Now there were among the Hebrews three outstanding offices of dignity, which made the nation famous, firstly the kingship, secondly that of prophet, and lastly the high priesthood. The prophecies said that the abolition and complete destruction of all these three together would be the sign of the presence of the Christ. And that the proofs that the times had come, would lie in the ceasing of the Mosaic worship, the desolation of Jerusalem and its Temple, and the subjection of the whole Jewish race to its enemies…The holy oracles foretold that all these changes, which had not been made in the days of the prophets of old, would take place at the coming of the Christ, which I will presently shew to have been fulfilled as never before in accordance with the predictions.” (Eusebius, Demonstratio Evangelica VIII)
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read and comment on your blog post, “Do Catholics Believe in Justification by Faith Alone?” Your post is thoughtful and engaging as is usual from you. At the risk of being overly succint, I offer a response in the form of the following points:
1. You mix sanctification and justification. It is vital that they be understood distictly, otherwise no ground is left for assurance of salvation, for “in much we offend all”, even as regenerate Christians. A justification in part based on our own righteous works, (albeit works the Holy Spirit is producing in us) is but a house built upon sand, because we are still sinners.
2. Our good works cannot be the forensic and juridicial basis for our right standing before God, and our full acquittal for having broken his holy law, because they are still quite tainted by sin. By that standard, we would perish, even by the works that the grace of God produces in us. It is not enough to obey somewhat in sin-tainted works. The law requires perfect obedience, not partial obedience.
3. Even if Christian perfection were something that could be attained in this life, as Wesley and some others have (erroneously) taught, this would be entirely insufficient as a basis for a standing of righteousness before God’s law-court. Once one has offended, one doesn’t make up for it by doing good works–even sinless good works. One offense is sufficient to bring condemnation. Furthermore the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity imputes sin and its guilt to them, and this is alone sufficient to prevent anyone from being justified by the most sinless, perfect good works (if it were possible for us to do such works.)
4. God promises in Scripture to reward the good works of the saints, not because of some instrinsic worth in them inducing him to be pleased with them, for in every good work we yet have the taint of sin, which is naturally a stink to his nostrils. He has promised to reward them not of merit, but of grace, through the Mediatorial intercession of Jesus Christ, forgiving even the iniquity of our good works and accepting them for the sake of Christ’s own righteousness.
5. It may still be possible for a loyal Roman Catholic to hold to a monergistic soteriology as did the Jansenists, Augustinians and Dominican friars, but this is questionable since the Council of Trent, which adopted a Jesuitical semi-pelagian view that seemed to the then pope to contrast better with the Protestant Reformers. But this is not justification.
6. In answer to your question, as you demonstrate in your post, the Roman Catholic view is justification, not by faith alone, but by faith, hope, and love.
7. An imputed alien righteousness is no more a “legal” fiction than citizenship status conferred to an adopted child, recognized by courts of law. What is external is made internal in time, by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. Justification is a declaratory and forensic declaration of righteousness by imputation.
8. While it’s true that “without holiness shall no man see the Lord”, this is not a part and parcel of justification, but its fruit. It’s not that the justified sinner lacks any legal or forensic right to be accepted in God’s presence–it’s just a matter of practical fitness, since God is holy, and there can be no sin in his presence. Furthermore, it is the goal of his grace to make us holy, so that we will on that day be fit to dwell in his presence. Eph 1:4
9. I recommend that you and others studying justification read carefully the OPC Report on Justification, which makes important distinctions in these topics we’re discussing in response to some new and romanizing teachings on justification in Reformed circles, namely the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwi43_DVltPPAhUBVGMKHXerCwAQFggeMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.opc.org%2FGA%2Fjustification.pdf&usg=AFQjCNFkx_ZgNbV-Lm0-J2cj5hffaxULjQ
If, as William Ames put it, theology is the “science of living blessedly forever”, Reformed Theology is its most self-consistent and biblical expression. Forged in the ancient struggles of the church fathers against pernicious heresies, formed in the 16th century struggle to rescue the true Church from her Babylonian captivity, and bathed in the blood of the martyrs, it consists of a series of doctrinal loci (derived entirely from the sixty-six books of Scripture,) and their logical interrelation. It fits together as a seamless system, but no one particular doctrine overshadows the rest; the whole counsel of God in Scripture is summarized and systematized without any artificial construct or over-emphasis of one over the other. The starting point for theology is God Himself, and His self-revelation both general and special. From there His decrees are understood, and His means of carrying them out (in Creation and Providence.) From there we understand Man, the Covenants, the Fall, and Christ the Mediator. These loci are more or less expressed commonly by all the major Reformed theologians who wrote systematic theologies from Calvin to Turretin, Dabney and Hodge. They are furthermore clearly expressed in the Reformed confessions, as sources of instruction but also protection for the Church, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, the French Confession of Faith, the Scots’ Confession, the Heidelberg catechism, etc. Reformed theology has been tested and tried, and has corrected much false teaching in Church history. It must continue to be refined, but must never alter or remove those landmarks that have been established based upon careful reflection on the Holy Scriptures. Reformed theology is Christianity come to its own, its fullest and most consistent expression. It magnifies the grace of God over the pride of man, humbles the sinner, and comforts the penitent. It is powerful medicine to cure the spiritual condition of everyday people that we meet. It is motivation and an effective tool for evangelism. It is a powerful method of discipleship. It is what every true Christian would like to know and believe, even if they do not know it yet.
We have no need simply of any other light, or of any one special evidence to demonstrate this matter, but that very light which is in Scripture. For the Scripture (being the first and immediate word of God) is of authority sufficient in itself (autopistos), and so likewise of itself most clear and evident…For like as the light of the sun is not perceived nor to be seen by means of any other light, for that it so far exceeds all other bodily and external light, so, that spiritual light of the Scripture hath no need in itself of any other light…for of all the spiritual lights that enlighten the mind withal, it is the most bright and most beautiful in the world.
Chariots of Fire is undoubtedly one of my favorite movies. It tells the story of two runners who competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics. One of those runners was a man by the name of Eric Liddell, a man dubbed the “Flying Scotsman” because of his nationality and astounding speed. But in addition to being a superlative runner and all around athlete, Eric Liddell was a man of deep Christian convictions. The son of missionaries, born in China, Eric’s vision was always to return to the mission field to do the essential work of spreading the gospel. But Eric also felt that God had given him a great gift in his athletic abilities and he was determined to put these gifts to good use. To that end he trained hard for the Olympics in the event in which he had already set a record in Britain –…
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Protected: Matthew Poole (1624-1679): An English Protestant’s answer to a Popish Priest’s accusation of schism
The English Nonconformist theologian Matthew Poole (1624-1679), most commonly known for his 5-vol Synopsis Criticorum (a biblical commentary in which he incorporates the views of 150 biblical critics from an array of theological traditions) and for his English Annotations upon the Holy Bible, published a book in 1667 called A Dialogue between a Popish Priest and an English Protestant, which was intended for a popular audience, unlike his more scholarly defence of Protestantism titled The Nullity of the Romish Faith, which was published the year before. In this Dialogue, Poole has the English Protestant and the Popish priest discuss various key points and arguments for their respective positions. One of these is the Popish priest’s accusation that the Protestant is guilty of schism. This is from p. 41-45 of the 1843 reprint:
Popish Priest: It is sufficient against you, that your church is schismatical…
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I think that this definition will be proper and simple, if we say that a sacrament is an exterior sign by which God seals in our consciences the promises of his good will toward us, to strengthen the weakness of our faith, and by which, on our part, we testify as much before him and the angels as before men, that we take him for our God.
One may define what a sacrament is even more briefly, in saying that it’s a witness of the grace of God towards us, confirmed by an external sign, with a mutual expression of the honor with which we esteem him.
Jean Calvin, L’Institution Chrétienne, IV.XIV.1
“So the Papists, at this day, setting up free-will in opposition to the grace of the Holy Spirit, ascribing a part of their righteousness and salvation to the merits of works, feigning for themselves innumerable advocates, by whom they render God propitious to them have a sort of fictitious Christ, I know not what; but the likely and genuine image of God, which shines forth in Christ, they deform by their wicked inventions; they less his power, subvert and pervert his office.” –Jean Calvin commenting on 1 John 2:22
When a preacher outwardly calls a man to faith and repentance, his proclamation is essentially combined with the inward efficacy of the Holy Spirit. Says Johann Heinrich Heidegger (1633-1698) in his Corpus Theologiae Christianae:
“The outward calling of the elect through the word preached by men is very closely connected with inward accosting by the Holy Spirit. Were it separate from this it would be of no avail. For the word preached by men strikes the ears of natural man, dead in sins… Any word, however divine, most true, most wise, most pleasant in itself and thoroughly lovable, when addressed to a sinner still dead in sin, whose heart has not been inscribed by the Holy Spirit, remains but a letter, slays the sinner and provokes him to sin (2 Cor. 3:6; Rom. 5:20; 7:8).” (XXI. 21)
As a result, Heidegger goes on to insist that the…
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The power of church government is to determine matters based on the authority given to her by Christ himself and based on the instructions he has given her in Holy Scripture. Church power is ministerial and declarative, not magisterial or legislative. That submission which Christians owe to the human government of the church is free from all dogmas, dictums, and decrees, which are in any way contrary to Scripture, and in matters of faith or worship, from anything beside them (i. e. not contained in the Scriptures,) as the assembly of divines at Westminster so ably summarized in their chapter on Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience:
XX.II. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.
The elders of the church must take care to protect the liberty that Christians have to obey God in his word. Although submission to the elders of the church is required of all Christians, this submission is not limitless, but is “in the Lord”, meaning that it is only based on the Lord’s authority as he has revealed himself in his word, and that Christians are not to submit in matters which they do not believe to be coming from the word of the Lord. To submit to human authority against ones own conscience in matters of faith or worship is sin, for anything that is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23), and the Christian is required to “obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
Even as Christians are obligated to do everything in their power to keep the peace and unity of the church, as far as it lies within them, even so the elders of the church are not to proceed in a way that puts pressure on Christians to sin against their conscience, even in matters in which they may need to be corrected. In such cases, the elders may determine that the individual Christian’s belief is not only unwarranted by Scripture, but also potentially divisive to the church, and for that reason cannot be allowed. In that case the elders of a particular church would counsel the Christian to unite with another body whose beliefs are more in line with his scruples. It is also entirely appropriate for the elders to continue to seek to persuade the Christian that that which he has scruples about is not in fact a sin, or that he is incorrect, based on the teaching of Scripture, and that he should change his thinking on the subject. It is entirely inappropriate, pernicious, and does violence to that liberty which Christ purchased for the Christian on the cross, for the elders to require or even suggest that the Christian submit to their authority against his conscience despite his scruples about a given matter of faith or worship. That is equivalent to asking the Christian to sin, which elders in the church are never permitted to ask. (Yes, this applies to individual pastors, too.)