Justified by Faith without the Law and Works (Bullinger)

Here’s a nice excerpt on justification by faith alone by Henry Bullinger. It’s found in the first Decade of Bullinger’s sermons. I’ve edited it slightly for readability:

But, honored brothers in the Lord, good works here come into no jeopardy to be set aside, because of this doctrine, which teaches that faith alone justifies. Thus did the apostles of Christ teach; why then should we not teach so too?

As for them that think this doctrine, whereby we do constantly affirm that faith alone without works doth justify, to be contrary to religion, let them blame the apostles of Christ, and not find fault with us. Moreover, whereas we say, that the faithful are justified by faith alone, or else by faith without works, we do not say, as many think we do, that faith is only alone (fidem esse solam), or utterly destitute of good works: for wheresoever faith is, there also it shews itself by good works; because the righteous cannot but work righteousness. But before he works righteousness, that is to say, does good works, he must of necessity be righteous: therefore the righteous does not attain to righteousness that goes before by works that follow after.

Wherefore that righteousness is attributed to grace: for the faithful are freely by grace justified in faith, according to that saying, “The just shall live by his faith;” and after that they are justified, they begin to bring forth the works of righteousness. Therefore, in this discourse I mean not to overthrow good works, which have their due place and dignity in the church among the faithful before the face of God: but my mind is, by all the means I may, to prove that the grace of God, and increase (meritum) of the Son of God, is overthrown and trodden under foot, when we join our merits and works to the merit of Christ, and to faith, by which we take hold on Christ.

For what can be more manifest than this saying of the blessed apostle? “If we be saved by grace, then not now works; for then grace is no more grace. But if we be saved by works, then is it now no grace; for the work is no more work.” Rom. 11. Wherefore these two, grace and merit or work, cannot stand together. Therefore, lest we should overthrow the grace of God, and wickedly deny the fruit of Christ’s passion, we do attribute justification unto faith only, because that faith attributs it to the mere grace of God in the death of the Son of God.

 Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger: The First and Second Decades, ed. Thomas Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1849), 118–119.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Finney’s Firm Rejection of Imputation

Finney's Systematic Theology A New Bicentennial Edition of the Theology of America's Greatest Evangelist Charles Finney is well known for his part in the 19th century American revivals.  Obviously,  Finney and these revivals are major topics that many books have covered. But it is worth mentioning that Finney did write a systematic theology where one can learn what he himself taught.  I don’t think it’s a good systematic theology, but it is informative and helpful for thinking about the history of American Christianity and theology.

For example, Finney very strongly rejected the Reformation teaching that Christ’s obedience is imputed to the believer and received by faith alone.  In other words, he firmly denied the imputation of Christ’s obedience.  Here are his own words:

…Gospel justification is not to be regarded as a forensic or judicial proceeding.

…Gospel justification is the justification of sinners; it is, therefore, naturally impossible, and a most palpable contradiction, to affirm that the justification of a sinner, or of one who has violated the law, is a forensic or judicial justification.

…For sinners to be forensically pronounced just, is impossible and absurd.

 The doctrine of an imputed righteousness, or that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption; to wit, that Christ owed no obedience to the law in his own person, and that therefore his obedience was altogether a work of supererogation, and might be made a substitute for our own obedience; that it might be set down to our credit, because he did not need to obey for himself.

…If Christ owed personal obedience to the moral law, then his obedience could no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us. He was bound for himself to love God with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself. He did no more than this. He could do no more. It was naturally impossible, then, for him to obey in our behalf. This doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s obedience to the moral law to us, is based upon the absurd assumptions, (1.) That the moral law is founded in the arbitrary will of God, and (2.) That of course, Christ, as God, owed no obedience to it; both of which assumptions are absurd. But if these assumptions are given up, what becomes of the doctrine of an imputed righteousness, as a ground of a forensic justification? “It vanishes into thin air.”

Finney wrote more on this topic; the above is a summary.  And there are many things that come to mind when I read this section of Finney’s ST.  While he does cite some Scripture references, he does not do any exegetical work at all in his points.  For example, he cites Romans 5:9 in passing, which actually goes against his main point: by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Furthermore, Finney misses major imputation/justification texts like 2 Cor. 5:21 and Phil. 3:9 (for just two examples).

Writing like Finney’s reminds me why I am Reformed – not because it’s cool or trendy, but because Reformed theology is thoroughly derived from Scripture and deep biblical exegesis.  And thankfully Finney was wrong!  Thankfully I don’t have to rely on any aspect of my obedience for justification.  My hope is in the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ: not my own righteousness, but the righteousness of God in Christ (Phil. 2:9).  All other ground is sinking sand.

The above quotes are found in Charles Finney, Systematic Theology, section 32.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

 

A Most Important Question (Machen)

What is Faith? Machen, J. Gresham cover image What is saving faith?  This is one of the most important questions we can ask and have answered!  I like how J. Gresham Machen addressed the question:

A more “practical” question could hardly be conceived. The preacher says: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved.” But how can a man possibly act on that suggestion, unless he knows what it is to believe. It was at that point that the “doctrinal” preaching of a former generation was far more practical than the “practical” preaching of the present day. I shall never forget the pastor of the church in which I grew up. He was a good preacher in many ways, but his most marked characteristic was the plainness and definiteness with which he told the people what a man should do to be saved. The preachers of the present time allude to the importance of becoming a Christian, but they seldom seem to make the matter the subject of express exposition; they leave the people with a vague impression to the effect that being a Christian is a good thing, but this impression is difficult to translate into action because definite directions are absent. These preachers speak about faith, but they do not tell what faith is.

It is to help in some small way to supply this lack that the present little book (called What is Faith?) has been written. If the way of salvation is faith, it does seem to be highly important to tell people who want to be saved just what faith means. If a preacher cannot do that, he can hardly be a true evangelist.

In seven brief chapters, Machen goes on to give a solid, biblical answer to the important question.  Here are the chapter titles: Faith in God, Faith in Christ, Faith Born of Need, Faith and the Gospel, Faith and Salvation, Faith and Works, and finally, Faith and Hope.  If you’ve not read this book, I very much recommend it.  What is Faith? is not too long or difficult, and it is full of gospel truth and comfort.  For those of you who need a hand to lead you again to Jesus, this book will do that.

The above quote is found in the introduction of Machen’s, What is Faith?

(This post is a re-blog from November 2015)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

“Receiving” in Article IV of The Apology of the Augsburg Confession

Article IV of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531) uses the terms “receive” or “received” (etc.) well over thirty times (I lost count!). This is very significant because Article IV is on justification sola fide. I don’t have time and space to explain all the details here and now, but this article uses the terms “receive” or “receives” so many times because it is echoing Scripture’s truth that a sinner is justified by faith alone in Christ alone, not by works. In other words, faith receives a gift: God’s mercy, forgiveness, and the righteousness of Christ. Faith is not a work that God rewards with justification now or in the future. Justifying faith doesn’t give anything to God, it receives from him. Faith is the open hand of a beggar receiving a blessing from God. Here are just a few examples of how Article IV uses the “receive” words (I’ve emphasized them in bold):

“Faith justifies and saves, not because it is a worthy work in itself, but only because it receives the promised mercy.”

“By faith alone in Christ – not through love, not because of love of works – we receive the forgiveness of sins, although love follows faith.”

“…A promise cannot be received except by faith alone.”

“…We receive Christ’s benefits by this [faith] alone.”

“Because faith receives forgiveness of sins and reconciles us to God, we are <like Abraham> counted as righteous for Christ’s sake before we love and before we do the works of the Law, although love necessarily follows.”

There is obviously more to the discussion. I just wanted to point out a great emphasis in the Apology that I thought was helpful and edifying!

The above quotes were taken from Article IV of the Apology in Concordia.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Marrow of Modern Divnity: Edited and Abridged (Wilson)

 Many of our readers are perhaps familiar with Edward Fisher’s excellent 17th century publication called “The Marrow of Modern Divinity.”  It is a wonderful treatment of the great Reformation themes of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, to God’s glory alone.  I’ve mentioned it quite a few times here on the blog and it has been helpful to me in my own Christian walk.  The thing is, it’s not overly easy to read since it’s somewhat lengthy and the language is quite dated.  It’s not a book that every Christian would be able to sit down and read through and understand well.

However, Andy Wilson has given much of his time and energy to make “The Marrow” easier to read by abridging it and updating the language.  His abridgment is called, “The Marrow of the Marrow of Modern Divinity: A Simplified Version of Edward Fisher’s Seventeenth-Century Classic.”  Andy sent me a copy, which I was excited to read and now I am happy to recommend.  To be sure, abridging and editing a book like “The Marrow” is no easy task, and we all might go about it in a slightly different way.  But in my opinion Wilson’s summarization is a good and accurate one.  I’ll give a few quotes below in case you’re interested:

“…Adam and his offspring are no more freed from their duties because they have no strength to perform them than a debtor is freed from his debt because he lacks money to pay it” (p. 17).

“So if you desire to be justified before God, you must either bring him a perfect righteousness of your own, and wholly renounce Christ, or else you must bring the perfect righteousness of Christ, and wholly renounce your own” (p. 56).

“Because the law’s threatenings of eternal death have been satisfied for the believer in Christ, those threatenings cannot be renewed against the believer any more than a debt that ahs been paid can be held against a person” (p. 65).

“Certainly, the strongest believer of us all needs to take heed to the advice of Tyndale, who says, ‘Seek the Word of God in all things, and without the Word of God do nothing” (p. 97).

Again, no abridgement will be perfect in everyone’s eyes, but if you’re looking for a more readable version of Fisher’s Marrow, you should for sure check out Wilson’s summary.  If you read the summary first, I’m pretty confident it will help you better read and understand the full text of The Marrow.  In fact, one of Wilson’s goals of writing the summary was to get more people to read the original Marrow.  Both the abridgement and the full text will help you understand what Scripture says about “free grace,” “faith alone,” and “Christ alone” in the sinner’s justification.

Andy Wilson, The Marrow of the Marrow of Modern Divinity.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015