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Upon the remaining difference between the Calvinists and the anti-Calvinists with respect to our Lord's doctrine of justification by words, and St. James' doctrine of justification by works.
To force my dear opponents out of the last entrenchment in which they defend their mistakes, and from behind which they attack the justification by words and works peculiarly insisted on by our Lord and St. James, I only need to show how far we agree with respect to that justification; to state the difference that remains between us; and to prove the unreasonableness of considering us as Papists, because we oppose an unscriptural and irrational distinction, that leaves Mr. Fulsome in full possession of all his Antinomian dotages.
On both sides we agree to maintain, in opposition to Socinians and Deists, that the grand, the primary, and properly meritorious cause of our justification, from first to last, both in the day of conversion and in the day of judgment, is only the precious atonement, and the infinite merits of our Lord Jesus Christ. We all agree, likewise, that, in the day of conversion, faith is the instrumental cause of our justification before God. Nay, if I mistake not, we come one step nearer each other, for we equally hold that after conversion the works of faith are in this world, and will be in the day of judgment, the evidencing cause of our justification; that is, the works of faith (under the above-mentioned primary cause of our salvation, and in subordination to the faith that gives them birth) are now, and will be in the great day, the evidence that shall instrumentally cause our justification as believers. Thus Mr. Hill says, (Review, p. 149 :) " Neither Mr. Shirley, nor. I, nor any Calvinist that I ever heard of, denies, that though a sinner be justified in the sight of God by Christ alone, he is declaratively justified by works, both here and at the day of judgment." And the Rev. Mr. Madan, in his sermon on justification by works, &c, stated, explained, and reconciled with justification by faith, &c, says, (p. 29,) "By Christ only are we meritoriously justified, and by faith only are we instrumentally justified in the sight of God; but by works, and not by faith only, are we declaratively justified before men and angels." From these two quotations, which could easily be multiplied to twenty, it is evident, that pious Calvinists hold the doctrine of a justification by the works of faith; or, as Mr. Madan expresses it, after St. James,
by works, and not by faith only."
It remains now to show wherein we disagree. At first sight the difference seems trifling, but upon close examination it appears that the whole Antinomian gulf still remains fixed between us. Read over the preceding quotations; weigh the clauses which I have put in italics; compare them with what the Rev. Mr. Berridge says in his "Christian World Unmasked," (p. 26,) of " an absolute impossibility of being justified in any manner by our works," namely, before God; and you will see that although pious Calvinists allow we are justified by works
before men and angels, yet they deny our being ever justified by works before God, in whose sight they suppose we are for ever "justified by Christ alone," i. e. only by Christ's good works and sufferings absolutely imputed to us, from the very first moment in which we make a single act of true faith, if not from all eternity. Thus works are still entirely excluded from having any hand either in our intermediate or final justification before God, and thus they are still represented as totally needless to our eternal salvation. Now, in direct opposition to the above-mentioned distinction, we anti-Calvinists believe that adult persons cannot be saved without being justified by faith as sinners, according to the light of their dispensation; and by works as believers, according to the time and opportunities they have of working. We assert that the works of faith are not less necessary to our justification before God as believers, than faith itself is necessary to our justification before him as sinners: and we maintain, that when faith does not produce good works, (much more when it produces the worst works, such as adultery, hypocrisy, treachery, murder, &c,) it dies, and justifies no more, seeing it is a living and not a dead faith that justifies us as sinners; even as they are living, and not dead works that justify us as believers. I have already exposed the absurdity of the doctrine, that works are necessary to our final justification before men and angels, but not before God. However, as this distinction is one of the grand subterfuges of the decent Antinomians, and one of the pleas by which the hearts of the simple are most easily deceived into Solifidianism, to the many arguments that I have already produced upon this head in the sixth letter of the Fourth Check, I beg leave to add those which follow :
1. The way of making up the Antinomian gap, by saying, that works are necessary to our intermediate and final justification before men and angels, but not before God, is as bad as the gap itself. “If God is for me (says judicious Mr. Fulsome) who can be against me? If God has for ever justified me only by Christ, and if works have absolutely no place in my justification before him, what care I for men and angels? Should they justify when God condemns, what would their absolution avail? And if they condemn when God justifies, what signifies their condemnation? All creatures are fallible. The myriads of men and angels are as nothing before God. He is all in all." Thus, Mr. Fulsome, by a most judicious way of arguing, keeps the field of licentiousness where the Solifidian ministers have inadvertently brought him, and whence he is too wise to depart upon their brandishing before him the broken reed of an absurd distinction.
2. Our justification by works will principally, and in some cases entirely, turn upon the works of the heart, which are unknown to all but God. Again: were men and angels in all cases to pass a decisive sentence upon us according to our works, they might judge us severely, as Mr. Hill judges Mr. Wesley: they might brand us for forgery upon the most frivolous appearances; at least they might condemn us as rashly as Job's friends condemned him. Once more: were our fellow creatures to condemn us decisively by our works, they would often do it as unjustly as the disciples condemned the blessed woman, who poured a box of very precious ointment on our
Lord's head. They had indignation, and blamed as uncharitable waste what our Lord was pleased to call "a good work wrought upon him,” -a good work, which shall be told for a memorial of her as long as the Christian Gospel is preached. To this may be added the mistake of the apostles, who, even after they had received the Holy Ghost, condemned. Saul of Tarsus by his former, when they should have absolved him by his latter works. And even now, how few believers would justify Phinehas for running Zimri and Cosbi through the body, or Peter for striking Ananias and Sapphira dead, without giving them time to say once, "Lord, have mercy upon us!" Nay, how many would condemn them as rash men, if not as cruel murderers! In some cases, therefore, none can possibly justify or condemn believers by their works, but He who is perfectly acquainted with all the outward circumstances of their actions, and with all the secret springs whence they flow.
3. The Scriptures know nothing of the distinction which I explode. When St. Paul denies that Abraham was justified by works, it is only when he treats of the justification of a sinner, and speaks of the "works of unbelief." When Christ says, "By thy words thou shalt be justified," he makes no mention of angels. To suppose that they shall be able to justify a world of men by their words, is to suppose that they have heard, and do remember, all the words of all mankind, which is supposing them to be gods. Nay, far from being judged by angels, St. Paul says, that "we shall judge them;" not indeed as proper judges, but as Christ's assessors and mystical members: for our Lord, in his description of the great day, informs us that he, and not men or angels, will justify the sheep, and condemn the goats, by their works.
4. St. Paul discountenances the evasive distinction which I oppose when he says, "Thinkest thou, O man, who doest such things, that thou shalt escape the righteous judgment of God, who will render eternal life to them that by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory, &c, when he shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ?” For reason dictates, that neither men nor angels, but the Searcher of hearts alone will be able to justify or condemn us by secrets, unknown possibly to all but himself.
5. If you say, Most men shall have been condemned or justified long before the day of judgment; therefore the solemn pomp of that day will be appointed merely for the sake of justification by men and angels: I exclaim against the unreasonableness of supposing that "the great and terrible day of God," with an eye to which the world of rationals was created, is to be only the day of men and angels. And I reply: Although I grant, that judgment certainly finds us where death leaves us; final justification and condemnation being chiefly a solemn seal set, if I may so speak, upon the forehead of those whose consciences are already justified or condemned, according to the last turn of their trial on earth: yet it appears, both from Scripture and reason, that mankind cannot properly be judged before the great day. Departed spirits are not men; and dead men cannot be tried till the resurrection of the dead takes place, when departed spirits and raised bodies will form men again by their re-union. Therefore, in the very nature of things, God cannot judge mankind before the great day; and
to suppose that the Father has appointed such a day, that we may be finally justified by our works before men and angels, and not before him, is to suppose that he has committed the chief judgment to the parties to be judged, i. e. to men and angels, and not to Jesus Christ.
6. But, if I mistake not, St. James puts the matter out of all dispute, where he says: "You see, then, that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only," chap. ii, 24. This shows that a man is justified by works before the same judge, by whom he is justified by faith; and here is the proof. Nobody was ever justified by faith before men and angels, because faith is an inward act of the soul, which none but the Trier of the reins can be a judge of. Therefore, as the Justifier by faith alluded to in the latter part of the verse is undoubtedly God alone, it is contrary to all the rules of criticism to suppose that the Justifier by works, alluded to in the very same sentence, is men and angels. Nay, in the preceding verse, God is expressly mentioned, and not men or angels: "Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness," i. e. he was justified before God. So that the same Lord, who justified him as a sinner by faith in the day of his conversion, justified him also as a believer by works in the day of his trial.
7. But this is not all. Turning to Gen. xxii, the chapter which St. James had undoubtedly in view when he insisted upon Abraham's justification by works, I find the best of arguments, matter of fact. "And it came to pass, that God did tempt [i. e. try] Abraham." The patriarch acquitted himself like a sound believer in the hard trial; he obediently offered up his favourite son. Here St. James addresses a Solifidian, and bluntly says, "Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead," i. e. that when faith gives over working by obedient love, it sickens, dies, and commences a dead faith? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac upon the altar? If Mr. Hill answer, Yes, he was justified by works before men and angels, but not before God; I reply, Impossible! For neither men nor angels put him to the trial to bring out what was in his heart. God tried him that he might justly punish, or wisely reward him; therefore God justified him. If a judge, after trying a man on a particular occasion, acquits him upon his good behaviour, in order to proceed to the reward of him, is it not absurd to say, that the man is acquitted before the court, but not before the judge; especially if there is neither court nor jury present, but only the judge? Was not this the case at Abraham's trial? Do we hear of any angel being present but am, the Angel Jehovah? And had not Abraham left his two servants with the ass at the foot of the mount? Is it reasonable then to suppose that Abraham was justified before them by a work, which as yet they had not heard of; for, says St. James, "When [which implies as soon as] he had offered Isaac, he was justified by works?" If you say that he was justified before Isaac, I urge the absurdity of supposing that God made so much ado about the trial of Abraham before the lad; and I demand proof that God had appointed the youth to be the justifier of his aged parent.
8. But let the sacred historian decide the question. "And the Lord called to Abraham out of heaven, and said, Lay not thy hand
upon the lad, for now I know [declaratively] that thou fearest God," (i. e. believest in God.) Now I can praise and reward thee with wisdom and equity: "Seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thy only son from me." Upon Calvinistic principles, did not God speak improperly? Should not he have said, Now angels and men, before whom thou hast offered Isaac, do know that thou fearest me? But if God had spoken thus, would he have spoken consistently with either his veracity or his wisdom? Is it not far more reasonable to suppose, that although God as omniscient, with a glance of his eyes, “tries the hearts, searches the reins," and foresees all future contingencies; yet, as a judge, and a wise dispenser of punishments and rewards, he condemns no unbelievers, and justifies no believers, in St. James' sense, but by the evidence of tempers, words, and actions, which actually spring from their unbelief, or their faith?
9. Was it not from the same motive that God tried Job in the land of Uz, chap. i, 12, Israel in the wilderness, Deut. viii, 1, compared with Josh. xxii, 2, and King Hezekiah in Jerusalem, 2 Chron. xxxii, 31. "God (says the historian) left him [to the temptation] that he [God] might know [declaratively] all that was in his heart." It is true, Mr. Hill supposes, in the second edition of his Five Letters, that the words, he might know, refer to Hezekiah; but Canne more judiciously refers to Gen. xxii, 1, where God tried Abraham-not that Abraham might know, but that he himself might declaratively know what was in Abraham's heart. If the word that HE might know, did refer to Hezekiah, should not the affix (,) he, or him, have been added to
, thus, 7, as it is put to the two preceding verbs, 115, he left HIM,, to try HIM?
10. Our Lord himself decides the question, where he says to his believing disciples, "Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven." It was undoubtedly an attention to this scripture that made Dr. Owen say: "Hereby [by personal obedience] that faith whereby we are justified [as sinners] is evidenced, proved, manifested in the sight of God and man. And yet, astonishing! this passage, which indirectly gives up the only real difference there is between Mr. Hill's justification by works and ours; this passage, which cuts him off from the only way he has of making his escape, (except that by which his brother tried to make his own, see Fourth Check, p. 279;) this very passage which makes so much for my sentiment, is one of those concerning which he says, (Finishing Stroke, p. 14:) "Words prudently expunged by Mr. Fletcher," when they are only words, which for brevity's sake I very imprudently left out, since they cut down Solifidianism, even with Dr. Owen's sword.
To conclude. Attentive reader, peruse James ii, where the justification of believers by works before God is so strongly insisted upon. Observe what is said there of the law of liberty; of believers being judged by that law; of the "judgment without mercy," that shall be shown to fallen, merciless believers according to that law. Consider that this doctrine exactly coincides with the sermon upon the mount, and the Epistle to the Hebrews; that it perfectly tallies with Ezek.