Of all questions, by far the most important to a fallen man, obnoxious to death, is, "How may I be reconciled to God, and obtain a title to eternal glory?" The Bible answers, "By faith in the righteousness of Christ." It is here that the Church of Rome wholly misleads her members. She gives the wrong answer; and therefore she is most fatally in error, where it behoved her, above all things, to be in the right.
The doctrine of "justification through faith alone" is the oldest theological truth in the world. We can trace it, wearing the very form it still bears, in the patriarchal age. The apostle tells us that God preached this truth unto Abraham. It was preached by type and shadow to the Old Testament Church; and when the altars and sacrifices of the legal economy were no more, this great truth was published far and wide throughout the world by the pens and tongues of apostles. After being lost by all, save a chosen few, during many centuries, it broke out with a new and glorious effulgence upon the world in the preaching of Luther. It is the grand central truth of Christianity: it is, in short, the gospel. Now it is on this vital point, we affirm, that the teaching of Rome is erroneous, and that, so far as that teaching is listened to and followed, it must needs destroy, not save, her members. The point of all others on which the Bible has spoken out with most emphatic plainness is, that Christ is the one only Saviour, and that his atonement upon the cross is the sole and exclusive ground of eternal life. There are parts of revelation about which we may entertain imperfect or erroneous views, and yet be saved; but this truth is the chief corner-stone of the gospel, and an error here must necessarily be fatal. We forsake the one only foundation; we go about seeking to establish a righteousness of our own; we trust in a refuge of lies; and cannot be saved. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
Herein we may trace the essential and eternal difference between the Gospel and Popery,--between the Reformation and Rome. The Reformation ascribed all the glory of man's salvation to God,--Rome ascribed it to the Church. Salvation of God and salvation of man are the two opposite poles around which are ranged respectively all true and all false systems of religion. Popery placed salvation in the Church, and taught men to look for it through the sacraments; the Reformation placed salvation in Christ, and taught men that it was to be obtained through faith. "By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves,--it is the gift of God." The development of the grand primordial truth,--salvation of grace,--has constituted the history of the Church. This truth gave being to the patriarchal religion; it formed the vital element in the Mosaic economy; it constituted the glory of primitive Christianity; and it was it that gave maturity and strength to the Reformation. With one voice, Calvin, Luther, and Zuingle, did homage to God as the author of man's salvation. The motley host of wrangling theologians which met at Trent made man his own Saviour, by extolling the efficacy and merit of good works.
The decree of the council by which the doctrine of the Church of Rome on the subject of justification was finally settled, partakes of not a little vagueness. On this, as on most other points that engaged the attention of the council, there existed a variety of conflicting opinions, which long and warm debates failed to reconcile. The somewhat impossible object of faithfully reflecting all the sentiments of the fathers was aimed at in the decree, at the same time that it was intended pointedly to condemn the doctrine of the Protestants. But we believe the following will be found a fair statement of what the Romish Church really holds on this important subject.
The Council of Trent defines justification to be "a translation from that state in which the man is born a son of the first Adam, into a state of grace and adoption of the sons of God by the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Saviour; which translation cannot be accomplished under the gospel, without the laver of regeneration, or the desire of it; as it is written, 'Unless a man be born again of water and of the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.'" The definition given by Dens is in almost the very same words. Justification, says Perrone, is not the forensic remission of sin, or the imputation of Christ's righteousness; but it consists in the renovation of the mind by the infusion of sanctifying grace. The Council of Trent teaches the same doctrine in almost the same words, and enforces it with its usual argument,--an anathema. "Justification," says Bailly, "is the acquisition of righteousness, by which we become acceptable to God." It is important to observe, that by the "laver of regeneration," the Roman Catholic Church means baptism. It is important also to observe, that this definition confounds justification with sanctification. But to this we shall afterwards advert. We proceed to state the way in which this justification is received. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that there is a preparation of the mind for its reception, and in that preparation the man who is to be justified has an active share. "Justification springs," the Romish Church holds, "from the preventing grace of God." That grace excites and helps the man, who, by the power of his free will, agrees and co-operates therewith. Excited and aided by divine grace, men are disposed for this righteousness; they are drawn to God, and encouraged to hope in him, by the consideration of his mercy; they begin to love him as the fountain of all righteousness, and consequently to hate sin, that is, "with that penitence which must necessarily exist before baptism; and, finally, they resolve to receive baptism, to begin a new life, and to keep the divine commandments." This constitutes the disposition or preparation of the mind for the reception of justification. Similar is the account which Dens has given of the matter. He states that the Council of Trent requires seven acts of mind in order to the justification of the adult through baptism. The first is divine grace, by which the sinner is excited and aided; the second is faith; the third is fear; then hope, then love, then contrition, and lastly, a desire for the sacrament. Perrone mentions much the same graces, though in a slightly different order. "Besides faith," says he, "which all agree is required in order to justification, there must be fear, hope, love, at least begun, penitence, and a purpose of keeping the divine commandments." The faith that precedes justification, according to the Church of Rome, is not of a fiducial character, or a trust in the divine mercy exhibited in the promise, but a belief of all things taught in the Scriptures, that is, by the Church; and approaches very closely to what Protestants term a historical faith. We are said to be "justified freely by his grace," says the Church of Rome, inasmuch as the grace of God aids the sinner by these acts. She holds, moreover, that these acts are meritorious. She does not hold that they possess the merit of condignity, as do the good works of the justified man; but she holds that these acts of faith and love, which prepare and dispose the mind for justification, possess the merit of congruity, that is, they merit a divine reward, not from any obligation of justice, but out of a principle of fitness or congruity.
The disposition for justification being thus wrought, the justification itself follows. This satisfaction, say the fathers of Trent, "is not remission of sin merely, but also sanctification, and the renovation of the inner man by the voluntary reception of grace and of gifts, so that the man, from being unrighteous, is made righteous." The decree then goes on to describe the cause of justification. The final cause is the glory of God; the efficient cause is the mercy of God; the meritorious cause is Jesus Christ, "who merited justification for us by his most holy passion on the cross;" the instrumental cause is the "sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith," says the Council of Trent, "without which no one can ever obtain justification." The formal cause is the righteousness of God; "not that by which he himself is righteous, but that by which he makes us righteous; with which, to wit, being endued by him, we are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and are not only reputed righteous, but truly are called, and do become righteous, receiving righteousness in ourselves, each according to his measure."
Such is the doctrine of justification as taught by the Church of Rome. It is diametrically opposed to the method of justifying sinners described in the epistles of Paul, and more especially in his Epistle to the Romans. It is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of the reformers, and to the confessions of all the reformed Churches. All sound Protestant divines receive the term "justification" in a forensic sense. Nothing is changed by justification viewed in itself but the man's state, which, from being that of a criminal in the eye of the law, and obnoxious to death, becomes that of an innocent man, entitled to eternal life. The source of justification they regard as being the grace of God; its meritorious cause, the righteousness of Christ imputed to the sinner; and its instrumental cause, faith, by which the sinner receives the righteousness which the gospel offers. Thus nothing is seen in this great work but the grace of God. To Him is all the glory. The sinner comes into the possession of profound peace, because he feels that he is resting, not on his own good qualities, but on the righteousness of the Saviour, which "has magnified the law and made it honourable;" and he abounds in works of righteousness, being now become "dead unto the law, but alive unto God;" and these good fruits are at once the proofs of his justification and the pledges of his glory. But all this is reversed according to the Romish method. It is clear, according to the Church of Rome, that the ground of a sinner's justification is not without him, but within him. He is justified, not because Christ has satisfied the law in his room, but because the man himself has become such as the law requires; or, as Romish divines are accustomed to say, the formal cause of justification is inherent or infused righteousness. The death of Christ has to do with our justification only in so for as it has merited the infusion of those good dispositions which are the formal cause of our justification, and whereby we perform those good works which are meritorious of an increase of grace and eternal life. And, as regards faith, "we are not," says Bailly, "justified by faith alone;" and its admitted connection with justification he states to be, not that of an instrument, but of a good work, or part of infused righteousness. The Roman Catholic scheme, therefore, is very clearly one of salvation by good works.
This is the "first justification," as the Roman Catholic divines are accustomed to speak, and in this justification the sinner has no absolute merit, but only that of congruity. It is different in the "second justification," which is thus defined:--"By the observance of the commandments of God and the Church, faith co-operating with good works, they gain an increase of that righteousness which was received by the grace of Christ, and are the more justified." In this "second justification," the man rises to the merit of condignity, his works being positively meritorious and deserving of heaven. It is here that the Romish doctrine of good works is most clearly seen. For though there is a loose reference to the merits of Christ, yet if our good works be meritorious, as is affirmed, there must be a positive obligation, in respect of justice, on God to bestow heaven upon us, and thus salvation is of works. "The merits of men," says Bellarmine, "are not required because of the insufficiency of those of Christ, but because of their own very great efficacy. For the work of Christ hath not only deserved of God that we should obtain salvation, but also that we should obtain it by our own merits." But the thirty-second canon of the sixth session of the Council of Trent puts the matter beyond controversy. "If any one shall say that the good works of a justified man are the gift of God in such a sense that they are not also the good merits of the justified man himself, or that a justified man, by the good works which are done by him through the grace of God, and the merit of Christ, of whom he is a living member, does not truly deserve increase of grace, eternal life, and the actual possession of eternal life if he die in grace, and also an increase of glory, let him be ANATHAMA."
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the justified man has no certainty of eternal life. He may fall, she holds, from a state of grace, and finally perish. Should he so fall, however, that Church has made provision for his recovery, and that recovery is through the sacrament of penance, --the "second plank after shipwreck," as the fathers term it. "Be mindful, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and do penance." Agreeably with this, that Church teaches that "no one can certainly and infallibly know that he has obtained the grace of God." To stand in doubt on this important point she enjoins as a duty, and anathematizes the doctrine of "assurance" as a Protestant heresy.
Thus the fact is incontrovertible, that the scheme of the Church of Rome is one of salvation by works. And the question is shortly this,--Is this scheme agreeable to Scripture, or is it not? Papists cannot refuse the authority of Scripture on this, or on any point, seeing they admit it to be the Word of God. Now, while the Scriptures speak of a reward of grace, they utterly repudiate, both by general principles and positive statements, what Papists maintain,--a reward of merit. If, then, we allow the Bible to decide the controversy, the Church of Rome errs in a point where error is necessarily fatal. Her scheme of salvation by works is a scheme which robs God of his glory, and man of his peace now and his salvation hereafter.
 1 Cor. iii. 11. [Back]
 Eph. xi. 8. [Back]
 Con. Trid. sess. vi. cap. iv. [Back]
 Theol. Mor. et Dog. Petri Dens, tom. ii.,--Tractatus de Justificatione. [Back]
 Perrone's Praelectiones Theologicae, tom. i. p. 1398. [Back]
 Theologia Mor. Ludovico Bailly, tom. v, p. 454. [Back]
 Concil. Trid. sess. vi. cap. v. [Back]
 Ibid. sess. vi. cap. vi. [Back]
 Theol. Mor. et Dog. Petri Dens, tom. ii. p. 450. [Back]
 Perrone's Praelectiones Theologicae, tom. i. p. 1407. [Back]
 Perrone's Praelectiones Theologicae, tom. i. p. 1415: Theologia Mor. Ludovico Bailly, tom. v. p. 456. [Back]
 Concil. Trid. sess. vi. cap. vii. [Back]
 See Concil. Trid. sess. vi. canons, 10-12. [Back]
 Theologia Mor. Ludovico Bailly, tom. v. pp. 458, 462. [Back]
 Concil. Trid. sess. vi. cap. x. [Back]
 Bellarm. de. Justific. lib. v. cap. v. [Back]
 Concil. Trid. sess. vi. can. xxxii. The same doctrine is not less explicitly taught in the sixteenth chapter of same session. [Back]
 Concil. Trid. sess. vi. cap. xiv. [Back]
 Rev. ii. 5, Roman Catholic version. [Back]
 Concil. Trid. sess. vi. cap. ix.[Back]