by James Buchanan (1804-1870)
THE Post-Apostolic history of the doctrine can only be derived from the writings of uninspired men: and there is a wide difference, therefore, between the Historical Theology of Scripture, and the Historical Theology of the Church. These writings, whether of ancient or modern date, possess no divine authority in matters of Faith, and their teaching on these subjects has no claim on our belief, except in so far as it can be proved to be in conformity with the unerring standard of God's Word. Yet, in regard to matters of Fact, they may be unexceptionable witnesses, and they are the only authorities to which we can appeal, in attempting to ascertain what was the belief of the Church on any particular doctrine in the successive ages of her history. We possess an unbroken series of writings,--commencing with a few published by the companions and fellow-labourers of the Apostles, and extending down to those of the present times,--which constitute a vast library of Christian literature, and an inexhaustible storehouse of materials, for illustrating the Historical Theology of the Church.
Before adducing the evidence which may be derived from this source, it is necessary, in the first instance, to settle the exact state of the question,--for this will determine the conditions of the argument. The question is not,--Whether all the Fathers taught invariably the same doctrine of Justification,--nor even whether any one of the Fathers ever taught it in a state of perfect purity, without exhibiting in his writings any confusion of thought, or exposing himself to the charge of occasional self-contradiction? Such imperfections might be expected to occur in the writings of men uninspired; and to become more frequent and more glaring, in proportion as the teachers receded farther from the apostolic age. For the Anti-christian leaven, which existed in the primitive Church, gradually spread and fermented in after times, and had become almost universal, when the Roman power, which had obstructed its earlier development, was taken out of the way, and the predicted 'Apostasy' had free course, so as at length to culminate in the 'Man of Sin,'--sitting 'in the temple of God,'--as 'the lawless one' (ha anomos), the visible embodiment of the 'mystery of iniquity,' (2 Thes. 2: 3-8) or lawlessness (anomias). We cannot expect that during the progress of this predicted Apostasy, the truth of the Gospel should continue to retain all its original purity; and we find, accordingly, that while it continued to be taught with comparative simplicity during the times of persecution and martyrdom, yet from the end of the second century it began to be corrupted by many erroneous doctrines and superstitious practices, which grew up under the fostering hand of the most eminent Fathers, both in the Eastern and the Western Church. The question, therefore, is not,- -Whether all the Fathers taught the doctrine of Justification in its original purity, nor even whether any one of the Fathers was entirely exempt from the corruptions which were gradually growing up in the Church; but simply, whether the doctrine of Justification by grace, through faith in the merits of Christ, may not be traced in the writings of some witnesses for the truth, along the whole line of the Church's history; and whether some true believers were not nourished and refreshed by it, even in the darkest and most degenerate times? We answer this question in the affirmative, by adducing testimonies from the Fathers of every succeeding age; and in doing so, we refer to them, not as authorities in matters of faith, but simply as witnesses to a matter of fact. We do not add their writings to the inspired Scriptures, so as to frame a complex rule of faith, or even to find in them an authoritative,--still less, an infallible,--guide in the interpretation of the sacred writings; for man's word can never possess co-ordinate authority with the Word of God, and the interpretation of Scripture must never be placed under the intolerable servitude of the 'consent of the Fathers.' We use the writings of Augustine and Chrysostom, just as we use the writings of Luther and Calvin, as helps to the correct interpretation of Scripture; and in doing so, we exercise the sacred right of private judgment, subject only to the authority of God speaking in His Word.
The authority of the Fathers has often been pled in opposition to the Protestant principle of private judgment; and this might be expected on the part of Popish and Tractarian divines; but it is passing strange, that one so wise and learned as Stanley Faber should be found railing against it, as 'that polymorphic idol of modern Ultra-Protestantism, as if it had never occurred to him, that by adding a hundred folio volumes of the Fathers to the Old and New Testaments, as a constituent part of a complex rule of Faith, or even as a mere rule of Interpretation, so far from dispensing with private judgment, we are only extending its range; for, whatever may be said of inspired Scripture, there can be no interpretation, at least, of the Patristic writings, without the free exercise of our intellectual powers, unless, indeed, we are to submit, in this department also, to the teaching of an infallible Church.
It is of special importance that the precise object and reason of any appeal to the writings of the Fathers on the subject of Justification should be distinctly understood. It is simply to prove a matter Of FACT, in opposition to an erroneous assertion,--the fact, namely, that the Protestant doctrine of Justification was not a 'novelty' introduced for the first time by Luther and Calvin,--that it was held and taught, more or less explicitly, by some writers in every successive age,--and that there is no truth in the allegation that it had been unknown for fourteen hundred years before the Reformation. It is only as affording evidence on this matter of fact that we appeal to the Fathers at all; and for the establishment of that fact it is not necessary that we should prove, either that it was universally taught by all the Fathers, or that any one of them taught it in its purity, with uniform consistency, and without any admixture of human error,--for that must be the hopeless task of those who still adhere to Vincent's rule of 'common consent' as the test of Catholic doctrine; but holding, with Vincent and Tertullian, the far sounder principle, that no power on earth has a right to introduce new articles of faith, and feeling that this principle is applicable to the Protestant, not less than to the Popish Church, we adduce extracts from the writings of the Fathers merely to neutralize what might be justly regarded as a I legitimate presumption' against the Protestant doctrine, could it. be shown that it was altogether unknown to the Church before the Reformation.
Beyond this, we make no use of testimonies of the Fathers; but for this limited purpose, they are absolutely conclusive.
With these preliminary remarks, we proceed to consider the doctrine of the Fathers on the subject of Justification. The first, in the order of time, and in respect also of the interest which is felt to belong to them, are the writings of the Apostolical Fathers, or those who lived and laboured while some of the Apostles were still spared to the Church. Perhaps, the first impression which is left on one's mind by the perusal of these early remains, is that of their great inferiority to the writings of the Apostles, -a fact with which every one must have been impressed on passing from the study of the one to the study of the other. It is sufficiently accounted for by the presence of Inspiration in the Apostles, and the absence of it in their immediate successors. But there is another fact which is equally evident-the striking contrast which subsists between the writings even of the Apostolic Fathers,inferior as they are to the canonical Scriptures,--and the whole contemporaneous literature of Greece, and Rome, and Judea. We find there the lively expression of a faith such as was a new thing in the Roman world-the faith of men who could rise above the sceptic's question, 'What is truth?' by feeling assured that they had found it,--so assured, that they were ready to die for it; the lively expression also of a zeal which was kindled by the fire of love, and embraced the whole family of man, -of a hope which sustained them in every trial,--a peace and a joy which sweetened persecution itself,--and a new spiritual life, such as had heretofore been unknown amongst men: nay more than this, we find all these-the faith, the love, the hope, the peace, the joy, the new spiritual lifehaving their living root, and their bond of union, in the Person and work of One, who died, and rose again, and whom they worshipped, and trusted in, as a Divine Redeemer. This is their peculiar character, and these are their distinctive features; and in passing from the pages which give expression to their simple, but sublime, piety, to those of the most accomplished and eloquent writers of the same age, we can hardly fail to mark the immeasurable distance which separates the two, or to feel that, inferior as the first Fathers might be to many of their classical contemporaries in point of genius and learning, they had inherited from their teachers, and transmitted to their disciples, a GOSPEL, such as none of the princes of this world's wisdom had ever conceived.
The doctrine of the forgiveness of sins, and of eternal life, by faith in a crucified, but risen and exalted Redeemer, pervades every part of their writings, and is evidently assumed and implied, where it is not formally or explicitly affirmed. Their whole scheme of thought presupposes and rests upon the facts which are recorded, and the doctrines which are taught, in the New Testament. It has been said, indeed, that the faith of the primitive Church was extremely simple,--that it was 'a life rather than a creed"--that few, if any, of the doctrines of Scripture had as yet been developed and defined, -and that Theology had not then assumed a systematic form. This statement is true, so far as it is meant merely to affirm, that the articles of faith were less rigorously reasoned out, and often more vaguely stated, before they were subjected to the ordeal of controversial discussion; for this holds good of every age; but it is not true, if it be understood to imply, either that the primitive Church did not believe, in substance, the selfsame doctrines which were afterwards defined, or that her members were incapable of giving a sufficient reason for the hope that was in them. The primitive Church was instructed by the ministry of the Apostles, and continued to be nourished by the Gospels and Epistles; she was the aggregate of all those individual churches,--at Rome, at Ephesus, at Corinth, at Philippi, at Colosse, at Thessalonica,--to whom Paul addressed his profound arguments, in the confident persuasion that they would be understood by those to whom he wrote; and the controversies with false teachers, which were expounded in his writings, were surely sufficient to give them clear and definite views of the doctrines of Grace. The doctrine of Justification, in particular, was so thoroughly discussed in the writings of the Apostles, and that, too, in the way of controversy both with Jews and Gentiles, that their immediate successors had no occasion to treat it as an undecided question;they found it an established and unquestioned article of the common faith, and they assumed and applied it in all their writings, without thinking it necessary to enter into any formal explanation or proof of it. They were soon assailed, however, by the Gnostic and Ebionite heretics, who denied the Incarnation and Atonement of Christ; and in opposing them, they insisted chiefly on the great facts of the Gospel history, and stated, in substance, the evangelical doctrine of the real sufferings of a Divine Redeemer,--of their judicial character as a satisfaction to divine justice,--and of their expiatory purpose, as a sacrifice for 'the remission of sins.' A few specimens only can be given.
Clement of Rome, the first of the Fathers, and a fellow-labourer with Paul (Phil. 4:3), says in his Epistle to the Corinthians, 'Let us stedfastly look unto the blood of Christ, and let us see how precious unto God is His blood; which being shed on account of our salvation, has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.' And again, 'All the ancient fathers descended from Abraham, both before the Law and under the Law, were glorified and magnified, not through themselves, nor through their works of righteousness which they had done, but through His (God's) will. Therefore we, also, being called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves, neither through our own wisdom, or understanding, or piety, or works which we have done in holiness of heart, but through faith,that faith through which the Almighty God hath justified all that ever lived; to whom be glory for ever, Amen!' This testimony is equally full and explicit. It connects our salvation' with 'the blood of Christ, it represents that blood as the object of faith, and the procuring cause of the 'grace of repentance,'--it ascribes the justification of Abraham and all the Old Testament believers, both before, and under, the Law, to the gracious will of God,it places the justification of New Testament believers on the same ground-it excludes their own 'works' from having any share in their justification, even such works as were done 'in holiness of heart,' or after their saving conversion to God,--and it speaks of Justification through faith-the same faith by which all His people were justified from the beginning.
'To me says Ignatius, the disciple of John, 'Christ is in the place of all ancient muniments. For His Cross, and His death, and His resurrection, and the faith which is through Him, are my unpolluted muniments; and in these, through your prayers, I am willing to have been justified.' Polycarp, also a disciple of John, writing to the Philippians, speaks of 'the Lord Jesus Christ, who endured to submit unto death for our sins; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of hell; in whom ye believe, not having seen Him, but believing ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. . . . knowing that through grace ye are saved, not of works, but by the will of God, through Jesus Christ.'
The earliest Apologist, Justin Martyr, says: 'No longer by the blood of goats and of sheep, or by the ashes of a heifer . . . are sins purged; but by faith, through the blood of Christ and His death, who died on this very account.' And again, 'Abraham was testified of God to be righteous, not on account of Circumcision, but on account of Faith; for, before he was circumcised, it was said of him, "Abraham believed in God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness."'
Nothing can be more explicit than the testimony of the author of the Epistle to Diognetus: 'God gave His own Son the ransom for us: the holy, for the transgressors; the good, for the evil; the just, for the unjust; the incorruptible, for the corruptible; the immortal, for the mortal. For what, save His righteousness, could cover our sins? In whom was it possible that we, transgressors and ungodly as we were, could be justified, save in the Son of God alone? O sweet interchange! O unsearchable operation! O unexpected benefit! that the transgression of many should be hidden in One Righteous Person, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors.'
The Church of the Catacombs speedily became the Church of the Empire; and the faith, which had only been brightened and purified by the fires of persecution, began to wane and wax dim, in the season of outward safety, and worldly prosperity. All danger being removed; it was no longer in the prospect of martyrdom that men professed to be Christians, and multitudes assumed that profession who were Christians only in name. A declining sense of sin, accompanied with a growing indifference and formality in the Church, weakened their attachment to the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel, and gradually opened the door for the admission of flagrant heresy in regard to some of the most. fundamental articles of faith. In the absence of any deep conviction of sin, and of its infinite demerit in the sight of God, men did not feel their need of a Divine Redeemer, and fell an easy prey to Arius, and his followers, when they denied the divinity of Christ, and spoke of Him merely as the highest of created beings. By the mere fact that they denied, and attempted to disprove, His supreme divinity, the Arians afford convincing evidence that it had hitherto been the faith of the Church. It was not His divinity, but His humanity, that was first assailed by the Docetae and the Marcionites; and even now it was not His mere humanity, but His super-angelic dignity, which was affirmed by the Arians; but in both cases alike, although for different reasons, the doctrine of the Atonement was superseded,--the Gnostics denying the humanity of Christ, on which its reality depended; and the Arians His supreme divinity, without which its sufficiency, as a satisfaction to Divine Justice, could not be established. The doctrine of His atoning sacrifice being thus brought into doubt, of course the method of Justification by grace, 'through faith in His blood,' was also obscured, and another way of acceptance with God through the repentance and reformation of sinners was substituted in its stead. For all the peculiar doctrines of Scripture are so indissolubly connected, that an error on one point generates error on every other; and thus defective views of the guilt and demerit of sin prevented some nominal Christians from feeling their need of a Divine Redeemer; and from this point they were led on to deny the divinity of Christ,--to reject His atoning sacrifice,--and to forsake the old method of Justification by faith in His blood.
The first great heresies--the Gnostic, Ebionite, and Arian--related to the doctrine concerning God (Theology proper),--the Trinity in Unity,--the Incarnation of the Son, and each of His two natures, the human and divine: the second class of heresies-the Manichean, Pelagian, and Semi-pelagian-- related to the doctrine concerning Man (Anthropology), --his natural character and actual condition as a sinner,--the freedom or bondage of his will,--his power or his impotency to raise and restore himself: and both had a most important bearing on the whole doctrine of salvation (Soteriology), but especially on the method and grounds of a sinner's justification with God. The doctrine concerning God, and then the doctrine concerning Man, were thoroughly discussed and defined by the Church,the one under the guidance of Athanasius,--the other under that of Augustine; and these illustrious defenders of the faith) by establishing, first, the real incarnation and the supreme divinity of the Son of God, and secondly, the total depravity of man, and the freeness and efficacy of divine grace, contributed largely to strengthen the foundations of a sound doctrine of Justification by grace through faith. This doctrine was always held in substance by true believers; but it seems to have been reserved, for its fuller development, and more precise definition, till the great controversy which arose between the Romish and the Reformed Churches in the sixteenth century.
The Patristic doctrine of Justification, as it may be gathered from the extant remains of a long series of writers who succeeded the companions and fellow-labourers of the Apostles, has always been, for obvious reasons, a subject of controversy between Romanists and Protestants; but in recent times some Protestants have been found, who, professing to reject certain corruptions of that doctrine which they conceive to be peculiar to the Church of Rome, and proclaiming at the same time their unbounded deference to the consent of Catholic Antiquity, have affirmed, that the doctrine of a forensic Justification, as taught by Luther and Calvin, was 'a novelty' which first obtained a place in Theology at the era of the Reformation,--that it was unknown to the Church for fourteen hundred years after the Apostolic age,-- and that it was at direct variance with the uniform and unanimous teaching of the Fathers, both of the Greek and Latin Church.
Augustine, as the great Doctor of Grace, has been singled out, and exhibited with marked prominence, as the advocate of 'moral, and the opponent of 'forensic,' Justification, chiefly because his views, on other subjects, were known to be in accordance with those of the Reformers. For this reason, his authority was supposed to afford a conclusive proof of the novelty of the Protestant doctrine: and, certainly, it would be strange, if it were true, that he who did so much to establish the doctrine of free grace, in opposition to free-will, in the matter of our Sanctification, should have said anything to undermine the doctrine of free grace, in opposition to self-righteousness, in the matter of our Justification. But before we adopt so improbable a conclusion, we must carefully consider the occasion and nature of the controversy in which he was then engaged. It was materially different from the subsequent controversy between Rome and the Reformation. The Pelagians, with whom he was called to contend, admitted the doctrine of Grace in the free remission of sins, while they denied the necessity of efficacious grace for the conversion of the sinner. Their heresy, therefore, did not directly raise the question of a sinner's Justification in the sight of God, although it involved principles which had an important bearing upon it. They believed, that 'there is forgiveness with God;' but they believed also, that man is able of himself 'to repent and turn to God.' Augustine defended the doctrine of Grace on the side on which it was then assailed; and, in doing so, he established certain great principles which were sufficient to counteract the tendency, inherent in the Pelagian doctrine, towards a self-righteous scheme of Justification. These two fundamental principles, in particular, were clearly taught by Augustine, -first, that works done before faith are not good, but evil, (splendida peccata); secondly, that works done after faith, although good, as being the fruits of grace in the believer, are so imperfect in themselves, and so defiled by remaining sin, that they need to be sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and can only be accepted through His merits: and these two principles, when combined with his more general doctrine of free, sovereign, efficacious grace, involve the substance of the Protestant doctrine. He affirmed the free grace of God in opposition to the free-will of man, as the spring and fountainhead of a sinner's whole salvation. That salvation comprehended both his Justification and his Sanctification,the remission of his sins and the renovation of his nature, -and it was ascribed by Augustine, in each of its constituent parts, to the free and unmerited grace of God alone. By establishing this fundamental truth, he laid a firm foundation for the more special doctrine of a free Justification by grace through faith in Christ; and his writings contributed largely to the illustration of that great truth at a later period, when it became the subject of formal controversy between Rome and the Reformers. In this way, and to this extent, Augustine prepared the way for Luther and Calvin, by excluding the merit of man, and exalting the grace of God.
It has been alleged, not only that Augustine knew nothing of a 'forensic' Justification by faith, but that he taught the opposite doctrine of a 'moral' Justification, by infused or inherent righteousness. This allegation rests mainly on two grounds,--first, the use which he made of the term 'Merits' when he spoke of good works; and secondly, the sense in which he used the term 'Justification,' when he spoke of the benefit bestowed by the Gospel.
In regard to the first, it has been conclusively proved by most of our great writers in their controversy with the Romish Church, that Augustine, in common with all the Latin Fathers, used the term 'Merits,' not to denote legal, or even moral desert, properly so called, but to signify, either simply a means of obtaining some blessing,--or, at the most, an action that is rewardable, not 'of debt, but of grace.' It was at a later period, and chiefly through the Scholastic Theology, that the doctrine of Merit, properly so called, was constructed; but, as used by the Fathers, the term had no such offensive meaning as was afterwards. attached to it, and denoted merely that by which benefit was obtained. In this general sense, as denoting the obtaining or procuring of something, it was said that we might merit Christ, or merit the Spirit, or merit eternal life; not that we could deserve any one of these inestimable gifts, or that they could ever become due to us in justice,--for this is inconceivable,--but simply that they might thus be procured and enjoyed. In this sense, the verb occurs even in the Protestant Confession of Augsburg; but now, when the meaning of the term has been entirely changed, it is not safe to speak of Merits at all, excepting only the Merits of Christ.
In regard, again, to the sense of the term Justification, as it was used by Augustine, there can be no doubt that he often employed it to denote the whole of that change which is wrought both on the state and character of a sinner,--on his relation to God, and also on the spirit of his mind,--at the time of his conversion. According to its etymology, the term is sufficiently comprehensive to admit of this application of it; and in this wide sense, it -has sometimes been employed even by Protestant writers;--for instance, by John Forbes (of Corse), who defines the term, taken in its largest acceptation, as denoting all that righteousness by which we become righteous; and then adds, that this righteousness is twofold-the one being the righteousness of Christ, imputed by God, and received by faith, which is the righteousness of Justification; and the other the personal righteousness of the believer, which is inherent in him, as having been infused by the Holy Spirit, and which is the righteousness of Sanctification. In the same comprehensive sense, the term was used by Augustine. But while he included under it the renovation of the sinner, as well as his forgiveness and acceptance with God, there is no evidence to prove, either that he confounded these two blessings of God's grace, or that he made the one the ground or reason of the other. This is the only important point in the question which has been raised, if we are to ascertain, not the sense merely in which he uses a particular term, but what was the real substance of his doctrine. His was not a mind that could confound things so different as the guilt of sin and its defilement,--the remission of sin and the renewal of the sinner,--a man's external relation to God, and his inherent spiritual character. And as he could not confound the two, or treat them otherwise than as distinct,
though inseparable, blessings, so there is no evidence to show that he made a sinner's forgiveness and acceptance with God to rest on his own inherent righteousness, as its procuring cause, either before or after his conversion; --not before, since the whole of Augustine's doctrine was directed to prove that man, in his unrenewed state, has no righteousness whatever, but must be indebted to God's sovereign grace, not only for the forgiveness of sin, but also for the gift of faith to receive it; and not after, since Augustine's doctrine recognized the remains of indwelling sin even in the regenerate,--sin, which was not deleted by baptism, nor destroyed by regeneration itself,--sin, which needed daily pardon, and vitiated even the best works of the believer. The whole tenor of his teaching shows, that he would have responded, with heart' and soul, to the memorable saying of Bernard, 'So far from being able to answer for my sins, I cannot answer even for my righteousness.'
If the sense of these two terms, 'Merit, and 'Justification, as they were used by Augustine and many of the Fathers, be correctly understood, the question whether they held the doctrine of a 'forensic,' or of a 'moral,' Justification, admits of being easily determined. It is a matter of fact, and can only be ascertained by an appeal to their writings. That appeal has been made, in former times by Downham, Davenant, Usher, and others, and more recently by O'Brien, Faber, and Bennett; and uniformly with the same result, the adduction of a mass of testimonies, extending from Apostolic times down to Bernard, the last of the Fathers, abundantly sufficient to prove that the doctrine of Justification by grace through faith alone had some faithful witnesses in every succeeding age of the Church. It was never universally received, any more than it is at the present day; it was always opposed by the spirit of self-righteousness,--often corrupted by human inventions,--sometimes perverted and abused by Antinomian licence; but it was then, as it is now, the doctrine of many true believers, and the very 'joy and rejoicing of their hearts.' So far from its being true, that for fourteen hundred years it was lost to the Church, it was at all times the refuge of awakened sinners, and the relief of humble penitents. Divines have collected testimonies to this effect from the writings of the Fathers, and presented them in regular historical order; and these testimonies,--considered simply as evidences in proof of a fact, and not as authorities in proof of a doctrine,--are more than sufficient to decide the only question now at issue. Faber adduces quotations from sixteen of the Fathers who wrote before the middle of the fifth century, and refers to twelve more as having been adduced by Archbishop Usher, making together twenty-eight Fathers, and showing that every century down to the twelfth furnishes one or more witnesses to the truth. They prove not merely the fact that the doctrine of a forensic Justification by grace through faith was held by these Fathers, but that it was held in connection with the cognate truths on which it depends;--that Justification was ascribed to the free grace and favour of God, as its source,--to the redeeming blood and meritorious righteousness of Christ, as its ground,--to the reciprocal imputation of our sins to Him, and of His righteousness to us, as its true scriptural explanation,--and to faith alone, as the instrumental means, by which it is appropriated and made ours, when it is applied by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
A few extracts may be offered, simply as specimens of these Patristic testimonies:
'As through the disobedience of one man,' says Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycarp, 'many were made sinners, and forfeited life, so it behoved also, that through the obedience of one man who first was born from the Virgin, many should be justified, and receive salvation.' 'The Apostle Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans-- "But now, without the Law, the righteousness of God is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets;" for "the Just shall live by faith." But, that "the just shall live by faith," had been foretold by the Prophets.'
'What person,' says Cyprian, 'was more a Priest of the Most High God than our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered a sacrifice unto God the Father? . . . If Abraham "believed in God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness," then each one, who believes in God, and lives by faith, is found to be a righteous person, and long since, in faithful Abraham, is shown to be blessed and justified.'
'Not by these,' i.e. by works, says Athanasius, 'but by faith, a man is justified as was Abraham.' . . . 'In no other manner can there be redemption and grace to Israel and to the Gentiles, except the original sin, which through Adam passed unto all, be loosed. But this, says he (the Apostle), can be blotted out through no other than through the Son of God.' It is necessary, therefore, to believe the holy Scriptures,to confess Him who is the First-fruit of us. . . . to be struck with wonder at the great dispensation,--to fear not the curse which is from the Law, for "Christ bath redeemed us from the curse of the Law." Hence the full accomplishment of the Law, which was made through the First-fruit, is imputed to the whole mass.'
'This is the true and perfect glorying in God,' says Basil, 'when a man is not lifted up on account of his own righteousness, but has known himself to be wanting in true righteousness, and to be justified by faith alone in Christ. And Paul glories, in that be despises his own righteousness, and seeks the righteousness which is through Christ, even the righteousness which is from God by faith. . . . Thou hast not known God through righteousness on thy part, but God bath known thee on account of His goodness; thou hast not apprehended Christ through thy virtue, but Christ bath apprehended thee through His coming.'
'Without the works of the Law,' says Ambrose, 'to an ungodly man, that is to say, a Gentile, believing in Christ, his "faith is imputed for righteousness," as also it was to Abraham. How, then, can the Jews imagine, that through the works of the Law they are justified with the justification of Abraham, when they see that Abraham was justified, not by the works of the Law, but by faith alone? There is no need, therefore, of the Law, since through faith alone, an ungodly man is justified with God.'
'Through faith, without the works of the Law,' says Origen, I the thief was justified; because, for that purpose, the Lord inquired not what he bad previously wrought, nor yet waited for his performance of some work after he should have believed; but, when about to enter into Paradise, Ile took him unto Himself for a companion, justified through his confession alone.'
'When an ungodly man is converted,' says Jerome, 'God justifies him through faith alone, not on account of good works, which he possessed not; otherwise, on account of his ungodly deeds, he ought to have been punished. . . . Christ, who "knew no sin," the Father "made sin for us," that, as a victim offered for sin was in the Law called "sin," so likewise Christ, being offered for our sins, received the name of "sin," that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him "--not our righteousness, nor in ourselves.'
'The Apostle,' says Chrysostom, 'hath accused the Gentiles, hath accused the Jews; his next step, in regular order, was to speak of the "righteousness which is by faith." For, if neither the Law of nature profited anything, nor the written Law was of greater avail; if both alike only oppressed those who made a wrong use of them, and showed them to be worthy of greater punishment, henceforth salvation through grace became necessary. . . . What, then, did God do? . . . "He made," says the Apostle, "a righteous person to be a sinner, in order that He might make sinners righteous," not simply that we might be made righteousness, but that we might be made the very "righteousness of God." For, certainly, it is the righteousness of God, when we are justified, not by works (for, in that case, it were needful that no stain should be found), but by grace, where all sin is made to vanish away.'
'Behold,' says Augustine, 'Christ came for this very purpose, that he might redeem those who were under the Law, in order that we might no longer be "under the Law, but under Grace." "All who are justified through Christ, are righteous, not in themselves, but in Him.
What grace have we first received? Faith. When we walk in Faith, we walk in Grace. Whence, then, have we merited (or obtained) this? By which of our precedent merits? Let no one here flatter himself. Let him rather return to his conscience,--let him explore the secret hiding places of his thoughts,--let him return to the series of his actions. Let him not consider what he now is, if indeed he be anything; but what Ile was, that he might be somewhat; and be will find that he was worthy of nothing but punishment. If, then, thou wert worthy of punishment, and if He came whose office was not to punish sins, but to pardon them,
Grace is given unto thee, not wages paid to thee. Why, indeed, is it called Grace? Because it is given gratuitously. For by no precedent merits didst thou buy what thou bast received. The sinner, therefore, received this grace first, that his sins should be forgiven him. . . . Good works follow after a justified person, they do not go before, in order that be may be justified. . . . We are "His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works," for man can work no righteousness, unless be be first justified. The Apostle saith, "Believing in Him who justifieth the ungodly." He begins from Faith, in order to make it clear that, not good works, preceding Justification, show what man bath merited, but that good works, following after Justification, show what man bath received.'
In a direction for the visitation of the sick by Anselm, whose views on the Atonement and Justification were thoroughly Protestant, we find these precious words:
'Dost thou believe that thou canst not be saved but by the death of Christ? Go to, then, and, whilst thy soul abideth in thee, put all thy confidence in this death alone-place thy trust in no other thing,commit thyself wholly to this death,-- cover thyself wholly with this alone,--cast thyself wholly on this death,--wrap thyself wholly in this death. And if God would judge you, say, "Lord! I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and Thy judgment: otherwise I will not contend, or enter into judgment, with Thee." And if He shall say unto thee, that thou art a sinner, say unto Him, "I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and my sins." If Ile shall say unto thee, that thou bast deserved damnation, say, "Lord! I put the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between Thee and all my sins; I offer His merits for my own, which I should have, and have not." If He say, that Ile is angry with thee, say, "Lord! I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and Thy anger."'
We close with a few words from Bernard, the latest of the Fathers:
'What can all our righteousness be before God? Shall it not, according to the prophet, be viewed as "a filthy rag;" and if it is strictly judged, shall not all our righteousness turn out to be mere unrighteousness and deficiency? What, then, shall it be concerning our sins, when not even our righteousness can answer for itself? Wherefore, exclaiming vehemently with the Prophet, "Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord!" let us flee, with all humility, to Mercy, which alone can save our souls. . . . Whosoever, feeling compunction for his sins, hungers and thirsts after righteousness, let him believe in Thee, who "justifiest the ungodly;" and thus, being justified by faith alone, he shall have peace with God. . . . Thy Passion is the last refuge, the alone remedy. When wisdom fails, when righteousness is insufficient, when the merits of holiness succumb, it succours us. For who, either from his own wisdom, or from his own righteousness, or from his own holiness, shall presume on a sufficiency for salvation?' 'Oh, he alone is truly blessed to whom the Lord imputes not sin, for there is no one who has not sin. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Yet "who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" To me, it is sufficient, only to have Him propitiated, against whom only I have sinned. . . . The Apostle says, "If one died for all, then were all dead," meaning thereby to intimate, that the satisfaction made by One should be imputed to all, even as One conversely bore the sins of all.'
The result of this appeal to the writings of the Fathers may be stated in a few words:--It proves, beyond all controversy, the fact that the Protestant doctrine of Justification by grace through faith, was not a novelty introduced into the Church by Luther and Calvin,--that it was held and taught by some of the greatest writers in every successive age,--and that there is no truth in the allegation that it had been unknown for fourteen hundred years before the Reformation.
There exists, however, in the extant remains of Patristic literature, abundant evidence to show, that the doctrine of a free Justification by grace, through faith in Christ alone, was obscured and corrupted at a very early period in the history of the Church. Human additions to divine truth, and human inventions in the worship of God, crept in gradually and insensibly, and existed at least in germ even in the Apostolic age. They infected, to some extent, the theology of the earliest Fathers, although their writings are still sufficient to prove that they continued for a time to hold the truth in substance, and in a state of comparative purity, as contrasted with its subsequent corruption. But towards the close of the Patristic period, and notwithstanding the sound doctrinal teaching of such men as Anselm and Bernard, there arose a new method of Theology, which has been called, from the date of its appearance, the Mediaeval, and, from the source in which it originated, the Scholastic, System. It forms the connecting link between the Patristic Theology, on the one hand, and the fully developed doctrine of Rome, on the other; and it exercised an important influence in moulding the form, and corrupting the substance, of the Church's creed, as it existed at the dawn of the Reformation.
The Scholastic Theology may be described, in general terms, as a system which attempted to explain the doctrine of the Church by the philosophy of the Schools. It differed essentially from the traditionary method which had previously prevailed, and which consisted in collecting the 'sentences' of Fathers, Popes, and Councils, as sufficient to determine any article of faith. It sought to substitute Philosophy for Tradition, as the basis of Christian doctrine, and to bring every revealed truth to the test of some intellectual or ethical principle. The prevailing philosophy was that of Aristotle, not in its original integrity, but as it had been commented on, and corrupted by, his Arabian expounders; and as the heathen sage knew nothing of any righteousness except such as was human and personal, the application of his doctrines to the system of revealed truth led to the substitution of the inherent righteousness of man, for the imputed righteousness of Christ, as the ground of Justification before God. This was the radical error of Scholasticism, and it was the prolific root of several kindred errors which naturally sprung from it. It produced, in particular, three doctrines which were directly opposed to the truth of Scripture;--first, the doctrine that justifying grace consists, not in the free favour and blessing of God, as these are opposed in Scripture to His wrath and penal sentence, but in subjective grace,--or a gracious quality infused, such as is opposed in Scripture, not to the guilt, but to the power of sin; secondly, the doctrine that good works are meritorious, in the proper sense of the term, as being the conditions of pardon and acceptance with God,--the effectual means of satisfying His justice, averting His displeasure, and securing His favour now, and eternal life hereafter; and thirdly, the doctrine, that there is a difference between the precepts of the divine Law which are binding on all men, and certain 'Counsels of Perfection' which some may voluntarily undertake to fulfil, and by the fulfilment of which they may -not only secure eternal life for themselves, but acquire a surplusage of merit, which may be imputed to others for their Justification--a merit arising from 'works of supererogation,' which even the mild Melancthon characterized as 'that irony of the devil.' The substitution of the inherent righteousness of man for the imputed righteousness of Christ, as the ground of a sinner's Justification, naturally led on to these kindred errors; and the doctrine of Merit, which was elaborated by the Scholastic theologians, lay at the foundation of all the superstitions and corruptions of the Papal system. Scholasticism contained the germs of Popery, and Popery was just Scholasticism developed and full-blown; while all the corruptions of the Church and all the speculations of the Schools coalesced, and found their point of union, in that crowning abomination,--the sale of Indulgences.
Lecture III. History of the Doctrine in the Times of the Fathers and Scholastic Divines (pp. 77-99 Banner of Truth edition