As some of our readers might know, Thomas Boston (d. 1732) wrote an excellent commentary on Edward Fisher’s (d. 1655) The Marrow of Modern Divinity. Both The Marrow and Boston’s notes on it talk about faith, justification, works, law, gospel, sanctification, and so forth from a historic Reformed perspective. I appreciate this resource because the authors understand justification and sanctification, distinguish between the law and the gospel, and steer the readers away from both antinomianism and legalism. Speaking of the latter, I appreciate the following section where Boston criticizes Richard Baxter’s (d. 1691) view of justification:
“As to the point of justification; no man is, nor can be justified by the law. It is true, the Neonomians or Baxterians, to wind in a righteousness of our own into the case of justification, do turn the gospel into a law, properly so called; and do tell us, that the gospel justifieth as a law, and roundly own what is the necessary consequent of that doctrine, namely, that faith justifieth, as it is our evangelical righteousness, or our keeping the gospel law, which runs thus: “He that believeth shall not perish.”
In other words, Boston said that the neonomians/Baxterians taught a person is justified by faith – not faith apart from works, but faith that is faithful. Or, to restate one phrase above: “faith justifies because it is our evangelical righteousness.” Boston continues by explaining the Reformed/biblical doctrine of justification:
“But the holy Scripture teaches, that we are justified by grace, and by no law nor deed, (or work of a law, properly so called) call it the law of Christ, or the gospel law, or what law one pleaseth; and thereby faith itself, considered as a deed or work of the law, is excluded from the justification of a sinner, and hath place therein, only as an instrument. Gal. 2:16, 3:11, 5:4, Rom. 3:28. See also WLC 73 and WLC 19.6.
Again, in other words, the Bible teaches that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone. We are not justified by law-keeping, no matter what one calls the law – the gospel law, the law of Christ, etc. Furthermore, our faithfulness, or faith viewed as a work or deed, is not the grounds for our justification. Justifying faith is an instrument that rejects our own righteousness and lays hold of Christ’s righteousness. On the basis of Christ’s righteousness received by faith, imputed by God, a person is justified.
When we say we’re justified by faith alone, we mean none of our works, love, thoughts, merits, sincerity, attempts, religious deeds or feelings are the grounds for our justification. The only way we can stand justified before God is if we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness alone, not his mixed with ours.
For the larger context, see p. 193-194 of Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity.