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understand particularly St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans; and nothing had hitherto hindered me from it, but only that single expression, * The righteousness of God,' in the first chapter, where Paul says, 'The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel.' To this righteousness of God, as there commended, I felt a sincere aversion and was, by use and custom of all teachers, no otherwise informed and instructed, but that I should understand it in a philosophical sense, as that in which God is justified on his part, doeth and worketh only what is just and right, and punisheth all sinners and unrighteous persons; which righteousness is commonly termed his own formal (characteristic) or active righteousness. Now, such were my convictions and feelings, that notwithstanding I lived at the time a holy and blameless monk, still I found myself a great sinner before God; and with this conviction, and with a pained and restless conscience, I dared not to think of propitiating God by my own sufficiency or services; on which account I loved this righteous and incensed God not at all, seeing he punishes sinners, but I hated him; and (if this were not something like blasphemy itself) I secretly and in earnest felt incensed against him. Still, however, I clave, with increased meditation, to the beloved Paul, that I might at length discover what he meant by that passage in Rom. i. 17, for I was conscious of a hearty thirst and eagerness to know it. In these thoughts I spent day and night, until, through God's grace, I observed at last how the words are connected together in the following manner: The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel, as it is written, The just shall live by faith;' or, * The just liveth by his faith.' From this connexion in his language I have become acquainted with this same righteousness of God, in which the justified person lives, through God's grace and gifts, only by faith ; and I noticed that the apostle's meaning was this, that by the Gospel is revealed that righteousness which availeth with God; in which God, out of grace and of mere mercy, makes us righteous through faith ; which, in Latin, is called justitia passiva, or passive righteousness; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.' Hereupon I felt immediately that I was wholly born anew, and had now found, as it were, a widely opened door into Paradise itself. The precious holy Scripture now at once appeared quite another thing to me. Thus, as heretofore I heartily hated that expression, 'The righteousness of God,' so now, on the contrary, I began most dearly and highly to esteem the same, as my most beloved and most comfortable word of Scripture; and that passage in St. Paul became in truth to me the very gate of Paradise."*
* Luther's Works, tom. 22. Leipzig edit., App. p. 150 b. p. 151 a.
In a letter, dated 7th of April, 1516, to the Augustinian, George Spenlein, he says, " I should be very glad to know how thy soul prospers; whether at length, once for all, it is disgusted and weary of its own righteousness, and willing to refresh itself in the righteousness of Christ, and to this to commit itself? For many, in the present day, are exceedingly tempted above measure; and those most of all who wish to become righteous and good by all possible exertions and endeavours, but know nothing of the righteousness which availeth with God, and is so richly and gratuitously bestowed upon us in Christ; but instead of this, are seeking to work out that which is good for a certain length of time, until they think they may come acceptably before God with their own virtues and services; which, however, is a thing utterly impossible. You, when you were with us, were fast entangled in this erroneous imagination; and, indeed, I was so too: nay, even to this day I still find I have to war against it, and even yet am not always entirely master of it. Therefore, my dear brother, learn to know Christ and him crucified ; learn to despair of yourself, and sing to him such a song as this,' Lord Jesus, thou art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken to thee what is mine, and hast given to me what is thine; thou hast taken upon thee what thou wast not, and given to me what I was not.' Ponder well this love of his, and thou wilt enjoy his sweet consolation. For if we are to come at peace of conscience through our own labours, or by our own sufferings, wherefore, then, did Christ die? Thou wilt, therefore, find peace no where but in him, when thou, by faith, despairest wholly and entirely of thyself, and of thine own works.
“ Take heed that you do not suffer yourself to err, and to be carried away
from faith to works. Good works must be done, but no confidence must be built on them, but only on the work of Christ ; neither must we touch sin, death, and hell with our own works, but point them from us to the justifying Saviour, the King in Zion. He knows how to deal with sin, death, and hell; he is the sin-slayer, the deathkiller, and the swallower up of hell; let him have to do with such things; and lay thou thy works on the kinsman Redeemer, that in all this thou mayest bear about thee a sure mark of faith in the Saviour and sin-destroyer."
Luther has expressed himself with particular emphasis and clearness upon the doctrine of justification, in his answer to several queries which Melancthon addressed to him upon this subject in the year 1536. “It is my firm belief,” says Luther, “that the meaning of the Gospel and of the apostle is no other than that we are made righteous before
God, and continue so, by grace alone, through the mere imputation of the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness of Christ is the only perfect righteousness which can be maintained against wrath, sin, and death. This swallows up all, and presents man as truly holy and guiltless as if there were no sin at all in him, (not as having this holiness in himself, but in Christ, whom faith lays hold of.) For the righteousness which is imputed by grace allows no supposition of sin in him." “ It must not be imagined that a man is justified by grace in the main, but yet, in some manner for the sake of works; still less must it be thought, that faith in the mercy of God completes what was wanting in respect of works, and of perfect obedience to the law. No; in the matter of justification, works done by us were never considered at all: to these, even as performed by the power of the Holy Ghost, God had no respect in the matter of our justification, but only to the righteousness of Christ. Such good works will no more be wanting where there is true faith, than the sun can help to shine; they therefore become a sign whether a man has true faith or not; but they never become the reason why God determines to pronounce us righteous. Before the Lord looked on the works, he looked on the person who should work them; and the obedience of a Paul pleased him, because it was the obedience of a believer. Furthermore, let it be considered as utterly false to imagine, that a man only at first is justified through faith, but that afterwards, when he has obtained forgiveness of sins, and power from grace to perform good works, then good works contribute their share to his justification, and help him to acceptance with God.” “ It is perverse," says Luther, " thus to distinguish between an incipient and a subsequent faith. Works, indeed, begin to shine forth with the first dawn of faith, but they please God only on account of the faith from which they spring ; while the converse is not true, that faith pleases God on account of the works which it originates. Were this true also, then would good works, as springing from faith, contribute more to justification than faith itself, because of their constituting us increasingly righteous through length of time, as we pass onward to the middle and end of life. Thus faith, though the means of justifying us in the first instance, would seem to be eclipsed, and cease from its efficacy in this matter, having yielded up the glory of justification to works. But if now it has relation only to what is past and gone, it is become a mere nonentity in the matter of our present state of justification.
"Faith does not justify for its own sake, or because of any inherent virtue belonging to it, for then it would work towards our justification
only in part, and the assurance of certain comfort belonging to it would be wanting; as faith is never perfect in every respect, but is still subject to weakness and failings, even in the excellent of the earth."*
In confirmation of all that has been here said by Luther, we find Melancthon writing as follows to Brentius :
“I see that you are yet at fault in the matter of faith: you still cleave to the opinion of Augustine. He is right in rejecting that righteousness which is so praised up by natural reason ; but he is following only the thoughts of men when he assumes, that we are justified by that fulfilling of the law for which the Holy Ghost qualifies us. And you, also, are thinking with him, that we are justified by faith only in this sense, namely, as it is through faith that we receive the Holy Ghost, in order to our becoming justified by that fulfilling of the law to which the Holy Ghost disposes and enables us.
This doctrine makes justification really to depend on our own fulfilment of the law, on our own purity, on our own perfection. Doubtless, our renewal to personal holiness will be the certain consequence of believing: but turn away your eyes from this renewal, and from the law in particular, and direct them solely to the promise and to Christ, and know that we become justified, that is to say, accepted with God, and find peace to our conscience, only for the sake of Christ, and not for the sake of our renewal unto holiness. This renewal is inadequate to any such purpose as that of justification; therefore we are justified through faith alone, not, as you write, because it is the root of the good tree, but because it takes hold of Christ, for whose sake we are accepted, irrespectively of all renovation in ourselves. This renovation will be the necessary effect of our faith, but has nothing to do in quieting the conscience. No more can love, which is the fulfilling of the law, justify us : it is faith alone that doeth this ; yet not because faith is any kind of perfection in us, but only because it lays hold on Christ.”
The clear perception of the Christian doctrines respecting repentance and justification was that which induced Luther to begin zealously to oppose the popish doctrine of indulgences and pardons. This was the grand lever which, by the help of the Almighty, he worked, with so much effect, in overthrowing the walls of a third part of that spiritual Babylon. He wrote to Brentius, “ This doctrine (of justification by faith) is the chief and corner stone: through this alone is the church begotten, nourished up, edified, upholden, defended, so that without it the church cannot subsist an hour, as thou knowest. No man can teach rightly in the church, much less can he successfully
* Melancthonis Consilia, sive Judicia Theologica, opera Christoph. Pezelii, N. stadii, 1600. p. 239-244.
withstand an adversary who does not hold fast this dogma, or, as St. Paul expresses it, this wholesome doctrine."
Nor was this view of the importance of the doctrine confined to those who embraced it, as we may see by the following extract from Father Paul's “ History of the Council of Trent:"—
“ Letter of the Papal Legate to the Council of Trent. “ The fathers and theologians were entreated to resort to Divine aid by prayers, and to be very assiduous and exact in their studies; because all the errors of Martin (Luther) resolved themselves into this one head; for, having in the beginning set himself to oppose indulgences, he saw that he could by no means attain his object without destroying works of penitence, in the place of which indulgences succeed ; and it appeared to him a likely means to attain this end, to propound this never-before-heard-of doctrine of justification by faith alone, from which he not only drew the inference that good works are not necessary, but also advocated a dissolute licence as to the observation of the laws of God and of the church; he denied the efficacy of the sacraments, the authority of the priesthood, the sacrifice of the mass, and all the other remedies for the remission of sins. From whence it follows, on the other hand, wishing to establish the body of the catholic doctrine, it is necessary for us to destroy this heresy of justification by faith alone, while we condemn the blasphemies of this enemy of good works.”
There is yet, on this important subject, a continued controversy between those who are willing to believe the simple word of Christ, and those who think it safer to modify or change his meaning. The day of judgment will decide this controversy; and then many, who never contemplated the possibility of their being mistaken, will find themselves awfully undeceived.
Let none suppose that, in advocating free justification by simple faith, we obscure the doctrine of the operations and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We hope, at a future time, to have the opportunity of showing how entirely the green pastures of salvation owe to these still waters their life-giving verdure and refreshment.
To conclude, in the words of Bishop Horsley, " That man is justified by faith, without the works of the law, was the uniform doctrine of our first Reformers. It is a far more ancient doctrine-it was the doctrine of the whole college of apostles. It is more ancient still—it was the doctrine of the prophets. It is older than the prophets-it was the religion of the patriarchs.