By Horatius Bonar
We noticed, in our last chapter, the difference between the divine and the human sides of Bible truth; we would, in this, advert to another distinction, of no less importance, that between Christ's work for us and the Holy Spirit's work in us; between the legal or substitutionary and the moral or curative.
This is not the distinction between a divine element and a human one, but between two elements which are both equally divine, yet each of them, in its own way, bearing very directly on the sinner.
The two things are sometimes put in another form, Christ for us, and Christ in us. The meaning, however, is the same in both cases, for Christ in us (Col 1:27) is also the Holy Spirit in us, Christ having the Spirit without measure for Himself (John 3:34), and for us according to our need. An indwelling Christ and an indwelling Spirit are, though not the same thing, yet equivalent things. He who has the Son has the Spirit, nay, and the Father also (John 14:23).
Christ for us is our one resting-place. Not works, nor feelings, nor love, even though these may be the creation of the Spirit in us; not these in any sense; no, nor yet faith, whether as an act of our mind, or as the production of the Spirit, or as a substitute for righteousness; none of these can be our resting-place.
This great truth is well brought out in a correspondence among Luther, Melancthon and Brentius in the year 1531, which we translate and abridge. Brentius had been much perplexed on the subject of faith. It puzzled him. Christ justifies; faith justifies; how is this? Is faith a merit? Is it a work? Has it some justifying virtue in itself? Does it justify because it is the gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit? Perplexed with these questions, he wrote to Melancthon and Luther. The replies of both are extant, neither of them long, Luther's very short.
They go straight to the point, and deserve to be quoted as clear statements of the truth, and as specimens of the way in which these men of might dealt with the burdened spirits of their time. "I see," writes Melancthon, "what is troubling you about faith. You stick to the fancy of Augustine, who, though right in rejecting the righteousness of human reason, imagines that we are justified by that fulfilling of the law which the Holy Spirit works in us. So you imagine that men are justified by faith, because it is by faith that we receive the Spirit, that thereafter we may be able to be just by that fulfillment of the law which the Spirit works.
This imagination places justification in our fulfillment of the law, in our purity or perfection, although this renewal ought to follow faith. But do you turn your eyes from that renewal, and from the law altogether, to the promise and to Christ, and think that it is on Christ's account that we become just, that is, accepted before God, and that it is thus we obtain peace of conscience, and not on account of that renewal. For even this renewing is insufficient (for justification). We are justified by faith alone, not because it is a root, as you write, but because it apprehends Christ, on account of whom we are accepted. This renewing, although it necessarily follows, yet does not pacify the conscience.
Therefore not even love, though it is the fulfilling of the law, justifies, but only faith; not because it is some excellence in us, but only because it takes hold of Christ. We are justified, not on account of love, not on account of the fulfilling of the law, not on account of our renewal, although these are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but on account of Christ; and Him we take hold of by faith alone.
"Believe me, my Brentius, this controversy regarding the righteousness which is by faith is a mighty one, and little understood. You can only rightly comprehend it by turning your eyes entirely away from the law, and from Augustine's idea about our fulfilling the law, and by fixing them wholly upon the free promise, so as to see that it is on account of that promise and for Christ's sake, that we are justified, that is, accepted and obtain peace.
This is the true doctrine, and that which glorifies Christ and wonderfully lifts up the conscience. I endeavored to explain this in my Apology, but on account of the misrepresentations of adversaries, could not speak out so freely as I do now with you, though saying the very same thing. When could the conscience have peace and assured hope, if we are not justified till our renewal is perfected? What is this but to be justified by the law, and not by the free promise?
In that discussion I said that to ascribe our justification to love is to ascribe it to our own work, understanding by that, a work done in us by the Holy Ghost. For faith justifies, not because it is a new work of the Spirit in us, but because it apprehends Christ, on account of whom we are accepted, and not on account of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us. Turn away from Augustine's idea, and you will easily see the reason for this; and I hope our Apology will somewhat help you, though I speak cautiously respecting matters so great, which are only to be to understood in the conflict of the conscience. By all means preach law and repentance to the people, but let not this true doctrine of the gospel be overlooked."
In the same strain writes Luther: "I am accustomed, my Brentius, for the better understanding of this point, to conceive this idea, that there is no quality in my heart at all, call it either faith or charity; but instead of these I set Christ Himself, and I say this is my righteousness. He is my quality and my formal righteousness, as they call it, so as to free myself from looking unto law or works; nay, from looking at Christ Himself as a teacher or a giver.
But I look at Him as gift and as doctrine to me, in Himself, so that in Him I have all things. He says, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life.' He says not, 'I give thee the way, and the truth, and the life,' as if He were working on me from without. All these things He must be in me, abiding, living, and speaking in me, not through me or to me, that we may be 'the righteousness of God in Him' (2 Cor 5:21); not in love, nor in the gifts and graces which follow."
To these letters Brentius replies, unfolding his conflicts to his beloved Philip. "Is not faith itself a work? Does not the Lord say, "This is the work of God that ye believe'?.. Justification then cannot be either by works or by faith.. Is it so?.. .Therefore justification must be on account of Christ alone, and not the excellence of our works.. .But how can all this be?... From childhood I had not been able to clear my thoughts on these points. Your letter and that of Luther showed me the truth.. Justification comes to us neither on account of our love nor our faith, but solely on account of Christ: and yet it comes through (by means of) faith. Faith does not justify as a work of goodness, but simply as a receiver of promised mercy.. .We do not merit; we only obtain justification.
Faith is but the organ, the instrument, the medium; Christ alone is the satisfaction and the merit. Works are not satisfaction, nor merit, nor instrument; they are the utterance of a justification already received by faith." Thus does the disciple expound the master's letter, and then adds some thoughts of his own. He fears lest, as popery perverted love, so the Reformation might come to pervert faith, putting it in the room of Christ, as a work or merit or quality, something in itself. Having finished the letter to his "most beloved Philip," and signed it, "thy Brentius," he starts another thought and adds a postscript which is well worth translating: "Just as I was finishing my letter, I remembered an argument of yours about works, to the effect that if we are justified by love, we can never have assurance because we can never love as we ought. In like manner I argue regarding faith as a work; if justification come to us through faith as a work, or merit, or excellence, we can never be assured about it, because we can never believe as we ought."
We have given some space to these extracts, because the importance of the truth which they contain can hardly be overrated. They not only exhibit the distinction between Christ's work and the Spirit's work, but they do so with special reference to that point at which they are so often made to run into each other, to the darkening of many minds and the confusion of all Reformation theology For how often did Luther reiterate that statement: "Faith justifies us, no, not even as a gift of the Holy Ghost, but solely on account of its reference to Christ...faith does not justify for its own sake, or because of any inherent virtue belonging to it."
So long as this confusion exists, so long as men do not distinguish between Christ's work and the Spirit's work, so long as they lay any stress upon the quality or quantity of their act of faith, there can be not only no peace of conscience, but no progress in holiness, no bringing forth of good works. Of this confusion Arminianism, in its subtlest form, is the necessary offspring. For so long as men think to be justified by faith as a work, or as an act of their mind, or as a gift of the Spirit, they are seeking justification by something inherent, not by something imputed. To deny that it is inherent, because infused into them by the Spirit, is simply to cheat themselves with a play upon words, and to cheat themselves all the more effectually, because professing to honor the Spirit by ascribing to Him the infused quality or act, out of which they seek to extract their justification.
In seeking justification or peace of conscience from something wrought in them by the Spirit, they are seeking these from that which is confessedly imperfect, and which God never gave for such a purpose; nay, they are rejecting the perfect righteousness of the Substitute, and so preventing the possibility of their doing any acceptable works at all. For if "the righteousness of the Law can only be fulfilled in us," as the fruit of our acceptance of the imputed righteousness of the Son of God, then there can be no righteous thing done by us till we have realized the position of men to whom the great truth of "Christ for us," "Jehovah our righteousness," has become the basis of all reconciliation with God.
This form of error is the more subtle because its victims are not walking in sin, but doing all manner of outward service, and exhibiting outward goodness in many forms, regarding which we shall only say that they are not pleasant to God, and as "they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin" (Article 13 of the Church of England).
Some of the soundest Christian divines have left on record their complaint as to the mistakes in this matter of faith prevailing in their day, and as to the charge ofAntinomianism brought against those who, in stating justification, refuse to qualify the apostolic formula, "to him that worketh not, but believeth." Traill thus wrote, now nearly two centuries ago, "If we say that faith in Jesus Christ is neither work, nor condition, nor qualification in justification, and that in its very act it is a renouncing of all things but the gift of grace, the fire is kindled; so that it is come to this, that he that will not be Antichristian must be called an Antinomian.
How strongly does this same divine state the truth in another place. When addressing a perplexed inquirer he says, "If he say that he cannot believe on Jesus Christ.. you tell him that believing on Jesus Christ is no work, but a resting on Jesus Christ." How sharply does he rebuke those who would mix up the imputed and the infused: "They seem to be jealous lest God's grace and Christ's righteousness have too much room, and men's works too little in the business of justification." See the whole of Traill's letter on "Justification vindicated from the charge of Antinomianism." An old anonymous writer, a little later than Traill, uses this expression: 'The Scriptures consider faith not as a work of ours, but set in opposition to every work, whether of body or mind: 'To him that worketh not, but believeth'."
That we believe through grace that faith is the gift of God does not prove faith to be a work of ours, any more than Christ's raising of Lazarus proved resurrection to be a work of the dead man. The divine infusion of life in the one case, and the divine impartation of faith in the other, so far from showing that there must be a work in either, indicates very plainly that there could not be any such thing. The work comes after the believing, and as the fruit of it. "Faith worketh by love," that is, the believing soul shows its faith by works of love.
Yes, faith worketh; so also does love, so also does hope. These all work, and we read of "the work of faith," that is, work to which faith prompts us; the "labour of love," that is, the toil to which love impels us; the "patience of hope," that is, the patience which hope enables us to exercise. But is faith a work because it worketh? Is love a toil because it toileth? Is hope patience because it makes us patient? Israel's looking to the brazen serpent was a ceasing from all remedies, and letting health pour itself into the body by the eye.
Was the opening of the eye a work? The gospel does not command us to do anything in order to obtain life, but bids us live by that which another has done; and the knowledge of its life-giving truth is not labour but rest--rest of soul--rest which is the root of all true labour; for in receiving Christ we do not work in order to rest, but we rest in order to work. In believing, we cease to work for pardon, in order that we may work from it; and what incentive to work, as well as joy in working, can be greater than an ascertained and realized forgiveness?
That there are works done before faith we know, but regarding them we know that they profit nothing, "for without faith it is impossible to please God." That there are works done after faith we also know, and they are well pleasing to God, for they are the works of believing men. But, as to any work intermediate between these two, Scripture is silent; and against transforming faith into a work the whole theology of the Reformation protested, as either a worthless verbal quibble, or as the subtlest dregs of popery.
Truly faith comes from God. The revelation which we believe, and the power of believing that revelation, are both divine. The Holy Spirit has written the Scriptures, and sent them to us to be believed for salvation; faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. He quickens the dead soul that it may believe; and then after its believing He comes in and dwells. Hence we are said to receive the Spirit by "the hearing of faith" (Gal 3:2). He opens our hand to receive the gift, and He places the gift in our hand when thus opened by Himself.
Never let us forget that while faith is the result of the Spirit's work in us, it is as truly the receiver of Him as the indwelling Spirit, and that in proportion to our faith will be the measure of the Spirit we shall possess. This is another of the many twofold truths or processes of Scripture: the Spirit works to enable us to believe, and we in believing receive Him and all His gifts, in greater or less abundance, according to our faith.
This twofold, sometimes threefold, aspect of a truth ought not to perplex us; still less ought it to lead us to magnify one of these at the expense of the others, or to attempt a reconciliation of the three by a denial of one, and an explaining away of texts that stand in our way. Let us admit the whole, and accept the passages as they stand. Sometimes, for example, our renewal is connected with the Spirit (Titus 3:5), sometimes with Christ's resurrection (1 Peter 1:3), sometimes with the word of truth (Eph 1:13), and sometimes with faith (John 1:12).
Sometimes it is spoken of as God's work (Psa 51:10), sometimes as our own (Eze 18:31; Eph 4:24), sometimes as the work of ministers (Phile 10), sometimes as the effect of the gospel (1 Cor 4:15). So it is with conversion, with salvation, and with sanctification. These are all spoken of in connection with God, with Christ, with the Spirit, with the Word, with faith, with hope; and each of these aspects must be studied, not evaded.
John Calvin does not hesitate to speak of regeneration and repentance being the result of faith, (Inst. B. III., iii 1. See the whole third book). And Latimer writes, "We be born again. How? Not by a mortal seed, but by an immortal. What is this immortal seed? The Word of the living God. Thus cometh our new birth." In stating one side of the truth, these divines did not set aside the other. They taught renovation, through the truth and through faith, and they also taught renovation by the power of the Holy Ghost. They taught man's need of the Spirit in order to faith, and they also proclaimed the gift of the Spirit as the result of faith.
But manifold as are these aspects, they all bear upon us personally, directly or indirectly affecting and carrying out our quickening, our healing, our joy, our comfort, and our holiness. There is no speculation in any of them, and it is truth, not opinion, that they present to us. Whatever amount of unreal religion may be in us, it is not because of any defect in the Word, any cloudiness in the gospel, any scantiness or straitness in the divine liberality, and lack in the fullness of Him in whom it hath pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell. He has made provision for our being made like Himself, and therefore He calls us to this likeness. The standard is high, but it does not admit of being lowered. The model is divine, but so is the strength given for conformity to it. Our responsibility to be holy is great, but not greater than the means provided for its full attainment.
In Christ dwells all the fullness of Godhead bodily. He has the Holy Spirit for us, and this Spirit He gives freely and plenteously; for that which we receive is "grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." The early saints were "filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 13:52), and we are to be "filled with the Spirit" (Eph 5:18), for it is the Holy Ghost Himself, not certain influences that are given unto us (Rom 5:5). He falls on us (Acts 8:16; 11:15); He is shed forth on us (Acts 2:33); He is poured out on us (Eze 39:29; Acts 10:45); we are baptized with the Holy Ghost (Acts 11:16).
He is the earnest of our inheritance (Eph 1:14); He seals us (Eph 1:13), imprinting on us the divine image and superscription; He teaches (1 Cor 2:13); He reveals (1 Cor 2:10); He reproves (John 16:8); He strengthens (Eph 3:16); He makes us fruitful (Gal 5:22); He searches (1 Cor 2:10); He strives (Gen 6:3); He sanctifles (1 Cor 6:11); He leads (Rom 8:14; Psa 143:3); He instructs (Neh 9:20); He speaks (1 Tim 4:1; Rev 2:7); He demonstrates (or proves) (1 Cor 2:4); He intercedes (Rom 8;26); He quickens (Rom 8:11); He gives utterance (Acts 2:4); He creates (Psa 104:30); He comforts (John 14:26); He sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts (Rom 5:5); He renews (Titus 3:5).
He is the Spirit of holiness (Rom 1:4), the Spirit of wisdom and understanding (Isa 11:2; Eph 1:17), the Spirit of truth (John 14:17), the Spirit of knowledge (Isa 11:2), the Spirit of grace (Heb 10:29), the Spirit of glory (1 Peter 4:14), the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:11), the Spirit of the living God (2 Cor 3:3), the good Spirit (Neh 9:20), the Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:11), the Spirit of adoption (Rom 8:15), the Spirit of life (Rev 11:11), and the Spirit of His Son (Gal 4:6).
Such is the Holy Spirit by whom we are sanctified (2 Thess 2:13), "the eternal Spirit" by whom "Christ offered Himself without spot to God" (Heb 9:14). Such is the Holy Spirit by whom we are "sealed unto the day of redemption" (Eph 4:30), the Spirit who makes us His habitation (Eph 2:22), who dwelleth in us (2 Tim 1:14), by whom we are kept looking to and looking for Christ and by whom we are made to "abound in hope" (Rom 15:13).
On the right receiving and entertaining of this heavenly Guest, much of a holy life depends. Let us bid Him welcome--not vexing, nor resisting, nor grieving, nor quenching Him, but loving Him and delighting in His love ("the love of the Spirit," Rom 15:30), 50 that our life may be a living in the Spirit (Gal 5:25), a walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:16), a praying in the Spirit (Jude 20).
While distinguishing Christ's work for us and the Spirit's work in us, and so preserving our conscious pardon unbroken, yet let us not separate the two by any interval; but allowing both to do their work, let us "follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb 12:14), keeping our hearts in "the fellowship of the Spirit" (Phil 2:1), and delighting ourselves in "the communion of the Holy Ghost" (2 Cor 13:14).
The double form of expression, bringing out the mutual or reciprocal indwelling of Christ and of the Spirit in us, is worthy of special note. Christ in us (Col 1:27) is the one side; we in Christ is the other (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:20). The Holy Spirit in us (Rom 8:9) is the one aspect; we live in the Spirit (Gal 5:25) is the other. Nay, further, this twofold expression is used of Godhead also, in these remarkable words: "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God" (1 John 4:15).
It would seem as if no figure, however strong and full, could adequately express the closeness of contact, the nearness of relationship, the entire oneness into which we are brought, in receiving the divine testimony to the person and work of the Son of God. Are we not then most strongly committed to a life of holiness, as well as furnished with all the supplies needful for caring it out? With such a fullness of strength and life at our disposal, what a responsibility is ours! "What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness!"
And if to all this we add the prospects presented to us, the hope of the advent and the kingdom and the glory, we shall feel ourselves compassed on every side with the motives, materials and appliances best fitted for making us what we are meant to be, "a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people" (1 Peter 2:9), (1) "zealous of good works" here (Titus 2:14), and possessors of "glory and honor, and immortality" hereafter (Rom 2:7).
(1) It is remarkable that these words were first used regarding Israel (Exo 19:5,6; Deut 7:6). showing us that Old Testament saints did not stand On a lower level than New Testament ones. Most of the expressions used concerning the church's privileges are Old Testament ones, borrowed from Israel's privileges. To the latter belonged the heavenly kingdom (Matt 5:3:8:11), the sonship (Exo 4:22,23), the adoption, and the glory, and the promises (Rom 9:4).