The Glory and Comfort of Free Justification

Our Reasonable Faith These are some comforting words on justification sola fide:

“The benefit of justification through faith alone has in it a rich comfort for the Christian.  The forgiveness of his sins, the hope for the future, [and] the certainty concerning eternal salvation do not depend upon the degree of holiness which he has achieved in life, but are firmly rooted in the grace of God and in the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

“If these benefits had to derive their certainty from the good works of the Christian they would always, even unto death, remain unsure, for even the holiest of men have only a small beginning of perfect obedience.  Accordingly, believers would be constantly torn between fear and anxiety, they could never stand in the freedom with which Christ has set them free, and, nevertheless being unable to live without certainty, they would have to take recourse to church and priest, to altar and sacrament, to religious rites and practices.  Such indeed is the condition of thousands of Christians both inside and outside of the Roman church.  They do not understand the glory and the comfort of free justification.”

“But the believer whose eye has been opened to the riches of this benefit, sees the matter differently.  He has come to the humble acknowledgement of good works, whether these consist of emotional excitements, of soul experiences, or of external deeds, can never be the foundation but only the fruit of faith.  His salvation is fixed outside of himself in Christ Jesus and his righteousness, and therefore can never again waver.  His house is built upon the rock, and therefore it can stand the vehemence of the rain, the floods, and the winds” (p. 465-6).

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith.

shane lems

10 thoughts on “The Glory and Comfort of Free Justification”

  1. Great quotes! If any of your readers do not have anything by Bavinck I highly recommend this volume, Our Reasonable Faith. It may be the best place to begin to learn why so many value his works. My copy of this is a treasured gift given to me on my 31st birthday (1981), and signed with notes of appreciation by 20 fellow members of a church I was joined to for some years. I was first introduced to him 4 years prior to that when in 1977 The Banner of Truth Trust reprinted his The Doctrine of God, trans., ed. and outlined by William Hendriksen, as part of their Students Reformed Theological Library. This latter work was originally part of the 2nd of the 4 volumes in his Reformed Dogmatics (expensive; currently $121.64 on Amazon, $149.95 on Logos). The reprint of The Doctrine of God generated some excitement since it had not been available in English translation for 26 years since the 1951 printing by Eerdmans was exhausted, and very few works by him were available in English at that time. The translation and publication of the completed Reformed Dogmatics took 12 years, and was not completed until quite recently (1996-2008).

    Here are a selection of Bavinck quotes to add to those you posted above, that although mostly unrelated, may whet appetites for Bavinck!

    “The doctrine of the perspicuity of Holy Scripture…means only that the truth, the knowledge of which is necessary to everyone for salvation, though not spelled out with equal clarity on every page of Scripture, is nevertheless presented throughout all of Scripture in such a simple and intelligible form that a person concerned about the salvation of his or her soul can easily, by personal reading and study, learn to know that truth from Scripture without the assistance and guidance of the church and the priest. The way of salvation, not as it concerns the matter itself but as it concerns the mode of transmission, has been clearly set down there for the reader desirous of salvation. While that reader may not understand the “how” of it, the “that” is clear.”
    – Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols., Vol. 1: Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), pg. 477.

    “Experience is crucial to all religion, but in Christianity it must be prompted by the Word of God, accompany and follow faith, not precede it, and always be subject to correction by Scripture. Scripture, not experience, is the norm for our faith.”
    – Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols., Vol. 1: Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), pp. 499-500.

    “The gospel is not to the liking of human nature, not a ready match for the needs of people as they themselves picture those needs. Outside of revelation human beings do not even know themselves.”
    – Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols., Vol. 1: Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), pg. 552.

    “It therefore requires a certain effort not to believe in a personal God: “No one disbelieves the existence of God except the person to whom God’s existence is not convenient.” There are no atheists so thoroughly sure of their unbelief as to be willing to die a martyr’s death for it. Since atheism is abnormal and unnatural, based not on intuitions but on inferential proofs and fallible reasoning, it is never sure of its causes. The arguments for the existence of God may be weak, but in any case they are stronger than those advanced for its denial. It is even impossible to prove that there is no God. To accomplish that feat a person would have to be omniscient and omnipresent, that is, to be God!”
    – Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2: God and Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004) pg. 59.

    “True religion can be satisfied with nothing less than God himself. In Christ God himself comes to us and in the Spirit he communicates himself to us.”
    – Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)

    “Gratitude and joy drove them to do good works before the thought that they had to do them even crossed their mind.”
    – Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)

    “Regeneration must precede faith. If salvation rests in God’s will and not in the human will,that order is inviolable.”
    – Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)

    “Ordinary politics sometimes has its sordid side; politics in church-affairs always has.”
    – Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), spoken to some students, and cited by William Hendriksen in his “Translator’s Preface” to The Doctrine of God, pg. 6.

    “My learning does not help me now; neither does my Dogmatics; faith alone saves me.”
    – Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), uttered on his death-bed, and cited by William Hendriksen in his “Translator’s Preface” to The Doctrine of God, pg. 5.


  2. p 277, Bavinck, A Reasonable Faith–”The gospelrealizes itself in a way which fully honors man’s rational and moral nature. It is based on the counsel of God, yes, and nothing may be subtracted from that fact…. But that will is not a necessity, a destiny, which imposes itself on man from without, but is, rather, the will of the Creator of heaven and earth, One who cannot repudiate His own work in creation or providence, and who cannot treat the human being He has created as though it were a stock or stone…. This accounts for the fact that the gospel, which really makes no demands and lays down no conditions, nevertheless comes to us in the form of a commandment, admonishing us to faith and repentance. The gospel covenant is pure grace, and nothing else, and excludes all works. It gives what it demands, and fulfills what it prescribes. The Gospel is sheer good tidings, not demand but promise, not duty but gift

    Bavinck: As the internal call directly and immediately, without a time lapse, results in “habitual faith,” so also does this faith include from the very beginning of its existence the assurance that not only to others but to me also forgiveness of sins has been granted. This assurance does not need to be added through a special revelation, as asserted by Rome.

    When the Scriptures say of this justification in “a concrete sense” that it takes place by and through faith, it does not intend to say that it is produced and wrought through that faith, since Jesus Christ is all our righteousness and all benefits of grace are the fruits of his labor and of his labor alone; they are entirely contained in his person and are not in any need of any addition on our part. Saving faith directs our heart from the very beginning away from ourselves and unto God’s mercy in Christ.

    Many have in later years, when the confessional power of the Reformation weakened, entered the way of self-examination, in order to be assured of the sincerity of their faith and their salvation. Thus was the focus shifted from the promise of God to the experience of the pious.

    It is not we who approach the judgment of God, after self-examination, with the sincerity of our faith, in order to receive there the forgiveness of our sins; God does not sit in judgment by himself in heaven to hear the parties and to pronounce sentence…God himself comes to us in the gospel. The foundation of faith lie outside ourselves in the promise of God; whoever builds thereupon shall not be ashamed.

    It is possible for us to conceive of faith at the same time as a receptive organ and as an active force. If justification in every respect comes about after faith, faith becomes a condition, an activity, which must be performed by man beforehand, and it cannot be purely receptive. But if the righteousness, on the ground of which we are justified, lies wholly outside of us in Christ Jesus, then faith is not a “cause.”

    Faith is not an instrument of justification, for it stands in relation to justification not as, for example, the eye to seeing or the ear to hearing. Faith is not a condition, upon which, nor an instrument or organ, through which we receive this benefit, but it is the acceptance itself of Christ and all his benefits, as He presents Himself to us through word and Spirit, and it includes therefore also the consciousness, that He is my Lord and I am his possession.

    Faith is therefore not an instrument in the proper sense, of which man makes use in order to accept Christ, but it is a sure knowledge and a solid confidence which the Holy Spirit works in the heart and through which He persuades and assures man that he, not withstanding all his sins, has part in Christ and in all his benefits.

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  3. Page 474: “In justification we are declared free of guilt and punishment on the basis of a righteousness which is outside of us in Christ Jesus, and which through God’s grace is reckoned to us and on our own part is received in faith. When Roman Catholicism therefore speaks of a grace which is poured into us, we have no objection to that in itself; we object only to the fact that this grace is regarded as a part of the righteousness on the basis of which we are declared free before God. For, if that were so, then justification and sanctification, the deliverance from guilt and the removal of the pollution, would be confused with each other; and then Christ would be robbed of the perfection of His achieved righteousness….

    Page 510—511: “The assurance of salvation is not something which is added to the life of faith from without, but something, rather, which blossoms up out of that life of faith itself. Hence, the assurance differs according to the measure of the faith… But all this does not take away from the fact that the saving faith, such as Scripture describes it and the Reformation restored it, is not in its inner nature certainty, and that this certainty becomes stronger in proportion to the extent that the faith becomes stronger.

    Such faith is not opposed to knowledge, but it is opposed to all doubt whatsoever. Doubt does not come up out of the new man but out of the old; it does not come up out of the Spirit but out of the flesh. The faith says yea and amen to all the promises of God, embraces those promises, and leans upon them. As it does this, and in proportion to the extent that it does so, the refugee confidence of the faith becomes sure confidence, and it gives the believer the freedom to apply all of those promises of God to himself; the growing confidence becomes a sure confidence that not to others only but to me also the forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness and salvation have been given of God, out of pure grace, and solely for the merits of Christ.”


  4. Pages 512—513: “But we must carefully note that in seeking for assurance we cannot begin with these good works, that the faith can never firmly lean or rest upon them, and that still less can they be performed by us with a view to our achieving the assurance of salvation by means of them. For all good works are imperfect, and they are more or less perfect in proportion to the extent that they issue from a stronger or weaker faith….

    “When the gospel covenant is separated from election, it ceases to be a gospel of grace and becomes again a covenant of works. Election implies that God grants man freely and out of grace the salvation which man has forfeited and which he can never again achieve in his own strength … Election is the basis and guarantee, the heart and core, of the gospel And it is so indispensably important to cling to this close relationship because the least weakening of it not merely robs one of the true insight into the achieving and application of salvation, but also robs the believers of their only and sure comfort in the practice of their spiritual life.”

    If salvation is not the sheer gift of grace but in some way depends upon the conduct of men, then the gospel is converted into a covenant of works. Man must then satisfy some condition in order to inherit eternal life. In this, grace and works stand at opposite poles from each other and are mutually exclusive. If salvation is by grace it is no longer by works, or otherwise grace is no longer grace. And if it is by works, it is not by grace, or otherwise works are not works (Rom. 11:6). … But it can be recognized and maintained as such only if it is a free gift coming up out of the counsel of God alone.”

    “The one, great, all-inclusive promise of the gospel is: I will be thy God, and the God of thy people. … this promise is not conditional, but is as positive and certain as anything can be. God does not say that He will be our God if we do this or that thing. But He says that He will put enmity, that He will be our God, and that in Christ He wilt grant us all things. The gospel can throughout the centuries remain the same because it depends entirely upon God and because God is the Immutable One and the Faithful One.”


  5. Shane and Others,

    Thank you for these great quotes. They are deeply appreciated and needed.

    Bavinck sounds alot like Michael Horton.


      1. Yes! I almost added, “Or Horton sounds like Bavinck,” which would be more accurate!

        And I’m sure Dr. Horton would be more pleased with this way. Thanks again for the quotes and for the encouragement to enjoy our rest.


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