THE COMPROMISING CHURCH (Part 3)

(Rudiments of the English Reformation)

By Roger Salter
Special to VIRTUEONLINE
www.virtueonline.org

In comparison with the Reformation as it developed in various Continental centers the Reformation in England was by no means second rate. It was a revival in true religion derived from Sacred Scripture as its source and Augustinianism as the best available commentary from human faith and piety. If the Reformers themselves, in the tone of their language, happened to be less dynamic and explicit than the Protestant giants of Europe it was not due to any lack of personal conviction, passion, or precision in theology but an overwhelmingly strong and conscious desire to be pastoral in the 16th century melting pot of diverse spirituality in the national populace. The times were tender, troubled, and dangerous. Motivational integrity was important, and to be recognized and trusted on the English scene. The national leadership was to be seen as a body of Biblically formed bishops and not mere brawlers in overheated and exaggerated controversy. It is to some extent a matter of English temperament coming into play.

Cranmer was everything a Reformer should be for his type of people – a guide well informed, reliant upon God, patient in the search for certainty, cautious in assertion until any matter could be propounded with edifying confidence. He was not rash, but responsible in a situation where human rage could quickly be ignited. His theology was strong but his spirit was meek and he wished for piety to keep pace with doctrinal perception. Every step should be measured. It is known that had he not been martyred he would have steered the Church in England to more radical change (canon law, church polity) as was seen to be necessary. Nonetheless, his heritage is invaluable and he was in harmony with Calvin, Bucer, and Martyr in matters of sin and grace – a Scriptural understanding of human salvation. “His theology was structured by predestination” (Diarmaid MacCulloch, All Things Made New, Oxford, 2016, page 276). England was most fortunate in the divine gift of the humble scholarly, prayerful man who became its first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury.

It is Cranmer’s meekness, carefulness, and generosity of spirit that firm up confidence in his doctrinal convictions, and they were solidly Augustinian and Calvinistic in the realm of soteriology. A right perception of his liturgy and contribution to our Confessional Articles is an unsurpassable nurturing in sound Christian thought, reflection, and spiritual maturity. Other hands assisted his in the formation of the foundation of what is now Reformed Anglicanism, but it is his godly mentality and mood that broods over and permeates authentic Anglican identity and practice. It is not simply partisan, but explanatory, to declare oneself Cranmerian, for such should Anglicanism, at base, happen to be.

Anglicanism is in continuity with the Augustinian tradition, that stream of doctrine and devotion that has been the “gospel glory” of the Church’s mission from its inception in the apostolic age. Hints of sovereign grace are detectable to varying degrees in the belief and teaching of the earliest fathers but it was the sage of Hippo who brought electing love to the height of prominence that it deserves in our understanding of God’s ways and our happiness in Him. A mighty fortress is our God, from foreordination to fulfillment of our pilgrimage. “I think few doctrines more vital than that of the perseverance of the saints, for if ever one child of God did perish, or if I knew it were possible that one could, I should conclude at once that I must, and I suppose each of you would do the same. And then where is the joy and happiness of the gospel? . . . If any body could possibly convince me that final perseverance is not a truth of the Bible I should never preach again, for I feel I should have nothing worth preaching.” In these words of C.H. Spurgeon is exhibited the pastoral intent and consolation of that so-called ‘harsh system’ of Calvinism”. We are tenacious in our Augustinianism for the comfort of all of us weaklings who turn trustingly to Christ – and all are bidden to do so. Whosoever will – but all, by nature won’t. Thank God for effectual calling.

Spurgeon echoes the conviction and concern of our Reformers. The stubborn reliance of human nature on self, and accompanying refusal of God, has to be demolished by the hammer blows of God’s Word, so recalcitrant are our hearts and wills before Him (“Is not my word like a “fire?” says the Lord, “And a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Jeremiah 23:29). It is imperative that we should know our plight in the volitional helplessness and incapacity that pertains to us as sinners if we are to have some, even meager, measure of the great and liberal grace of God that redeems us.

Article 10: Of Free-Will. The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works to faith, and calling upon God : Wherefore we have no power to good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, we have that good will.

The article is considering the impotence of the fallen will in the spiritual realm and with reference to divine commands and invitations that God addresses to his human creatures. It has no bearing on speculative philosophy concerning free agency or determinism. Things above, says Luther, not things below. The Scriptures indubitably affirm our bondage to evil, Satan, and the sinful self and the cumulative proof is overwhelming, e.g. :

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirt, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” [Fleshly factors: mind-set, spiritual death, enmity toward God, rebelliousness, inability, attraction of divine displeasure]. Romans 8:5-8. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” [Fleshly factors: Flesh devoid of spiritual life, flesh utterly impotent, nil value before God]. John 6:63. “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” [Factors: Enslavement, captivity, bondage, unfreedom, the dominion of sin and the devil. “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” John 6:44.

The human will in all things – spiritual (above) and natural (below) – is not an independent faculty in a state of equipoise, sovereignly capable of effecting choices without the pressures of myriad influences brought to bear upon it. Reason, reliable or flawed, and disposition, virtuous or vile, play an important role in every human determination, hasty or considered. Desire, affection, emotion are decisive in formulating our preferences. The natural man, depraved in soul, and defective in every faculty the soul possesses, cannot will that which is contrary to his fallen nature. He is averse to God at the core of his being. He is dead in sin needing deliverance from his essential self. He needs interior resurrection and transformation toward which he is utterly unable to render any contribution. His raging hostility to God, largely restrained by common grace, must be tamed and taken away in the merciful, undefeatable power of God. The Lord as our Maker skillfully adjusts the tendencies of the interior man and woos us by his love and beauty. The heart is “romanced” by the Lover of our souls, and divine love changes affection, attitude and outlook (regeneration).

WITNESSES

“There is always within us a free will, but it is not always good. For it is either free from the control of righteousness when it serves sin – and then it is an evil will; or else it is free from the control of sin when it serves righteousness – and then it is a good will. But the grace of God is always good; and it is by grace that a human being comes to have a good will, though previously he had an evil one.” Aurelius Augustine (354-430)

“The beginning of salvation is conferred by God’s mercy alone. With that mercy the human will then becomes the cooperatrix. In this way the mercy of God comes before and directs the course of the human will; and the human will, being obedient, follows after that same mercy.” Fulgentius of Ruspe (468-533)

“I beg of Thee to force their wills, and dispose them to wish for that for which they do not wish; and this I ask Thee through Thy infinite mercy. Thou hast created us from nothing, now, therefore, that we are in existence, do mercy to us, and remake the vessels which Thou hast created to Thy image and likeness. Re-create them to Grace in Thy mercy and the Blood of Thy Son sweet Christ Jesus.” Catherine of Siena (1347- 1380)

“For what else does what we are saying amount to but: ‘So it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but God’s mercy?’ He (Paul) does not say this as if it were possible for a person to will or to run in vain; what he means is that the man who wills and runs would glory not in himself, but in him from whom he received in the first place the power both to will and to run. In a word: ‘What have you that you did not receive?'” (1 Cor 4:7).

“Without grace man’s heart is incapable of thinking good thoughts, that its capacity to do so come from God.” Bernard of Clairvaux (1090- 1153)

“We do not have a right faith, however, if we do not faithfully understand, above all, whose gift it is. Faith is an element of free will, but of a will freed by grace. The will of a man held captive under sin can never be free unless he is freed by him of whom it is said; ‘If the Son shall free you, then you will be truly free.’ By himself, man is free only to sin. By this liberty all men sin; everyone sins for the delight and love for sinning.”

“If you do not choose to believe, you do not believe. Yet you believe if you choose to; but you do not choose to unless you are first helped by grace. For no one comes to the Son unless the Father draws him. How? By creating in him and inspiring in him a free will whereby he may freely choose that which he chooses; this is so that what he chooses rightly may be of his own will. By God’s inspiration we make a voluntary assent of the mind to those things which concern Him, and what we believe in our heart leads to righteousness, but what we confess by our mouths leads to salvation. And that is faith. Consequently, it has been said: If you choose, you believe; but you do not choose to [believe] unless you are drawn by the Father; and if you choose to, you choose because you are drawn by the Father.” William of St. Thierry (1085-1148)

“In a word, if we be under the god of this world, without the operation and Spirit of God, we are led captive by him at his will, as Paul saith. (2 Tim 2:26.) So that, we cannot will anything but that which he wills. For he is that ‘strong man armed,’ who so keepeth his
palace, that those whom he holds captive are kept in peace, that they may not cause any motion of feeling against him; otherwise, the kingdom of Satan, being divided against itself could not stand; whereas Christ affirms it does stand. And all this we do willingly and desiringly, according to the nature of the will: for if it were forced it would be no longer will. For compulsion is (so to speak) unwillingness. But if the ‘stronger than he’ come and overcome him, and take us as his spoils, then, through the Spirit, we are His servants and captives (which is the royal liberty) that we may desire and do, willingly, what He wills.

Thus the human will is, as it were, a beast between the two. If God sit thereon, it wills and goes where God will: as the Psalm saith, ‘I am become as it were a beast before thee, and I am continually with thee.’ (Psalm 73. 22-23.) If Satan sit thereon, it wills and goes as Satan will. Nor is it in the power of its own will to choose, to which rider it will run, nor which it will seek; but the riders themselves contend, which shall have and hold it.” Martin Luther (1483-1546)

“When the martyr John Bradford (1510-1555) was in prison early in Mary’s reign he felt moved to write to Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer, in prison at Oxford, about the new Pelagians or free-willers: ‘The effects of salvation they so mingle and confound with the cause that if it be not seen to, more hurt will come by them than ever came by the papists – in so much that their life commendeth them to the world more than the papists . . . They utterly contemne all learning'”. The Reformation in England, Sir Maurice Powicke, Oxford paperbacks, London, 1961, page 68.

Article 11. 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 our own works or deservings: wherefore, we are Justified by faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

The relief and joy of the gospel impacts the heart of the penitent sinner with a powerful immediacy. A glorious exchange is announced. Jesus takes our sin away and confers his righteousness upon us. This is the liberating message of the Reformation. This is our benefit derived from Luther’s struggle and Luther’s discovery of a gracious God, long sought. The message of the Spirit through Scripture is objective and clear – carved as it were in the wood of the cross and engraved on the stone that sealed the tomb. Death was rolled away with the stone. In the blood-shedding and death of Christ we are acquitted and guilt expunged. By imputation and reputation the believer is as righteous as the Lord Jesus, for we are accepted and cherished in the Beloved. Our justification is fully achieved in Christ forever without variation in our status and condition before the Almighty.

Because only Christ alone can justify us faith alone receives his virtue and vindication. The whole tenor of the gospel revealed in God’s word justifies the term “alone”. Just as the unbiblical word “Trinity” is the only way to describe and honor the nature of God, so Luther’s inspired conclusion that “faith alone” saves is grammatically and soteriologically necessary.

But it was not Luther alone who upheld the motto “faith alone”. In this choice of phraseology he was no inventor and the fuss over his verbal usage in commending the grace of God is entirely unnecessary. Hans Kung observes:

“The controversy began when in 1521 Luther translated Romans 3:28 as, “That a man be justified . . . by faith alone.” This has earned him much abuse from the Catholic side, even the reproach of falsifying Scripture.” [Professor David Starkey take note! Academics are not as infallible as they sometimes like to think, especially when they misguide the minds of millions through the media and promote unwarranted prejudice imperiling salvation – RJS]. “The formula sola fide can be taken for orthodoxy since the “alone” may be understood as a plausible way of making clear the statement in Romans 3:28. This much is certain – the “alone” in the translation is not Luther’s invention. Even before the Reformation there were already such translations. . . Nor did the Council of Trent intend to say anything against the formula in itself. . . Even more significant than the translations is the fact that the formula definitely belongs to Catholic tradition. Bellarmine (De iustificatione II, 25) realized this and cited the following for the Reformation formula: Origin, Hillary, Basil, Chrysostom, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, and especially Ambrosiaster and Bernard . . . ‘Sola fide’ makes good sense when it is used to express what was stressed in the foregoing chapters – that is, the total incapacity of man for any kind of self-justification. In justification the sinner can give nothing which he does not receive by God’s grace. He stands there with his hands entirely empty” (Justification, Burns and Oates, London, 1981).

Luther defends his translation: “In Romans 3, I know right well that the word solum was not in the Greek or Latin text . . . It is a fact that these four letters s-o-l-a are not there. . . At the same time . . . the sense of them is there and . . . the word belongs there if the translation is to be clear and strong. I wanted to speak German, not Latin or Greek, since I had undertaken to speak German in the translation. But it is the nature of our German language that in speaking of two things, one of which is admitted and the other denied, we use the word ‘only’ along with the word ‘not’ or ‘no’. So we say, ‘The farmer brings only grain and no money’; ‘No I have no money now, but only grain’; ‘I have only eaten and not drunk’; ‘Did you only write it, and not read it over?’ There are innumerable cases of this in daily use. . . when works are so completely cut away, the meaning of it must be that faith alone justifies, and one who would speak plainly and clearly about this cutting away of all works, must say, ‘Faith alone justifies us and not works.’ The matter itself, and not the nature of the language only, compels this translation . . . ”

WITNESSES

David means that those who are blessed are those whom God has willed to justify in his sight by faith alone; ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputes not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile’ (Psalm 32 1-2). Ambrose of Milan (c339 – 397)

But a man who knows that he is justified by faith through the merits and righteousness of Christ works solely for the love of God and Christ his Son. He does not do so for any love of self-justification. The result is that the true Christian (that is, one who sees himself justified by the righteousness of Christ) does not ask himself whether good works are demanded or not. Instead he is compelled and impelled by the power of divine love. He offers himself willingly to do all the good works that are holy and Christ-like. He will never cease to do well. Don Benedetto (16th century)

“It is a faithful word and worthy of all acceptance, since, ‘When we were still sinners we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son’ (Romans 5 : 8-10). Where there is reconciliation, there is also forgiveness of sins. For if, as Scripture states (Isa 59:2), our sins separate us from God, there is no reconciliation where sin remains. Now in what is the forgiveness of sins? ‘This cup,’ he says, ‘is the new covenant in my blood, which will be poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 22:20; Matt 26:28). So where there is reconciliation, there is forgiveness of sins, and what is that if not justification? So whether we talk of reconciliation, forgiveness of sins, or justification – or redemption or liberation from the chains of the devil (by whom we were kept captive at his will) – it is by the intervention of the death of the Only-Begotten that we come to be justified freely by the blood of him ‘in whom’, as he says again, ‘we have redemption through his blood and the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7). Bernard of Clairvaux

“I am not the only one or the first to say that faith alone justifies. Ambrose said it before me, and Augustine, and many others; and if a man is going to read St. Paul and understand him, he will have to say the same thing and can say nothing else. Paul’s words are too strong; they endure no works, none at all; and if it is not a work, it must be faith alone. How could such a fine, improving, inoffensive doctrine, if people were taught that they might become righteous by works, beside faith? That would be as much as to say that it was not Christ death alone that takes away our sins, but that our works , too, did something toward it; and it would be a fine honoring of Christ’s death to say that our works helped it and could do that which He does, and that we were good and strong like Him. This is of the devil, who cannot leave the blood of Christ without abuse.”

As long as I recognize that I can in no way be righteous in the sight of God . . . I then begin to ask for righteousness from him. Martin Luther

Now let us see how justification is given, if it is not attributed to works. It is given freely, and depends completely on the grace of God alone. For in no way does it depend on merits. Peter Martyr Vermigli (1491- 1562)

That we say, faith only justifieth, ought to offend no man. For if this be true, that Christ only redeemed us, Christ only bore our sins, made satisfaction for them, and purchased the favour of God; then it must needs be true that the trust only in Christ’s deserving and in the promises of God the Father, made to us for Christ’s sake, doth alone quiet the conscience and certify it that the sins are forgiven. William Tyndale (c1494-1536)

This proposition, that we be justified by faith only, freely, and without works, is spoken for to take away clearly all merit of our works, as being insufficient to deserve our justification at God’s hands, and thereby most plainly to express the weakness of man and the goodness of God, the great infirmity of ourselves and the might and power of God, the imperfectness of our own works and the most abundant grace of our Saviour Christ; and thereby wholly to ascribe the merit and deserving of our justification unto Christ only and His most precious blood-shedding . . . So that our faith in Christ (as it were) saith unto us thus: It is not I that take away your sins, but it is Christ only; and to Him only I send you for that purpose, renouncing therein all your good virtues, words, thoughts, and works, and only putting your trust in Christ. Thomas Cranmer(1489-1556)

To be continued…

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