Behind and underneath many battles over words and doctrines is a real cause that is hidden. While there has been a form of unity reached between Arminians and Reformed people in some circles over the Gospel, there is no real peace at that point unless the Arminians are no longer Arminians or the Reformed people are no longer Reformed. The Arminian will believe in justification by faith alone as long as he can keep faith as the act of his own will. That is in direct conflict with what the Reformers taught about salvation by grace alone. There are also many Reformed people in our day who seem to forget that the doctrine of justification by faith alone was meant to defend grace alone. When Reformed people defend justification by faith alone in words and yet do not defend grace alone, they have stopped defending the doctrine that Luther was willing to die for even though they use the same words. If we really believe in the doctrine of depravity, then we know that sinners are saved by grace alone and not by any work or condition fulfilled by men. While the noise of theological verbiage is shooting down any precise notions of justification in the interest of false unity in our day, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is by grace alone. There is no true unity apart from the Gospel of Christ alone who saves by grace alone under any name.