BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely


The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian


Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman


Historical theology

by William Cunningham

Excerpt:

As the change upon men's state and condition from guilt and condemnation to pardon and acceptance is, substantially, a change in the aspect in which God regards them, or rather in the way in which He resolves thenceforth to deal with them, and to treat them, it must, from the nature of the case, be an act of God, and it must be wholly God's act,—an act in producing or effecting which men themselves cannot be directly parties; and the only way in which they can in any measure contribute to bring it about, is by their meriting it, or doing something to deserve it, at God's hand, and thereby inducing Him to effect the change or to perform the act. It was as precluding the possibility of this, that the Reformers attached so much importance to the doctrine which we formerly had occasion to explain and illustrate,—viz., that all the actions of men previous to regeneration are only and wholly sinful; and it was, of course, in order to leave room for men in some sense meriting gifts from God, or deserving for themselves the blessings which Christ procured for mankind, that the Council of Trent anathematized it.

The other great change is an actual effect wrought upon men themselves, of which they are directly the subjects, and in producing or effecting which there is nothing in the nature of the case, though there may be in the actual character and capacities of men, to prevent them from taking a part. The Protestant doctrine of men's natural inability to will anything spiritually good, which has been illustrated in connection with the doctrine of original sin, of course precludes them from doing anything that can really improve their moral character in God's sight, until this inability be taken away by an external and superior power; while the doctrine of the Council of Trent about man's freedom or power to will and do good remaining to some extent notwithstanding the fall, which forms part of their decree on the subject of justification, paves the way, and was no doubt so intended, for ascribing to men themselves some real efficiency in the renovation of their moral natures.

From the view taken by the Church of Rome of the nature and import of justification, the whole subject of the way and manner in which both these changes are effected, in or upon men individually, was often discussed in the sixteenth century under this one head; though one of the first objects to which the Reformers usually addressed themselves in discussing it, was to ascertain and to bring out what, according to Scripture usage, justification really is, and what it comprehends. The decree of the fathers of Trent upon this important subject (session vi.), comprehended in sixteen chapters and thirty-three canons, is characterized by vagueness and verbiage, confusion, obscurity, and unfairness. It is not very easy on several points to make out clearly and distinctly what were the precise doctrines which they wished to maintain and condemn. Some months were spent by the Council in consultations and intrigues about the formation of their decree upon this subject. And yet, notwithstanding all their pains,—perhaps we should rather say, because of them,—they have not brought out a very distinct and intelligible view of what they meant to teach upon some of its departments.

The vagueness, obscurity, and confusion of the decree of the Council of Trent upon this subject, contrast strikingly with the clearness and simplicity that obtain in the writings of the Reformers and the confessions of the Reformed churches regarding it. There were not wanting two or three rash and incautious expressions of Luther's upon this as upon other subjects, of which, by a policy I formerly had occasion to expose, the Council did not scruple to take an unfair advantage, by introducing some of them into their canons, in a way fitted to excite an unwarrantable prejudice against the doctrine of the Reformers. And it is true that Luther and Melancthon, in some of their earlier works, did seem to confine their statements, when treating of this subject, somewhat too exclusively to the act of faith by which men are justified, without giving sufficient prominence to the object of faith, or that which faith apprehends or lays hold of, and which is the ground or basis of God's act in justifying,—viz., the righteousness of Christ. But though their views upon this subject became more clear and enlarged, yet they held in substance from the beginning, and brought out at length, and long before the Council of Trent, most fully and clearly the great doctrine of the Reformation,—viz., that justification in Scripture is properly descriptive only of a change upon men's legal state and condition, and not on their moral character, though a radical change of character invariably accompanies it; that it is a change from a state of guilt and condemnation to a state of forgiveness and acceptance; and that sinners are justified, or become the objects of this change, solely by a gratuitous act of God, but founded only upon the righteousness of Christ (not on any righteousness of their own),—a righteousness imputed to them, and thus made theirs, not on account of anything they do or can do to merit or procure it, but through the instrumentality of faith alone, by which they apprehend or lay hold of what has been provided for them, and is freely offered to them.

Let us now attempt to bring out plainly and distinctly the doctrine which the Council of Trent laid down in opposition to these scriptural doctrines of the Reformers. The first important question is what justification is, or what the word justification means; and upon this point it must be admitted that the doctrine of the Council of Trent is sufficiently explicit. It defines* justification to be " translatio ab eo statu, in quo homo nascitur filius primi Adae, in statum gratiae et adoptionis filiorum Dei per secundum Adam Jesum Christum, salvatorem nostrum,"—words which, in their fair and natural import, may be held to include under justification the whole of the change that is needful to be effected in men in order to their salvation, as comprehending their de

liverance both from guilt and depravity. But that this is the meaning which they attached to the word justification—that they regarded all this as comprehended under it—is put beyond all doubt, by what they say in the seventh chapter, where they expressly define justification to be, " non sola peccatorum remissio, sed et sanctificatio et renovatio interioris hominis per voluntariam susceptionem gratiae et donorum." Justification, then, according to the doctrine of the Church of Rome, includes or comprehends not only the remission of sin, or deliverance from guilt, but also the sanctification or renovation of man's moral nature, or deliverance from depravity. In short, they comprehend under the one name or head of justification, what Protestants—following, as they believe, the guidance of Scripture—have always divided into the two heads of justification and regeneration, or justification and sanctification, when the word sanctification is used in its widest sense, as descriptive of the whole process, originating in regeneration, by which depraved men are restored to a conformity to God's moral image. Now the discussion upon this point turns wholly upon this question, What is the sense in which the word justification and its cognates are used in Scripture 1 And this is manifestly a question of fundamental importance, in the investigation of this whole subject, inasmuch as, from the nature of the case, its decision must exert a most important influence upon the whole of men's views regarding it. At present, however, I confine myself to a mere statement of opinions, without entering into any examination of their truth, as I think it better, in the first instance, to bring out fully at once what the whole doctrine of the Church of Rome upon this subject, as contrasted with that of the Reformers, really is.

It may be proper, however, before leaving this topic, to advert to a misrepresentation that has been often given of the views of the Reformers, and especially of Calvin, upon this particular point. When Protestant divines began, in the seventeenth century, to corrupt the scriptural doctrine of justification, and to deviate from the doctrinal orthodoxy of the Reformation, they thought it of importance to show that justification meant merely the remission or forgiveness of sin, or guilt, to the. exclusion of, or without comprehending, what is usually called the acceptance of men's persons, or their positive admission into God's favour,—or their receiving from God, not only the pardon of their sins, or immunity from punishment, but also a right or title to heaven and eternal life. And in support of this view, these men appealed to the authority of the Reformers, and especially of Calvin. Now it is quite true that Calvin has asserted again and again that justification comprehends only, or consists in, the remission or forgiveness of sin or guilt. But I have no doubt that a careful and deliberate examination of all that Calvin has written upon this point * will fully establish these two positions,—first, that when Calvin asserted that justification consisted only in the remission of sin, he meant this simply as a denial of the Popish doctrine, that it is not only the remission of sin, but also the sanctification or renovation of the inner man, — this being the main, and indeed the only, error upon the point which he was called upon formally to oppose; and, secondly, that Calvin has at least as frequently and as explicitly described justification as comprehending not only remission of sin in the strict and literal sense, but also positive acceptance or admission into the enjoyment of God's favour,—"gratuitaDei acceptio," as he often calls it,—including the whole of the change effected upon men's state or legal condition in God's sight, as distinguished from the change effected npon their character. This is one of the numerous instances, constantly occurring, that illustrate how unfair it is to adduce the authority of eminent writers on disputed questions which had never really been presented to them,—which they had never entertained or decided; and how necessary it often is, in order to forming a correct estimate of some particular statements of an author, to examine with care and deliberation all that he has written upon the subject to which they refer, and also to be intelligently acquainted with the way and manner in which the whole subject was discussed at the time on both sides.


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