Precursory Considerations to an Explanation of the Doctrine of Justification Part Two.
By John Owen
The Text as edited, Copyright 2003 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

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This blessed permutation as unto sin and righteousness is represented unto us in the Scripture as a principal object of our faith, — as that whereon our peace with God is founded. And although both these (the imputation of sin unto Christ, and the imputation of righteousness unto us) be the acts of God, and not ours, yet are we by faith to exemplify them in our own souls, and really to perform what on our part is required unto their application unto us; whereby we receive “the atonement,” Romans 5:11. Christ calls unto him all those that “labor and are heavy laden,” Matthew 11:28. The weight that is upon the consciences of men, wherewith they are laden, is the burden of sin. So the psalmist complains that his “sins were a burden too heavy for him,” Psalm 38:4. Such was Cain’s apprehension of his guilt, Genesis 4:13. This burden Christ bare, when it was laid on him by divine estimation. For so it is said, lBos]yi aWh µt;no/[}w® Isaiah 53:11, — “He shall bear their iniquities” on him as a burden. And this he did when God made to meet upon him “the iniquity of us all,” verse 6. In the application of this unto our own souls, as it is required that we be sensible of the weight and burden of our sins and how it is heavier than we can bear; so the Lord Christ calls us unto him with it, that we may be eased. This he does in the preaching of the gospel, wherein he is “evidently crucified before our eyes,” Galatians 3:1. In the view which faith has of Christ crucified (for faith is a “looking unto him,” Isaiah 45:22; 65:1, answering their looking unto the brazen serpent who were stung with fiery serpents, John 3:14, 15), and under a sense of his invitation (for faith is our coming unto him, upon his call and invitation) to come unto him with our burdens, a believer considers that God has laid all our iniquities upon him; yea, that he has done so, is an especial object whereon faith is to act, which is faith in his blood. Hereon does the soul approve of and embrace the righteousness and grace of God, with the infinite condescension and love of Christ himself. It gives its consent that what is thus done is what becomes the infinite wisdom and grace of God; and therein it rests. Such a person seeks no more to establish his own righteousness, but submits to the righteousness of God. Herein, by faith, does he leave that burden on Christ which he called him to bring with him, and complies with the wisdom and righteousness of God in laying it upon him. And herewith does he receive the everlasting righteousness which the Lord Christ brought in when he made an end of sin, and reconciliation for transgressors.

The reader may be pleased to observe, that I am not debating these things argumentatively, in such propriety of expressions as are required in a scholastic disputation; which shall be done afterwards, so far as I judge it necessary. But I am doing that which indeed is better, and of more importance, — namely, declaring the experience of faith in the expressions of the Scripture, or such as are analogous unto them. And I had rather be instrumental in the communication of light and knowledge unto the meanest believer, than to have the clearest success against prejudiced disputers. Wherefore, by faith thus acting are we justified, and have peace with God. Other foundation in this matter can no man lay, that will endure the trial.

Nor are we to be moved, that men who are unacquainted with these things in their reality and power do reject the whole work of faith herein, as an easy effort of fancy or imagination. For the preaching of the cross is foolishness unto the best of the natural wisdom of men; neither can any understand them but by the Spirit of God. Those who know the terror of the Lord, who have been really convinced and made sensible of the guilt of their apostasy from God, and of their actual sins in that state, and what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God, — seeking thereon after a real solid foundation whereon they may be accepted with him, — have other thoughts of these things, and do find believing a thing to be quite of another nature than such men suppose. It is not a work of fancy or imagination unto men, to deny and abhor themselves, to subscribe unto the righteousness of God in denouncing death as due to their sins, to renounce all hopes and expectations of relief from any righteousness of their own, to mix the word and promise of God concerning Christ and righteousness by him with faith, so as to receive the atonement, and wherewithal to give up themselves unto a universal obedience unto God.

Sixthly. We can never state our thoughts aright in this matter, unless we have a clear apprehension of, and satisfaction in, the introduction of grace by Jesus Christ into the whole of our relation unto God, with its respect unto all parts of our obedience. There was no such thing, nothing of that nature or kind, in the first constitution of that relation and obedience by the law of our creation. We were made in a state of immediate relation unto God in our own persons, as our creator, preserver, and rewarder. There was no mystery of grace in the covenant of works. No more was required unto the consummation of that state but what was given us in our creation, enabling us unto rewardable obedience. “Do this, and live,” was the sole rule of our relation unto God. There was nothing in religion originally of that which the gospel celebrates under the name of the grace, kindness, and love of God, whence all our favorable relation unto God does now proceed, and whereinto it is resolved; nothing of the interposition of a mediator with respect unto our righteousness before God, and acceptance with him; — which is at present the life and soul of religion, the substance of the gospel, and the center of all the truths revealed in it. The introduction of these things is that which makes our religion a mystery, yea, a “great mystery,” if the apostle may be believed, 1 Timothy 3:16.

All religion at first was suited and commensurable unto reason; but being now become a mystery, men for the most part are very unwilling to receive it. But so it must be; and unless we are restored unto our primitive rectitude, a religion suited unto the principles of our reason (of which it has none but what answer that first state) will not serve our turns. Wherefore, of this introduction of Christ and grace in him into our relation unto God, there are no notions in the natural conceptions of our minds; nor are they discoverable by reason in the best and utmost of its exercise, 1 Corinthians 2:14.

For before our understanding were darkened, and our reason debased by the fall, there were no such things revealed or proposed unto us; yea, the supposition of them is inconsistent with, and contradictory unto, that whole state and condition wherein we were to live to God, — seeing they all suppose the entrance of sin. And it is not likely that our reason, as now corrupted, should be willing to embrace that which it knew nothing of in its best condition, and which was inconsistent with that way of attaining happiness which was absolutely suited unto it: for it has no faculty or power but what it has derived from that state; and to suppose it is now of itself suited and ready to embrace such heavenly mysteries of truth and grace as it had no notions of, nor could have, in the state of innocence, is to suppose that by the fall our eyes were opened to know good and evil, in the sense that the serpent deceived our first parents with an expectation of. Whereas, therefore, our reason was given us for our only guide in the first constitution of our natures, it is naturally unready to receive what is above it; and, as corrupted, has an enmity thereunto.

Hence, in the first open proposal of this mystery, — namely, of the love and grace of God in Christ, of the introduction of a mediator and his righteousness into our relation unto God, in that way which God in infinite wisdom had designed, — the whole of it was looked on as mere folly by the generality of the wise and rational men of the world, as the apostle declares at large, 1 Corinthians 1; neither was the faith of them ever really received in the world without an act of the Holy Ghost upon the mind in its renovation. And those who judge that there is nothing more needful to enable the mind of man to receive the mysteries of the gospel in a due manner but the outward proposal of the doctrine thereof, do not only deny the depravation of our nature by the fall, but, by just consequence, wholly renounce that grace whereby we are to be recovered.

Wherefore, reason (as has been elsewhere proved), acting on and by its own innate principles and abilities, conveyed unto it from its original state, and as now corrupted, is repugnant unto the whole introduction of grace by Christ into our relation unto God, Romans 8:7. An endeavor, therefore, to reduce the doctrine of the gospel, or what is declared therein concerning the hidden mystery of the grace of God in Christ, unto the principles and inclinations of the minds of men, or reason as it remains in us after the entrance of sin, — under the power, at least, of those notions and conceptions of things religious which it retains from its first state and condition, — is to debase and corrupt them (as we shall see in sundry instances), and so make way for their rejection.

Hence, very difficult it is to keep up doctrinally and practically the minds of men unto the reality and spiritual height of this mystery; for men naturally do neither understand it nor like it: and therefore, every attempt to accommodate it unto the principles and inbred notions of corrupt reason is very acceptable unto many, yea, unto the most; for the things which such men speak and declare, are, without more ado, — without any exercise of faith or prayer, without any supernatural illumination, — easily intelligible, and exposed to the common sense of mankind. But whereas a declaration of the mysteries of the gospel can obtain no admission into the minds of men but by the effectual working of the Spirit of God, Ephesians 1:17-19, it is generally looked on as difficult, perplexed, unintelligible; and even the minds of many, who find they cannot contradict it, are yet not at all delighted with it.

And here lies the advantage of all them who, in these days, do attempt to corrupt the doctrine of the gospel, in the whole or any part of it; for the accommodation of it unto the common notions of corrupted reason is the whole of what they design. And in the confidence of the suffrage hereof, they not only oppose the things themselves, but despise the declaration of them as enthusiastic ranting. And by nothing do they more prevail themselves than by a pretense of reducing all things to reason, and contempt of what they oppose, as unintelligible fanaticism. But I am not more satisfied in any thing of the most uncontrollable evidence, than that the understandings of these men are no just measure or standard of spiritual truth. Wherefore, notwithstanding all this fierceness of scorn, with the pretended advantages which some think they have made by traducing expressions in the writings of some men, it may be improper, it may be only not suited unto their own genius and capacity in these things, we are not to be “ashamed of the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”

Of this repugnancy unto the mystery of the wisdom and grace of God in Christ, and the foundation of its whole economy, in the distinct operations of the persons of the holy Trinity therein, there are two parts or branches:

1. That which would reduce the whole of it unto the private reason of men, and their own weak, imperfect management thereof. This is the entire design of the Socinians. Hence:

(1.) The doctrine of the Trinity itself is denied, impugned, yea, derided by them; and that solely on this account. They plead that it is incomprehensible by reason; for there is in that doctrine a declaration of things absolutely infinite and eternal, which cannot be exemplified in, nor accommodated unto, things finite and temporal. This is the substance of all their pleas against the doctrine of the holy Trinity, that which gives a seeming life and sprightly vigor to their objections against it; wherein yet, under the pretense of the use and exercise of reason, they fall, and resolve all their reasonings into the most absurd and irrational principles that ever the minds of men were besotted withal. For unless you will grant them that what is above their reason, is, therefore, contradictory unto true reason; that what is infinite and eternal is perfectly comprehensible, and in all its concerns and respects to be accounted for; that what cannot be in things finite and of a separate existence, cannot be in things infinite, whose being and existence can be but one; with other such irrational, yea, brutish imaginations; all the arguments of these pretended men of reason against the Trinity become like chaff that every breath of wind will blow away.

Hereon they must, as they do, deny the distinct operations of any persons in the Godhead in the dispensation of the mystery of grace; for if there are no such distinct persons, there can be no such distinct operations. Now, as upon a denial of these things no one article of faith can be rightly understood, nor any one duty of obedience be performed unto God in an acceptable manner; so, in particular, we grant that the doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ cannot stand.

(2.) On the same ground the incarnation of the Son of God is rejected as ajtovpwn ajtopwvtaton, — the most absurd conception that ever befell the minds of men. Now it is to no purpose to dispute with men so persuaded, about justification; yea, we will freely acknowledge that all things we believe about it are grawvdei~ muvqoi, — no better than old wives’ tales, — if the incarnation of the Son of God be so also. For I can as well understand how he who is a mere man, however exalted, dignified, and glorified, can exercise a spiritual rule in and over the hearts, consciences, and thoughts of all the men in the world, being intimately knowing of and present unto them all equally at all times (which is another of their fopperies), as how the righteousness and obedience of one should be esteemed the righteousness of all that believe, if that one be no more than a man, if he be not acknowledged to be the Son of God incarnate.

Whilst the minds of men are prepossessed with such prejudices, nay, unless they firmly assent unto the truth in these foundations of it, it is impossible to convince them of the truth and necessity of that justification of a sinner which is revealed in the gospel. Allow the Lord Christ to be no other person but what they believe him to be, and I will grant there can be no other way of justification than what they declare; though I cannot believe that ever any sinner will be justified thereby. These are the issues of an obstinate refusal to give way unto the introduction of the mystery of God and his grace into the way of salvation and our relation unto him.

And he who would desire an instance of the fertility of men’s inventions in forging and coining objections against heavenly mysteries, in the justification of the sovereignty of their own reason, as unto what belongs to our relation unto God, need go no farther than the writings of these men against the Trinity and incarnation of the eternal Word. For this is their fundamental rule, in things divine and doctrines of religion, — That not what the Scripture says is therefore to be accounted true, although it seems repugnant unto any reasoning of ours, or is above what we can comprehend; but what seems repugnant unto our reason, let the words of the Scripture be what they will, that we must conclude that the Scripture does not say so, though it seem never so expressly so to do.

“Itaque non quia utrumque Scripture dicat, propterea haec inter se non pugnare concludendum est; sed potius quia haec inter se pugnant, ideo alterutrum a Scriptura non dici statuendum est,” says Schlichting ad Meisn. Def. Socin. p.102;[1] — “Wherefore, because the Scripture affirms both these” (that is the efficacy of God’s grace and the freedom of our wills), “we cannot conclude from thence that they are not repugnant; but because these things are repugnant unto one another, we must determine that one of them is not spoken in the Scripture:” — no, it seems, let it say what it will. This is the handsomest way they can take in advancing their own reason above the Scripture; which yet savors of intolerable presumption.

So Socinus himself,[2] speaking of the satisfaction of Christ, says, in plain terms: “Ego quidem etiamsi non semel sed saepius id in sacris monumentis scriptum extaret, non idcirco tamen ita prorsus rem se habere crederem, ut vos opinamini; cum enim id omnino fieri non possit non secus atque in multis llis Scripturae Testimoniis, una cum caeteris omnibus facio; aliqua, quae minus incommode videretur, interpretatione adhibita, eum sensum ex ejusmodi verbis elicerem qui sibi constaret;” — “For my part, if this (doctrine) were extant and written in the holy Scripture, not once, but often, yet would I not therefore believe it to be so as you do; for where it can by no means be so (whatever the Scripture says), I would, as I do with others in other places, make use of some less incommodious interpretation, whereby I would draw a sense out of the words that should be consistent with itself.”

And how he would do this he declares a little before: “Sacra verba in alium sensum, quam verba sonant, per inusitatos etiam tropos quandoque explicantur.”

He would explain the words into another sense than what they sound or propose, by unusual tropes. And, indeed, such uncouth tropes does he apply, as so many engines and machines, to pervert all the divine testimonies concerning our redemption, reconciliation, and justification by the blood of Christ.

Having therefore fixed this as their rule, constantly to prefer their own reason above the express words of the Scripture, which must, therefore, by one means or other, be so perverted or wrested as to be made compliant therewith, it is endless to trace them in their multiplied objections against the holy mysteries, all resolved into this one principle, that their reason cannot comprehend them, nor does approve of them. And if any man would have an especial instance of the serpentine wits of men winding themselves from under the power of conviction by the spiritual light of truth, or at least endeavoring so to do, let him read the comments of the Jewish rabbins on Isaiah, chap. 53, and of the Socinians on the beginning of the Gospel of John.

2. The second branch of this repugnancy springs from the want of a due comprehension of that harmony which is in the mystery of grace, and between all the parts of it. This comprehension is the principal effect of that wisdom which believers are taught by the Holy Ghost. Our understanding of the wisdom of God in a mystery is neither an art nor a science — whether purely speculative or more practical — but a spiritual wisdom. And this spiritual wisdom is such as understands and apprehends things, not so much, or not only in the notion of them, as in their power, reality, and efficacy, towards their proper ends. And, therefore, although it may be very few, unless they be learned, judicious, and diligent in the use of means of all sorts, do attain unto it clearly and distinctly in the doctrinal notions of it; yet are all true believers, yea, the meanest of them, directed and enabled by the Holy Spirit, as unto their own practice and duty, to act suitably unto a comprehension of this harmony, according to the promise that “they shall be all taught of God.” Hence, those things which appear unto others contradictory and inconsistent one with another, so as that they are forced to offer violence unto the Scripture and their own experience in the rejection of the one or the other of them, are reconciled in their minds and made mutually useful or helpful unto one another, in the whole course of their obedience. But these things must be farther spoken unto.

Such a harmony as that intended there is in the whole mystery of God. For it is the most curious effect and product of divine wisdom; and it is no impeachment of the truth of it, that it is not discernible by human reason. A full comprehension of it no creature can in this world arise unto. Only, in the contemplation of faith, we may arrive unto such an understanding admiration of it as shall enable us to give glory unto God, and to make use of all the parts of it in practice as we have occasion. Concerning it the holy man mentioned before cried out, w\ ajnexicniavstou dhmiourgiva~ — “O unsearchable contrivance and operations.” And so is it expressed by the apostle, as that which has an unfathomable depth of wisdom in it, ÇW bavqo~ plouvtou, etc. — “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Romans 11:33-36. See to the same purpose, Ephesians 3:8-10.

There is a harmony, a suitableness of one thing unto another, in all the works of creation. Yet we see that it is not perfectly nor absolutely discoverable unto the wisest and most diligent of men. How far are they from an agreement about the order and motions of the heavenly bodies, of the sympathies and qualities of sundry things here below, in the relation of causality and efficiency between one thing and another! The new discoveries made concerning any of them, do only evidence how far men are from a just and perfect comprehension of them. Yet such a universal harmony there is in all the parts of nature and its operations, that nothing in its proper station and operation is destructively contradictory either to the whole or any part of it, but every thing contributes unto the preservation and use of the universe. But although this harmony be not absolutely comprehensible by any, yet do all living creatures, who follow the conduct or instinct of nature, make use of it, and live upon it; and without it neither their being could be preserved, nor their operations continued.

But in the mystery of God and his grace, the harmony and suitableness of one thing unto another, with their tendency unto the same end, is incomparably more excellent and glorious than that which is seen in nature or the works of it. For whereas God made all things at first in wisdom, yet is the new creation of all things by Jesus Christ ascribed peculiarly unto the riches, stores, and treasures of that infinite wisdom. Neither can any discern it unless they are taught of God; for it is only spiritually discerned. But yet is it by the most despised. Some seem to think that there is no great wisdom in it; and some, that no great wisdom is required unto the comprehension of it: few think it worth the while to spend half that time in prayer, in meditation, in the exercise of self-denial, mortification, and holy obedience, doing the will of Christ, that they may know of his word, to the attaining of a due comprehension of the mystery of godliness, as some do in diligence, study, and trial of experiments, who design to excel in natural or mathematical sciences. Wherefore there are three things evident herein:

1. That such a harmony there is in all the parts of the mystery of God, wherein all the blessed properties of the divine nature are glorified, our duty in all instances is directed and engaged, our salvation in the way of obedience secured, and Christ, as the end of all, exalted. Wherefore, we are not only to consider and know the several parts of the doctrine of spiritual truths but their relation, also, one unto another, their consistency one with another in practice, and their mutual furtherance of one another unto their common end. And a disorder in our apprehensions about any part of that whose beauty and use arises from its harmony, gives some confusion of mind with respect unto the whole.

2. That unto a comprehension of this harmony in a due measure, it is necessary that we be taught of God; without which we can never be wise in the knowledge of the mystery of his grace. And herein ought we to place the principal part of our diligence, in our inquiries into the truths of the gospel.

3. All those who are taught of God to know his will, unless it be when their minds are disordered by prejudices, false opinions, or temptations, have an experience in themselves and their own practical obedience, of the consistency of all parts of the mystery of God’s grace and truth in Christ among themselves, — of their spiritual harmony and cogent tendency unto the same end. The introduction of the grace of Christ into our relation unto God, makes no confusion or disorder in their minds, by the conflict of the principles of natural reason, with respect unto our first relation unto God, and those of grace, with respect unto that whereunto we are renewed.

From the want of a due comprehension of this divine harmony it is, that the minds of men are filled with imaginations of an inconsistency between the most important parts of the mystery of the gospel, from whence the confusions that are at this day in Christian religion do proceed.

Thus the Socinians can see no consistency between the grace or love of God and the satisfaction of Christ, but imagine if the one of them be admitted, the other must be excluded out of our religion. Wherefore they principally oppose the latter, under a pretense of asserting and vindicating the former. And where these things are expressly conjoined in the same proposition of faith, — as where it is said that “we are justified freely by the grace of God, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,” Romans 3:24, 25, — they will offer violence unto common sense and reason, rather than not disturb that harmony which they cannot understand. For although it be plainly affirmed to be a redemption by his blood, as he is a propitiation, as his blood was a ransom or price of redemption, yet they will contend that it is only metaphorical, — a mere deliverance by power, like that of the Israelites by Moses. But these things are clearly stated in the gospel; and therefore not only consistent, but such as that the one cannot subsist without the other. Nor is there any mention of any especial love or grace of God unto sinners, but with respect unto the satisfaction of Christ as the means of the communication of all its effects unto them. See John 3:16; Romans 3:23-25; 8:30-33; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21; Ephesians 1:7; etc.

In like manner, they can see no consistency between the satisfaction of Christ and the necessity of holiness or obedience in them that do believe. Hence they continually clamor, that, by our doctrine of the mediation of Christ, we overthrow all obligations unto a holy life. And by their sophistical reasoning unto this purpose, they prevail with many to embrace their delusion, who have not a spiritual experience to confront their sophistry withal. But as the testimony of the Scripture lies expressly against them, so those who truly believe, and have real experience of the influence of that truth into the life of God, and how impossible it is to yield any acceptable obedience herein without respect thereunto, are secured from their snares.

These and the like imaginations arise from the unwillingness of men to admit of the introduction of the mystery of grace into our relation unto God. For suppose us to stand before God on the old constitution of the covenant of creation, which alone natural reason likes and is comprehensive of, and we do acknowledge these things to be inconsistent. But the mystery of the wisdom and grace of God in Christ cannot stand without them both.

So, likewise, God’s efficacious grace in the conversion of sinners, and the exercise of the faculties of their minds in a way of duty, are asserted as contradictory and inconsistent. And although they seem both to be positively and frequently declared in the Scripture, yet, say these men, their consistency being repugnant to their reason, let the Scripture say what it will, yet is it to be said by us that the Scripture does not assert one of them. And this is from the same cause; men cannot, in their wisdom, see it possible that the mystery of God’s grace should be introduced into our relation and obedience unto God. Hence have many ages of the church, especially the last of them, been filled with endless disputes, in opposition to the grace of God, or to accommodate the conceptions of it unto the interests of corrupted reason.

But there is no instance more pregnant unto this purpose than that under our present consideration. Free justification, through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, is cried out against, as inconsistent with a necessity of personal holiness and obedience: and because the Socinians insist principally on this pretense, it shall be fully and diligently considered apart; and that holiness which, without it, they and others deriving from them do pretend unto, shall be tried by the unerring rule.

Wherefore I desire it may be observed, that in pleading for this doctrine, we do it as a principal part of the introduction of grace into our whole relation unto God. Hence we grant:

1. That it is unsuited, yea foolish, and, as some speak, childish, unto the principles of unenlightened and unsanctified reason or understandings of men. And this we conceive to be the principal cause of all the oppositions that are made unto it, and all the deprivations of it that the church is pestered withal. Hence are the wits of men so fertile in sophistical cavils against it, so ready to load it with seeming absurdity, and I know not what unsuitableness unto their wondrous rational conceptions. And no objection can be made against it, be it never so trivial, but it is highly applauded by those who look on that introduction of the mystery of grace, which is above their natural conceptions, as unintelligible folly.

2. That the necessary relation of these things, one unto the other, — namely, of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, and the necessity of our personal obedience, — will not be clearly understood, nor duly improved, but by and in the exercise of the wisdom of faith. This we grant also; and let who will make what advantage they can of this concession. True faith has that spiritual light in it, or accompanying of it, as that it is able to receive it, and to conduct the soul unto obedience by it. Wherefore, reserving the particular consideration hereof unto its proper place, I say, in general:

(1.) That this relation is evident unto that spiritual wisdom whereby we are enabled, doctrinally and practically, to comprehend the harmony of the mystery of God, and the consistency of all the parts of it, one with another.

(2.) That it is made evident by the Scripture, wherein both these things — justification through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, and the necessity of our personal obedience — are plainly asserted and declared. And we defy that rule of the Socinians, that seeing these things are inconsistent in their apprehension or unto their reason, therefore we must say that one of them is not taught in the Scripture: for whatever it may appear unto their reason, it does not so to ours; and we have at least as good reason to trust unto our own reason as unto theirs. Yet we absolutely acquiesce in neither, but in the authority of God in the Scripture; rejoicing only in this, that we can set our seal unto his revelations by our own experience. For:

(3.) It is fully evident in the gracious conduct which the minds of them that believe are under, even that of the Spirit of truth and grace, and the inclinations of that new principle of the divine life whereby they are acted; for although, from the remainders of sin and darkness that are in them, temptations may arise unto a continuation in sin because grace has abounded, yet are their minds so formed and framed by the doctrine of this grace, and the grace of this doctrine, that the abounding of grace herein is the principal motive unto their abounding in holiness, as we shall see afterward.

And this we aver to be the spring of all those objections which the adversaries of this doctrine do continually endeavor to entangle it withal. As: 1. If the passive righteousness (as it is commonly called), that is, his death and suffering, be imputed unto us, there is no need, nor can it be, that his active righteousness, or the obedience of his life, should be imputed unto us; and so on the contrary: for both together are inconsistent. 2. That if all sin be pardoned, there is no need of the righteousness; and so on the contrary, if the righteousness of Christ be imputed unto us, there is no room for, or need of, the pardon of sin. 3. If we believe the pardon of our sins, then are our sins pardoned before we believe, or we are bound to believe that which is not so. 4. If the righteousness of Christ be imputed unto us, then are we esteemed to have done and suffered what, indeed, we never did nor suffered; and it is true, that if we are esteemed ourselves to have done it, imputation is overthrown. 5. If Christ’s righteousness be imputed unto us, then are we as righteous as was Christ himself. 6. If our sins were imputed unto Christ, then was he thought to have sinned, and was a sinner subjectively. 7. If good works be excluded from any interest in our justification before God, then are they of no use unto our salvation. 8. That it is ridiculous to think that where there is no sin, there is not all the righteousness that can be required. 9. That righteousness imputed is only a putative or imaginary righteousness, etc.

Now, although all these and the like objections, however subtly managed (as Socinus boasts that he had used more than ordinary subtlety in this cause, — “In quo, si subtilius aliquanto quam opus esse videretur, quaedam a nobis disputate sunt,” De Servat., par. 4, cap. 4),[3] are capable of plain and clear solutions, and we shall avoid the examination of none of them; yet at present I shall only say, that all the shades which they cast on the minds of men do vanish and disappear before the light of express Scripture testimonies, and the experience of them that do believe, where there is a due comprehension of the mystery of grace in any tolerable measure.

Seventhly. There are some common prejudices that are usually pleaded against the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ; which, because they will not orderly fall under a particular consideration in our progress, may be briefly examined in these general previous considerations:

1. It is usually urged against it, that this imputation of the righteousness of Christ is nowhere mentioned expressly in the Scripture. This is the first objection of Bellarmine against it. “Hactenus,” says he, “nullum omnino locum invenire putuerunt, ubi legeretur Christi justitiam nobis imputari ad justitiam; vel nos justos esse per Christi justitiam nobis imputatam,” De Justificat., lib. 2 cap. 7; [4] — an objection, doubtless, unreasonably and immodestly urged by men of this persuasion; for not only do they make profession of their whole faith, or their belief of all things in matters of religion, in terms and expressions nowhere used in the Scripture, but believe many things also, as they say, with faith divine, not at all revealed or contained in the Scripture, but drained by them out of the traditions of the church. I do not, therefore, understand how such persons can modestly manage this as an objection against any doctrine, that the terms wherein some do express it are not rJhtw`~ — found in the Scripture just in that order of one word after another as by them they are used; for this rule may be much enlarged, and yet be kept strait enough to exclude the principal concerns of their church out of the confines of Christianity. Nor can I apprehend much more equity in others, who reflect with severity on this expression of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as unscriptural, as if those who make use thereof were criminal in no small degree, when themselves, immediately in the declaration of their own judgment, make use of such terms, distinctions, and expressions, as are so far from being in the Scripture, as that it is odds they had never been in the world, had they escaped Aristotle’s mint, or that of the schools deriving from him.

And thus, although a sufficient answer has frequently enough (if any thing can be so) been returned unto this objection in Bellarmine, yet has one of late amongst ourselves made the translation of it into English to be the substance of the first chapter of a book about justification; though he needed not to have given such an early intimation unto whom he is beholding for the greatest part of his ensuing discourse, unless it be what is taken up in despiteful revilings of other men. For take from him what is not his own, on the one hand, and impertinent cavils at the words and expressions of other men, with forged imputations on some of them, on the other, and his whole book will disappear. But yet, although he affirms that none of the Protestant writers, who speak of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto us (which were all of them, without exception, until of late), have precisely kept to the form of wholesome words, but have rather swerved and varied from the language of the Scripture; yet he will excuse them from open error, if they intend no more thereby but that we are made partakers of the benefits of the righteousness of Christ. But if they intend that the righteousness of Christ itself imputed unto us (that is, so as to be our righteousness before God, whereon we are pardoned and accepted with him, or do receive the forgiveness of sins, and a right to the heavenly inheritance), then are they guilty of that error which makes us to be esteemed to do ourselves what Christ did; and so on the other side, Christ to have done what we do and did, chapter 2,3. But these things are not so. For, if we are esteemed to have done any thing in our own persons, it cannot be imputed unto us as done for us by another; as it will appear when we shall treat of these things afterwards. But the great and holy persons intended, are as little concerned in the accusations or apologies of some writers, as those writers seem to be acquainted with that learning, wisdom, and judgment, wherein they did excel, and the characters whereof are so eminently conspicuous in all their writings.

But the judgment of most Protestants is not only candidly expressed, but approved of also by Bellarmine himself in another place. “Non esset,” says he, “absurdum, si quis diceret nobis imputari Christi justitiam et merita; cum nobis donentur et applicentur; ac si nos ipsi Deo satisfecissemus.” De Justif., lib. 2, cap. 10;[5] — “It were not absurd, if any one should say that the righteousness and merits of Christ are imputed unto us, when they are given and applied unto us, as if we ourselves had satisfied God.” And this he confirms with that saying of Bernard,[6] Epist. ad Innocent. 190, “Nam ‘si unus pro omnibus mortuus est, ergo omnes mortui sunt,’ ut videlicet satisfactio unius omnibus imputetur, sicut omnium peccata unus ille portavit.” And those who will acknowledge no more in this matter, but only a participation “quovis modo,” one way or other, of the benefits of the obedience and righteousness of Christ, wherein we have the concurrence of the Socinians also, might do well, as I suppose, plainly to deny all imputation of his righteousness unto us in any sense, as they do, seeing the benefits of his righteousness cannot be said to be imputed unto us, what way so ever we are made partakers of them. For to say that the righteousness of Christ is imputed unto us, with respect unto the benefits of it, when neither the righteousness itself is imputed unto us, nor can the benefits of it be imputed unto us, as we shall see afterward, does minister great occasion of much needless variance and contests. Neither do I know any reason why men should seek countenance unto this doctrine under such an expression as themselves reflect upon as unscriptural, if they be contented that their minds and sense should be clearly understood and apprehended; — for truth needs no subterfuge.

The Socinians do now principally make use of this objection. For, finding the whole church of God in the use of sundry expressions, in the declaration of the most important truths of the gospel, that are not literally contained in the Scripture, they hoped for an advantage from thence in their opposition unto the things themselves. Such are the terms of the Trinity, the incarnation, satisfaction, and merit of Christ, as this also, of the imputation of his righteousness. How little they have prevailed in the other instances, has been sufficiently manifested by them with whom they have had to do. But as unto that part of this objection which concerns the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto, believers, those by whom it is asserted do say:

(1.) That it is the thing alone intended which they plead for. If that be not contained in the Scripture, if it be not plainly taught and confirmed therein, they will speedily relinquish it. But if they can prove that the doctrine which they intend in this expression, and which is thereby plainly declared into the understandings of men, is a divine truth sufficiently witnessed unto in the Scripture; then is this expression of it reductively scriptural, and the truth itself so expressed a divine verity. To deny this, is to take away all use of the interpretation of the Scripture, and to overthrow the ministry of the church. This, therefore, is to be alone inquired into.

(2.) They say, the same thing is taught and expressed in the Scripture in phrases equipollent. For it affirms that “by the obedience of one” (that is Christ), “many are made righteous,” Romans 5:19; and that we are made righteous by the imputation of righteousness unto us, “Blessed is the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,” chap. 4:6. And if we are made righteous by the imputation of righteousness unto us, that obedience or righteousness whereby we are made righteous is imputed unto us. And they will be content with this expression of this doctrine, — that the obedience of Christ whereby we are made righteous, is the righteousness that God imputes unto us. Wherefore, this objection is of no force to disadvantage the truth pleaded for.

2. Socinus objects, in particular, against this doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, and of his satisfaction, that there is nothing said of it in the “Evangelists,” nor in the “report of the sermons of Christ unto the people, nor yet in those of his private discourses with his disciples;” and he urges it vehemently and at large against the whole of the expiation of sin by his death, De Servator., par. 4, cap. 9. And as it is easy “malis inventis pejora addere,” this notion of his is not only made use of and pressed at large by one among ourselves, but improved also by a dangerous comparison between the writings of the evangelists and the other writings of the New Testament. For to enforce this argument, that the histories of the gospel, wherein the sermons of Christ are recorded, do make no mention of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (as in his judgment they do not), nor of his satisfaction, or merit, or expiation of sin, or of redemption by his death (as they do not in the judgment of Socinus), it is added by him, that for his part he is “apt to admire our Savior’s sermons, who was the author of our religion, before the writings of the apostles, though inspired men.” Whereunto many dangerous insinuations and reflections on the writings of St. Paul, contrary to the faith and sense of the church in all ages, are subjoined. See pp.240, 241.

But this boldness is not only unwarrantable, but to be abhorred. What place of Scripture, what ecclesiastical tradition, what single precedent of any one sober Christian writer, what theological reason, will countenance a man in making the comparison mentioned, and so determining thereon? Such juvenile boldness, such want of a due apprehension and understanding of the nature of divine inspiration, with the order and design of the writings of the New Testament, which are the springs of this precipitate censure, ought to be reflected on. At present, to remove this pretense out of our way, it may be observed:

(1.) That what the Lord Christ taught his disciples, in his personal ministry on the earth, was suited unto that economy of the church which was antecedent unto his death and resurrection. Nothing did he withhold from them that was needful to their faith, obedience, and consolation in that state. Many things he instructed them in out of the Scripture, many new revelations he made unto them, and many times did he occasionally instruct and rectify their judgments; howbeit he made no clear, distinct revelation of those sacred mysteries unto them which are peculiar unto the faith of the New Testament, nor were to be distinctly apprehended before his death and resurrection.

(2.) What the Lord Christ revealed afterward by his Spirit unto the apostles, was no less immediately from himself than was the truth which he spoke unto them with his own mouth in the days of his flesh. An apprehension to the contrary is destructive of Christian religion. The epistles of the apostles are no less Christ’s sermons than that which he delivered on the mount. Wherefore:

(3.) Neither in the things themselves, nor in the way of their delivery or revelation, is there any advantage of the one sort of writings above the other. The things written in the epistles proceed from the same wisdom, the same grace, the same love, with the things which he spoke with his own mouth in the days of his flesh, and are of the same divine veracity, authority, and efficacy. The revelation which he made by his Spirit is no less divine and immediate from himself, than what he spoke unto his disciples on the earth. To distinguish between these things, on any of these accounts, is intolerable folly.

(4.) The writings of the evangelists do not contain the whole of all the instructions which the Lord Christ gave unto his disciples personally on the earth. For he was seen of them after his resurrection forty days, and spoke with them of “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God,” Acts 1:3; and yet nothing hereof is recorded in their writings, but only some few occasional speeches. Nor had he given before unto them a clear and distinct understanding of those things which were delivered concerning his death and resurrection in the Old Testament; as is plainly declared, Luke 24:25-27. For it was not necessary for them, in that state wherein they were. Wherefore:

(5.) As to the extent of divine revelations objectively those which he granted, by his Spirit, unto his apostles after his ascension, were beyond those which he personally taught them, so far as they are recorded in the writings of the evangelists. For he told them plainly, not long before his death, that he had many things to say unto them which “then they could not bear,” John 16:12. And for the knowledge of those things, he refers them to the coming of the Spirit to make revelation of them from himself, in the next words, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you,” verses 13,14. And on this account he had told them before, that it was expedient for them that he should go away, that the Holy Spirit might come unto them, whom he would send from the Father, verse 7. Hereunto he referred the full and clear manifestation of the mysteries of the gospel. So false, as well as dangerous and scandalous, are those insinuations of Socinus and his followers.

(6.) The writings of the evangelists are full unto their proper ends and purposes. These were, to record the genealogy, conception, birth, acts, miracles, and teachings of our Savior, so far as to evince him to be the true, only-promised Messiah. So he testifies who wrote the last of them: “Many other signs truly did Jesus, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” John 22:30, 31. Unto this end every thing is recorded by them that is needful unto the ingenerating and establishing of faith. Upon this confirmation, all things declared in the Old Testament concerning him — all that was taught in types and sacrifices — became the object of faith, in that sense wherein they were interpreted in the accomplishment; and that in them this doctrine was before revealed, shall be proved afterward. It is, therefore, no wonder if some things, and those of the highest importance, should be declared more fully in other writings of the New Testament than they are in those of the evangelists.

(7.) The pretense itself is wholly false; for there are as many pregnant testimonies given unto this truth in one alone of the evangelists as in any other book of the New Testament, — namely, in the book of John. I shall refer to some of them, which will be pleaded in their proper place, chapter 1:12, 17; 3:14-18, 36; 5:24.

But we may pass this by, as one of those inventions concerning which Socinus boasts, in his epistle to Michael Vajoditus, that his writings were esteemed by many for the singularity of things asserted in them.

3. The difference that has been among Protestant writers about this doctrine is pleaded in the prejudice of it. Osiander,[7] in the entrance of the reformation, fell into a vain imagination, that we were justified or made righteous with the essential righteousness of God, communicated unto us by Jesus Christ. And whereas he was opposed herein with some severity by the most learned persons of those days, to countenance himself in his singularity, he pretended that there were “twenty different opinions amongst the Protestants themselves about the formal cause of our justification before God.” This was quickly laid hold on by them of the Roman church, and is urged as a prejudice against the whole doctrine, by Bellarmine, Vasquez, and others.[8] But the vanity of this pretense of his has been sufficiently discovered; and Bellarmine himself could fancy but four opinions among them that seemed to be different from one another, reckoning that of Osiander for one, De Justificat., lib. 2, cap. 1. But whereas he knew that the imagination of Osiander was exploded by them all, the other three that he mentions are indeed but distinct parts of the same entire doctrine. Wherefore, until of late it might be truly said, that the faith and doctrine of all Protestants was in this article entirely the same. For however they differed in the way, manner, and methods of its declaration, and too many private men were addicted unto definitions and descriptions of their own, under pretense of logical accuracy in teaching, which gave an appearance of some contradiction among them; yet in this they generally agreed, that it is the righteousness of Christ, and not our own, on the account whereof we receive the pardon of sin, acceptance with God, are declared righteous by the gospel, and have a right and title unto the heavenly inheritance. Hereon, I say, they were generally agreed, first against the Papists, and afterwards against the Socinians; and where this is granted, I will not contend with any man about his way of declaring the doctrine of it.

And that I may add it by the way, we have herein the concurrence of the fathers of the primitive church. For although by justification, following the etymology of the Latin word, they understood the making us righteous with internal personal righteousness, — at least some of them did so, as Austin in particular, — yet that we are pardoned and accepted with God on any other account but that of the righteousness of Christ, they believed not. And whereas, especially in their controversy with the Pelagians, after the rising of that heresy, they plead vehemently that we are made righteous by the grace of God changing our hearts and natures, and creating in us a principle of spiritual life and holiness, and not by the endeavors of our own free will, or works performed in the strength thereof, their words and expressions have been abused, contrary to their intention and design.

For we wholly concur with them, and subscribe unto all that they dispute about the making of us personally righteous and holy by the effectual grace of God, against all merit of works and operations of our own free will (our sanctification being every way as much of grace as our justification, properly so called); and that in opposition unto the common doctrine of the Roman church about the same matter: only they call this our being made inherently and personally righteous by grace, sometimes by the name of justification, which we do not. And this is laid hold on as an advantage by those of the Roman church who do not concur with them in the way and manner whereby we are so made righteous. But whereas by our justification before God, we intend only that righteousness whereon our sins are pardoned, wherewith we are made righteous in his sight, or for which we are accepted as righteous before him, it will be hard to find any of them assigning of it unto any other causes than the Protestants do. So it is fallen out, that what they design to prove, we entirely comply with them in; but the way and manner whereby they prove it is made use of by the Papists unto another end, which they intended not.

But as to the way and manner of the declaration of this doctrine among Protestants themselves, there ever was some variety and difference in expressions; nor will it otherwise be whilst the abilities and capacities of men, whether in the conceiving of things of this nature, or in the expression of their conceptions, are so various as they are. And it is acknowledged that these differences of late have had by some as much weight laid upon them as the substance of the doctrine generally agreed in. Hence some have composed entire books, consisting almost of nothing but impertinent cavils at other men’s words and expressions. But these things proceed from the weakness of some men, and other vicious habits of their minds, and do not belong unto the cause itself. And such persons, as for me, shall write as they do, and fight on until they are weary. Neither has the multiplication of questions, and the curious discussion of them in the handling of this doctrine, wherein nothing ought to be diligently insisted on but what is directive of our practice, been of much use unto the truth itself, though it has not been directly opposed in them.

That which is of real difference among persons who agree in the substance of the doctrine, may be reduced unto a very few heads; as:

(1.) There is something of this kind about the nature of faith whereby we are justified, with its proper object in justifying, and its use in justification. And an instance we have herein, not only of the weakness of our intellects in the apprehension of spiritual things, but also of the remainders of confusion and disorder in our minds; at least, how true it is that we know only in part, and prophesy only in part, whilst we are in this life. For whereas this faith is an act of our minds, put forth in the way of duty to God, yet many by whom it is sincerely exercised, and that continually, are not agreed either in the nature or proper object of it. Yet is there no doubt but that some of them who differ amongst themselves about these things, have delivered their minds free from the prepossession of prejudices and notions derived from other artificial reasonings imposed on them, and do really express their own conceptions as to the best and utmost of their experience. And notwithstanding this difference, they do yet all of them please God in the exercise of faith, as it is their duty, and have that respect unto its proper object as secures both their justification and salvation. And if we cannot, on this consideration, bear with, and forbear, one another in our different conceptions and expressions of those conceptions about these things, it is a sign we have a great mind to be contentious, and that our confidences are built on very weak foundations. For my part, I had much rather my lot should be found among them who do really believe with the heart unto righteousness, though they are not able to give a tolerable definition of faith unto others, than among them who can endlessly dispute about it with seeming accuracy and skill, but are negligent in the exercise of it as their own duty. Wherefore, some things shall be briefly spoken of in this matter, to declare my own apprehensions concerning the things mentioned, without the least design to contradict or oppose the conceptions of others.

(2.) There has been a controversy more directly stated among some learned divines of the Reformed churches (for the Lutherans are unanimous on the one side), about the righteousness of Christ that is said to be imputed unto us. For some would have this to be only his suffering of death, and the satisfaction which he made for sin thereby, and others include therein the obedience of his life also. The occasion, original, and progress of this controversy, the persons by whom it has been managed, with the writings wherein it is so, and the various ways that have been endeavored for its reconciliation, are sufficiently known unto all who have inquired into these things. Neither shall I immix myself herein, in the way of controversy, or in opposition unto others, though I shall freely declare my own judgment in it, so far as the consideration of the righteousness of Christ, under this distinction, is inseparable from the substance of the truth itself which I plead for.

(3.) Some difference there has been, also, whether the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us, or the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, may be said to be the formal cause of our justification before God; wherein there appears some variety of expression among learned men, who have handled this subject in the way of controversy with the Papists. The true occasion of the differences about this expression has been this, and no other: Those of the Roman church do constantly assert, that the righteousness whereby we are righteous before God is the formal cause of our justification; and this righteousness, they say, is our own inherent, personal righteousness, and not the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us: wherefore they treat of this whole controversy — namely, what is the righteousness on the account whereof we are accepted with God, or justified — under the name of the formal cause of justification; which is the subject of the second book of Bellarmine concerning justification. In opposition unto them, some Protestants, contending that the righteousness wherewith we are esteemed righteous before God, and accepted with him, is the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us, and not our own inherent, imperfect, personal righteousness, have done it under this inquiry, — namely, What is the formal cause of our justification? Which some have said to be the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, some, the righteousness of Christ imputed. But what they designed herein was, not to resolve this controversy into a philosophical inquiry about the nature of a formal cause, but only to prove that that truly belonged unto the righteousness of Christ in our justification which the Papists ascribed unto our own, under that name. That there is a habitual, infused habit of grace, which is the formal cause of our personal, inherent righteousness, they grant: but they all deny that God pardons our sins, and justifies our persons, with respect unto this righteousness, as the formal cause thereof; nay, they deny that in the justification of a sinner there either is, or can be, any inherent formal cause of it. And what they mean by a formal cause in our justification is only that which gives the denomination unto the subject, as the imputation of the righteousness of Christ does to a person that he is justified.

Wherefore, notwithstanding the differences that have been among some in the various expression of their conceptions, the substance of the doctrine of the reformed churches is by them agreed upon and retained entire. For they all agree that God justifies no sinner, — absolves him not from guilt, nor declares him righteous, so as to have a title unto the heavenly inheritance, — but with respect unto a true and perfect righteousness; as also, that this righteousness is truly the righteousness of him that is so justified; that this righteousness becomes ours by God’s free grace and donation, — the way on our part whereby we come to be really and effectually interested therein being faith alone; and that this is the perfect obedience or righteousness of Christ imputed unto us: in these things, as they shall be afterwards distinctly explained, is contained the whole of that truth whose explanation and confirmation is the design of the ensuing discourse. And because those by whom this doctrine in the substance of it is of late impugned, derive more from the Socinians than the Papists, and make a nearer approach unto their principles, I shall chiefly insist on the examination of those original authors by whom their notions were first coined, and whose weapons they make use of in their defense.

Eighthly. To close these previous discourses, it is worthy our consideration what weight was laid on this doctrine of justification at the first Reformation and what influence it had into the whole work thereof. However the minds of men may be changed as unto sundry doctrines of faith among us, yet none can justly own the name of Protestant, but he must highly value the first Reformation: and they cannot well do otherwise whose present even temporal advantages are resolved thereinto. However, I intend none but such as own an especial presence and guidance of God with them who were eminently and successfully employed therein. Such persons cannot but grant that their faith in this matter, and the concurrence of their thoughts about its importance, are worthy consideration.

Now it is known that the doctrine of justification gave the first occasion to the whole work of reformation, and was the main thing whereon it turned. This those mentioned declared to be “Articulus stantis aut cadentis eccleseae,” and that the vindication thereof alone deserved all the pains that were taken in the whole endeavor of reformation. But things are now, and that by virtue of their doctrine herein, much changed in the world, though it be not so understood or acknowledged. In general, no small benefit redounded unto the world by the Reformation, even among them by whom it was not, nor is received, though many bluster with contrary pretensions: for all the evils which have accidentally ensued thereon, arising most of them from the corrupt passions and interests of them by whom it has been opposed, are usually ascribed unto it; and all the light, liberty, and benefit of the minds of men which it has introduced, are ascribed unto other causes. But this may be signally observed with respect unto the doctrine of justification, with the causes and effects of its discovery and vindication. For the first reformers found their own, and the consciences of other men, so immersed in darkness, so pressed and harassed with fears, terrors, and disquietments under the power of it, and so destitute of any steady guidance into the ways of peace with God, as that with all diligence (like persons sensible that herein their spiritual and eternal interest was concerned) they made their inquiries after the truth in this matter; which they knew must be the only means of their deliverance.

All men in those days were either kept in bondage under endless fears and anxieties of mind upon the convictions of sin, or sent for relief unto indulgences, priestly pardons, penances, pilgrimages, works satisfactory of their own, and supererogatory of others, or kept under chains of darkness for purgatory unto the last day. Now, he is no way able to compare things past and present, who sees not how great an alteration is made in these things even in the papal church. For before the Reformation, whereby the light of the gospel, especially in this doctrine of justification, was diffused among men, and shone even into their minds who never comprehended nor received it, the whole almost of religion among them was taken up with, and confined unto, these things. And to instigate men unto an abounding sedulity in the observation of them, their minds were stuffed with traditions and stories of visions, apparitions, frightful spirits, and other imaginations that poor mortals are apt to be amazed withal, and which their restless disquietments gave countenance unto. “Somnia, terrors magici, miracula, sagae Nocturni lemures, ortentaque Thessala,” — (Hor., Ep. 202, 209.) were the principal objects of their creed, and matter of their religious conversation. That very church itself comparatively at ease from these things unto what it was before the Reformation; though so much of them is still retained as to blind the eyes of men from discerning the necessity as well as the truth of the evangelical doctrine of justification.

It is fallen out herein not much otherwise than it did at the first entrance of Christianity into the world. For there was an emanation of light and truth from the gospel which affected the minds of men, by whom yet the whole of it, in its general design, was opposed and persecuted. For from thence the very vulgar sort of men became to have better apprehensions and notions of God and his properties, or the original and rule of the universe, than they had arrived unto in the midnight of their paganism. And a sort of learned speculative men there were, who, by virtue of that light of truth which sprung from the gospel, and was now diffused into the minds of men, reformed and improved the old philosophy, discarding many of those falsehoods and impertinencies wherewith it had been encumbered. But when this was done, they still maintained their cause on the old principles of the philosophers. And, indeed, their opposition unto the gospel was far more plausible and pleadable than it was before. For after they had discarded the gross conceptions of the common sort about the divine nature and rule, and had blended the light of truth which brake forth in Christian religion with their own philosophical notions, they made a vigorous attempt for the reinforcement of heathenism against the main design of the gospel. And things have not, as I said, fallen out much otherwise in the Reformation. For as by the light of truth which therein brake forth, the consciences of even the vulgar sort are in some measure freed from those childish affrightments which they were before in bondage unto; so those who are learned have been enabled to reduce the opinions and practices of their church into a more defensible posture, and make their opposition unto the truths of the gospel more plausible than they formerly were. Yea, that doctrine which, in the way of its teaching and practice among them, as also in its effects on the consciences of men, was so horrid as to drive innumerable persons from their communion in that and other things also, is now, in the new representation of it, with the artificial covering provided for its former effects in practice, thought an argument meet to be pleaded for a return unto its entire communion.

But to root the superstitions mentioned out of the minds of men, to communicate unto them the knowledge of the righteousness of God, which is revealed from faith to faith, and thereby to deliver them from their bondage, fears, and distress, directing convinced sinners unto the only way of solid peace with God, did the first reformers labor so diligently in the declaration and vindication of the evangelical doctrine of justification; and God was with them. And it is worth our consideration, whether we should, on every cavil and sophism of men not so taught, not so employed, not so tried, not so owned of God as they were, and in whose writings there are not appearing such characters of wisdom, sound judgment, and deep experience, as in theirs, easily part with that doctrine of truth wherein alone they found peace unto their own souls, and whereby they were instrumental to give liberty and peace with God unto the souls and consciences of others innumerable, accompanied with the visible effects of holiness of life, and fruitfulness in the works of righteousness, unto the praise of God by Jesus Christ. In my judgment, Luther spoke the truth when he said, “Amisso articulo justificationis, simul amissa est tota doctrina Christiana.” And I wish he had not been a true prophet, when he foretold that in the following ages the doctrine thereof would be again obscured; the causes whereof I have elsewhere inquired into.

Some late writers, indeed, among the Protestants have endeavored to reduce the controversy about justification with the Papist unto an appearance of a far less real difference than is usually judged to be in it. And a good work it is, no doubt, to pare off all unnecessary occasions of debate and differences in religion, provided we go not so near the quick as to let out any of its vital spirits. The way taken herein is, to proceed upon some concessions of the most sober among the Papists, in their ascriptions unto grace and the merit of Christ, on the one side; and the express judgment of the Protestants, variously delivered, of the necessity of good works to them that are justified, on the other. Besides, it appears that in different expressions which either party adhere unto, as it were by tradition, the same things are indeed intended. Among them who have labored in this kind, Ludovicus le Blanc,[9] for his perspicuity and plainness, his moderation and freedom from a contentious frame of spirit, is “pene solus legi dignus.” He is like the ghost of Tiresias in this matter. But I must needs say, that I have not seen the effect that might be desired of any such undertaking. For, when each party comes unto the interpretation of their own concessions, which is, “ex communi jure,” to be allowed unto them, and which they will be sure to do in compliance with their judgment on the substance of the doctrine wherein the main stress of the difference lies, the distance and breach continue as wide as ever they were. Nor is there the least ground towards peace obtained by any of our condescensions or compliance herein. For unless we can come up entirely unto the decrees and canons of the Council of Trent, wherein the doctrine of the Old and New Testament is anathematized, they will make no other use of any man’s compliance, but only to increase the clamor of differences among ourselves. I mention nothing of this nature to hinder any man from granting whatever he can or please unto them, without the prejudice of the substance of truths professed in the protestant churches; but only to intimate the uselessness of such concessions, in order unto peace and agreement with them, whilst they have a Procrustes’ bed to lay us upon, and from whose size they will not recede.

Here and there one (not above three or four in all may be named, within this hundred and thirty years) in the Roman communion has owned our doctrine of justification, for the substance of it. So did Albertus Pighius,[10] and the Antitagma Coloniense, as Bellarmine acknowledges. And what he says of Pighius is true, as we shall see afterwards; the other I have not seen. Cardinal Contarinus, in a treatise of justification, written before, and published about the beginning of the Trent Council, delivers himself in the favor of it. But upon the observation of what he had done, some say he was shortly after poisoned; though I must confess I know not where they had the report. But do what we can for the sake of peace, as too much cannot be done for it, with the safety of truth, it cannot be denied but that the doctrine of justification, as it works effectually in the church of Rome, is the foundation of many enormities among them, both in judgment and practice. They do not continue, I acknowledge, in that visible predominancy and rage as formerly, nor are the generality of the people in so much slavish bondage unto them as they were; but the streams of them do still issue from this corrupt fountain, unto the dangerous infection of the souls of men. For missatical expiatory sacrifices for the tiring and the dead, the necessity of auricular confession, with authoritative absolution, penances, pilgrimages, sacramentals, indulgences, commutations, works satisfactory and supererogatory, the merit and intercession of saints departed, with especial devotions and applications to this or that particular saint or angel, purgatory, yea, on the matter, the whole of monastic devotion, do depend thereon. They are all nothing but ways invented to pacify the consciences of men, or divert them from attending to the charge which is given in against them by the law of God; sorry supplies they are of a righteousness of their own, for them who know not how to submit themselves to the righteousness of God. And if the doctrine of free justification by the blood of Christ were once again exploded, or corrupted and made un-intelligible, unto these things, as absurd and foolish as now unto some they seem to be, or what is not one jot better, men must and will again betake themselves. For if once they are diverted from putting their trust in the righteousness of Christ, and grace of God alone, and do practically thereon follow after, take up with, or rest in, that which is their own, the first impressions of a sense of sin which shall befall their consciences will drive them from their present hold, to seek for shelter in any thing that tenders unto them the least appearance of relief. Men may talk and dispute what they please, whilst they are at peace in their own minds, without a real sense either of sin or righteousness, yea, and scoff at them who are not under the power of the same security; but when they shall be awakened with other apprehensions of things than yet they are aware of, they will be put on new resolutions. And it is in vain to dispute with any about justification, who have not duly been convinced of a state of sin, and of its guilt; for such men neither understand what they say, nor that whereof they dogmatize.

We have, therefore, the same reasons that the first reformers had, to be careful about the preservation of this doctrine of the gospel pure and entire; though we may not expect the like success with them in our endeavors unto that end. For the minds of the generality of men are in another posture than they were when they dealt with them. Under the power of ignorance and superstition they were; but yet multitudes of them were affected with a sense of the guilt of sin. With us, for the most part, things are quite otherwise. Notional light, accompanied with a senselessness of sin, leads men unto a contempt of this doctrine, indeed of the whole mystery of the gospel. We have had experience of the fruits of the faith which we now plead for in this nation, for many years, yea, now for some ages; and it cannot well be denied, but that those who have been most severely tenacious of the doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, have been the most exemplary in a holy life: I speak of former days. And if this doctrine be yet farther corrupted, debased, or unlearned among us, we shall quickly fall into one of the extremes wherewith we are at present urged on either side. For although the reliefs provided in the church of Rome, for the satisfaction of the consciences of men, are at present by the most disliked, yea, despised, yet, if they are once brought to a loss how to place their whole trust and confidence in the righteousness of Christ, and grace of God in him, they will not always live at such an uncertainty of mind as the best of their own personal obedience will hang them on the briers of; but betake themselves unto somewhat that tenders them certain peace and security, though at present it may seem foolish unto them. And I doubt not but that some, out of a mere ignorance of the righteousness of God, which either they have not been taught, or have had no mind to learn, have, with some integrity in the exercise of their consciences, betaken themselves unto that pretended rest which the church of Rome offers unto them. For being troubled about their sins, they think it better to betake themselves unto that great variety of means for the ease and discharge of their consciences which the Roman church affords, than to abide where they are, without the least pretense of relief; as men will find in due time, there is no such thing to be found or obtained in themselves. They may go on for a time with good satisfaction unto their own minds; but if once they are brought unto a loss through the conviction of sin, they must look beyond themselves for peace and satisfaction, or sit down without them to eternity. Nor are the principles and ways which others take up withal in another extreme, upon the rejection of this doctrine, although more plausible, yet at all more really useful unto the souls of men than those of the Roman church which they reject as obsolete, and unsuited unto the genius of the present age. For they all of them arise from, or lead unto, the want of a due sense of the nature and guilt of sin, as also of the holiness and righteousness of God with respect thereunto. And when such principles as these do once grow prevalent in the minds of men, they quickly grow careless, negligent, secure in sinning, and end for the most part in atheism, or a great indifference, as unto all religion, and all the duties thereof.

[1] [Jonas Schlichting (1592-1661). Chief commentator defending Socinianism. The work is most likely: Disputatio pro Socino contra Meisnerum. Quaestiones duae: una Num in evangelicorum religione dogmata habeantur ... ut qui ea[s] amplectatur, nullo in peccato perseveret? altera Num in eadem religione quaedam con[n]cedantur Christi legibus inconcessa? contra Balthasarem Meisnerum ... a Jona Schlichtingio ... disputatae (Rakov?: Typis Pauli Sternacii, 1636).

[2] [Faustus Socinus (Sozzini) (1539-1604), De Jesu Christu Servatore (1578).]

[3] [Faustus Socinus, Ibid.]

[4] [Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). Disputationum Roberti Bellarmini … de controversiis christianae fidei (1628).]

[5] [Bellarmine, Ibid.]

[6] [Bernard of Clairvaux, Letters. For a translation in English, See Letters of St. Bernard of Colairvaux, transl. Bruno Scott James (London, 1953).]

[7] [Andreas Osiander, German Reformer (1498-1552). Osiander opposed forensic justification but his views were rejected in the Formula of Concord (1577), article III.]

[8] [Gabriel Vasquez (1551-1604). Probably, Commentariorum ac disputationum in primam partem Sancti Thomae (Lugduni, 1620). Bellarmine, Ibid.]

[9] [Louis Le Blanc de Beaulieu (1604-1675), Theses Theologicae (London, 1675).

[10]. [Albert Pighius, Roman Catholic apologist (1490-1542), Controversiarum quibus nunc exagitatur Christi fides (1542)].