Thursday, April 19, 2007

Faith alone justifies; or, Justification by faith alone – the Anglican position

For consideration… from Peter Toon

While the expression, "by faith alone," is used by some of the Fathers of the early Church, it comes into prominent use in the sixteenth century by those whom later were called "the Protestant Reformers." In Article XI of The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England and the Global Anglican Communion, it is stated: "That we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification."

We shall turn to this Homily in The Book of Homilies (1547) below, but first we need to offer a most important interpretative comment. The "alone" and the "only" are not to be seen as belonging to "faith" but rather belonging to "justifies" and "justified" and "justification."
God's justifies the ungodly only and solely by faith that is sure trust in himself; but this faith/trust does not exist alone in the soul of the repentant sinner, for with it are other fruit or virtues of and from the Holy Spirit. Even so these fruit do not function in the act of justification and of divine adoption. This fact is made abundantly clear in the Homily, written by Archbishop Cranmer for use in English parish churches in the Public Service.

After stating that "a true and lively faith," which is itself a gift of God and not a human achievement, is what is required in man for God to justify him, Cranmer goes on to state that other fruit of the Spirit are present:

"And yet that faith doth not shut out repentance, hope, love, dread, and the fear of God, to be joined with that faith in every man that is justified; but it shutteth them out from the office of justifying. So, that, although they be all present together in him that is justified, yet they justify not all together. Nor that faith also doth not shut out the justice of our good works, necessarily to be done afterward of duty towards God, (for we are most bounden to serve God in doing good deeds commanded by him in his holy Scripture all the days of our life;) but it excludeth them so that we may not do them, to this intent, to be made good by doing of them. For all the good works we can do be imperfect, and therefore not able to deserve our justification; but our justification doth come freely, by the mere mercy of God…"

Later on in the Homily Cranmer writes:

"The true understanding of this doctrine, "We be justified by faith without works," or that "We be justified by faith in Christ only," is not that this our own act to believe in Christ, or this our faith in Christ, which is within us, doth justify us and deserve our justification unto us; for that were to count ourselves to be justified by some act or virtue that is within ourselves. But the true understanding and meaning thereof is, that, although we hear God's word and believe it, although we have faith, hope, charity, repentance, dread, and fear of God within us, and do never so many good works thereunto, yet we must renounce the merit of all our said virtues of faith, hope and charity, and all our other virtues and good deeds, which we either have done, shall do, or can do, as things that be far too weak and insufficient and imperfect to deserve remission of our sins and our justification; and therefore we must trust only in God's mercy, and in that sacrifice which our High Priest and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, once offered for us upon the cross, to obtain God's grace and remission, as well of our original sin in baptism, as of all actual sin committed by us after our baptism, if we truly repent and turn unfeignedly to him again…."

So faith alone is receiving with open hands what God gives us and recognizing it totally and wholly as gift and by grace and of mercy. Then out of love and gratitude the forgiven and justified believer is to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and his neighbor as himself, imitating Christ Jesus his Lord. Yet these good works are never of such quality and purity as to justify him.

Justification—the forgiveness of sin and the imputation of the mediatorial righteousness of Christ Jesus—is not by faith and works, but it is by faith, a faith that becomes also faithfulness (in good works) to the God who justifies the person who believes the Gospel.

There is within most [all?] of us a desire, implicit or explicit, to feel and think that somehow at least our "really good deeds" do have some persuasive power with "the God of love." The more we hear the truth of Justification by faith alone, the more we recognize such desire to be sinful and unworthy of Christ Jesus who is our only Righteousness.

[The Book of Homilies of 1547 with the later longer second one from the reign of Elizabeth the first have been republished as One book by The Preservation Press of the Prayer Book Society, edited by Ian Robinson of the University of Cambridge – visit or call 1-800-PBS-1928]

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