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Vindication of the Protestant Doctrine of Justification
Its Preachers & Professors, from the Unjust Charge of Antinomianism
Rev. Robert Traill
(1642-1716, Scottish Born, Presbyterian Minister in England)
Originally Published in 1692
HAIL & FIRE REPRINTS 2009
A Vindication of the Protestant Doctrine Concerning Justification, and of its Preachers and Professors, from the Unjust Charge of Antinomianism.
In a Letter from the Author to a Minister in the Country.
Your earnest desire of information about some difference amongst Nonconformists in London, whereof you hear so much by flying reports, and profess you know so little of the truth thereof, is the cause of this writing.
You know, that not many months ago there was fair-like appearance of unity betwixt the two most considerable parties on that side; and their differences having been rather in practice than principle, about church-order and communion, seemed easily reconcileable, where a spirit of love, and of a sound mind, was at work. But how short was the calm! For quickly arose a greater storm from another quarter; and a quarrel began upon higher points, even on no less than the doctrine of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and the justification of a sinner by faith alone. Some think, that the reprinting of Dr Crisp's book gave the first rise to it. But we must look farther back for its true spring. It is well known, but little considered, what a great progress Arminianism had made in this nation before the beginning of the civil war. And surely it hath lost little since it ended. What can be the reason why the very parliaments in the reign of James I. and Charles I. were so alarmed with Arminianism, as may be read in history, and is remembered by old men; and that now for a long time there hath been no talk, no fear of it; as if Arminianism were dead and buried, and no man knows where its grave is? Is not the true reason to be found in its universal prevailing in the nation?
But that which concerneth our case, is, that the middle way betwixt the Arminians and the Orthodox, had been espoused, and strenuously defended and promoted by some Nonconformists, of great note for piety and parts; and usually such men that are for middle ways in points of doctrine, have a greater kindness for that extreme they go half-way to, than for that which they go half-way from. And the notions thereof were imbibed by a great many students, who laboured (through the iniquity of the times) under the great disadvantage of the want of grave and sound divines, to direct and assist their studies at universities; and therefore contented themselves with studying such English authors as had gone in a path untrod, both by our predecessors, and by the Protestant universities abroad.
These notions have been preached, and wrote against, by several divines amongst themselves; and the different opinions have been, till of late, managed with some moderation; to which our being all borne down by persecution, did somewhat contribute.
It is a sad, but true observation, that no contentions are more easily kindled, more fiercely pursued, and more hardly composed, than those of divines; sometimes from their zeal for truth, and sometimes from worse principles, that may act in them, as well as in other men.
The subject of the controversy is, about the justifying grace of God in Jesus Christ. Owned it is by both; and both fear it be abused: either by turning it into wantonness, - hence the noise of Antinomianism; or by corrupting it with the mixture of works, - hence the fears, on the other side, of Arminianism. Both parties disown the name cast upon them. The one will not be called Arminians: and the other hate both name and thing of Antinomianism truly so called. Both sometimes say the same thing, and profess their assent to the doctrinal articles of the Church of England, to the Confession of Faith and Catechisms composed at Westminster, and to the Harmony of the Confessions of all the reformed churches, in these doctrines of grace. And, if both be candid in this profession, it is very strange that there should be any controversy amongst them.
Let us therefore, first, take a view of the parties, and then of their principles. As to the party suspected of Antinomianism and Libertinism in this city, it is plain, that the churches wherein they are concerned, are more strict and exact in trying of them that offer themselves unto their communion, as to their faith and holiness, before their admitting them; in the engagements laid on them to a gospel-walking at their admission, and in their inspection over them afterwards. As to their conversations, they are generally of the more regular and exact frame; and the fruits of holiness in their lives, to the praise of God, and honour of the gospel, cannot with modesty be denied. Is it not unaccountable, to charge a people with licentiousness, when the chargers cannot deny, and some cannot well bear the strictness of their walk? It is commonly said, that it is only their principles, and the tendency of them to loose walking, that they blame. But, waving that at present, it seems not fair to charge a people with licentious doctrines, when the professors thereof are approved of for their godliness; and when they do sincerely profess, that their godliness began with, and is promoted by the faith of their principles. Let it not be mistaken, if I here make a comparison betwixt Papists and Protestants. The latter did always profess the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This was blasphemy in the Papist's ears. They still did, and do cry out against it, as a licentious doctrine, and destructive of good works. Many sufficient answers have been given unto this unjust charge. But to my purpose: The wonder was, that the Papists were not convinced by the splendid holiness of the old believers, and by the visible truth of their holy practice; and their professing, that as long as they lived in the blindness and darkness of popery, they were profane; and that as soon as God revealed the gospel to them, and had wrought in them the faith thereof, they were sanctified, and led other lives.
So witnessed the noble Lord Cobham, who suffered in King Henry V.'s time, above an hundred years before Luther. His words at his examination before the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his clergy, were these: "As for that virtuous man, Wickliff, (for with his doctrine he was charged), whose judgment ye so highly disdain; I shall say of my part, both before God and man, that before I knew that despised doctrine of his, I never abstained from sin; but since I learned therein to fear my Lord God, it hath otherwise, I trust, been with me. So much grace could I never find in all your glorious instructions." (Fox's Book of Martyrs, vol. i. p. 640, col. 2. edit. 1664). And since I am on that excellent book, I entreat you to read Mr Patrick Hamilton's little treatise, to which Frith doth preface, and Fox doth add some explication (vol. ii. p. 181-192), where ye will find the old plain Protestant truth about law and gospel, delivered without any school-terms. To this, add, in your reading, in the same volume (p. 497-509. "Heresies and errors falsely charged on [William] Tindal's writings"), where we will see the old faith of the saints in its simplicity, and the old craft and cunning of the Anti-christian party, in slandering the truth. I must, for my part, confess, that these plain declarations of gospel-truth have a quite other favour with me, than the dry insipid accounts thereof given by pretenders to human wisdom.
But passing these things, let us look to principles, and that with respect to their native and regular influence on sanctification. And I am willing that that should determine the matter, next to the consonancy of the principles themselves to the word of God. It can be no doctrine of God, that is not according to godliness. Some think, that if good works, and holiness, and repentance, be allowed no room in justification, that there is no room left for them in the world, and in the practice of believers. So hard seems it to be to some, to keep in their eye the certain fixed bounds betwixt justification and sanctification. There is no difference betwixt a justified and a sanctified man; for he is always the same person that partakes of these privileges. But justification and sanctification differ greatly, in many respects; as is commonly known. But to come a little closer:
The party here suspected of Antinomianism, do confidently protest, before God, angels, and men, That they espouse no new doctrine about the grace of God and justification, and the other coincident points, but what the reformers at home and abroad did teach, and all the Protestant churches do own. And that in sum is: "That a law-condemned sinner is freely justified by God's grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ; that he is justified only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to him by God of his free grace, and received by faith alone as an instrument; which faith is the gift of the same grace." For guarding against licentiousness, they constantly teach, out of God's word, "That without holiness no man can see God: That all that believe truly on Jesus Christ, as they are justified by the sprinkling of his blood, so are they sanctified by the effusion of his Spirit: that all that boast of their faith in Christ, and yet live after their own lusts, and the course of this world, have no true faith at all; but do, in their profession, and contradicting practice, blaspheme the name of God, and the doctrine of his grace; and continuing so, shall perish with a double destruction, beyond that of the openly profane, that make no profession." And when they find any such in their communion, which is exceeding rarely, they cast them out as dead branches. They teach, "That as the daily study of sanctification is a necessary exercise to all that are in Christ; so the rule of their direction therein, is the holy spotless law of God in Christ's hand: That the Holy Ghost is the beginner and advancer of this work, and faith in Jesus Christ the great mean thereof: That no man can be holy till he be in Christ, and united to him by faith; and that no man is truly in Christ, but he is thereby sanctified. They preach the law, to condemn all flesh out of Christ, and to shew thereby to people the necessity of betaking themselves to him for salvation." See the savoury words of blessed Tindal, called the apostle of England, in his letter to John Frith, written Jan. 1533, (Book of Martyrs, vol. ii. p. 308). "Expound the law truly, and open the veil of Moses, to condemn all flesh, and prove all men sinners, and all deeds under the law, before mercy have taken away the condemnation thereof, to be sin, and damnable; and then as a faithful minister, set abroach the mercy of our Lord Jesus, and let the wounded consciences drink of the water of him. And then shall your preaching be with power, and not as the hypocrites. And the Spirit of God shall work with you; and all consciences shall bear record unto you, and feel that it is so. And all doctrine that casteth a mist on these two, to shadow and hide them, I mean the law of God, and mercy of Christ, that resist you with all your power." And so do we.
What is there in all this to be offended with? Is not this enough to vindicate our doctrine from any tendency to licentiousness! I am afraid that there are some things wherein we differ more than they think fit yet to express. And I shall guess at them.
1. The first is about the imputed righteousness of Christ. This righteousness of Christ, in his active and passive obedience, hath been asserted by Protestant divines, to be not only the procuring and meritorious cause of our justification; for this the Papists own; but the matter; as the imputation of it is the form of our justification: though I think that our logical terms are not so adapted for such divine mysyteries. But whatever propriety or impropriety be in such school terms, the common Protestant doctrine hath been, that a convinced sinner seeking justification, must have nothing in his eye but this righteousness of Christ, as God proposeth nothing else to him; and that God in justifying a sinner, accepts him in this righteousness only, when he imputes it to him.
Now, about the imputed righteousness of Christ some say, "That it belongs only to the person of Christ: he was under the law, and bound to keep it for himself; that he might be a fit Mediator, without spot or blemish. That it is a qualification in the Mediator, rather than a benefit acquired by him, to be communicated to his people." For they will not allow "this personal righteousness of Christ to be imputed to us any otherwise than in the merit of it, as purchasing for us a more easy law of grace; in the observation whereof they place all our justifying righteousness:" understanding hereby "our own personal inherent holiness, and nothing else." They hold, "That Christ died to merit this of the Father, to-wit that we might be justified upon easier terms under the gospel, than those of the law of innocency. Instead of justification by perfect obedience, we are now to be justified by our own evangelical righteousness, made up of faith, repentance, and sincere obedience." And if we hold not with them in this, they tell the world we are enemies to evangelical holiness, slighting the practice of all good works, and allowing our hearers to live as they list. Thus they slander ...
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"Is the Law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the Law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the Law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Galatians 3:21-27