YE have heard of whom all men ought to seek their justification and righteousness, and how also this righteousness cometh unto men by Christ's death and merits: ye heard also how that three things are required to the obtaining of our righteousness, that is, GODS mercy, Christ's justice, and a true and a lively faith, out of the which faith springs good works. Also before was declared at large, that no man can be justified by his own good works, that no man fulfills the Law, according to the full request of the Law.
And S. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians proves the same, saying thus, If there had been any law given which could have justified, verily righteousness should have been by the law. And again he saith, If righteousness be by the Law, then Christ died in vain (Galatians 2.21). And again he saith, You that are justified by the law, are fallen away from grace. And furthermore he writes to the Ephesians on this wise, By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of your selves, for it is the gift of GOD, and not of works, lest any man should glory (Ephesians 2.8-9). And to be short, the sum of all Paul's disputation is this: that if justice come of works, then it cometh not of grace: and if it come of grace, then it cometh not of works. And to this end tend all the Prophets, as Saint Peter saith in the tenth of the Acts. Of Christ all the Prophets (faith S. Peter) do witness that through his name, all they that believe in him, shall receive the remission of sins (Acts 10.43).
Faith only justifies, is the doctrine of old Doctors. And after this wise to be justified only by this true and lively faith in Christ, speaks all the old and ancient Authors, both Greeks and Latins. Of whom I will specially rehearse three, Hilary, Basil, and Ambrose. Saint Hilary saith these words plainly in the ix. Canon upon Matthew, Faith only justifies. And Saint Basil a Greek author writes thus, This is a perfect and whole rejoicing in GOD when a man advances not himself for his own righteousness, but acknowledges himself to lack true justice and righteousness, and to be justified by the only faith in Christ. And Paul (saith hee) doth glory in the contempt of his own righteousness, and that he looks for the righteousness of GOD, by faith (Philipp. 3.9).
These be the very words of Saint Basil. And Saint Ambrose, a Latin Author, saith these words, This is the ordinance of GOD, that they which believe in Christ, should be saved without works, by faith only, freely receiving remission of their sins. Consider diligently these words, Without works by faith only, freely we receive remission of our sins. What can be spoken more plainly, then to say, That freely without works, by faith only we obtain remission of our sins? These and other like sentences, that we be justified by faith only, freely, and without works, we do read oft times in the most best and ancient writers. As beside Hilary, Basil, and Saint Ambrose before rehearsed, we read the same in Origen, Saint Chrisostome, Saint Cyprian, Saint Augustine, Prosper, Oecumenius, Phocius, Bernardus, Anselme, and many other Authors, Greek, and Latin.
Faith alone, how it is to be understood. Nevertheless, this sentence, that we be justified by faith only, is not so meant of them, that the said justifying faith is alone in man, without true repentance, hope, charity, dread, and the fear of GOD, at any time and season. Nor when they say, That we be justified freely, they mean not that we should or might afterward be idle, and that nothing should be required on our parts afterward: Neither they mean not so to be justified without good works, that we should do no good works at all, like as shall be more expressed at large hereafter. But this saying, 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 unable to deserve our justification at GODS hands, and thereby most plainly to express the weakness of man, and the goodness of GOD, the great infirmity of our selves, and the might and power of GOD, the imperfectness of our own works, and the most abundant grace of our Savior Christ, and therefore wholly to ascribe the merit and deserving of our justification unto Christ only, and his most precious blood shedding.
The profit of the doctrine of faith only justifies. This faith the holy Scripture teaches us, this is the strong Rock and foundation of Christian Religion, this doctrine all old and ancient Authors of Christ's Church do approve, this doctrine advances and sets forth the true glory of Christ, and beats down the vain glory of man, this whosoever denies, is not to be accounted for a Christian man, nor for a setter forth of Christ's glory, but for an adversary to Christ and his Gospel, and for a setter forth of mens vain glory.
What they be that impugn the doctrine of Faith only justifies. And although this doctrine be never so true (as it is most true indeed) that we be justified freely without all merit of our own good works (as Saint Paul doth express it) and freely by this lively and perfect faith in Christ only (as the ancient authors used to speak it) yet this true doctrine must be also truly understood and most plainly declared, lest carnal men should take unjustly occasion thereby to live carnally, after the appetite and will of the world, the flesh and the devil.
A declaration of this doctrine of faith without works justifies. And Because no man should err by mistaking of this doctrine, I shall plainly and shortly so declare the right understanding of the same, that no man shall justly think that hee may thereby take any occasion of carnal liberty, to follow the desires of the flesh, or that thereby any kind of sin shall be committed, or any ungodly living the more used.
First, you shall understand, that in our justification by Christ, it is not all one thing, the office of GOD unto man, and the office of man unto GOD. Justification is not the office of man, but of GOD, or man cannot make himself righteous by his own works, neither in part, nor in the whole, for that were the greatest arrogance and presumption of man, that Antichrist could set up against GOD, to affirm that a man might by his own works, take away and purge his own sins, and so justify himself.
Justification is the office of God only. But justification is the office of GOD only, and is not a thing which we render unto him, but which we receive of him: not which we give to him, but which we take of him, by his free mercy, and by the only merits of his most dearly beloved Son, our only Redeemer, Savior, and Justifier Jesus Christ: so that the true understanding of this doctrine, We be justified freely by faith without works, or that we be justified by faith in Christ only, is not, that this our own act, to believe in Christ, or this our faith in Christ, which is within us, doth justify us, and deserve our justification unto us (for that were to count our selves to be justified by some act or virtue that is within our selves) but the true understanding and meaning thereof is, that although we hear GODS word, and believe it, although we have faith, hope, charity, repentance, dread, and fear of GOD within us, and do never so many works thereunto: yet we must renounce the merit of all our said virtues, of faith, hope, charity, and all other virtues and good deeds, which we either have done, shall do, or can do, as things that be far too weak and insufficient, and imperfect, to deserve remission of our sins, and our justification, and therefore we must trust only in GODS mercy, and that sacrifice which our high Priest and Savior Christ Jesus the son of GOD once offered for us upon the Crosse, to obtain thereby GODS grace, and remission, as well of our original sin in Baptism, as of all actual sin committed by us after our Baptism, if we truly repent, and turn unfeignedly to him again. So that as S. John Baptist, although he were never so virtuous and godly a man, yet in this matter of forgiving of sin, he did put the people from him, & appointed them unto Christ, saying thus unto them, Behold, yonder is the lamb of GOD, which taketh away the sins of the world (John 1.29): even so, as great and as godly a virtue as the lively faith is, yet it puts us from it self, and remits or appoints us unto Christ, for to have only by him remission of our sins, or justification. 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, forsaking therein all your good virtues, words, thoughts, and works, and only putting your trust in Christ.