On Salvation and the Church of Rome
(A Learned Discourse of Justification, Works,
and how the Foundation of Faith is Overthrown)
by Richard Hooker (1554–1600)
Modern English edition by Peter Toon
The Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A. 2007
Introducing Richard Hooker As a Theologian of The Anglican Way
Sometimes a person in the public eye makes a statement, which he believes is not controversial but generally accepted, and, to his surprise and much against his desire, it becomes the beginnings of a major controversy. This happened to Richard Hooker in 1585. He was the learned, thirty-two-year-old Church of England priest appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as the Master (= Rector) of The Temple Church, the historic, London church whose congregations were composed mainly of the lawyers and barristers whose chambers surrounded, or were near to, it. In one of his Sunday morning sermons, preached after he had publicly read the Liturgy from The Book of Common Prayer (1559), Hooker made this observation: “I doubt not but God was merciful to save thousands of our fathers living in popish superstitions, inasmuch as they sinned ignorantly.” He had in mind members of ecclesia anglicana, the Church of England, before the Reformation of the 1540s, and he was expressing his belief in the probability of the salvation of many of them, who were members of this Church which, at that time was under the authority of the Pope, and taught popish doctrine.
Some, if not many, of his hearers amongst the lawyers and their students were what we know now as Puritans, who desired to see the Church of England purified more, that is, according to Presbyterian principles and by Reformed theology. They were horrified by the doctrine that people living in popish superstitions in spiritual Babylon (of which they held that the Book of Revelation spoke — see its chapter 18) could be, and were probably, transported to heaven at their death, through the mercy of God. The horror felt by Puritans at this suggestion increased when Walter Travers, the Puritan Preacher/Lecturer, who preached each Sunday afternoon in The Temple Church to a very large congregation, subjected Hooker’s opinion to severe criticism both in speech and in writing.
So it was that Hooker felt the need to explain and defend what he had said and he preached three sermons in March 1586 in defense of what he had asserted. Then he made the sermons into a manuscript for publication under the general title, A Learned Discourse of Justification, Works, and how the Foundation of Faith is Overthrown. By careful study of this treatise, we learn that Hooker’s doctrine of Justification and of the place of good works in the Christian life are perfectly in line with that of Archbishop Cranmer expressed in The Book of Homilies (1547), The Articles of Religion (1552 & 1571), and The Book of Common Prayer (1552 & 1559). However, Hooker’s claim that many who had lived within the errors and superstitions of the Church of Rome might be saved by the mercy and grace of God placed him at the moderate end of the Reformation, and certainly not with the English Puritans. His position may be described, (in retrospect) as that of a Reformed Catholic, which is very different from what was in the nineteenth century called an “Anglo-Catholic.” He saw himself clearly as Catholic but yet not as Roman Catholic.
It is universally acknowledged that Hooker was a first-class thinker, who most carefully and powerfully defended and commended that which we know as the Elizabethan Settlement of Religion (1559). His major treatise is The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity for which he is justly famous. However, he did write other things as well, of which A Learned Discourse is a prime example. All his writings are collected in the critical edition of his Works published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University from 1977, although many students have known his writings via the Keble edition of the nineteenth century.
It seems that a growing number of Anglicans today have a sense that they would much benefit from the study of Hooker’s writings. However, they never really get started — or if they start they stop sooner or later — in this enterprise. Why? The most common reason seems to be that they find the prose of Hooker difficult to follow and thus his meaning not easy to discover. So various attempts have been made to provide a shortened paraphrase in modem English prose of his The Laws. One of these was produced by John S. Marshall in 1950 and published by The Press of the University of the South in Tennessee. However, as far as we know, no-one has previously published a contemporary English rendering of A Learned Discourse. To produce such, and to try to make it readable, the method adopted was to read over repeatedly Hooker’s original text, a paragraph or section at a time, and then seek to put it in a contemporary form, retaining in full the meaning and as much as possible of his words and style. Inevitably, the Oxford English Dictionary was always at hand and many of Hooker’s sentences had to be simplified and shortened! Thus what is offered is probably best described as a paraphrase of the dynamic equivalency type, with the primary intention to allow his teaching to come through clearly.
What motivated the production of this contemporary paraphrase of A Learned Discourse? The answer is a desire by the Board of the Prayer Book Society to educate fellow Episcopalians and Anglicans, especially lay leaders and clergy. Few people today in the Anglican Way in America seem to be aware of (a) the historic and major differences between the traditional Roman Catholic Church and the reformed Anglican Way concerning justification, the place of good works in the Christian life and the nature of sanctification; and (b) in what senses the teachers of the reformed Anglican Way understood the Roman Church to be, at one and the same time, both a Christian Church and also a heretical Church that contained serious heresies and errors — and errors of such a kind that it was a duty to come out of, and separate from, that Church. (Today, in contrast, there is a strong ethos in parts of western Anglicanism — especially the Anglo-Catholic part — to seek to imitate, unite with, or enter, the Roman Church, and presenting it as the ideal Church or the true Church!)
Hooker presents with clarity the major doctrinal difference between the Roman Church and the reformed Church of England concerning justification by faith, good works and sanctification, and he explains with careful distinctions that, despite her errors and heresies, the Church of Rome is still to be regarded as a Christian Church, because she has not formally denied the true foundation that Jesus is the only Lord and Savior. He also argues that many members of the Church of England in days past might have been saved by God’s grace even when this Church officially was under the Papacy and taught Roman errors and heresies as doctrines. That is, in a humble yet confident way, Hooker stands firm as a Reformed Catholic on Scripture while respecting the central traditions of the Church through history. And, in doing so, he reveals where the Reformed Catholic differs both from the Puritan or the zealous Protestant on the one side, and the traditional Roman Catholic on the other. This is set forth by him in greater detail in Book Five of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (which ought to be required reading for all candidates for Holy Orders in the Anglican Way).
In the present decade and in the continuing crisis of global Anglicanism, the search for “Anglican Identity” is intense. And it is so both in what is known as the “Continuing Anglican Churches,” “The Traditional Anglican Communion” and “The Anglican Communion of Churches” (the thirty-seven provinces in communion with the Church of England). One way to engage positively in this search is to read what Hooker, one of the greatest of Anglican theologians, has to say about the Anglican Way and thus gain insights into how this Way differs both from Roman Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism and charters a genuine Via Media as the Reformed Catholicism of the Anglican Way.
* * * * * * *
Hooker uses a minimal amount of terminology that belongs to scholastic philosophy and so, to prepare the reader for this, we set out below using technical terms (with explanations) the traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrines of Justification by the grace of God. The reader may find that it will help at certain points in the text to return to this section in order to gain clarification and thus to be able the better to appreciate what Hooker is saying. After all, he was preaching to educated men and assumed in them knowledge of the liberal arts, basic philosophy and law.
First of all, here are all the technical terms — under the heading of causes — in the first part of the very important chapter 7 of the Decree on Justification from the Council of Trent (1545–1563):
Justification consists not only in the forgiveness of sins but also in the sanctification and renewal of the inward being by a willing acceptance of the grace and gifts whereby someone from being unjust becomes just, from being an enemy becomes a friend, so that he is an heir in hope of eternal life. The causes of this justification are: final cause, the glory of God and of Christ and of eternal life; efficient cause, the God of mercy who, of his own free will, washes and sanctifies, placing his seal and anointing with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance; meritorious cause, his most beloved and only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were at enmity with him, out of the great love with which he loved us, merited justification for us by his most holy passion on the wood of the Cross, and made satisfaction to God the Father on our behalf; instrumental cause, the sacrament of Baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which justification comes to no one. Finally, the one formal cause is the justness of God: not that by which he himself is just, but that by which he makes us just and endowed with which we are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and not merely considered to be just but we are truly named and are just, each of us receiving individually his own justness according to the measure which the Holy Spirit apportions to each one as he wills, and in view of each one’s dispositions and co-operation.
All educated in the liberal arts in the sixteenth century were familiar with the scholastic presentation of causes. Thus when the Reformed Catholics responded to the Roman Catholics they were quite capable of using these technical terms and by them both distinguishing the different aspects of justification and sanctification, and demonstrating the major chasm between Rome and the Reformers.
Following his mentor, Bishop John Jewel, and with all major Protestant Reformers, Hooker agreed with Rome on the efficient cause, that which sets off and causes the whole saving movement, and is the God of grace and mercy; on the final cause, that to which the whole movement is heading, and is the glory of God; and on the meritorious cause, the basis on which God acts, the sacrificial, atoning death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world on the Cross.
However, with respect to the other two causes there was a major chasm in understanding. In terms of the formal cause, that by which God pronounces and accepts a sinner as righteous, following the Reformers, Hooker disagreed totally with Rome. While Rome pointed to an internal righteousness from the Holy Spirit within the baptized person, Hooker pointed to the external righteousness of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ, and claimed that this perfect righteousness is imputed or reckoned to the Christian and thus on its basis he is declared righteous/just before God. With respect to the instrumental cause, the means by which, or the channel through which, God actually achieves the justification of the sinner, Hooker again followed the Reformers and disagreed totally with Rome. For Rome, Baptism was the instrument used by God to infuse his grace into the soul, while for Hooker the instrument was faith or trust in the promises of God concerning his incarnate Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for salvation. To state this did not mean that Hooker devalued the Sacrament of Baptism for the opposite is true.
Thus the doctrine that Hooker commends and defends is that assumed and articulated in the major services of The Book of Common Prayer and set out in propositional form in Articles XI, XII, XIII, XIV & XVII of The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion. Of these the first is brief and states:
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings; Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Salvation (Homily 3 in The Book of Homilies, 1547).
Here we are given the formal cause — the imputation of the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ; and the instrumental cause — Faith only. And it is made clear here, and very specifically in Article XI that, while faith is to be expressed in faithfulness and obedience, good works in themselves cannot in any way be a means of earning salvation and gaining merit before God towards acceptance by him for eternal life. Therefore, as do Article XII, XIII & XIV, Hooker rejects in the text the medieval categories of congruity and condignity with respect to works — that is, our doing good deeds can neither prepare us to receive grace nor be transferred to the accounts of others for their justification.
Since Hooker assumes knowledge of the content of the Epistle to the Galatians and Acts 15 in his discussion of the salvation of the Galatians, who had been influenced by the Judaizers, it will be beneficial to read through these texts before studying what Hooker has to say about them. They were important for him — as for all Protestant theologians — in providing an answer to the question of the status of the Roman Church before God, because of the way that they dealt with the question of the place of works in justification and sanctification.
With respect to the interpretation of prophetic texts in the New Testament, Hooker proceeds in ways which some readers today will not be familiar with, and may even find repugnant. This is because he shared the common view of Protestant scholars throughout Europe and Britain that references to “Antichrist” and “the Man of Sin” in the New Testament pointed to the Pope and the Papacy, while the portrayal of “Babylon” referred to the Church of Rome, centered on the Vatican City. (For details of this common way of understanding see Paul Christianson, Reformers and Babylon, University of Toronto Press, 1978.) Thus like his Puritan opponents and many other non-Roman Catholics from Geneva to Edinburgh and from Frankfurt to Stockholm, he used these biblical names and titles of Rome without stopping to explain why they applied to Rome. In this area, at least, they had common assumptions, as did thousands of others who used The Geneva Bible, which was very popular and influential in late Elizabethan England.
To read this Discourse will not provide the reader with a total introduction to the mind and theology of Richard Hooker. For that one needs to read The Laws. However, it will provide a very clear picture how the Church of Rome and her dogma/doctrine were viewed by a leading Church of England theologian towards the end of the sixteenth century, when there had been time to digest and reflect upon the actual Reformation that occurred under Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I. In our time we can say that the Church of Rome has certainly changed since the Council of Trent and especially after the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) — not least in the allowing of the general use of the vernacular Bible by her members, and in the Joint Declaration on Justification with the Lutherans — but in significant doctrinal ways it has not fundamentally changed at all. This situation of maintaining traditional doctrine is reflected in two very recent documents from Pope Benedict XVI and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in June–July 2007. One of these [An Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum] confirms that the use of the classic Roman Mass, which is usually called the Tridentine Latin Mass, is everywhere allowed alongside the modem vernacular Mass, and the other, answering questions about the nature of the Church [Responsa ad Quaestiones .ad Doctrinam de Ecclesia...], teaches the unique character of the Roman Church over against all other churches (in a way that seems surprising to some in these ecumenical days!).
Here is what Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states concerning Churches of the Reformation including the Anglican, Lutheran and Presbyterian:
Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Second Vatican Council not use the title of “Church” with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?
According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense.
Were Hooker here today, he would surely take pen to paper to write against this claim!
It is very interesting to note that it was John Keble, poet and cofounder of what later became the “Oxford Movement,” who edited the Works of Richard Hooker in the middle of the nineteenth century, and did so because he viewed him as a genuine representative of the classic Anglican Way, the via media between extreme Protestantism and extreme Catholicism (Tridentine). It is of interest to note that the “Oxford Movement” of the 1830s later developed into “The Anglo-Catholic Movement” and gradually adopted an ethos, theology and ceremonial that was very different to what Hooker had taught and espoused, and even what Keble himself held and practiced.
We may say in conclusion that Richard Hooker addresses Episcopalians and Anglicans in North America today — i.e., he calls both those who adventure too close to Rome and those who go too close to the modern equivalents of Puritanism and Nonconformity back to the reformed catholicity of The Anglican Way, based surely upon the Bible as the Word of God written and the historic and classic Anglican Formularies as the signposts into and the standards of this Reformed Catholicism.
The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon
Saint Bartholomew the Apostle
August 24, 2007
The numbers 1–40 in the text are those originally supplied by Hooker and are his way of ordering the content.
On Salvation and the Church of Rome
Habakkuk 1:4 “The wicked surround the righteous — therefore
judgment comes forth perverted.”
1 To gain clarity as to what the Prophet states here, we shall consider first “the wicked” who “surround the righteous;” secondly, “the righteous” that are surrounded by the “wicked;” and, thirdly, what may be known by inference — that there is perverse judgment. With respect to the first, there are two kinds of “wicked” whom the apostle Paul describes: “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside, ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you’” (1 Cor. 5:12–13). There are wicked people whom the church may judge, and there are others whom God alone judges. The wicked are both inside and outside the walls of the church. If the wicked inside the church cannot be reformed by available means, the apostolic rule of judgment is this: “Expel the wicked from among you.” If whole assemblies are ruled by the wicked then the apostolic rule is this: “Come out from them and be separate, for what fellowship can light have with darkness” (2 Cor. 6:14–18). For Habakkuk the “wicked” were the Babylonians, and, therefore, were outside the walls of the Jewish church, and they were judged by God himself.
2 Let us now consider who are the “righteous.” In doing so, let us, first of all, acknowledge that there never has been, and there is not now, any person, male or female, who is absolutely righteous, one in whom there is no unrighteousness. Even the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom, with St. Augustine, we honor for the sake of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is not to be regarded as without sin and thus righteous. The claims made by certain schools within the Roman Church that she is without sin are to be rejected. Christ paid a ransom for all, and she is in included in the “all.” In the second place, let us note that the biblical teaching is that the baptized Christian believer is truly righteous, but not so, in and of or by himself. For “Christ Jesus has become for us wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). He is “wisdom” because he has revealed his Father’s will; “righteousness” because he has offered himself as a sacrifice for sin; “holiness” or sanctification because he has given to us his Spirit; and “redemption” because he has appointed a day to vindicate his children and cause them to enjoy glorious liberty in their resurrection bodies in life of the age to come.
3 After the resurrection of the dead, in the world to come, the people of God will possess a righteousness in which they will be glorified; however, at the present time in this world they are given both a justifying and a sanctifying righteousness. The righteousness with which we shall be clothed in the world to come is both perfect and inherent and will exist in us as a permanent reality. The righteousness by which we are justified now is perfect, but not within us as our possession. And the righteousness by which we are sanctified now is within us as our possession from God, but it is not perfect. These distinctions provide the way into the plain understanding of the great controversy which still exists between us (the reformed Church of England) and the Church of Rome concerning the righteousness by which we are justified.
4 Let us at this stage note where we agree with the Roman Church. First, although Roman Catholics imagine that the mother of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was, for his honor, and by his special protection, preserved clean from all sin, yet with respect to the rest of mankind they teach, as we do, the following — that all have sinned; and that infants who have never committed sin possess defiled natures, lack righteousness and are separated from God. They also teach, as we do, that God justifies the soul of man without any other coefficient cause of righteousness; that is, the work of justification is that of God acting alone. Further, they teach, as we do, that no man has ever attained righteousness except by the merits of Jesus Christ. Also, they teach, as we do, that although Christ (who is One Person made known in Two Natures, God and Man) as God is the efficient cause and as Man the meritorious cause of our righteousness, yet there is something required in us in order for us to receive this same righteousness. How and why this is so may be illustrated with reference to our natural lives. God is the cause of our natural life and in him we live and move and have our being. He makes us alive as persons, a unity of body and soul. So, by Christ’s merits we are made righteous; but, as medicine, which is made to create health does not heal by being made but by being taken or applied, so by the merits of Christ there can be no justification without the application of his merits to us. Thus far we join hands in agreement with the Church of Rome.
5 So where do we disagree with Rome? We disagree about the nature of the very essence of the medicine whereby Christ cures our disease; about the manner of applying the cure; and about the number and power of the means, which God requires in us for the effective application of the medicine to the healing of our souls.
When Roman Catholics provide an explanation of what is the righteousness by which a man is justified before God, they answer that it is a divine, spiritual quality. This is received into the soul and causes the person to be born of God and also to be endued with power to bring forth the good works of a child of God. This activity may be likened to the soul of man, joined to the body, making him first of all to be a reasonable creature, and, secondly, enabling him to perform the natural functions that are proper to his kind. So the divine, spiritual quality, which is called grace, makes the soul gracious and lovable in the sight of God; and by it, through the merit of Christ, we are delivered from sin, as well as from eternal death and condemnation, which are the reward of sin. Further, they explain that this grace is applied by infusion, so that — as the physical body is warm by the heat that is in the body — the soul becomes righteous by inherent grace. This grace, they say, is capable of increase, even as the body may become more and more warm, and so the soul becomes more and more justified, according as grace is added. This addition is merited by good works even as good works are themselves made meritorious by grace. For which reason, in their theology the first receipt of grace in Baptism is known as the first justification, and the second receipt in being made righteous as the second justification. As grace may be increased by the merit of good works, so it may be diminished by the demerit of venial sins and lost by mortal sin. This negative situation requires, in the first instance, repair, and, in the second, recovery, and the infusion of grace provides for both these by what may be called spiritual supplements or means of making good the deficit. Grace is applied to infants through Baptism, without either faith or works, and by the direct action of God. This grace takes away both original sin and the punishment due because of this sin. With respect to adult converts, who have faith, grace is also applied to them through Baptism, and it takes away both actual sin and original sin, together with all temporal and eternal punishment deserved through sin. Justification begins at Baptism and is increased in the Christian life so that if the baptized perform more and more good works, grace increases more and more, and they are more and more justified.
To those who have diminished grace in their souls by their venial sins, it is re-applied by holy water, Ave Marias, crossings, papal salutations and similar things. These serve for reparations of decayed grace. To those who have lost it through mortal sin, it is applied by the sacrament (as they call it) of penance. This has the power to confer grace all over again, yet in such a manner that being so conferred, it does not have the same, full power as that given originally at Baptism. It only cleanses the stain and guilt of sin committed, while changing the eternal punishment due to sin into a temporal punishment for which satisfaction is to be made here in this life, if there is time, and if not, then in the hereafter. However, this punishment can be made the lighter through attendances at Mass, works of charity, pilgrimages, fasts and such like, or else shortened by special pardon or wholly removed by plenary pardon.
This whole system of manipulating grace is the crafty doing of “the man of sin/lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3 ), who arises in the last days to lead the people of God astray. The Church of Rome causes her members to tread this maze of intertwined doctrines when they ask her way of justification. I cannot take time now to dismantle this building and to sift its parts piece by piece. What I will do in few words is to set up a building of apostolic design alongside it. I do this in order that in the presence of what God has built, what happened to Dagon before the Ark, when “he” crashed to the ground (1 Samuel 5:1–5), may also befall “Babylon,” which is the Church of Rome (as St John prophesies in Revelation 18).
6 The Apostle Paul wrote: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Phil. 3: 8–9). Whether Roman Catholics speak of the first or second justification, they make the essence of both to be an inherent, divine quality; that is, they make it a righteousness which is placed and cultivated in us. If it is in us, then it is ours, as our souls are ours, though we have them from God and can hold them no longer than pleases him. For if he withdraws the breath of life we return to dust. In contrast, we teach that the righteousness wherein we must be found, if we will be justified by God, is not our own; therefore we cannot be justified by any inherent quality. Christ has merited righteousness for as many as are found in him; for in him God finds us, if we have faith, for by faith we are incorporated into him.
The fact of the matter is that in ourselves we are altogether sinful and unrighteousness. Yet God beholds with a gracious eye even the man, who in himself is impious, full of iniquity and sin, when he is found in Christ through faith, and repentant for his sins. God puts away his sin by not imputing it to him, takes away the punishment due by pardoning it, and accepts him in Jesus Christ as perfectly righteous, as if he had fulfilled by himself all that is commanded him in the law. Shall I say that he is more perfectly righteous than if he himself had fulfilled the whole law? I must be careful what I say but the Apostle says: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). In the sight of God such as is the Son of God himself so are we — perfectly righteous. Let others reckon this truth to be folly and act in frenzy or fury, or whatever! It is our wisdom and comfort; we care for no knowledge in the world but this, that man has sinned and God hath suffered: that God has made himself the sin of men, and that men are made the righteousness of God.
You see, therefore, that the Church of Rome, in teaching justification by inherent grace, perverts the truth of Christ, and that by the hands of his Apostles we have received a message different to what she teaches.
With respect to the righteousness of sanctification, we do not deny it to be inherent. Certainly we accept that, unless we do good works, we do not have it. However, we make a distinction between the righteousness of justification and that of sanctification. We are righteous the one way by the faith of Abraham and the other way by doing the works of Abraham. Of the first, St. Paul states: “To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is reckoned for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). And of the second, St. John states: “He who does what is right is righteous” (1 John 3:7). Of the righteousness of justification, St. Paul proves by Abraham’s example that we have it by faith and without works (Romans 4). Of the righteousness of sanctification, St. James, using the example of the life of Abraham, proves that we have it by works and not by faith alone (James 2:18ff.). St. Paul clearly separates these two parts of Christian righteousness one from the other, when he writes: “Now that you have been set free from sin and become the slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Rom. 6:22). The freedom from sin to become servants of God is the righteousness of justification, and the fruit in holiness is the righteousness of sanctification. By the one, we gain the right to inherit the kingdom of God, and by the other, we are brought to the actual possession of eternal bliss, and to the enjoyment of everlasting life.
7 Let us now return to the text where the prophet Habakkuk calls the Jews “the righteous” and does so, not only because, being justified by faith, they were free from (the guilt and punishment) of sin, but, also, because they had their measure of fruit unto holiness. In describing his fellow Jews in this way, the prophet is exercising charitable judgment, speaking of them according to the profession they make, and rightly allowing God alone to discern the true state of their hearts. Christians should follow this example, thinking and speaking of their brothers and sisters as those who have both a measure of the fruit of holiness and a right unto the titles, which God in special favor and mercy gives to his chosen servants. The Apostles call baptized Christians “saints” even as Habakkuk calls the Jews “righteous.” This noted, let us all seek to live in such a way as to reflect the content of the titles we have been given by God. “Godly names do not justify godless men,” said Salvian, the fifth-century writer; and he is right. We condemn ourselves when we are honored with holy names and titles, but our lives and behavior do not match them.
If we do truly have our fruit unto holiness, then we must be aware that the more we abound in this fruit, the more we have to pray to be strengthened and supported by God. Our very virtues may become snares to us. The enemy, Satan, who looks for every opportunity to ruin us, has always found it harder to overthrow a humble sinner than a proud saint. There is no worse case for disaster than the man whom Satan has persuaded that his own righteousness will present him pure and blameless in the sight of God. If we were to say (yet, in truth, we can never say), “We are not guilty of anything at all in our own consciences,” could we then proceed to plead not guilty in the presence of our Judge, who sees deeper in our hearts than we ourselves are able to see? If we have never been violent towards others, let us not forget that a bloody thought makes us murderers in God’s sight. If we have never opened our mouths to utter any scandalous, offensive, or hurtful word, let us be aware that the cry of our secret thoughts is heard in the ears of God. And even if we have not committed any evils in deeds, words or thoughts, yet we need to realize that there are many imperfections and defects in all that which we do and say. For God looks especially into the mind and intentions and sees what we cannot see.
To make this point the clearer, let us eliminate all those things in which we have had regard for our own glory, all those things we have done to please others or to satisfy ourselves, and all those things we have not done sincerely out of love for God but for an ulterior motive, and the result will be that we score very low if we even score at all in righteous deeds. Further, let the holiest and best things that we do be considered — such as engaging in worship and prayer. Here we find that our thoughts and affections are often distracted, not occasionally, but many times! Also, we find that we show little reverence to the grand Majesty of the God to whom we speak; that we reveal little remorse for our sins; that we experience little taste of the sweet influence of God’s tender mercy; and we are as unwilling to begin, as we are glad to end, our prayers, as if God in saying, “Call upon me,” had given us a very burdensome task! The best things that we do have always something in them to be pardoned. How then can we ourselves do anything that is meritorious and worthy to be rewarded before God?
Certainly God freely promises his salvation to all those believers, who sincerely keep his law, even though they are not able to keep it perfectly. This being so, we acknowledge a necessary duty to do the very best, while at the same time we totally reject any idea that we can earn merit by seeking to do that very best. For we see how far we are from the perfect righteousness of the law. The little fruit which we have in holiness is, God knows, corrupt and unsound. We put no confidence in this fruit at all; we challenge nothing in the world for it; and we dare not call God to account for it, as if he were in debt to us. Our continual plea to him is, and must be, to bear with our infirmities and to pardon our offences.
8 Once more let us return to the text from Habakkuk and ask, “Were all, or most of the people, of whom the prophet speaks, seeking to walk uprightly before God?” Did they thirst after righteousness? Did they cry out like the Psalmist, “Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees” (119:5)? Or did they lament with the apostle, “I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out. What a wretched man I am” (Rom.7)? The answer is No, and the words of other Hebrew prophets prove the point. For example, Isaiah is filled with grief as he says, “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption” (1:4). Nevertheless, despite apostasy and sin, our merciful and compassionate God does not deny us the privilege of having communion with him and beseeching him both to turn away from us the plagues of judgment we have deserved, and also to ensure that we are not surrounded by pagans and infidels. Jerusalem is a sinful city, polluted by iniquity, but Jerusalem compared with Babylon is righteous. And shall the righteous be overcome by force? Shall they be surrounded by the wicked? The prophet does not only complain, “Lord, why is it that you handle the people, who are called by your name, so harshly, and are patient with the heathen nations which despise you?”, he also in great grief cries out, “This whole thing is totally wrong! Judgment comes forth perverted.”
9 In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: “In these last days God has spoken to us by his Son” (1:2) and this has allowed us (a) to speak of the visible Church of Christ as a community of people set apart for God through the profession of that truth which God taught the world by his Son; (b) to declare that the scope of Christian doctrine is the strengthening of them whose hearts are weighted down with the burden of sin; and (c) to prove that the doctrine professed in the Church of Rome deprives people of strength and comfort, both in their lives and at their deaths. The conclusion to which we came was this: The Church of Rome being so corrupted in faith as she is, and refusing to be reformed as she does, it is our duty to sever ourselves from her. The example of our fathers (remaining in this Church in earlier centuries) may not be used to cause us to remain in communion and fellowship with that Church in hope that we, so continuing, might be saved as well as we believe that they were. I doubt not but God was merciful to save thousands of our fathers living in popish superstitions, inasmuch as they sinned ignorantly, but the truth is now laid open before our eyes. I beg you to note these words and to examine them carefully. I hold that unlearned and simple people can be mistaken without malice and be saved by implicit faith. But if this sentence is found to be as gold, then it may stand; but, if it is judged to be as hay or stubble, I shall set fire to it by my own hand (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11ff.). With respect to the standing of our fathers, two questions have arisen recently in debate — (a) Whether our fathers, who were infected with popish errors and superstitions, might be saved?, and (b) Whether their ignorance is a reasonable basis and persuasion to make us think that they might be saved? We shall, therefore, proceed by examining first what possibility, and then what probability, there is that God might be merciful to many of our fathers.
10 I repeat: Is it really possible that so many of our fathers who lived in popish superstitions were saved by the mercy of God? How could this be? Did not God speak to his people by his angel from heaven concerning Babylon (and by “Babylon” we understand the Church of Rome) in these words: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4)? In examining this prophecy, I do not take it to refer only to temporal plagues and physical death, to which God in his wrath has condemned Babylon. That is, I do not interpret it as if it were parallel to the call of Jesus to a future generation to leave Jerusalem and Judea when the city would be laid waste by the Romans (see Matt. 24:15), or to the call of God to Lot in patriarchal times to take his family and leave Sodom (Gen.19:15). What we have here is a call to leave Babylon in order not to partake of her sins and plagues. Obviously it is not temporal but eternal punishment that is spoken of here, either directly or by implication. Bearing this is mind, how was it possible for so many of our fathers to be saved, since they were so far from departing from Babylon that they took her (Rome) for their mother, and were laid to rest in her bosom?
11 First, concerning the plagues threatened to those that are partakers in the sins of Babylon: we can state nothing about our fathers out of this prophetic word, unless we show what the sins of Babylon are, and establish the identity of those who are so much partakers of these sins that everlasting plagues are inevitable for them. To do all this, we must remove from our consideration those sins that are common both in the Church of Rome and amongst those who have seceded from this Church. For the angel who said, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues,” clearly shows that he means such sins as, unless we separate totally from them, we have no power to avoid them: that is, such impieties that the Roman Catholics have established by law, and to which all that belong to them assent to, or are required to submit to. Examples of such impieties in the Church of Rome are as follows: giving to unwritten tradition the same authority and reverence as that given to Scripture; declaring that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ and Head of the universal Church on earth; claiming that the bread of the Eucharist is changed by the miracle of transubstantiation into the actual body of Christ, and that as such it is to be adored and to be offered up to God as a propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; and teaching that images of the saints are to be worshipped, and the saints themselves are to be called upon to intercede with God for us.
We need to bear in mind that some heresies concern things only to be believed — such as transubstantiation of the elements in the Eucharist — and some concern things that are practiced — such as adoration of the same elements. Now, sometimes, it is the case that people engage in the practice of adoration, who do know or understand the doctrine of transubstantiation. Yet, with whatever knowledge and devotion participation occurs, it is the case that all who participate in adoration assist in maintaining false doctrine. But the most dangerous participation is by those who, knowing heresy to be heresy, give the appearance that it is not heresy and encourage participation by others in it. Further, heresy is most obviously maintained by those who have been given wholesome admonition and yet choose obstinately to continue to hold to the heresy. Now, with respect to people in these last two categories, I do not doubt but that their condemnation is inevitable, unless they repent. But, lest anyone should think that in speaking of our fathers I speak as if their participation in heresy was uniform, I beg you to note what I am claiming: I do not doubt but that God was merciful to save thousands of them, though they lived in popish superstition. I now shall proceed to make my point clearer concerning the identity of those who, I believe, were saved by God’s mercy.
12 The fact of the matter is that there are many partakers of the error, who are not committed to the heresy of the Church of Rome. The ordinary people, who followed the practice and teaching of their guides, did what they were told to do, and, in so doing, thought that they offered God good service, when in fact they actually dishonored him. This was their error. But the heresies of the Church of Rome, their dogmas which so often are the opposite of Christian truth, are so difficult to understand that not more than one among ten thousand can do so. Even so, of the few who do understand and permit these heresies to be propagated and used, all do not permit their use to the same extent and degree. Some permit them as those who first created and established them, and this crime obviously relates only to the popes and church councils. The ordinary people are not involved at all here. Others, who maintain popish heresy not as creators but as receivers of it from others, do not maintain it as masters like the pope and bishops. Once again the ordinary people are not involved at all here; but some of those who preach to them and teach in universities surely are. Another distinction needs to be made at this point and it is this. Amongst those who have been guilty of teaching popish heresies which they received from the hierarchy, not all of them have been guilty of teaching all the popish heresies.
At this point St. Jude speaks to us: “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; ....show compassion...” (v.22). Shall we judge all within the Church of Rome to be equally guilty? Shall we cast them all into the lake of fire and brimstone — all who have been partakers in the error of Babylon together with them who live within the heresy? — all who have been the authors of the heresy with those who through terror and violence have been forced to receive it? — all who have knowingly taught it with those who by the devious methods of false teachers have been seduced to believe it? — and all who have been partakers in one heresy with those who have been partakers in many?
13 Bearing these points in mind, I accept that, although the condemnation of one is more tolerable than that of another, yet to all without exception — from the man who ploughs the field to the pope who sits in the Vatican, that is, to all partakers in the sins of Babylon — worldly plagues are due. This is true of our fathers — even though they erroneously practiced what their guides heretically taught them. After all, ending up in the pit is ordinarily the fate of both the guided and the guide, when the latter is blind.
The only way for sinners to escape the judgment of God is by appealing to the throne of grace for mercy, which mercy we do not, with Origen of Alexandria, extend to devils and damned spirits. God shows mercy to thousands, but there are thousands of others who are hardened in their sins. Christ has set the bounds and fixed the limits of heaven and hell. We read in Scripture that God’s mercy is shown to believers: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him, Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:17). Also in Scripture we read that God’s mercy is shown to the penitent: “I (Christ) have given her (Jezebel) time to repent of her immorality and she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of their ways” (Rev. 2:17–19). From these verses we conclude that our hope concerning the salvation of our fathers is useless if they were both faithless and impenitent.
14 Let us acknowledge that not all are faithless who are either weak in assenting to the truth, or rigid in maintaining things contrary to the truth. Those who hold the foundation which is precious, and who are built upon the rock which is the foundation of the Church, they shall pass the fiery trial and be saved. This will occur even if they hold the foundation weakly and, as it were, by a slender thread. It will also occur even if they place upon the foundation many ignoble and unsuitable things. If then our fathers did not hold the foundation of faith, there is no doubt but that they were faithless. If many of them did hold it, there is, therefore, no obstacle placed before the possibility that many of them might be saved.
15 If the foundation of faith includes the general grounds on which we rely when we believe the Gospel, then the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles are the foundation of Christian faith. “We believe it because we read it,” said St. Jerome. Oh that the Church of Rome did as soundly interpret these fundamental writings of the New Testament as she willingly holds and embraces them!
16 But if the foundation refers to the principal thing that is believed, then that foundation is what St Paul explained to Timothy — God incarnate, Jesus Christ: “God appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory,” (1 Tim.3:16). It is also the confession of Nathaniel: “You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel,” (John 1:49) and of the inhabitants of Samaria, “This is Christ. He is the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42). Anyone who directly denies these statements concerning Jesus, the Son of God, utterly repudiates the foundation of our faith.
Though I have indicated that the Church of Rome has engaged in harlotry more than ever Israel did, this does not mean that this Church denies that Jesus is the Christ, as plainly the Jewish synagogue does. In Ezekiel 23 Samaria compared with Jerusalem is termed Oholah, a separated tabernacle on her own, and Jerusalem, in contrast, is termed Oholibah, the resting place of the Lord. So, in whatever way we describe the Church of Rome, and compare her unfavorably to reformed Churches, we nevertheless are required to make a further distinction, that is, between Rome and assemblies of the heathen. Yet, if it were the case that our fathers directly denied that Christ crucified is the Savior of the world, then they were no different from Arabs, Muslims or pagans.
17 We do not know how many of our fathers — with others in the Church of Rome — actually ended their mortal lives saying with their last breath, “Christ my Savior, my Redeemer, Jesus!” In so speaking, did they hold the foundation of Christian faith? One answer, we hear, is stated in this way: It is possible sincerely to confess that Jesus is the Savior and Redeemer but yet to be far from salvation. What lies behind this answer is the case of the Galatian Judaizers, who joined to the confession of Jesus as the Savior the necessity of performing various ceremonies of the Mosaic law in order to be saved. In a similar way, the Church of Rome teaches her children to join other things to the confession of Christ as Savior, and thus doubts arise concerning them, even when a true confession of belief is made when dying. Obviously we need to examine these doubts a little more.
It is true that Roman Catholics join other things to the confession of Christ as Savior, but the question to be asked is this, How do they do it? Not in the work of redemption itself, which they clearly accept that Christ alone has undertaken and done sufficiently for the whole world. Rather, in terms of the application of this priceless treasure of redemption, they speak of the treasury of merits, made up of the merits of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the Saints, transferred to them and effectual for their salvation. Here, we find that, however modestly they appear to confess that they seek remission of sin only by the blood of Christ, using humbly the means appointed by him to apply the benefit of his holy blood to their souls, they teach, nevertheless, so many pernicious things in setting down these means of which they speak, that the very foundation of faith is overthrown, and the power of the blood of Jesus Christ is nullified. In the light of this, we may, therefore, dispute with them, exhort them, and urge them to repent, even as St. Paul did when he wrote to those involved in adding to the confession of faith in Galatia.
Here let me pose a question, relating to the Galatians. If some of these Christian Judaizers, who heartily embraced the foundation of Christ the Savior, had come to the end of their lives, before they were taught how perilous is the added teaching concerning the necessity of rites of the Mosaic law, would they then, at death, be the recipients of the mercy of God because of their faith in Jesus as the only Savior? Or would the damaging effect of this error of circumcision cancel all possibility of salvation? I begin my answer by noting that, while they did overthrow the foundation of faith, they did so through what may be termed a logical consistency and not directly or intentionally. In our time, do not the Lutheran Churches do the same to the foundation, by holding tenaciously their false doctrine of consubstantiation, with respect to the Eucharistic elements? So I would say that I dare not deny the possibility of the salvation of our fathers, who have been in certain ways the chief instruments of our salvation, even though they carried to their grave a persuasion so greatly repugnant to the truth as it is in Jesus. Since it may be said of the Church of Rome as of the church of Philadelphia, “I know you have little power but you have kept my word” (Rev. 3:8), this may be taken to mean that she does not directly deny the foundation of Christianity. So I may, without offence I trust, persuade myself that thousands of our fathers of former times, living and dying within her walls, might have found mercy at the hands of God.
18 It may be objected, that our fathers did not repent of their errors before they died. God forbid that I should open my mouth to oppose Christ himself who said, “Unless you repent, you will perish” (Luke 13:30). Let us be clear on this point: if they did not repent they perished. But, in considering this, let us also note that we all have the benefit in life of what may be termed a double repentance. That is, repentance for known, specific sins of thought, word and deed, and repentance for unknown sins and errors, those secret sins of which we are totally unaware and of which David prayed: “Cleanse me, O Lord, from my secret sins” (Psalm 19:12). Those who truly hold the foundation make use of this double repentance, looking in both instances to the gracious mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness.
19 But our (Puritan) opponents are not convinced by what has been said thus far concerning the salvation of many of our fathers and they are suspicious of what is called general repentance. After all, they say, some infidels and heathen are not so godless but that they may also cry to God for mercy when at death’s door and desire in general to have their sins forgiven by him. However, even if they do so, it is said, it will not avail because for such as deny the foundation of faith there can be no salvation, if God treats them according to the revealed principles by which he administers the Gospel. They also point to the Judaizers of Galatia, who they claim, overthrew directly the foundation by their belief that circumcision is required for salvation. Therefore, the truth for our opponents is that, if any of the Galatians died in this persuasion, whether before or after they were told of their error, their position before God was dreadful; and there was only one prospect for them, death and condemnation. They cite what the Apostle told the Galatian Christians, “If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. You, who are trying to be justified by law, have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:2–4). So the conclusion, they arrive at, is that for those in the Church of Rome the situation is much the same. St. Paul spoke a long time ago of those who are seduced by the Antichrist: “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” ( 2 Thess. 2:10–11). And St. John speaks of the same Beast (Antichrist) in this way: “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast — all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb of God” (Rev.13:8), who is Jesus the Christ. Indeed, many in former times (patristic and early medieval), as their books and writings reveal, held the foundation, that is, salvation by Christ alone, and therefore they might be saved. For God has always had a true church among those who have firmly kept his saving truth. But, as for those who hold with the Church of Rome that we cannot be saved by Christ alone unless works are added, what the Puritans say is this: Not only by a circle of logical consequence, but also directly, the Romanists deny the foundation of faith. They do not hold it, not so much as by a slender thread.
20 Having stated what is said by my opponents against the position I am arguing, I must now address the subject of general repentance, so as to make clearer what I have already stated about repentance and the foundation of faith. To escape the wrath of God against sin, does a murderer, a blasphemer, an unclean person, a Muslim, a Jew, or any sinner whatsoever, merely have to say, “God forgive me”? The answer is obviously “No.” It never came into my heart to assert that a general repentance serves to cover all sins for all sinners. A general repentance serves only for the common failures of our sinful life, and for those faults which either we do not notice or do not know to be faults. Our fathers were actually penitent for sins by which they displeased God; and if they were not, then what I have said about them already is not true. Further, I have proved that they could not be saved unless they held the foundation of faith. This being so, why is it not readily accepted by my opponents that thousands of our fathers, although they lived in popish superstitions, might yet be saved solely by the mercy of God? Let us explore this more.
First, if they had directly denied the very foundation of Christianity, without specifically repenting of that sin of denial, then for them to be saved would both require God to act in ways contrary to his own will and for him also to extend an extraordinary privilege of divine mercy to them. This possibility I have not suggested. Secondly, if the foundation is denied, it is denied by the power of one or another heresy which the Church of Rome maintains. But how many were there amongst our fathers who, being seduced by the common error of that Church, never knew the meaning of all her heresies! So that if all popish heretics perished for their sins, then thousands of them who lived only in popish superstitions might be saved. Thirdly, seeing that all who held popish heresies did not hold all the heresies of the pope, why might not thousands, who were infected with other leaven, live and die not poisoned by this leaven, and so be saved? Fourthly, if they all had held this heresy, many held it no doubt only in the form of words, which a sympathetic observer might explain as being very different from holding zealously the poisoned conceit of the heresy itself. As, for example, did they hold that we cannot be saved by Christ without works? We ourselves do hold to this proposition but only as interpreted within the context provided by this statement of Paul, “With the heart man believes unto justification and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10) — where faith leads to faithfulness and good works. With the exception of infants, and people who die immediately after their conversion, no other person shall see God unless he seeks peace and holiness, though not as a cause of his salvation, but, rather, as a way through which he must walk if he will be saved. That is, it may be said of our fathers that they held that, as both St. James and St. Paul teach, justification by faith implies and requires good works and sanctification, but, at the same time, a person does not see God because he is sanctified, but because he is justified by God’s grace, accepted in Christ, and as such he desires to be holy and to please the Lord.
21 To continue this point, it will be recalled that we have already demonstrated that there are two kinds of Christian righteousness, one outside of ourselves, which we have by imputation, and the other within us, and this consists of faith, hope, charity and other Christian virtues. St. James proves that Abraham had both kinds: his believing of God’s promise was imputed to him for righteousness, and his obedience to God in being ready to offer up his son, when asked by God to do so, revealed he was being made righteous. It is God who gives us both of these forms of righteousness — the one by accepting us as righteous in Christ, and the other by working Christian righteousness in us. The proper and most immediate efficient cause of the righteousness within us is the Spirit of adoption, which we have received into our hearts (Rom 8:15ff.). It consists of, and is really made up of, those infused virtues proper and particular to saints, which the Spirit brings into our lives, as directed by God the Father. The effects of the arrival of the Spirit are what the Apostle calls the fruit, the works and the gifts of the Spirit and, by these, what we call sanctifying righteousness is both made present and ready to increase. This righteousness within us may be usefully divided into two kinds, habitual and actual. The habitual refers to that which is placed within us by the arrival of the Spirit when we become temples of the Spirit, and the actual refers to the holiness that is created within us, and is intended to increase to beautify all parts and actions of our lives — and for which biblical characters like Enoch, Job, Zachariah, Elizabeth and other saints are commended.
In answer to the question, which of these gifts of God we receive first, I answer as follows: that we receive together at the same time the gift of the Spirit, the virtues of the Spirit, and the grafting of habitual, sanctifying righteousness in the heart, together with the external righteousness of Christ, which is imputed. To have one of these is to have all, for they come together and belong together in God’s saving work. No man is justified unless he believes; no man believes unless he has faith; and no man has faith unless he has received the Spirit of adoption. Imputed righteousness is no doubt the greatest gift of God, but it is not the first in terms of time. For there must first be the presence of the Spirit in the heart to create faith so that a man may believe the Gospel; however, the same Spirit who awakens faith in the heart also brings hope and love with other sanctifying gifts. Thus it is that faith (a) is a part of sanctification and yet, at the same time necessary for sanctification to begin; and (b) is perfected by good works, and yet no human works are good unless they proceed from faith.
Finally, we return to the case of our fathers to ask how they might hold that we are justified by faith alone and yet hold also that without good works we are not justified. Did they think that men merit rewards in heaven by the works they perform on earth? If they did so, we may recall that there is a long established use of “meriting” to mean “obtaining” as is seen in the Lutheran Wittenberg Confession: “We teach that good works commanded of God are necessarily to be done, and that by the free kindness of God, they merit their certain rewards.” So exercising a charitable interpretation, we may say that many of our fathers thought of meriting in terms of obtaining and so did not set aside the foundation of faith in their belief in merit with respect to good works.
But fifthly, even if it were the case that during their lives our fathers took meriting to mean earning salvation by good works, it is still possible that in dying they took meriting to mean obtaining by grace alone. Experience provides many examples of how people think and act differently, when helplessly they face death, than when in the midst of life, they think that life is totally open before them and they are fully in command of their situations. Upon the death bed, when a realistic view is taken of the life that is coming to an end, a man is more likely to think that he needs the mercy of God, rather than that he has earned merit before God to deserve salvation. So many of our fathers forsook all things wherein they had put any trust and confidence as they realized, on leaving this world, that they had no staff to lean upon, no rest or comfort to enjoy, except that provided by Jesus, the Savior.
22 Consider this proposition of my opponents: To hold the doctrine of the Church of Rome that we cannot be saved by Christ alone, without works added, is directly to deny the foundation of faith. It follows, from what we have already said, that, even if this proposition is true, there are still good reasons for hoping that thousands of our fathers living in popish superstitions might be saved. But what if this proposition is not true? What if neither the teaching of the Judaizing Galatians concerning circumcision nor this of the Church of Rome about works are truly direct denials of the foundation? There is no need for me to repeat what I have said about these things here. Further, since the question concerning our fathers has also been partially answered, I will now give my attention to considering in some depth matters surrounding the proposition just stated, and, in doing so, will necessarily cover some of the same ground that I have already traversed. In particular, I shall answer five questions: (i) What is the foundation of faith? (ii) What may be regarded as a direct denial of the foundation? (iii) Whether God’s elect may fall so far as directly to deny the foundation? (iv) Whether the Judaizing Galatians denied the foundation by accepting the error about circumcision and the law? And, finally, (v) Whether the Church of Rome, because of this one doctrine of works, may be thought to have denied the foundation and thereby to have become no more a Christian Church than are the assemblies of the Muslims and Jews?
23 When the word foundation is used figuratively it always has a resemblance to a material building, as it does when used of both the doctrine of Christianity and the community of Christians. With respect to civil life, the experts teach that commonwealths are based on laws and that people cannot be bound together except by a common commitment to laws. And the basis of such laws is that no person ought to be hurt or injured by another. If you remove this foundation, you take away laws and then what will become of a commonwealth? So it is in our spiritual Christian community, which is not to be understood of the “Church mystical” or “Church invisible” of which Christ is the only head and the chief cornerstone, but rather of the visible Church, the foundation of which is the doctrine of the prophets and apostles (Ephesians 1–2). This doctrine is indicated in the words of Peter to Christ, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:69), and in those of St Paul to Timothy, “The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith” (2 Timothy 3:15).
In fact the question, “What shall we do to have eternal life?” (Luke 10:25) arises within our ordinary life in this world. The desire both for immortality, and for the knowledge of how it may be obtained, is so natural to people that even those who are not persuaded what they shall do to obtain eternal life, nevertheless wish that they might know a way to see no actual ending of their lives. And because natural means are not able to resist the power of death, there is no people on earth — even the most savage — which has not devised some form of seeking supernatural help and support in order to avoid, or to face, the reality of death. So it may be claimed that this longing to be saved, joined to lack of understanding of the true way of salvation, has been the cause of all the superstitions in the world. Oh that the pitiable position of our fellow human beings, who wander in darkness and know not where they go, could give us understanding hearts, worthily to value the riches of the mercies of God towards us, before whose eyes the doors of the kingdom of God stand wide open (cf. Matt. 11:12).
But I am getting off track and must return to what the ground of salvation is. The doctrine of the Gospel of Christ both promises eternal salvation and sets out the way to receive that salvation. The young slave girl, who could predict the future, spoke the truth when she cried out: “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they are telling you the way to be saved,” (Acts 16:17) — that is “a new and living way Christ opened for us through the curtain [of the Holy of Holies] that is, through his body/flesh” (Hebrews 10:20). This is salvation purchased by the death of Christ. By this foundation, before the time of the written law, the children of God were distinguished from the rest of mankind. The holy patriarchs professed it while alive and spoke specifically of it in the hour of their death (Heb. 11:4–22). It comforted Job in the midst of grief (Job 19:23f.). Later it was the anchor to which all the righteous in Israel held on, from the time of the writing of the law until the advent of Christ Jesus, and every prophet makes mention of it (Luke 1:70; 24:25ff.). Further, it was known by so many people that when the promises concerning the Savior were about to be fulfilled that Gentiles came to hear of it – did not the wise men come from afar to see Jesus? When the Messiah was born, as many as were his, that is, the true Israelites, acknowledged that he was their salvation — the One who was the long-expected Hope of Israel, and that Seed in whom all the nations of the world should be blessed (Gal. 3:16). So that now his Name is a name of ruin, a name of death and condemnation, unto those who still look for another Messiah, that is, to as many as look for salvation in anyone but in him: “For amongst men there is given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This is the doctrine of salvation that St. Mark teaches in the very first words of his Gospel: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ...”
The foundation upon which the structure of the Gospel is erected is this — that very Jesus whom the Virgin conceived of the Holy Spirit, whom Simeon embraced in his arms, whom Pilate condemned, whom the Jews crucified, whom the Apostles preached: he is Christ, the Lord, the only Savior of the world, and “no other foundation can man lay” (1 Cor. 3:11). Having explained what is the foundation, I must move on to show what it is involved in directly overthrowing it. However, first, in brief, I must indicate what it means to hold the foundation.
24 There are those who claim that many Gentiles, who never heard the name of Christ, nevertheless held the foundation of Christianity. Why? Because it is held that they acknowledged the providence of God, his infinite wisdom, strength and power, his goodness and mercy to human beings; that God judges the wicked but rewards the righteous who seek him. The point being made is that they could not believe all this without having a sound foundation, Jesus Christ, even though they were not explicitly aware of it. But, in response, might not we claim, by the same kind of reasoning, that the ploughman in the field knows all the sciences in which philosophers have excelled? That is he knows that seed planted will under the right conditions grow and that an acorn will produce an oak tree, and from this it may be deduced that he understands the science that tells how such growth takes place! To avoid any confusion, we maintain that to hold the foundation is to acknowledge it in specific terms.
25 Now because the foundation is an affirmative proposition, any who deny it overthrow it. That is, any who directly overthrow it, deny it directly, and any who overthrow it indirectly do so by making an assertion which logically leads to the denial of the foundation. What is the question between pagans and Christians but this, whether salvation is by Christ? What is it between Jews and Christians but this, whether Jesus is the Messiah? Christianity is based upon Christ and to reject Christ is to reject the foundation. When Paul was brought before Festus the major issue at stake was whether the Jesus, whom Paul proclaimed, was raised from the dead and was truly the Messiah, in whom alone is God’s salvation for mankind (Acts 25:18f.). The Gentile ruler and the Jews denied the foundation but Paul firmly proclaimed it. If we move on through time in the history of the early Church, we have examples of Christian leaders affirming that in Jesus alone is salvation against all denials of this, either by Gentiles or Jews — for example, Tertullian in his Apology (c.197), Arnobius in Adversus Gentes (c.320); and Chrysostom in his Orations against the Jews (c. 380). In contrast, the writings of the fathers of the early Church against the heretics (e.g., Novatians [the third-century Puritans] and Pelagians [who exalted human free will]) within the churches do not face a direct denial of the foundation. Rather they face an indirect overturning of the foundation through the presence of serious, false doctrines, the logical consequences of which lead to the rejection of the foundation. So in summary, we say that all infidels deny the foundation directly, and by logical consistency many Christians, and even whole churches, deny the foundation indirectly. But we do, and must, hold that the presence of error through the logical inference does not automatically make the churches teaching error not to be Christian churches, for practically they do not explicitly deny the foundation but affirm it.
26 Now we must move on to face the question arising from the biblical doctrine of election. Is it possible for those whom God chose in Christ to obtain glory, who have been called by the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, and who have been justified by faith, later to fall away so far as directly to deny the foundation — the very foundation which before they had embraced from the heart with joy and comfort in the Holy Spirit?
Concerning the content of the Gospel, devils know the same facts that Christians believe, and so do many others, who have heard but not truly submitted to the Gospel. Both nominal and genuine Christians are said to have faith, but the faith by which we are justified is not merely belief but living faith and trust, created in us by the presence and work of the Spirit of adoption. Further, we receive the truths of the Gospel as not only True but also as Good, while devils and nominal Christians receive them as only true. Also, for the genuine Christian believer, the more he increases in faith, the more his joy and comfort increase. In contrast, for others, the experience of knowing more of the truth leads to fear and trembling, so much so that in some cases they wish that God would annihilate them rather than give them everlasting punishment. Again, with respect to real believers, the opposite of this severe depression is found, since they know that the deeper their faith and knowledge of the truth, the greater is their joy. In fact, there is no grief or torment of soul greater for those truly justified by faith as when they sense that their commitment to the truth as good is not as profound as it ought to be.
The cause of spiritual life within us is Christ dwelling in the soul of man, yet not in a carnal or fleshly way, but, in much the same way as something apprehended by the mind is said to inhabit and possess the mind. By hearing the doctrine of Christianity, the mind creates a picture or concept of Christ; and, as by the light of nature, the mind apprehends those truths that are rational, so by the illumination of the Spirit of the Almighty, that which is saving truth, and which is far above human reason, is conceived by the mind. Whenever we read that “the Spirit is our life” or “the Word our life” or “Christ our life,” we are to take these to point to our life in Christ, made possible by the hearing and receiving of the Gospel concerning Christ the Savior, coming to us in the power of the Spirit. Initially, we are born again not of corruptible seed, but by the incorruptible word of God, which lives and abides for ever (1 Pet. 1:23). Our first embracing of Christ is our being raised from the state of death and condemnation (Eph.2:1–6). “He who has the Son has life,” says St John, “And he who does not have the Son does not have life” (1 John 5:12). If, therefore, he who once had the Son may cease to have the Son — though it be for a moment only — he ceases for that moment to have everlasting life. But the life of those who live by the Son of God is everlasting, and, further, the justified man who is alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom he has life, lives always in and with Christ.
As long as that which causes, gives and promotes everlasting life abides in us, so long we live; and we know that the cause of our life abides in us for ever. For if Christ, the fountain of life, may decide to leave our souls where he has been dwelling, what shall become of his promise: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). If the seed of God, which contains Christ, may be conceived in the soul and then cast out, how does St Peter call it “imperishable” (1 Pet. 1:23)? And how does St John affirm that it abides for ever (1 John 3:9)? If the Holy Spirit, who is given to cherish and preserve the seed of life, may be given and then taken away, how is it the guarantee of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14)? And how does it continue with us for ever (John 14:16f.)? If, therefore, the man who is once declared righteous by faith shall live by faith and live for ever, it follows that anyone who begins to believe the foundation must also believe the one and same foundation for ever. If he believes it for ever how can he directly deny it? Where faith holds the direct affirmation, there can be no direct negation, if faith continues.
But you will point to common, human experience and give such examples as these — of a holy person forsaking his holiness to become impure and a friend becoming an enemy, and move on from these examples to suggest the following. That as hope may wither so faith may die in the heart of man; the Spirit may be quenched (1 Thess. 5:9), grace may be extinguished, and they who believe may turn away from the truth. In response, I grant that we all have the tendency and are prone to forsake God. But is God as ready to forsake us? Our minds are changeable, but is his? Do not the Scriptures make it clear that to those whom God has justified, it is the Father’s will to give the kingdom (Luke 12:32)? Here it is assumed that the kingdom is given if they continue grounded and established in the faith, and do not depart from the hope of the Gospel (Col. 1:23), that is, if they “abide in love and holiness” ( 1 Tim. 2:15). Therefore, when our Savior spoke of the sheep, effectually called and truly gathered into the fold, he said: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). In promising to save them, he promised, no doubt, to preserve them from anything that could either remove them from him or take away their salvation.
Every error in things relating to God is repugnant to faith; every negative thought to hope; every excessive desire to love; every impurity of thought and blemish in action to holiness. But heresy such as that of the Ebionites, Cerinthus and others whom the apostles felt obliged to oppose; that testing of God in which Israel engaged in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:6ff.); that loss of first love with coldness of heart as seen in the church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:4); and those foul sins against the Ten Commandments, which such as Noah, Manasseh, David, Solomon and Peter committed — all these are in their nature so contrary to the virtues (faith, hope and love) that they leave no place for salvation without an actual repentance. Infidelity, extreme despair, hatred of God, hardness of heart and all ungodliness cannot stand where there is the least spark of faith, hope and love, or sanctity, even as extreme cold cannot exist where there is extreme heat! Thus I conclude that the man who is born of God has the promise that in him the seed of God will abide and remain (1 John 3:9). And this seed is a sure preservative against those most serious sins which cause apostasy, for God will preserve the elect as “the apple of his eye” (Ps. 17:80).
If we directly deny the foundation of faith, we are plainly guilty of infidelity, for where there is faith, infidelity is excluded. Therefore, anyone who has once sincerely believed in Christ, who is the foundation of Christian faith, will never directly deny the foundation. Did not Peter and many others, who once believed, deny Christ and then return to believing in him? Let us be clear. It is possible to make an outward statement of faith and not to have faith in the heart (e.g., as Judas Iscariot); and it is possible not to make an outward statement and yet possess faith in the heart. Although Peter (for whom Christ prayed, Luke 22:31f.) and others did not commit by their public denial of Christ the sin of infidelity (which is an inward, definite denial of Christ in the heart), yet they sinned notoriously and grievously. They committed that which they knew to be against the law of God, which calls for total loyalty to God. It was thus necessary that God, whose purpose was to save their souls, should touch their hearts, leading to true and sincere repentance, that his mercy might restore them again to life and that they might not become, because of sin, the children of death and condemnation.
I hope now that I may safely state that if those justified by faith err — as they will — and come to see that error, God saves them through general repentance. If they fall into heresy, he will call them, at one time or another, to specific repentance. But with respect to infidelity and apostasy, God preserves them from these for ever. So we may easily know what to think of those Galatians, whose hearts were so possessed by truth, if it had been possible, they would have plucked out their own eyes to present to their teachers (Gal. 4:15). It is true that later they were much changed in mind and affection so that the Galatians to whom Paul wrote, were no longer the Galatians they had been formerly. Because of errors they had strayed but they were still Christ’s sheep. Certainly, they held perilous opinions, which indirectly overthrow the foundation, but they did not in holding error actually overthrow the foundation directly.
We must, therefore, make a distinction between, on the one hand, those who err in ignorance and who retain a mind ready to be instructed in the truth, and, on the other hand, those who, after hearing the truth, persist in stubborn defense of their blindness. Nor surprisingly the blessed Apostle called “dogs” the heretical and obstinate teachers who required circumcision (Phil.3:2). In contrast, he pitied, took up in his arms, lovingly embraced, kissed and treated with more than fatherly tenderness simple, ignorant men who had been seduced to think that the Judaizers taught the truth. In fact, he spoke of them in such a kindly way that it is difficult to know whether it was love of their good affections, or grief for the danger in which their opinions placed them, which moved him in tenderness. Certainly we can agree that their opinions were dangerous, but also we can agree that so also were other opinions, e.g., the teaching that the kingdom of Christ would be an earthly kingdom, and the doctrine that the Gospel was only for the Jews. These two opinions are contrary to the teaching of both the prophets and the Catholic Church. Yet, we can agree that those who held these opinions were not the worst people in the world. We recall also that the heresy of autonomous free-will was a millstone around the neck of Pelagians, but shall we judge as doomed to everlasting death all those fathers, especially in the Greek Church, who being misguided, died still holding to the error of free-will?
Two statements can be made concerning the Galatians. First, those who were first justified by faith, then deceived, and died before receiving admonition, might be saved, even in their error. Secondly, those who were justified by faith, then deceived, and then admonished, found the mercy of God effectual in converting them from their error — for no-one who is Christ’s by divine election shall perish. I take it that there is no controversy concerning the second statement; however, with respect to the first, it is claimed by some that their error was plainly a direct denial of the foundation. Yet if Paul and Barnabas had held such a view of the error of the Galatians, they would surely have spoken rather differently than they did at the Council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15). That is, at the Council they called them “believers” which implies that there was no direct denial of the foundation.
It is clear from the reading of Galatians 4 that Paul judged the error of the Judaizers to be that they insisted that the Church of Christ should observe the Jewish Calendar and keep the ceremonies and sacraments of the law of Moses. However, it is also clear that in condemning their error Paul conceded that they knew God and were known of him; and that they were children of God, begotten of the imperishable seed of the Gospel. In fact, if one takes the strongest criticisms made by the Apostle and evaluates them, one comes to the conclusion that despite their serious errors, they were still, in some way, Christian believers, for they knew that in Christ and by grace was their salvation.
If anyone thinks that what I am presenting no other learned and godly theologian has presented, let him note the following statement from Martin Bucer, the German theologian who became Professor of Divinity at Cambridge: “Surely those brothers who, in St. Paul’s time, thought that God laid a necessity upon them to make choice of days and food, spoke as they believed, and were obliged, also, to condemn that liberty which they supposed had been brought into the Church against the authority of Scripture. Otherwise it would have been pointless for Paul to admonish them not to condemn those who ate without scruples whatever was set before them. Now this error, if you consider it thoroughly, overthrew at once all Scripture, in which we are taught salvation by faith in Christ. I mean all Scripture — what the prophets foretold, and what the apostles preached, of Christ. This error brought along with it the direct denial of Christ, which led Paul to complain that his labor amongst them had been in vain, because of their embracing of circumcision! Yet, so far was Paul from striking the names of the Galatians out of the book of salvation that he commanded others to entertain them, to accept them as choice human beings, and to treat them as brothers. Paul knew the stupidity of man and had a real sense of the depth of human moral and spiritual blindness; but yet, being sure that these Galatians were truly the sons of God, possessing genuine reverence for Christ, he would not have them treated as enemies of that which as yet they could not count themselves as friends. In fact, they displayed a strong love of the truth as they unwittingly resisted and rejected the truth. They acknowledged Christ to be their only and perfect Savior, but did not see how repugnant to their faith in Jesus Christ was their believing in the necessity of ceremonies required by the law of Moses.” [From Bucer, De vera et falsa caenae dominicae administratione, Neuburg, 1546.]
Having considered in detail the situation of the Galatians, I come now to the last question: Whether the doctrine of the Church of Rome concerning the necessity of works for salvation is a direct denial of the foundation of our faith?
27 I do not seek to force upon you any private opinions of my own. The most learned of theologians are of the judgment that all the heresies and corruptions of the Church of Rome do not prove that she denies the foundation directly. If they did, they would prove her simply not to be a Christian Church at all. In a public letter to Socinus in 1549, John Calvin, the Genevan reformer, wrote: “When I say that the in the papacy there have remained remnants of the church, I do not limit this to the elect who are scattered throughout. Rather, I am convinced that the ruins of the destroyed church are present in the papacy. But in order not to be drawn into a long debate, the authority of Paul must satisfy us, who says that the Antichrist will sit in the temple of God (2 Thess. 2:4). Moreover, I believe that I have proven with sufficiently valid reasons that the church, although half-destroyed — or even, if you will, totally destroyed and deformed — in a certain sense remains intact in the papacy” (Epistle 1323, Opera Omnia). Let me propose this question to your wise consideration: Is it not the case that an outburst of frenzy, though it has the effect of taking away the role of reason, actually proves that the person, who has it, is in fact a reasonable creature? In like manner, in the Roman Church, does not the presence of Antichrist sitting therein, prove that it has been and remains in some measure a Christian church? I have not heard any sound argument against the belief in God’s sure promise to keep his elect from worshipping the beast and receiving his mark on their forehead. In fact, God has preserved and will preserve them from receiving any deadly wound at the hands of the “man of sin/lawlessness,” the very “man” whose deceit has prevailed only over such as never loved the truth and took pleasure in unrighteousness (Rev. 13:16; 14:9 & 2 Thess. 2:3). In all ages, those whose hearts have delighted in the truth, and whose souls have thirsted after righteousness, might have been saved even when they had descended into most serious error. Further, if they received the “mark” of heresy, the same mercy would have converted them.
How far Romish heresies may prevail over God’s elect; how many God has kept from falling into them; and how many have been converted from them, these are not the question we now face. For if heaven had not received even one person of this type in the last thousand years, it may still be true that the doctrine which Rome professes today does not directly deny the foundation and so does not prove that it is not a Christian Church. I have already quoted John Calvin, let me now quote from A Treatise of the Church (1578) by Phillipe De Plessis Mornay, the French Huguenot leader: “I do not deny the name of ‘Church’ to Rome, even as I do not deny the name of ‘man’ to a man who is suffering from great sickness and is at death’s door. Salvation in Jesus Christ joins the Head with the Body, Jesus Christ with his Church. With respect to Rome, the body is nearly severed from the head by man’s merits, the merits of the saints, the Pope’s pardons and other types of spiritual wickedness. The body is held on by a tiny thread but still there is life in the body.” Finally, let me quote from the preface to the book, On the Christian Religion, by Jerome Zanchius, the Italian who taught at the University of Heidelberg. “I acknowledge the Church of Rome, even at this present day, for a church of Christ, such a church as was Israel under Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:26ff., & 2 Chron. 10:2ff.) yet still a church. And I do so for this reason that except a man deceive himself, he must recognize that the Church of Rome firmly and steadfastly, now and always, holds the true doctrine of God and of the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ; baptizes in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; confesses and proclaims Christ to be the only Redeemer of the world and the Judge of the living and the dead, receiving true believers into everlasting joy and casting faithless and godless men with Satan and his angels into the unquenchable flames.”
28 I will now state succinctly the question before us concerning Rome.
Bearing in mind that Christ, being immortal, needs no vicar to replace him, let the Pope, who falsely claims to be Christ’s vicar, descend from his high throne and no longer hold men’s souls captive by his papal jurisdictions: let him no longer count himself the supreme lord over the princes of the earth, treating kings as if they were merely his sub-tenants; let his stately senate in the Vatican submit themselves to the yoke of Christ and cease to dye their garments (as did Edomites — see 2 Sam 8:13 & 1 Kings 11:15ff.) in blood; let them, from the highest to the lowest, hate and forsake their idolatry, solemnly renounce all their errors and heresies by which they have perverted the truth; and let them strip their Church of all polluted rags, except this one: “By Christ alone, without works, we cannot be saved.” It is sufficient for me if I show that the holding of this one false thing, this error, does not prove that the foundation of faith is directly denied in the Church of Rome.
29 Good works are an addition to the foundation. What are the implications of this? First of all, the foundation is not subverted by every kind of addition. Simply to add to those fundamental words (Salvation only by Jesus Christ) is not necessarily to mingle wine with dirty water, heaven with earth, or polluted things with the blood of Christ. What if I say: “You cannot be saved only by Christ without this addition: Christ believed in the heart, confessed with the mouth, and obeyed in daily life”? Because I add, do I therefore deny that which I directly affirmed? There may be an addition which serves to explain the foundation and does not overthrow it, but rather proves and concludes the proposition to which it is attached. Anyone who says that Peter was the chief apostle proves that Peter was an apostle (Ga1.2:9). Anyone who says that our salvation is of the Lord “through sanctification of the Spirit and faith in the truth” (1 Thess. 2:13) proves that our salvation is of the Lord. But if that which is added to the foundation be of such a kind as to take away the very essence of that to which it is attached, then it follows that it overthrows rather than confirms. This may be seen in the following example. Anyone that says, “Our election is of grace for the sake of our works,” denies by the words, “for the sake of our works,” that our election is of grace; for the grace which elects us is no grace if it elects us for our works’ sake.
30 We must note that the adding of works to the foundation by Rome is not like the adding of circumcision by the Judaizers of Galatia. Christ did not come to cancel and take away good works, but he did come to take away circumcision and put in its place holy baptism. For anyone to say, “You cannot be saved by Christ unless you are circumcised,” is to add an excluded thing to the foundation — a thing not only not necessary, but also necessary not to be kept by those who would be saved. On the other hand, for anyone to say, “You cannot be saved by Christ without works,” is to add something that is not only not excluded, but commanded under certain conditions, even by Christ himself, the author of salvation. Did not Jesus say: “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 5:20). The Pharisees zealously obeyed the letter of the law in minor matters but failed to follow the spirit of the law in major matters. As they were in minor matters, so must we be in judgment and the love of God. Christ gives us much liberty in matters ceremonial, but in moral matters no liberty. So we conclude that adding works of righteousness to the foundation is not so repugnant as adding circumcision.
31 We say that our salvation is by Christ alone; therefore, is it true — as some say — that if we add anything in any way at all to Christ in the matter of salvation then we overthrow the foundation? Not really! We do not teach Christ alone, excluding our own faith, unto justification; or Christ alone excluding our own works, unto sanctification. Our adversaries claim that we tread all Christian virtues under our feet in stating that justification is by faith alone. If they paid attention to what we say they would know that what we say is this: that hope and charity (love) are always present in the soul where there is true faith; that good works are necessary duties for those justified by faith; that faith alone of the virtues is the means of receiving Christ for justification; that putting on Christ in justification is the only garment which can cover completely our defiled human natures, hide the imperfections of our good works, and preserve us blameless in the sight of God, before whom we would be guilty and excluded from the kingdom of heaven, if we were not clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
Let us now focus on the word “alone” and note what it does exclude. To help make things clear here is an illustration. When we say that the judge alone determines the case in court, we do not mean that no one else will be present and no one else will say anything. All kinds of persons will be present performing their appointed tasks but the judge alone will decide guilt or innocence, and the nature of the sentence if there is one. So, with regard to Christ alone as the Savior, we may say that this does not exclude everything else, but it does give to Christ himself a unique position and role. Thus as we have received, so we teach that besides the unique work of Christ acting alone, completing all the parts of our salvation and purchasing our salvation, many things are required for the conveyance of this eminent blessing to us — for example, to be known and chosen of God before the foundation of the world; in the world to be called, justified and sanctified; and after we have left this world to be received into glory. Now in all these things Christ has a work that he performs alone. Through him — according to the eternal purpose of God before the foundation of the world — born, crucified, buried, raised and exalted, we were known unto God and accepted by him long before we were seen by human beings; that is, God knew us, loved us, was kind towards us in Christ Jesus, and in him we were elected to be heirs of everlasting life.
Thus far, what we have described is as if we ourselves were totally inactive, like wood in the carpenter’s hand or clay in the potter’s hand. However, while the carpenter can choose the best wood available for his work and the potter the best clay for his purposes, God works with imperfect, sinful creatures to make them become what is pleasing to him. So by him alone we have redemption, remission of our sins through the blood of Christ, healing by his wounds, righteousness by him and sanctification of the Church so that it is made glorious for Christ at the last day when we enter finally into the fullness of joy. At the same time, we are not exactly like wood or clay, and we do have a part to play as given us by God: such as, the hearing of the Gospel so that we may be called; believing the Gospel so that we may be justified; displaying the fruit of the Spirit so that we may be sanctified; and persevering in hope, faith and holiness so that we may enter into everlasting rest.
32 It is asked: What then is the error of the Church of Rome? The answer is not that she requires good works from those who will be saved. Rather, it is that she attributes to good works a power of satisfying God for sin and also a virtue both to merit grace here in this life and also glory in heaven. I readily agree that the holding of this error overthrows the foundation of faith; but I do not agree that it does so by a direct denial. In fact, I emphatically deny that it constitutes a direct denial. I have already explained what a direct denial of the foundation is. Christ is the subject which the doctrine of the Gospel treats, and it treats Christ as a Savior. Thus salvation by Christ is the foundation of Christianity. As for good works, they are secondary, only necessary because our sanctification cannot be accomplished without them. The doctrine concerning works is built upon the foundation; so the further doctrine, which gives to these works the power of satisfying or meriting, adds not to the foundation itself but to a secondary or subordinate thing, which itself is built on the foundation. Yet, I accept that the foundation is overthrown indirectly and inferentially by this addition because from it the following falsehood may be concluded: — that human works are good and acceptable in the sight of God for they proceed from the natural freedom of the will. The roots of the doctrine of faith are pulled out when we give to any good work of ours the power of satisfying the wrath of God against sin, or the power of meriting either earthly or heavenly rewards. They are also pulled out when it is claimed that works done before conversion, though not actually good in themselves, yet have such a measure of good in them, and being in harmony with the will of God, attract and merit initial grace, leading to conversion. Also, they are pulled out when it is held that good works done after Baptism merit final justification and rewards in the kingdom of heaven. Out of every one of these statements the plain denial of the foundation may be necessarily concluded. In fact, what heresy is there which does not destroy the foundation of faith at least by logical consequence?
However, we do distinguish between heresies, noting that the chief of which is infidelity or apostasy, where the whole Christian Faith is denied directly. Next is the denial of one fact or doctrine clearly expressed in the Creeds, for by the denial of one article of faith, the denial of the foundation itself is directly inferred. To give an example: if someone says “there is no Catholic Church,” it follows that on this basis the one whom we call the Savior is not the Savior of the world, even though all the prophets bear witness that the Messiah of Israel is also the Light to the Gentiles, and thus his Church must be universal, containing both Jew and Gentile.
Next in order is any form of teaching which logically requires the denial of a basic article of the Creed. Here an example is provided by the Nestorian teaching that when Mary brought forth her Son he was only Man. That is, Jesus of Nazareth born from Mary was not One Person made known in two natures, divine and human, but that he later became Two Persons, a divine and human person, united by God the Father for the purpose of redeeming man. How this position effectively leads to the denial of every essential part of the Creed was clearly demonstrated by John Cassian, the eastern monk who settled in the west, in his book, De Incarnatione Domini.
Finally, we come to the third form of heresy concerning good works which is what is taught by the Church of Rome. This is so far removed from the foundation, that many people are not able to recognize that, though at a distance, it nevertheless overthrows it. The fact that some people are not able immediately to see it as heresy is not surprising. Aristotle commented long ago that ordinary people find it difficult to follow in reason to a conclusion, when there is a process of multiple deductions or inferences involved. So it is that the nature of the Roman heresy on good works is not so easily recognized as are other more obvious forms of heresy.
33 If reasoning is not employed, then observation and experience will show that the Church of Rome actually and really does deny the foundation by what she teaches with regard to good works. If you state this doctrine carefully in the presence of Roman Catholics they will accept it. In fact, our experience in debating with them over whether good works gain both satisfaction and merit clearly demonstrates that they do hold to the doctrine that we assume and state is their teaching. What we argue against them may be summarized in these words: “Christ alone has appeased and satisfied the wrath of the Father against sin; Christ alone has merited salvation.” Their reply is to state clearly that they do hold to the foundation and in doing so they also insist that everything that constitutes our salvation and final redemption has been purchased for us by the blood of Christ, the Savior, and that this is all applied to us by the work of grace within our souls. But then they go on to state that, within this context of mercy and grace, the good things that we do after the receiving of grace are in God’s plan treated both as satisfactory and meritorious; and here, of course, is where we strongly disagree with them.
Louis of Granada, Spain, in his Meditations expressed their doctrine in this way: “Anyone who could count how many were the virtues and merits of our Savior, Jesus Christ, might in so doing understand how many benefits there have been that have come to us from him. We have been made partakers of them all by the means of his passion. By him we are given forgiveness of our sins, grace, glory, liberty, praise, peace, salvation, redemption, justification, sanctification, sacraments, merits, doctrines and all other things which are beneficial to our salvation.” And Francis Panigarola, the Italian preacher, in his Disceptationes Calvinicae, put it this way: “All grace is given by Jesus Christ, but not except Jesus Christ be applied to us; he is the propitiation for our sins; by his wounds we are healed; he has offered himself up for us; all this is true, but apply it. We put all satisfaction in the blood of Jesus, but we hold that the means which Christ has appointed for us, in this case in order to apply it to us, are our own guilty works.” Also our fellow countrymen in Reims in France take a similar line in the annotations of their Douai-Reims New Testament. They state that they seek salvation in no other way but by the blood of Christ, and that humbly they use prayers, fasting, alms, faith, charity, sacrifice, sacraments and priests only as the means appointed by Christ, to apply the benefit of his holy blood unto them. Of good works they say that they are not in their own natures meritorious and deserving of life in heaven, but that it is by the grace of Christ and not the works themselves that we have by well-doing a right to heaven and deserve it worthily.
If anyone thinks that I present their doctrines in too good a light in order to make a weak cause seem a good one, let him know that since I began my serious study to understand what they really teach I have found that their commitment to this doctrine of meritorious works greater than perhaps it seems to those who do not know the depth of Satan’s so-called deep secrets (Rev.2:24). Although it is abundantly clear that they do not deny the foundation — in fact they clearly affirm it — yet if there were no other leaven in the whole lump of their doctrine but this of meritorious works, then this alone is sufficient to prove that their doctrine does not agree with the foundation of faith. Centuries ago, the Pelagians, being too much the friends of human nature, made themselves enemies of grace, despite all that they said about having their wills and freedom from God. And is not the Church of Rome an adversary of Christ’s merits, because of her acknowledging that we have received the power of meriting by the blood of Christ?
Sir Thomas More attempted to explain the difference between the Church of Rome and ourselves in the matter of works in his Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation. He insisted that no good work gains reward in heaven simply because it is a good work, but because of the goodness of God and the merits of Christ, by which it is accepted. And he explained our doctrine as being that we believe that all our rewards will be for faith alone, because faith is the virtue that makes us perform our good works. But he got it wrong! Our doctrine is none other than we have learned at the feet of Christ, namely, that God justifies the believer not for the worthiness of his faith but for the worthiness of the One who is believed. God rewards abundantly everyone who works, yet not because of any meritorious dignity which is, or can be, in the good works, but through his mercy alone, by whose command we perform good works. In contrast, their doctrine (that grace we cannot earn but glory we can!) may be illustrated this way — that pure water of itself has no flavor, but if it passes through a sweet pipe it absorbs the sweet smell from the pipe, so before grace is received into the soul, our works have no power of satisfaction or merit; but, after the arrival of grace, they have both the power of satisfaction and of merit. Every virtuous action has an inherent power to satisfy so that if we ourselves commit no mortal sin (that is no terrible crime), we have no need of this power of satisfaction for ourselves, and it can be transferred to others to gain their release by the action of the one [i.e., Pope] given the authority to do this. So we may satisfy for ourselves and others, but only merit for ourselves. In the process of meriting, we may say that our actions work with two hands, with the one they get their morning stipend, the increase of grace; and with the other their evening payment, the everlasting crown of glory. To this the Roman Catholics add that our good works do not achieve these things simply because they come from the baptized, but as they come from the grace of God in the baptized. This understanding of infused grace is very different from the doctrine of the grace of God, which we profess, which is the mere goodness of God’s mercy toward us in Christ Jesus.
34 If it were not such a strong, misleading spirit that had possession of their hearts, maybe it would be possible for them to see how plainly they set aside the very basis of apostolic faith. Is what they teach that salvation by grace of which so much is said in the Holy Scriptures of God? Is their meaning what was first taught by the church as it directed people to look for salvation only in Christ? By grace, says the Apostle, and by grace through the means of a gift, something that comes not of ourselves, not by our works, lest any man should boast and say, “I have earned my own salvation.” Roman Catholics certainly confess salvation by grace, but by grace of such a kind that they, who come to wear the crown of glory, wear something that they have actually earned. The Apostle, as if he had foreseen how the Church of Rome would teach an erroneous doctrine of grace and works in ambiguous terms, wrote, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we have done but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5). This mercy includes the washing that is our new birth, the renewing of our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and all the means, the virtues and the duties which God requires from those who will be saved; but it excludes merits, for to say that we are saved for the worthiness of anything that is ours is to deny that we are saved by grace at all. Grace bestows freely, and therefore justly requires the glory of that which is bestowed. So we deny the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; we denigrate, disannul, and annihilate the benefit of his bitter passion, if we remain in these proud thoughts that life everlasting is deservedly ours, that we merit it, and that we are worthy of it.
35 Bearing in mind how many virtuous and just men, how many saints, how many martyrs, how many of the ancient fathers of the Church have held various perilous opinions — and amongst them this, that they hoped to offer to God some part of amends for their sins by the voluntary punishments which they laid upon themselves, shall we, therefore, create this epitaph for their graves: “They denied the foundation of faith directly, they are damned, there is no salvation for them”? Let us recall what St. Augustine wrote: “I can be in error but I have no wish to be a heretic.” Unless we make a distinction between those who merely err and those who obstinately persist in error, how it is possible that any man should ever hope to be saved?
In considering this subject, I am no respecter of persons, dead or alive. So, give me a man of whatever rank or condition, even a cardinal or a pope, who at the end of his life has been made to know himself through personal affliction, whose heart God has touched to cause him to have true sorrow for his sins, who is filled with love towards the Gospel of Christ, whose eyes are opened to see the truth, and whose mouth renounces all heresy and error except this one — that God will require merit from him at the end. And because he believes he has nothing to offer, he trembles and is discouraged. How shall I evaluate this case using whatever knowledge and skills I possess? Shall I think because of this one error that this man cannot touch even the hem of Christ’s garment? And if he does touch the hem, why would I not hope that virtue would flow from Christ to heal him? Because his error concerning merit indirectly overthrows the foundation of faith, shall I therefore cast him away as if he were one who had cast Christ away and as if he were not hanging on to Christ by a tiny thread? No! I will not be afraid to say to a cardinal or to a pope in this plight: “Be of good comfort, we are dealing with a merciful God, who is ready to make the best of a little which we hold well. Our God is not one who deduces the worst about us from our errors.” Is there any reason why I should be suspected for, or you offended by, what I have said?
Let all sentiment be laid aside; let the matter be impartially considered. Is it a dangerous thing to imagine that such men as I have described may find mercy? The hour may come when we shall think it is a blessed thing to hear that, if our sins were as the sins of the pope and cardinals, the mercy of God is more than sufficient for them. I do not present to you the pope with the neck of an emperor under his feet, or a cardinal riding his horse, whose bridle is covered with the blood of saints, but a pope or a cardinal sorrowful, penitent, disrobed, stripped not only of usurped power but also delivered and recalled from error and Antichrist, converted and lying prostrate at the feet of Christ. Shall I think that Christ will spurn him? Shall I mark with a cross and contradict the merciful promises of God made unto penitent sinners because the name of a pope or cardinal is involved? What difference is there between a pope and cardinal, and even a John Stile (an Oxford Professor), in this case? If we think it impossible for them, after they have been elevated in rank, to be afterwards touched with remorse for sin, let that be granted. The Apostle says, “If I or an angel from heaven preach unto you...” (Gal.1: 8). Let it be as likely that St. Paul or an angel from heaven should preach heresy as that a pope or a cardinal should be brought so far as to acknowledge truth; yet if a pope or cardinal should be brought so far, what could we find in their persons to prevent them being saved?
It is not their persons, you will say, but the error wherein I suppose them to die, which excludes them from hope of mercy; that is, their attachment to merits takes away all possibility of salvation for them. Surely not! They hold this opinion only as an error — even as they hold the basic truths of Christianity soundly and sincerely, even as they possess in some measure all the virtues and grace of the Holy Spirit, and even though they have no proud presumption that they will be saved by the worthiness of their deeds. And they hold it although the only thing which troubles and assails them is too much dejection of mind with too great a fear, which arises from an erroneous conception that God will require a worthiness in them which they do not possess. And they feel dejected although they are not obstinate in this persuasion; although they are willing and would be glad to forsake it, if any one reason were brought forth to disprove it; although the only hindrance why they do not forsake it before they die is ignorance of what kind of proof is needed to disprove it; and although the cause why the ignorance in this point is not removed is the lack of knowledge in such as should be able, and are not, to remove it. Let me die if ever it be proved that an error alone excludes a pope or a cardinal. Surely I must confess to you, if it is an error to think that God may be merciful to save men even when they err, my greatest comfort is my error: for were it not for the love I bear to this error, I would neither wish to speak nor to live.
36 I now return to that sentence which I uttered in my sermon in the Temple Church, and which I little thought would have been the cause of so much trouble and so many words. Here it is: “I doubt not but God was merciful to save thousands of our fathers living in popish superstitions, inasmuch as they sinned ignorantly.” Alas, what bloody matter is there contained in this sentence that it should have been the occasion for so many hard censures from my Puritan brethren! Did I say that thousands of our fathers might be saved? I have showed in which way it cannot be denied. Did I say, “I doubt it not but that they were saved?” I see no impiety in such a persuasion, though I had no reason in the world to assume it to be true. Did I say, “Their ignorance makes me hope that they found mercy and so were saved”? What stands in the way of salvation but sin? Sins are not equal, and ignorance, even though it does not make sin not to be sin, yet it does have the effect of making the guilt of sin the less. So why should not this make our hope concerning their salvation the greater? We surely pity the most those who sin for lack of understanding, and I do not doubt that God also has compassion for them. Others have also said this, but for saying it I seem to be singled out for special criticism. If I am deceived in my view, I may say that it is the Apostle who has deceived me. What I have said of others he said of himself: “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief’ (1 Tim. 1:15). Understand his words and you will understand mine. I simply say what he says.
37–40 I have now completed my answer to the question concerning the salvation of our fathers. In doing this, I have had in mind the weighty reasons why the Church of England separated from the Church of Rome and the weak arguments used to persuade people to stay within that Church, of which the example of our fathers was one. Also I have explained why I thought it appropriate to utter that one sentence in order to show how unjust is the charge that we condemn all those who have gone before us to everlasting punishment. But no more than one sentence did I think it expedient to utter, since our first concern ought to be to watch over our own souls and to heed the words of our Lord, “What is this to you?” (John 21:22). When I was put under pressure, much against my expectation, to provide a reason for my statement concerning our fathers, I felt obliged to yield to the request, in order to satisfy the legitimate questions in men’s minds. I have gone about this task with reverence and with fear, reverence with regard to our fathers who lived in former times, and fear, with respect to my contemporaries... Now to you, beloved, who have followed my presentation, I will use no other words of admonition than those offered to me by St James: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ don’t show favoritism” (2:1). There is nothing strange or harmful about hearing the different judgments of men. Remember that Peter had one interpretation and Apollos had another, and that Paul was of this mind and Barnabas of that mind. If these differences offend you, the fault is yours. Have peaceable minds and you may actually have comfort in and by this variety. Now the God of peace give you peaceable minds and turn your peace to your everlasting comfort!
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