Archive for the ‘Justification’ Category
Having come face to face with my own sinfulness, my own lack of keeping the law of God, I have spent the last several months looking at the law and the gospel. While this is not new to Christianity, it is fairly new to me. I grew up in a church environment that was heavy on the law. You keep the law and God was happy. Break the law (which was often), God is now angry with you. The gospel was not the end but only a step to helping me keep myself clean. It was not Jesus period. It was Jesus who now enables me to keep the law and when I fail, back to the beginning.
We all sin. None of us are perfect. We read passages such as Romans 3:23 and acknowledge the universal sinfulness of mankind. But we miss the point that we are sinners ourselves. I am not arguing that we wake up each day thinking “what can I do today to violate the law of God” but we do sin. Whether we make sins into categories such as “sins of omission” and “sins of commission,” either way we do sin. Apart from grace, none of us can stand before a holy God. It is only through Christ that we can stand before a holy and totally pure God. The reason Christ died for my sins is not simply to enable me to be holy on my own power but He died because I am a sinner in need of forgiveness because I do sin (1 John 2:1-2).
Consider the command of Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40:
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Stop and consider how you are doing with that one? I’m not even good at it. I would love to say that I love God perfectly as Jesus taught. I would love to tell you that my love for God flows into loving my neighbor as myself. But the reality is that I fall way short of these two commands and Jesus said that law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. Do these and you’ll be perfect! But I don’t!
And thus the gospel comes into play. The law condemns me as a sinner (Romans 3:19) and the law teaches me that I need a Savior (Galatians 3:24). The law condemns me. The gospel saves me. The law shows me that I am a sinner (Romans 7:7). There is nothing wrong with the law of God (Romans 7:12) but the problem is me. I can’t keep the law. No matter how hard I try, I fail.
The gospel preaches peace to me. The law tells me to love God perfectly and my neighbor perfectly (Matthew 5:48). The gospel tells me Christ died for my sins and the sins of not loving God perfectly nor my neighbor as myself. The law tells me to love my wife as Christ loves His Church (Ephesians 5:25). The gospel tells me that Christ died for the sin of not loving my wife as Christ loves His Church (I am far from a perfect husband). The law tells me to pray, to worship, to evangelize, to give my money to the poor and to helping the kingdom of God, to do good to my neighbor especially of those of the household of faith, etc. but the gospel tells me that Christ died for my sins even the sins of not keeping the law perfectly.
Martin Luther taught two (and I would add a third) uses of the law. Lutherans debate the third use of the law. The three uses of the law are:
- For society, to curb man’s sinfulness.
- To condemn us a sinners and show us our need for salvation.
- To help the Christian in sanctification.
These three uses of the law are seen not just in the Bible but in life. Antinomians accept the first two uses of the law but not the third. I believe in preaching all three. Christians need to hear the law so that the Holy Spirit can help us in the process of sanctification. So for example a believer hears that we should pray (Luke 18:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer itself doesn’t justify us before God. We are justified only through Christ Jesus alone by grace alone though faith alone. Yet none would say that prayer is bad. Yet prayer can become a law. It was that way for me. I once held that a person should pray for 2 hours a day or God was not pleased. Prayer became a law and gospel for me. But prayer is not the gospel. The gospel is the death of Jesus for our sins and His resurrection for our justification (Romans 4:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Thus Jesus died for my sin of prayerlessness. Does this mean that I should not pray since Jesus died for my sin of prayerlessness? By no means! The key is to see prayer as flowing from my forgiveness and not from the law. I pray because Christ shed His blood for me (Hebrews 4:14-16).
This holds true of any law. The law if holy and good (1 Timothy 1:8-11). The law shows me how far I am far from the perfection of God. But the gospel shouts to me that I am accepted in the Beloved. I am holy before God because of Christ (Hebrews 10:10, 14) and not by my works. The law tells me to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15-16) and this is good. The gospel tells me that I am accepted in Christ Jesus who bled and died for my sins (Romans 5:6).
This understanding of the law and the gospel has blessed me. It has brought some joy to my soul where joy has been lacking. For so long I have been full of pride, my own self-righteousness. I thought God was honored by my prayer life, my evangelism, my passion for God. Like Voddie Bauchman preaches, my works-righteousness muscle likes to flex. I would have, in the past, gladly acknowledged Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and would have gladly told you that I was saved by His grace alone but in reality I was full of pride, thinking more highly of myself than I ought (Philippians 2:3). I would have preached Christ but my focus was not on pleasing Christ per se but on men seeing how much I “loved” Jesus. Oh how much pride was in my heart! Oh wretched sinner that I was!
But Christ died for me. Christ bled and suffered for my sins. Jesus gave His life for my sins and now I am forgiven not because I keep the law but because I can’t keep the law (Galatians 3:10). Christ suffered in my place, for my sins (Galatians 3:13-14). I am saved now not because I keep the law but because of faith in Jesus Christ who gave His life for my sins. What a blessing! What a Savior!
I have no problem with the law. The law is good. The law comes from our holy God. Yet too many Christians try to live the law. You will always be falling short. Always. You will never obtain holiness by the law. Even if you think (as I did) that I had obtained a level of holiness by my striving, inside (like me) you’ll know that you stand condemned because you can’t keep the whole law (James 2:10). I have no problem preaching the law and calling Christians to repent of not keeping the law. But the balance of this is the gospel. The answer to not keeping the law is not more law. The answer is the gospel. The law condemns us as sinners. The gospel comforts us by pointing to Christ who died for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
Perhaps I am wrong on this. I don’t think so. I believe it’s biblically based. I know that this teaching has pushed me closer to Christ and not away. I still hate sin. I really do hate sin. I acknowledge that I do sin but I hate my sins. I am so grateful to God for giving me His Son for my sins (John 1:29). I stand condemned but Christ preaches to me no condemnation (Romans 8:1). Satan accuses me of sin and he is right to do so. But I trust in Christ alone for my salvation (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus has promised not only to save me from my sins (Matthew 1:21; Romans 6:1-4) but He has promised to keep me (Jude 24-25). I trust in Christ alone and not my works-righteousness before a holy God.
The Bible is clear that Jesus died for sinners. No one denies this. Both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that Jesus shed His blood for the souls of lost sinners. Matthew 1:21 is clear that Jesus came to save His people from their sins. The key question in this debate over the atonement is whether the atonement is for all sinners period. Many Calvinists insist that the atonement is indeed for all people on some level. For example, Dr. John MacArthur believes that the atonement provides benefits for all people while only having the power to save the elect. MacArthur goes on to state, “Jesus Christ made a sufficient sacrifice to cover every sin of every one who believes (John 3:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2.”
I do not disagree. MacArthur states the following on 1 John 2:2 and the “whole world”:
This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general. Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe. A number of Scriptures indicate that Christ died for the world (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9). Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ. The passages that speak of Christ’s dying for the whole world must be understood to refer to mankind in general (as in Titus 2:11). “World” indicates the sphere, the beings toward whom God seeks reconciliation and has provided propitiation. God has mitigated his wrath on sinners temporarily, by letting them live and enjoy earthly life (1 Timothy 4:10). In that sense, Christ has provided a brief, temporary propitiation for the whole world. But he actually satisfied fully the wrath of God eternally only for the elect who believe. Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because he is Holy God. Thus his sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith. But the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32, 37; Ephesians 5:25). The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (1 John 4:9, 14; John 5:24). There is no other way to be reconciled to God.
A few thoughts here about this. First, I appreciate Dr. MacArthur much. He preaches salvation to all. He never fails to call all to repent and believe the gospel. In this sense, he follows in the steps of men such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon in calling all sinners to repentance. He is no hyper-Calvinist in this regard. There has probably never been a man who has done more for expository preaching than John MacArthur. Having personally met him, I found him to be gracious and kind. So by no means do I present my case against him as an enemy. I come as a brother.
Now the Arminian can read the above words from MacArthur and agree with most of what he wrote. I agree that Christ died for the elect. I agree that Christ died for His sheep. I agree that Christ died for His Church. I agree that Christ died for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20). I agree that Christ died for us (Galatians 1:4). But I also go one step further and believe that Christ died for all. I agree that no one is saved apart from being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). I agree that one has to believe to be saved (John 5:24; Acts 16:30-31). I agree that repentance is necessary for eternal life (Acts 2:38). But I also believe that all can be saved and there is no limit on this number.
I agree that the world is opposed to God (1 John 2:15-17). Ironically, MacArthur never limits “world” in 1 John but here in 1 John 2:2. The world is indeed sinful, God-hating, rejecting the truth of the gospel. I agree. But what we find in the gospel is God calling out to the whole world to repent and be saved. God, who is the one that the world hates, is calling to His enemies to come and be reconciled through faith (Isaiah 1:18). This is the message of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47).
You’ll notice in MacArthur’s statement above also that he wants to make sure that we understand that he believes the atonement is powerful enough to cover the sins of the world if God wanted it to. He doesn’t use those words but it seems implied by this reader. He wants us to see how powerful and vast the work of Christ is. I would agree. In the cross, we do find God the Son dying for the world and shedding His precious blood for the lost. If God wanted to, He could indeed reconciled the world through the powerful blood of Jesus. I have no doubt. Instead, God calls to lost sinners through His love that He demonstrated on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9). This is not a forced love. This is not a forced relationship. This is a loving relationship where the repenting sinner comes to God through His Son to be saved (Romans 2:4). This is a genuine relationship that God initiated and not man (Ephesians 2:4-6; 1 John 4:10). But this message, this good news is for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11; 1 John 4:14).
It is true that the atonement is only effective for those who believe. Christ died for His enemies and He even prayed for His enemies at the cross (Luke 23:34). MacArthur even acknowledges that Christ is praying for His enemies at this passage and adds:
Some of the fruit of this prayer can be in the salvation of thousands of people in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:41).
Notice he adds in his note that “some of the fruit” and not all. If it is true that Christ is dying only for the elect, why pray for the world? Why pray for the sinners who are killing Him? Many Calvinists point to John 17:9 as proof that Jesus does not pray for the world but only for the elect. Yet MacArthur acknowledges that Luke 23:34 is for the lost. He also is clear that God heard His prayer and saved some of those who perhaps killed Jesus at Pentecost in Acts 2:41.
Let us be clear here though. None were saved by Jesus praying for them in Luke 23:34. They had to appropriate the work of Christ just as we all do through faith. That Jesus shed His blood saves no one. Even Calvinists agree with this while insisting that the sins of the elect were placed on the Son. All agree that we are saved by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9). And even if we allow for Calvinists to believe that faith is a gift given by God to His elect, we must still acknowledge that the wrath of God is against us till we believe.
This would mean two things. First, those who are in cast into hell are cast into hell because they rejected the sacrifice of the Son of God for their sins. Do we have passages of Scripture that speak of Christ dying for their sins while they rejected His sacrifice? Yes e do. Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1. In context all these Scriptures speak of those whom Christ died who may not share in eternal life. Even MacArthur does acknowledge that 2 Peter 2:1 is referring to false teachers who claimed Christ and so Peter mocks them by saying that they refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ whom they claimed bought them.
What is clear is that people who go to hell go to hell because of their rejection of God and His truth. The person is to blame and not God who gave His Son for their reconciliation. Calvinism would place the blame on God. God chose to reject sinners even before time began and even if you allow for the sinner’s punishability for their sins, they are sinning because God has predetermined that they be sinners in the first place by His own sovereign will (Romans 9:22-23). If I were a Calvinist, at this point I would preach hard annihilation since the sinner is in hell tormented day and night forever because God willed that they never be saved in the first place. Annihilation is at least charitable toward sinners who are being tormented for God’s glory in the first place in the Calvinist view.
Secondly, the application of the atonement is through faith. Even MacArthur doesn’t preach the doctrine of eternal justification. Consistent Calvinists such as John Gill see the truth that the elect are born sinless. How else can it be? If God placed the sins of the elect on Christ and He ensures that the elect will believe by His own sovereign choice from eternity past, who can one argue that God ever sees the sins of the elect? If Christ died for my sins at the cross and God placed my sins on Him at the cross, when was the wrath of God against my sins appeased? Gill would answer the cross. MacArthur would answer the cross but add that I must receive it by faith. And I would answer: Yes and this is biblical Arminianism!
Romans 3:21-26 in the ESV is beautiful (with my emphasis):
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Faith is the design of God to come into a saving relationship with Himself. This is the sovereign will of God. This is the sovereign decree of God. All who repent and believe will be saved. There is no limit to the sacrifice of the Son of God. I have heard many Calvinists preaching like Arminians to the lost by preaching that Christ shed His blood so that they might be saved. They call out to lost sinners to repent and believe the gospel (as if sinners could actually do this by their command). They call to sinners to turn from their sins and be saved through faith in Christ. And I agree! In fact, I believe that every person whom the Calvinist evangelist is preaching to can be saved and there is no limit to the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17). If God can have mercy on me, He can have mercy on my lost neighbors and co-workers who despise Him at this time (1 Timothy 1:15; 4:10).
As Paul the Apostle wrote above in Romans 3:24, this salvation is a gift to be received by faith. The sinner does not earn this salvation. There is nothing we could add to the work of Christ to be saved. In fact, what a wicked thing to do to add to the cross of Christ by saying that we must also do our part to be saved. We are justified though faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone (Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:13-14). This is true of us as children of God as well as the lost sinners we are preaching to. Salvation is the gracious work of God (John 1:12-13; Titus 2:11-14; 3:5-7). We are saved by the work of Christ alone.
Thankfully both Calvinists and Arminians preach that truth. Some Calvinists try to assert that we Arminians preach that we can save ourselves or we preach a works-righteousness system but this is not the truth. Arminius wrote:
“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.”
Adam Clarke wrote:
The doctrine of justification by faith is one of the grandest displays of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more simple than this-Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the soul of his neighbor. God, in his mercy, has provided a Saviour for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up his own; he died in thy stead, and has made atonement to God for thy transgression; and offers thee the pardon he has thus purchased, on the simple condition that thou believe that his death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin; and that thou bring it, as such, by confident faith to the throne of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so, thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for righteousness; that is, it shall be the means of receiving that salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.
And I end with John Wesley:
But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.) God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons, and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written word, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be condemned:” And in order to this, “Christ died for all, all that were dead in trespasses and sins;” that is, for every child of Adam, since “in Adam all died.”
Romans 4:25 reads,
“Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
Jesus gave His life for our sins. He died a cruel, unjust death at the hands of sinners. Yet Jesus did this for our sins (Isaiah 53:4-6). His blood was shed so that we could have peace with God (Ephesians 2:14). His blood was shed to wash away our sins (Ephesians 1:7). He committed no sin yet He bore our sins (1 Peter 2:22-24). 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 reads,
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
He died to take away our sins (John 1:29) and in Him alone do we find forgiveness of our sins (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 9:22, 27-28; 10:10, 14; 1 John 2:2).
Yet the resurrection is key to this forgiveness. Without a resurrection, there is no forgiveness. This is the point of Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 15:16-19:
16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But since Christ has been raised from the dead (Matthew 28:6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6-7; John 20:1-10; 21:24-29), we have the blessing of knowing that our sins are truly forgiven. This is not merely God ignoring our sins or simply by-passing His just law to forgive us just by the waving of His hands but this is true forgiveness. Jesus took my place on the cross. It was my sins that He bore. He died in my place and He stood condemned for me.
And how do I know this? Because of Romans 4:25! Jesus was raised for my justification before a holy God. My only hope for salvation, my only assurance of my forgiveness before a holy God is the blood of Christ that He shed on the cross. The Father raised Christ from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 1:4; 8:11) and showed that the Father had accepted the sacrifice of the Son. Jesus was crucified for my sins and He was raised for my justification. Now I have peace with God because of Christ Jesus and because of Christ alone (Romans 5:1).
What a glorious truth is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus!
Romans 3:27-28 reads:
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
There is no boasting before God of our salvation. We are saved by God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in the finished work of the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 10:10) who died for our sins (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus is the One who has purchased our salvation (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 1:5). Our work is to place our total faith in the Lord Jesus and His blood to save us and keep us (John 6:29).
People despise this doctrine. They want to believe that their works or their goodness or their disciplines all bring about God’s approval. They fail to see that they have violated God’s law and thus are guilty of breaking all His law (James 2:10; 1 John 3:4). Those who break the law must be punished or God is not holy and good. If God is indeed holy and good then He must execute His justice against those who violate His law. The Bible says that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). Our sins are bringing the just wrath of God otherwise He is not a good God because He ignores His own law.
People want to make God into their own images. They want a user-friendly god who doesn’t burn with wrath against sin. They want a god who is not holy and set apart. They want a god who hears our prayers no matter what the conditions of our heart may be (Isaiah 59:2). They want a god who never judges. They want a loving god who is not pure and holy. This is not the God of the Bible but our own gods that we have created and will perish with us. The true God who created all things (and of whom our consciences bear witness) is a holy God. He is a loving and good God but He is just.
Scripture is clear that God is just (see Exodus 34:6-7; Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Chronicles 12:6; Nehemiah 9:33; Job 34:17-30; Psalm 33:5, 13-15; 36:6; 45:6; 58:11; 96:13; 97:2; 140:12; Isaiah 30:18; 61:8; Ezekiel 18:4; Zephaniah 3:5; Acts 17:31; Romans 3:25-26; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 John 1:9; Revelation 16:5-6). Because God is just, He must punish sin.
God has punished sin in His Son (Isaiah 53:4-6). The Lord Jesus and the Lord Jesus alone is our substitute for sin (Hebrews 9:22). Either we are in the Son and have life or we have death upon us (John 3:18, 36; 5:24-25). When we die, we will stand before a holy and just God who will judge us based upon His law. All of us will be found guilty (Romans 3:23). Yet those who have a mediator before God will be saved (1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 7:20-28; 9:11-28). Jesus’ blood alone is able to wash away our sins before a holy God (Ephesians 1:7). His death on the cross took our sins (Matthew 26:28) and His resurrection proves that God has accepted the perfect sacrifice of the Son (Romans 4:24-25). Thus we must confess both His death and His resurrection for our salvation (Romans 10:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
This work of Christ takes away our self-confidence and our prideful boasting that we see in religion. The moral person will not get to heaven by their own morality. The religious person will not get to heaven by their religious works. The only way to heaven is through the Lord Jesus (John 14:6). He alone is our Savior. We have no salvation apart from Him (Romans 10:14-17). This is why we disciples of Jesus labor to see the gospel go forth into all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). We know that there is no salvation apart from faith in Christ and there is no hope apart from faith in Christ. Because of the justice of God, none will escape God’s just wrath against sin apart from faith in Jesus (Romans 5:8-11). Religion says “do this and you’ll be reconciled perhaps with God” but the Lord Jesus alone is the way to God. Our faith is not in facts about Him nor in plans about Him but in Him, the Person of the Lord Jesus. He is a risen and living Savior. He is still able to save those who come to Him in true faith trusting in His grace alone to save them and for Him to be the mediator for them before God. I pray that many will repent.
IX. THE JUSTIFICATION OF MAN BEFORE GOD
I am not conscious to myself, of having taught or entertained any other sentiments concerning the justification of man before God, than those which are held unanimously by the Reformed and Protestant Churches, and which are in complete agreement with their expressed opinions.
There was lately a short controversy in relation to this subject, between John Piscator, Professor of Divinity in the University of Herborn in Nassau, and the French Churches. It consisted in the determination of these two questions:
(1.) “is the obedience or righteousness of Christ, which is imputed to believers and in which consists their righteousness before God, is this only the passive obedience of Christ?” which was Piscator’s opinion. Or
(2.) “is it not, in addition to this, that active righteousness of Christ which he exhibited to the law of God in the whole course of his life, and that holiness in which he was conceived?” Which was the opinion of the French Churches. But I never durst mingle myself with the dispute, or undertake to decide it; for I thought it possible for the Professors of the same religion to hold different opinions on this point from others of their brethren, without any breach of Christian peace or the unity of faith. Similar peaceful thoughts appear to have been indulged by both the adverse parties in this dispute; for they exercised a friendly toleration towards each other, and did not make that a reason for mutually renouncing their fraternal concord. But concerning such an amicable plan of adjusting differences, certain individuals in our own country are of a different judgment.
A question has been raised from these words of the Apostle Paul: “Faith is imputed for righteousness.” (Rom. 4) The inquiry was,
(1.) Whether those expressions ought to be properly understood, “so that faith itself, as an act performed according to the command of the gospel, is imputed before God for or unto righteousness — and that of grace; since it is not the righteousness of the law.”
(2.) Whether they ought to be figuratively and improperly understood, “that the righteousness of Christ, being apprehended by faith, is imputed to us for righteousness.” Or
(3.) Whether it is to be understood “that the righteousness, for which, or unto which, faith is imputed, is the instrumental operation of faith;” which is asserted by some persons. In the theses on justification, which were disputed under me when I was moderator, I have adopted the former of these opinions not in a rigid manner, but simply, as I have likewise done in another passage which I wrote in a particular letter. It is on this ground that I am accounted to hold and to teach unsound opinions concerning the justification of man before God. But how unfounded such a supposition is, will be very evident at a proper season, and in a mutual conference. For the present, I will only briefly say, “I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.” Whatever interpretation may be put upon these expressions, none of our Divines blames Calvin or considers him to be heterodox on this point; yet my opinion is not so widely different from his as to prevent me from employing the signature of my own hand in subscribing to those things which he has delivered on this subject, in the third book of his Institutes; this I am prepared to do at any time, and to give them my full approval. Most noble and potent Lords, these are the principal articles, respecting which I have judged it necessary to declare my opinion before this august meeting, in obedience to your commands.