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

Final Justification on Account of Our Works? (Horton)

On the last day when the Lord comes to judge the living and the dead, is there something like a final justification based on our works? Can we even talk about a present justification and a final justification, as if there are two justifications? Some would answer yes to the question. The historical Reformation answer is no. Here’s how Michael Horton put it:

Adherents of the Reformation interpretation hardly ‘shy away from Paul’s clear statements about future judgment according to works,’ as [N. T.] Wright suggests. It is clearly affirmed in the Lutheran and Reformed confessions (see, e.g., Westminster Confession, ch. 33). This is because Paul has no difficulty acknowledging a final judgment that includes believers. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil’ (2 Cor. 5:10). In Romans 14:12 Paul says that ‘everyone will give account of himself to God.” 

Those who follow the Reformation interpretation hardly shy away from such clear statements; they simply interpret them differently: judgment according to (κατα) works rather than through or on account of (δια or εκ) works is well-attested in classic Reformed treatments. We may call them justifying in the sense that James meant: not justifying us before God but justifying our profession in this life. The final judgment will not render a verdict that is different than the one that believers enjoy now; rather, it will confirm the elect as those who have been not only justified but sanctified by grace.

…As Calvin comments, ‘After he [God] has received us into his favor, he receives our works also by a gracious acceptance. It is on this that the reward hinges. There is, therefore, no inconsistency in saying that he rewards good works, provided we understand that mankind, nevertheless, obtain eternal life gratuitously.’

Michael Horton, Justification (vol 2), p. 393.

(This is a re-post from May 2019)

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

Justifying Faith: Receiving Christ (Owen)

When the Westminster Confession explains justifying faith, it uses the term “receiving.”  Here’s chapter XI.2: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification…” (emphasis mine).  The Heidelberg Catechism also uses this word in answer 30: “For either Jesus is not a complete Savior, or they who by true faith receive this Savior must have in him all that is necessary to their salvation” (emphasis mine).  Are there biblical reasons to use the phrase “receiving Christ” when talking about faith?  Yes, for sure!  Here’s how John Owen nicely explained it:

That faith whereby we are justified is most frequently in the New Testament expressed by receiving…  First, That it is so expressed with respect unto the whole object of faith, or unto all that does any way concur unto our justification; for we are said to receive Christ himself: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,” John 1:12; “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord,” Col. 2:6.  In opposition hereunto unbelief is expressed by not receiving of him, John 1:11, 3:11, 12:48, 14:17.

And it is a receiving of Christ as he is “The Lord our Righteousness,” as of God he is made righteousness unto us. And as no grace, no duty, can have any co-operation with faith herein — this reception of Christ not belonging unto their nature, nor comprised in their exercise — so it excludes any other righteousness from our justification but that of Christ alone; for we are “justified by faith.”

Faith alone receiveth Christ; and what it receives is the cause of our justification, whereon we become the sons of God. So we “receive the atonement” made by the blood of Christ, Rom. 5:11; for “God hath set him forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” And this receiving of the atonement includes the soul’s approbation of the way of salvation by the blood of Christ, and the appropriation of the atonement made thereby unto our own souls. For thereby also we receive the forgiveness of sins: “That they may receive forgiveness of sins …… by faith that is in me,” Acts 26:18. In receiving Christ we receive the atonement; and in the atonement we receive the forgiveness of sins. But, moreover, the grace of God, and righteousness itself, as the efficient and material cause of our justification, are received also; even the “abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness,” Rom. 5:17.

So that faith, with respect unto all the causes of justification, is expressed by “receiving;” for it also receiveth the promise, the instrumental cause on the part of God thereof, Acts 2:41; Heb. 9:15.

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 291–292.

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

Paul or the Papists? (Latimer)

The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God: Interpretation, Theology, and Practice

Hugh Latimer was a 16th-century English preacher who came out of the Roman Catholic church to join the Reformation because of its biblical foundation and emphases. The following is a selection from a 1552 sermon by Hugh Latimer which contrasts the Roman Catholic view of salvation with the Reformation view.   You can read more about it in chapter three of The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God.

The papists, which are the very enemies of Christ, make him to be a Savior after their own fantasy, and not after the word of God; wherein he declares himself, and set out and opened his mind unto us. They follow, I say, not the Scripture, which is the very leader to God, but regard more their own inventions; and therefore they make him a Savior after this fashion. They consider how there shall be, after the general resurrection, a general judgment, where all mankind shall be gathered together to receive their judgment: then shall Christ, say the papists, sit as a judge, having power over heaven and earth: and all those that have done well in this world, and have steadfastly prayed upon their beads, and have gone a pilgrimage, etc., and so with their good works have deserved heaven and everlasting life,—those, say they, that have merited with their own good works, shall be received of Christ, and admitted to everlasting salvation.

As for the other, that have not merited everlasting life, [they] shall be cast into everlasting darkness: for Christ will not suffer wicked sinners to be taken into heaven, but rather receive those which deserve. And so it appeareth, that they esteem our Savior not to be a Redeemer, but only a judge; which shall give sentence over the wicked to go into everlasting fire, and the good he will call to everlasting felicity.

And this is the opinion of the papists, as concerning our Savior; which opinion is most detestable, abominable, and filthy in the sight of God. For it diminishes the passion of Christ; it taketh away the power and strength of the same passion; it defileth the honor and glory of Christ; it forsakes and denies Christ and all his benefits. For if we shall be judged after our own deservings, we shall be damned everlastingly.

Therefore, learn here, every good Christian, to abhor this most detestable and dangerous poison of the papists, which go about to thrust Christ out of his seat: learn here, I say, to leave all papistry, and to stick only to the word of God, which teaches thee that Christ is not only a judge, but a justifier; a giver of salvation, and a taker away of sin; for he purchased our salvation through his painful death, and we receive the same through believing in him; as St Paul teaches us, saying, Gratis estis justificati per fidem, “Freely ye are justified through faith.” In these words of St. Paul, all merits and estimation of works are excluded and clean taken away. For if it were for our works’ sake, then it were not freely: but St. Paul saith, “freely.”

Whether will you now believe St. Paul, or the papists? …

-Hugh Latimer (see p. 80-81 of The Irrepressible Word of God).

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

Union, Justification, Sanctification, Glorification (Horton)

Justification: Two-Volume Set (New Studies in Dogmatics) Horton, Michael ; Michael Allen, Swain, Scott R. cover imageI appreciate the following selection from Michael Horton’s Justification (Vol 2).  It’s about union with Christ, justification, sanctification, and glorification:

Union is not a goal but the source of our life.  Chosen in him [Christ], redeemed by him, and crucified, buried, and raised with him, we share in Christ’s pioneering journey in an ‘already’ and ‘not-yet’ manner.  Justification is the fundamental turning point in the sinner’s status before God, while sanctification is the turning point in the sinner’s condition, and glorification will be the turning point in the whole existence of the saints.

Although we will be all that he is in his glorified humanity, we are not yet raised bodily.  Yet we have been raised from spiritual death, justified and definitively renewed. We are being conformed to the image of Christ daily, suffering in the joy of the prize that has already been won for us. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1).  Although we still struggle mightily against Satan, sin, and the realities of a fallen world, Christ has already subdued Satan.  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet’ (Rom 16:20).

Union with Christ (or the ‘great exchange’) is the braoder intersection where rival perspectives demand a fork in the road – the false choices that we have met frequently along the way – but where, in a more integrated account, they meet without any contradiction. Covenantal and apocalyptic, personal and corporate, soteriology and ecclesiology, the historia salutis and the ordo salutis, forensic justification and transforming renewal, faith and works all find unity without conflating one with the other.

Michael Horton, Justification, Vol 2, p. 451.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI