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THE doctrine of free justification, through faith in the blood of Jesus, was the Gospel Axe which Luther applied with powerful arm to the root of human merit, whose fibres had struck deeply into the Papal soil.—“ When I consider,” said this champion for the Truth, “the infinite profanation which always hath raged in the Church of God, against this only and well-grounded rock, which we hold to be the article of our justification, (that is to say, how not by ourselves, neither by our works, which are less than ourselves, but by another help, even the Son of God, Jesus Christ, we are redeemed from sin, death, and the devil, and are made partakers of eternal life,) I am compelled boldly to speak upon it.” And he did speak with a voice of thunder. Through the power of Truth, he made the Papal chair to tremble. By the light of truth, he exposed the hidden abominations of the MAN OF SIN.
Yet, while he declared, that the doctrine of
justification by faith without works, is the only SOLID ROCK, the true test of a standing, or of a falling church; like St. Paul he was equally anxious for the interests of holiness.
He knew the blindness of the natural heart, and its enmity to the truth. He knew also the darkness which remains in the minds of the regenerate, even after they have been enlightened by the Spirit of God.
Hence, he foresaw that diversity of sentiment and statement which would arise in the Church, according to the degrees of light or darkness, which each of its members might possess. Under this conviction, he honestly confessed that, “ to teach this doctrine, and at the same time, to insist on the necessity of good works, is a matter of considerable difficulty and danger. For unless the ministers of Christ be wise and faithful dispensers of the divine mysteries, and know how to divide the Word of Truth rightly, the distinct provinces of faith and works will be confounded.
“Both these provinces should be explained, and impressed on the mind with the greatest diligence, yet in such a manner, that each of them may preserve its proper bounds :-Otherwise, if works only are taught, as is the case in the Pope's kingdom, faith is lost. Again, if nothing but faith is inculcated, carnal men soon begin to dream, that there is no need of good works.”
Well acquainted with the corruption of the heart, Luther thus guards the Church against the abuse of this vital doctrine: “ There is danger on both sides. If the doctrine of grace or faith be not preached, no man can be saved ; for it is faith alone that justifies and saves. On the contrary, if faith be preached, as of necessity it must be, the greater part of mankind will interpret the doctrine in a carnal way, and so understand spiritual liberty, as to allow indulgences of the flesh. This we may see in all ranks of life, high as well as low. Many make profession of the Gospel, and boast of Christian liberty, and yet, serving their own lusts and inclinations, they give way to covetousness, pleasures, pride, envy, and such other vices, and none of them doeth his duty faithfully. It is impossible that persons of this description should prove to be governed by the Gospel of peace.”
The Church of England, in unison with the other Reformed Churches, firmly holds this important branch of the Christian faith. In her eleventh Article she declares :
“ We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lcrd and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification."
The clear and scriptural language of the Homily referred to, is as follows:
“ The Apostle toucheth specially three things, which must go together in our justification. Upon God's part, his great mercy and grace : upon Christ's part, justice, that is, the satisfaction of God's justice, or the price of our redemption by the offering of his body, and shedding of his blood, with fulfilling of the law perfectly and thoroughly: and upon our part, true and lively faith in the merits of Jesus Christ, which yet is not ours, but God's working in us.
66 The grace of God doth not shut out the justice of God in our justification, but only shutteth out the justice of man, that is to say, the justice of our works, as to be merits of deserving our justification. And, therefore, St. Paul declareth here nothing upon the behalf of man, concerning his justification, but only a true and lively faith, which, nevertheless, is the gift of God, and not man's only work without God. And yet, that faith doth not shut out repentance, hope, love, dread, and the fear of God, to be joined with faith in every man that is justified, but it shutteth them out of the office of justifying. So that, although they be all present together in him that is justified, yet they justify not altogether ; neither doth faith shut out the justice of our good works, necessarily to be done afterwards of duty towards God, (for we are most bounden to serve God in doing good deeds commanded by him in his Holy Scripture all the days of our life, but it excludeth them so, that we may not do them to this intent, to be made just by doing them."
What language can more fully and explicitly convey to our minds this fundamental truth of the Gospel ?
May the Eternal Spirit impart unto every reader of these humble pages, if he has it not, this blessed gift of faith, and abundantly increase it, where it has been graciously bestowed.
Hooker breathes the same apostolic language: “ Christ hath merited righteousness for as many as are found in him.
In him God findeth us, if we be faithful, for by faith we are incorporated into Christ. Then, although in ourselves we be altogether sinful, yet even the man that is impious in himself, full of iniquity, full of sin, being found in Christ through faith, and having his sin remitted through repentance, him God beholdeth with a gracious eye, putteth away his sin, by not imputing it, taketh quite away the punishment due thereunto by pardoning it, and accepteth him in Jesus Christ as perfectly righteous, as if he had fulfilled all that was commanded him in the Law. Faith is the only hand which putteth on : Christ unto justification, and Christ the only garment which, being so put on, covereth the shame of our defiled natures, hideth the imperfection of our works, preserveth us blameless in the sight of God, before whom otherwise the weakness of our faith were cause sufficient to make us culpable, yea to shut us from the kingdom of heaven, where nothing that is not absolute can enter.”
Such were the views which Luther, the Fathers of the English Church, and Hooker entertained, in perfect accordance with the great Apostle, respecting the all-important doctrine of justification by faith. “The Devil directs his fiercest batteries against those doctrines in the Word, and