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OF JUSTIFYING FAITH.
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.—John xx. 31.
THE observation lam discoursing upon is this that to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is truly and properly sanctifying, and justifying, and saving faith. I have entered upon the latter part of the observation, viz. to shew that this is truly and properly justifying and saving faith. In speaking to which, I proposed to shew six things:
1. That justification, in Scripture, signifies no more but the pardon and remission of sins.
2. That faith can in no propriety of language, be said to be the instrument of our pardon. Thus far I have gone, and now proceed to what remains, viz. to shew,
3. That the influence which faith hath upon the pardon of sin, is this: that it is the whole and entire condition, required in the gospel, of our pardon, upon the performance of which God hath promised to pardon sin; which appears thus. All the conditions the gospel requires on our part in order to pardon, may be reduced to these four heads.
(1.) An assent to the truth of the gospel.
(2.) A trust and confidence in Christ as our only Saviour.
(3.) Repentance from dead works.313
(4.) Sincere obedience and holiness of life. But I have already proved at large, that all these are comprehended in the New Testament notion of faith, which signifies the whole of Christian religion. And that repentance and obedience are conditions of our pardon, and consequently of our justification, appears from these texts, (Acts iii. 19.) “Repent therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” Doth not this imply, that upon condition we do repent and be converted, God will pardon our sins? (1 John i. 9.) “If we confess our sins” (that is, with a resolution to leave them; as it is said elsewhere, “He that confesseth, and forsaketh his sins,) he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (Matt. vi. 14, 15.) “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” And to the same purpose (Matt. xviii. 35.) “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” (Luke vi. 37.) “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” (Luke xi. 4.) “And forgive us our sins: for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” Where doth the Scripture make any thing more plainly a condition of pardon, than it here does our forgiving of others? upon condition of the performance where of he promises to forgive us; and without which he threatens not to forgive us. I know not what a condition is, if it be not that which if we perform we shall receive the benefit promised; if we do not, we shall fall short of it.314
4. That the Scripture where it speaks of justification by faith, speaks of this faith, and no other, of such a faith as takes in the whole of Christian religion. The principal places where the Scripture designedly treats of justification by faith, are the 3d and 4th chapters of the Epistle to the Romans; the 2d and 3d to the Galatians; and the 2d of St. James. In the Romans and Galatians, St. Paul doth plainly oppose faith to the law, and the righteousness of it to the works of the law: and it will clearly appear to any one that will carefully read over these discourses of St. Paul’s, that by faith is meant the dispensation of the gospel, and by the law the Mosaical administration; and the result of all those discourses is, that men are not justified by performing the works which the legal dispensation required; but by assenting and submitting to the revelation of the gospel. And this is agreeable to what he says, (Acts xiii. 38, 39.) “Through this man is preached unto you forgiveness of sins; and by him, all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
It is true likewise, that the apostle, in the Epistle to the Romans, doth not only dispute against those who simply contended for justification by the legal dispensation: but were fallen also into the gross error and mistake, that they did merit justification and pardon at God’s hand; which is impossible: for pardon is free, and of grace, or else it is not pardon. Therefore the apostle asserts, that we are so justified by faith, that neither our assent to the gospel, nor our obedience to the commands of it, do merit this at God’s hands; for this would directly contradict justification by the faith of the gospel. For how can any man possibly think, that 315he merits pardon by his believing and obeying the gospel, when this is part of the gospel which we believe, that Christ died for our sins, and purchased our pardon at so dear a rate; which had been very unjust, if we ourselves could have done any thing to have merited it.
And that faith is taken for the revelation of the gospel, in opposition to the legal administrations, will appear by considering these texts, (Gal. iii. 23.) “But before faith came, we were kept under the law;” by which the apostle plainly means this, that before the revelation of the gospel to the world, we were under the legal administration: for he adds afterwards, “We were shut up unto the faith that should afterward be revealed;” and what is “the faith that should afterward be revealed, but the gospel? which in the fulness of time was to be revealed to the world, till which time we were held under the dispensation of the law: and (ver. 24.) “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith;” that is, the law was a discipline preparatory for the gospel, that when that came, we might .be justified by it: and (ver. 25.) “But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster,” that is after the gospel was revealed, we were set free from the severe and harsh dispensation of the law; and our assent and submission to that revelation, is that whereby we are said to be justified, (Rom. iii. 22.) “Even the righteousness of God, which is by the faith of Jesus Christ,” that is, by the gospel, “unto all, and upon all them that believe.” And (ver. 26.) “That he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus;” τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ, “the justifier of him” that yields assent and submission to 316the gospel of Christ. And this faith is said to be “imputed to us for righteousness,” (chap. iv. 24.) “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;” that is, if we assent and submit to the revelation of the gospel, which God hath confirmed by that eminent miracle of raising up Christ from the dead.
St. James tells us most expressly, that the faith which justifies doth contain obedience in it: and if it do not, it is dead, and false, and ineffectual to all purposes of pardon and salvation: and that if any man pretend to faith, and that faith be destitute of the proper and genuine effects of true faith, it will be unprofitable to him, and not at all avail to his justification and salvation. The sum of his discourse is, that the faith which justifies and saves us, must not only be a bare assent of the understanding to the truths of the gospel: but must include in it obedience to all the commands of the gospel: and if it does not, it does no more deserve the name of faith, than good words to a man in want, deserve the name of charity: (chap. ii. ver. 14-17. “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and hath not works? can faith save him? If a brother or a sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. And to this purpose he instanceth in Abraham and Rahab, and shews that the faith which justified them, did include in it the effects of faith, viz. obedience and good works, (ver. 21, 22.) “Was not Abraham our father 317justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” And (ver. 23.) “And the Scripture was fulfilled, which saith Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.” But if Abraham was “justified by works,” viz. by offering up his son upon the altar, in obedience to God’s command, as he says before, at the 21st verse, how was “the Scripture fulfilled, which saith, that faith was imputed to him for righteousness,” that is, he was justified by faith; unless faith take in the works of obedience? From whence he concludes, “that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only;” not by a naked assent to the truth, but by such a faith as includes obedience; which he farther illustrates by a similitude at the last verse; “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” A living faith doth as truly contain obedience in it, as a living body contains a spirit.
And those distinctions which are commonly applied to this discourse of St. James do not clear it, but contradict the express design of it. Some say that Fides quæ est viva justificat; sed non qua viva: Faith which is living, justifies; but not as a living faith. Others say, (which is much to the same purpose) Fides justificat sine operibus; sed fides sine operibus non justificat: “Faith justifies without works; but faith without works does not justify.” But St. James says expressly, “that we are justified by works.” How then is that true, that faith justifies without works?” And he says that works are the life of our faith. How then can any man say, that “though faith justifies, yet not as it is a 318living faith;” when we are justified by that which is the very life of our faith, and that is obedience?
There are two other distinctions whereby men endeavour to elude this plain text, which I did not mention before; “that faith justifies the person; and works justify the faith,” and that this is St. James’s meaning. But what ground for this, when the text speaks expressly of the person being justified by works, as well as faith? “Was not Abraham our father justified by works?” (ver. 21.) “You see then that by works a man is justified: and not by faith only.” (Ver. 24.) “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works?” What colour is here for any man to say, that St. James doth not speak of the justification of the person by works; but of the faith? Or what necessity of framing this distinction, but only to serve an opinion? But at this rate a man may maintain any thing, though it be never so contrary to Scripture, and elude the clearest text in the Bible.
The other distinction, which is much to the same sense, is, that the apostle doth not here speak of a real justification before God: but a declarative justification before men. But according to this, what sense can be made of (ver. 14.) “What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say, I have faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?” That is, according to this explication, Can faith without works save him before men?
And this doth not contradict St. Paul, who saith, (Gal. ii. 16.) that “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” For how does this, that we are justified not by the legal dispensation, but by the faith of the gospel, which includes obedience and good works, contradict 319what St. James says, that we are not justified by a bare assent to the truth of the gospel, but by obedience to the commands of it? And I do not see that upon the contrary supposition, viz. that the faith of the gospel doth not include obedience in it, it is possible to reconcile these two apostles. Suppose this was St. Paul’s meaning, that “we are justified by faith,” as the only condition and instrument, call it what they will, of our justification; but not by obedience or good works, as a condition of our justification; by what kind of comment can St. James’s words be brought to this sense? What man would allow that those words at the 21st verse, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered Isaac his son upon the altar,” should be explained by this sense? Was not Abraham, when in obedience to God’s command he had offered his son upon the altar, and upon this act of obedience was justified, was not he justified by faith only, and not by any work or act of obedience? Or that those words at the 24th verse, “Ye see then that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only,” should be interpreted, Ye see then that by faith only a man is justified, and not by works? and unless they be thus interpreted, they are not to be reconciled with the sense of St. Paul’s words, which many fasten upon them: but if St. Paul’s words be taken in the most plain and obvious sense they are capable of, viz. that “we are not justified by the works of the law,” that is, by performing the works required by the legal dispensation; “but by the faith of Jesus Christ,” that is, by assenting and submitting to the revelation of the gospel; we do not strain St. James’s words, to reconcile him with St. Paul.
And thus I have shewn, that where the Scripture 320speaks of justification by faith, it speaks of this faith which I have described. I add, and of no other; not of a bare appropriation of the grace and mercy of the gospel; that is, in plain English, this is not justifying faith, to believe that I am pardoned, and justified, nor to have a firm assurance of this. For if we be justified by faith, we must believe be fore we can be justified; but if this be justifying faith to believe, or be assured we are justified, we must be justified before we believe; or else, when we believe that we are justified, we must believe that which is not true. Nor is this justifying faith, to lay hold of the righteousness and merits of Christ for the pardon of our sins; that is, to trust and confide only in that, as the meritorious cause of our pardon. For though this be part of the notion of justifying faith, it is not all; though this be one of the terms or conditions upon which we are justified; yet it is not the whole and entire condition; which, besides this, takes in an assent to the whole gospel, repentance from dead works, and obedience to all the precepts of the gospel. And if any man can produce any one text which saith, that the faith which justifies* consists only in a trust and confidence in the merits of Christ, for the pardon of sin, or any thing to this effect, I will be most ready publicly to acknowledge my error: but if nobody can do this, I shall beg their pardon, if I do continue still of the same mind I was.
I have now done with the fourth thing I propounded: but before I speak to the two heads which remain, I must remove an objection or two, that my former discourse may seem liable to.
Objection first, To make obedience a condition of pardon seems to take away the freeness of God’s grace in pardoning sinners.321
1. God’s grace in pardoning a sinner is said to be free, not because it is not suspended upon any condition; for the Scripture tells us plainly, that it is upon the condition of faith, and repentance, and forgiving others, and the like; but it is free, be cause God was pleased freely to give his Son to die for our sins, and to accept of his sacrifice for the expiation of them, and to impose easy and reasonable conditions upon us, in order to our enjoying of this benefit; and upon such conditions, though they have nothing of virtue or merit, of any natural or moral efficacy, or deserve, or procure such a benefit as the pardon of our sins, for the sake of his Son, whom he gave to be a ransom for us, to receive us to grace and mercy; and I think this abundantly enough to make our justification very gracious and free, though not absolutely free from all condition.
Our salvation is said in Scripture to be as free as our justification: we are said to be “saved by grace,” as well as “justified freely by his grace.” But will any man say, that we are saved without any conditions, who reads these texts? “He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life; but he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life.” “Blessed are the poor in heart: for they shall see God.” “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” “If ye walk after the flesh, ye shall die: but if through the Spirit ye mortify the deeds of the flesh, ye shall live.” “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” So that he who can understand how we may be saved by grace, though our salvation be suspended upon the condition of faith, repentance, and holiness, and obedience of life, may, if he please, under stand how we may be justified freely by God’s grace, though it be upon the same conditions. So 322that if men were not monstrously perverse, it is impossible that they should not see the weakness of this objection.
Objection the second, This is the doctrine of the papists, that obedience and good works are a condition of our justification.
Answ. 1. I am for the doctrine which is evidently contained in Scripture, whoever hold it. A man ought not to be frighted out of the truth by any name.
2. But there is a wide difference between the doctrine of the papists about justification, and this doctrine. They say, that obedience and good works are not only a condition of our justification, but a meritorious cause of it; which I abhor as much as any one. It is the doctrine of merit that the protestants chiefly oppose in the matter of justification; and if some also oppose the papists about good works being a condition, I know nobody that thinks himself obliged to hold every opinion that any protestant hath maintained against the papists; and the like I say to the objection of Socinianism and Arminianism, and a hundred names more, if people think fit to fasten them upon it.
And now I might compare this doctrine with the contrary. All that may be said against it is, that it diminisheth the grace of God: but that I have shewn it doth not: but then it hath these advantages. It is, so far as I can judge, (and mine own judgment must govern me) much more plainly contained in the Scripture, and it is a doctrine more “according to godliness;” it tends more to quicken men to obedience and a holy life, to believe that they cannot have their sins otherwise pardoned, than to believe that they may have their sins pardoned with out obedience and a holy life; and if obedience be 323not a necessary condition of pardon, it is plain that men may be pardoned without it. For example, if a man promise me a thousand pounds, only upon this condition, that I will believe him and trust him, but without any condition of doing what he shall command me, and he shall declare thus much to me; if I can trust this man’s word, I need not doubt but I shall have the sum promised; though I should disobey him in every thing that he commanded me to do: this is just the case; and if it be, it is no wonder that men are so loth to disbelieve this pleasant opinion, which gives men comfortable hopes of the pardon of their sins, upon such easy terms. Not that I am so uncharitable as not to acknowledge that our worthy and excellent divines, who have been of this judgment, have always pressed the necessity of holiness and obedience; but I am sorry they could not do it with so good advantage, according to their principles, the natural consequences of them tending to licentiousness, and a neglect of the precepts of the gospel; to which purpose they have been sadly abused by several libertines in these and former times, ever since Luther’s days, and I could never yet see how antinomianism could solidly be confuted upon those principles.
5. That no metaphorical descriptions of justifying faith are allowable any farther than as they serve to illustrate the plain, and proper, and simple notion of faith. My meaning is, he that would teach men what faith is, he must first acquaint men with the thing, and describe it in as proper and simple words as can be, and not by figurative and metaphorical phrases. Indeed, after a man hath delivered the simple notion of a thing in proper words, he may afterwards illustrate it by metaphors: but 324then these are not to be insisted upon, and strained to the utmost extent of the metaphor, beyond what the true notion of the thing will bear; for if consequences once come to be drawn from metaphors, and doctrines founded, and theories built upon them, instead of illustrating the thing, they blind and obscure it, and serve to no other purpose, but to seduce and mislead the understandings of men, and to multiply controversies without end; and (as I told you before) I do the rather take notice of this abuse of metaphors upon this subject, because I do not know any other head of divinity which hath suffered so much by them, as the doctrine of justifying faith, whereby the plain truth hath been very much darkened, and occasion ministered to many endless disputes. But this will best appear by some particular instances. Justifying faith hath usually been described by these metaphors, resting, and relying, and leaning upon Christ, apprehending and laying hold, and applying of Christ, receiving of Christ, and coming to him. Now concerning these, I shall briefly speak these three or four things:
(1.) That none of these metaphors, except the two last, receiving of Christ, and coming to him, are any where used in Scripture, to describe justifying faith by; and therefore there is no reason why they should be so much used and insisted on. Let any man shew me where justifying faith is any where in Scripture described by resting, and relying, and leaning upon Christ, by apprehending, and laying hold, and applying of him.
(2.) If these metaphors were explained and turned into proper and plain words, they can signify no thing else, but that faith which I have been all this while describing. For what can any man understand 325by resting, and relying, and leaning upon Christ, but to trust in him, as the author of our eternal salvation, under which word all the benefits which Christ hath purchased for us are comprehended? Now can any man be said to trust in Christ, as the author of his salvation, otherwise than by assenting to the truth of the gospel, and complying with the terms and conditions of it? And what can any man understand by apprehending, and laying hold on, and applying Christ, other than this, to make use of him for all those ends and purposes for which God hath appointed him? And what those are the Scripture tells us: that “he is made unto us of God, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”
(3.) As for those Scripture metaphors of receiving Christ, and coming to him, the Scripture useth them but sparingly, and I dare say, for once that it useth these metaphors, it doth twenty times describe faith by plain and proper words; and where it doth make use of these metaphors, it doth sufficiently explain them. So you find coming to Christ is explained by learning of him: (Matt. xi. 28, 29.) “Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” That is, Come to me as scholars and disciples to be taught by me; in order to which it is requisite we should believe him. Oportet discentem credere, “He that will learn, must believe him that teacheth him,” and trust his skill. And so for receiving him, lest the metaphor should seduce men, St. John had no sooner used it, but he tells what he means by it. (John i. 12.) “But as many as received 326him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name;” that is, believed him to be the person promised to be the Messias, and Saviour of the world; as appears by the opposition in the verse before: “He came to his own, and his own received him not;” that is, rejected him, did not own him to be the true Messias. But now if we will strain such a metaphor as this, beyond the intention of it, and be cause believing is called a receiving of Christ, and we receive things with the hand, and the hand is an instrument, will from hence infer, that faith is an instrument of our justification; what may not men make of the Scripture at this rate?
(4.) I will add this concerning Scripture metaphors in general, that where the Scripture useth metaphors which were very familiar in those languages in which the Scripture was written, and well understood by those who spoke that language, but are very obscure and uncouth to us, and not at all used in our language, as most of the Scripture metaphors are, the proper work of a minister is not to insist in such cases upon Scripture metaphors, to darken his discourse by them, but to explain them, and make them intelligible, to translate them into English, and instead of them, to use such phrases as people are more familiarly acquainted with, and are used in our own language. For a man may be a barbarian that speaks to people in unknown phrases and metaphors, as well as “he that speaks in an unknown tongue;” and the very same reason that obligeth us to put the Scripture into a known language, doth oblige men to explain the doctrines contained in it by such phrases and metaphors as are known and used in that language.327
6. That if this plain and simple notion of justifying faith were admitted, it would supersede all those controversies about justification, which have so much troubled the reformed churches. Those who have been curious to inquire into these matters, have reckoned up at least twenty several opinions among the protestants concerning justifying faith. I do not desire to acquaint myself with those differences; he that would know what justification and justifying faith are, shall sooner come to understand the nature of them, by diligent reading of the Scriptures, than by reading over all the controversial writings of divines about them; and if men would but content themselves with those plain and simple descriptions, which the Scripture gives us of faith, there could not be any great difference about it; this would cut off most of those disputes which have been commenced upon metaphors, and figurative speeches. And here I had thought to have descended to a particular consideration of the controversies about justifying faith, but I am weary of the work; and therefore shall only make some brief reflections upon this whole discourse, and then apply it to our own use; but this, God willing, the next opportunity.328
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