Our Anglican Confession of Faith [The Articles of Religion] articulates the classic Reformational teaching on the doctrine of Justification by faith alone with succinct clarity.
ARTICLE XI. Of the Justification of Man
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely expressed in the Homily of Justification.
This statement establishes the truth that sinners are only put right with God through trust in the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ - his qualifications, achievements, and virtue accounted as ours and transferred to our credit. By his active and passive obedience, his perfect compliance with the will of the Father throughout his untainted, holy and moral life, and in his sacrificial death, the Son of God has made we rebels who believe just, faultless, blameless, and perfect in the sight of God. Jesus' righteousness is accounted as ours. We have become fully forgiven and accepted by the Lord.
We sinful persons absolutely have no capacity to make any amends to God for the innumerable offenses that we have committed against him. Not even one misdeed of a guilt-laden sinner can be erased by any human intention or futile effort, let alone the ever-increasing toll of our evil thoughts, words and deeds that accumulate daily throughout the course of our lives. Our history is horrid with the secret evils and the openly impure acts that have sprung from the heart. Our present is a struggle with lingering perversities. Our future will be despicable and doomed if we are permitted to continue in the course of wickedness and darkness. We are altogether defiled.
Our demerit increases minute by minute. Rather than improve our deservings before God every product of our fallen nature tallies up heavier and fiercer divine condemnation. Our hearts are veritable springs of unspeakable evil, always gushing forth, instinctively, mentally, and in bodily activity. Our sins and constantly sinning self are forever storing up retribution before the holy and heavenly court, and they inevitably render us wretched and miserable. Every attempt at our impoverished notion of righteousness is iniquitous and only amplifies our arrogant self-reliance, swells our self-praise and inflates our loathsome pride. We are repugnant in our attitudes, the flattery of our egos, smug in our self-esteem.
Sharp conviction of sin, consciousness of unworthiness in the sight of God, anxiety at our sorry plight, fear of our ultimate end in our passage from this life to the next, characterize in varying degrees the state of the awakened conscience, This conversion experience and perturbation of soul is not confined to the medieval mentality. Many times, the question is posed whenever NTW is read or heard; does this man really grasp the gravity of sin and the plight of our condition? The concern is genuinely troubling. Does the Lord merely have to tinker with ordinances and rites (ceremonial law and religious custom) to make it possible for all ethnicities to enter the community of Christ the King? Is there not a thoroughly debased and helpless nature that requires renovation - the gravity of which the apostle Paul is continually addressing in his correspondence to the churches?
It is terribly trite for NTW to belittle Luther's great matter, "How can I find a gracious God?" This quest is to the fore of every awakened seeker's desire for the mercy of our Maker and Judge, before whom we must one day stand. The sense of alarm inevitably poses the question enunciated by our brother Martin.
It is the enquiry the entirety of Holy Scripture, Old and New Testaments, address with maximum appeal and solace.
RIGHT WITH GOD: The Fundamental Consideration.
From the fall of the human race in our first parents all the pages of the biblical narrative and its attendant propositional instruction lay out the divinely wrought Way of Salvation. From the shame and self-concealment of Adam and Eve to the universal flight of mankind from God, the Scriptures affirm that we have departed very far from him. "Man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation." (Article IX. Of Original Sin or Birth-sin).
Sacred Scripture is the horrifying record of the progressive and persistent evil of humanity. Our disposition is depraved and it is our continuous occupation to give vent to our corruption in wrongdoing, willfulness, and waywardness. We hate God, and we hate each other, and in moments of dejection we even loathe ourselves. Having turned our backs on the goodness of God we have fashioned our world in lovelessness and callousness, a lovelessness we deceitfully conceal under a veneer of self-serving civility, pretense of goodwill, and an introverted obsession with our own estimate of wellbeing. We live according to a profound tendency to please ourselves, denying the supremacy of the Lord and unwilling to yield to him.
The marvel of the word of God is his summons to turn back to him through the message of the Gospel of grace, his pledge to the penitent to restore their nature to righteousness, and establish the contrite in an affectionate relationship to him. The full extent of Scripture, in warning and welcome, is invitation and gracious command to get right with him.
"Come mow, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." (Isaiah 1: 18).
SELECTED OLD TESTAMENT WITNESS
We are not right with God: fellowship broken. Disobedience cannot be covered or put to rights by any human devices at all.
Conscience, the internal court within us, convicts of guilt. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" Genesis 3: 7 - 11. All the elements of offense toward God, alienation from God, guilt before God, and utter helplessness to make amends (fig leaves) are present in this narrative of the Fall. Thereafter, wickedness, estrangement from the Lord, a saga of human depravity, and enslavement to sin, characterized Adam's race.
Many measures are undertaken by God to return sinners to himself, various provisions as the Way of Deliverance develops, principally the law to awaken conscience, his Word to guide through the ministry of prophets, and the observance of the sacrificial system. All point to individual and corporate culpability and highlight the Promise of a Redeemer. Intimations of the Promise are dispersed throughout the testimony of the Scriptures of the former covenant and are related by personal disclosure from God and individual cases of wounded conscience which are to related to the nation of Moses in order to facilitate the People Of God, a people for himself. The conversion and call of the individual precedes the call to the collective. Community is of great importance, but it does not negate the religious experience, understanding, and maturation of the individual in the beauty of holiness.
"Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge". Psalm 51 : 2 - 4.
David, predating Luther's medieval obsession, seems deeply concerned by his iniquity, sin, and transgressions (such emphasis on his innate and active evil), and recognizes God as his judge. Here he provides not only references to God's justness but also his own lack of righteousness. Quite a basis for being concerned about being right before God cf "David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.'" Romans 4 : 6 - 8.
Isaiah confronts his own corruption in the smoky presence of the Lord, ' "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." ' Isaiah 6: 5 - 7. Here we see justification partnered to atonement. They are entwined in the way of salvation, and atonement is another area where NTW is decidedly dubious, bordering on blasphemy.
A chorus of sayings emerge from the Old Testament extolling the fact of justification by faith through grace, by virtue of the righteousness and atoning achievement of the Lord Jesus Christ e.g. "I, even I, am he that blots out your transgressions for my own sake; and I will not remember your sins" Isaiah 43 : 25. "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives he transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea." Micah 7 : 18 - 19.
A cleansing and a new righteousness is intimated in Zechariah 3 : 1 - 4. "Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, 'the Lord rebuke you Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?" Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him him, "Take off his filthy clothes." Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, I will put rich garments on you." What can be more plain from the citations for Holy Scripture that God provides a righteousness, alien - not of themselves - for his chosen ones. It is conferred in the setting and vital relationship of faith (union with Christ), and ultimately we come to realize, as we pare away subjective states and efforts, that it is Christ himself and alone who is our justification.
It is Isaiah 53 that is the Old Testament summit of prophetic thought on justification and atonement that is realized in Christ, and won for us by Christ, and wrought within us by Christ - the whole process of reconciliation with the Lord. He makes us right with God by his blood and righteousness. He puts us right with God as substitute and satisfaction. He deflects divine wrath and displeasure away from us by interposing himself between anger against sin and our annihilation because of sin. "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (vv 5 - 6). "By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bare their iniquities." (v IIb). The Lord Jesus has the wisdom and will to do just what is right to put sinners right with God through his knowledge of our plight and his knowledge of his ability to save - the method of redemption.
The whole of the Old Testament's concern about man's avoidance of judgement and want of a Justifier is summed up in Psalm 143:2: "Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you." There is a heavenly court by which we are examined, and the rendition included in the introductory sentences, Morning Prayer, BCP, 1662, renders the gist of the quotation most accurately: "Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord; for in thy sight shall no man be justified."
By Roger Salter
Special to VIRTUEONLINE
May 1, 2020
TO BE CONTINUED...