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Justification: Anglican Alignment With the Apostle James

Justification: Anglican Alignment With the Apostle James
Parts 2 and 3

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
May 21, 2013

James Buchanan (1804 - 1870) was a Scottish pastor and theologian. Renowned for his powerful preaching he eventually went on to succeed Dr. Thomas Chalmers as Professor of Systematic Theology in New College, Edinburgh. Among his many titles the most enduring are The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit and, the subject for his "Cunningham Lectures" (1866), Justification which, in his Introductory Essay in 1961, Dr. J.I. Packer described as "still the best text-book on its subject, from the standpoint of the classic covenant theology, that the student can find". Buchanan's invaluable treatise is now available from Solid Ground Christian Books.

James Buchanan on Anglicanism

Anglicanism is the breakthrough variety of Christianity that rose to the fore in the heroic return to Scripture in 16th century England under the guidance of a galaxy of saintly and scholarly Reformers dedicated to the cause of making the way of salvation through Christ clear to the people of that nation.

That way had been obfuscated by the deviations and inventions of the medieval papal church. Through the restoration of revealed truth an errant Catholicism was to be Reformed.

The intent of Anglicanism was not to create a new religious phenomenon or ecclesiastical entity but simply to renew the ancient faith of Jesus Christ for pastoral reasons and the honor of God. Anglicanism boasts nothing unique or innovative but mere adherence to the Gospel of Grace.

Its lovers and advocates are not wedded to system and denomination but to the knowledge of God, the obedience of his will, the way of Jesus Christ, and the worship of the glorious Three in One. Its character evinces national and cultural traits and historical conditioning but in essence it is the expression of a divine work wrought among the English, and a godly heritage bestowed upon successive generations for the nation's wellbeing.

Anglicanism does not seek to proselytize for the sake of affiliates to an institution as if it were the only valid option but it exists to show forth Christ as clearly and as winsomely as possible to a world in dire need of his salvation. It is not a competitor for the snatching of the Lord's sheep but a collaborator in the labor of winning the souls of men to the kingdom of God.

The uniqueness of Anglicanism is the "shared uniqueness" of all those who retain loyalty to teachings of the Lord Jesus. Its primary purpose is to present him as the alone Saviour of mankind through divine mercy and power alone. Non-Anglicans are entitled to examine our credentials and worthiness for the sacred task.

James Buchanan, like all orthodox Protestants, was an earnest friend of Reformed Anglicanism (not so called at that time) as the authentic voice of the great work of God wrought in England under the guidance of Thomas Cranmer and his associates. Fellow members of the international family of Reformed Churches admired, and still admire, the theological competence and ecclesiastical accomplishments of the English Reformers and their successors through to the end of the reign of James the First.

They formed an admirable band of servants of Christ and for a time, as Buchanan agrees, the Church of England was deservedly described as 'the great bulwark of the Reformation'. "Their writings are a precious legacy to the universal Church of Christ," Buchanan himself wrote of our Reformers, - an armory richly furnished with all needful weapons in defense of the common faith - and a storehouse of spiritual instruction for minds of the highest culture. They did signal service at an early period to the cause of the Reformation; Protestantism is indebted to them for some of the ablest refutations of the errors of Rome".

Thereafter, Buchanan summarizes the sad decline of Reformed theology in the Carolinian period and beyond:

"Such was the well-earned character of the Church of England in her earliest and best times. But if we are to believe some of her modern divines, she never was distinctively Protestant, and was always more in accord with the Church of Rome, than with the Churches of the Reformation."

The seeds of High-churchmanship, Broad-churchmanship, and Rationalism eventually flowered into distinct parties within the English Church each of which repudiated the Reformational character of the Articles of Religion and the Evangelical sense of the Cranmerian liturgy that espoused and exposed the vital principal of Justification by faith alone.

The assertion was made that the Established Church, "never taught, and does not now teach, in any of her authorized formularies the doctrine of a 'forensic' Justification, as it was held by Luther and Zwingli and Calvin; but speaks only of a 'moral' Justification, consisting in pardon and renovation, or depending, at least, on repentance and obedience, - and that this doctrine of a 'moral' Justification is opposed to that of the Reformers, on the one hand,- and yet not identical, in all respects, with that of the Council of Trent, on the other; while it is in entire accordance with the teaching of the Fathers, and the consent of Catholic antiquity".

Buchanan criticizes the drift from the plain meaning of the Articles on the obvious ground that they must be interpreted according to the original understanding and intent of their framers and organizers, especially Cranmer, Ridley, and Jewel, all thoroughly of Reformed and Calvinistic sentiment.

"It is certain that Calvin was an esteemed correspondent of Cranmer, and that Peter Martyr and John Knox were his zealous fellow-laborers. In fact, for a long time after the Reformation, - down, indeed, to the times of Laud, - the prevailing theology of the most eminent divines of England was the same in substance with that which was then generally received on the continent of Europe."

"It is not alleged, either that they received it implicitly from Calvin, or, Luther, or Zwingli, or that on minor points there might not be different shades of opinion between them; for they were a noble brotherhood of free enquirers, united only in the bonds of the Gospel; and while they gave and received mutual aid in the exposition of truth, they all alike drew their doctrine mainly from the earnest study of God's inspired Word."

When we turn to the Articles, this one fact should be conclusive;- all the Protestant Churches, at home or abroad, Lutheran and Calvinistic, whether they be adherents of the Augsburg, or the French, or the Belgic, or the Westminster Confessions, will cheerfully accept the 11th Article, and the 'Homily of Salvation', as being in substance a sound and correct expression of their faith on the subject of Justification, - provided only they be allowed to understand them in their plain and obvious meaning."

"At the era of the Reformation, therefore, the Church of England formed no exception to the unanimity which then prevailed in regard to the ground and method of a sinner's acceptance with God; and if the light of the Gospel, which dawned upon her at first so brightly, has often since then suffered a partial eclipse, she has always preserved her Articles and Homilies as their authorized exponents of her creed; and there has never been awanting, in any age of her history, some faithful and stedfast witnesses to the truth, such as Davenant and Downham, Barlow and Beveridge, Andrewes, and even the 'judicious' Hooker, - who continued to shine 'like lights in a dark place', and transmitted a noble testimony to the generation following."

Buchanan delineates several influences that led to the deterioration in Anglican theology after such a noble testimony to the doctrines of grace:

1) The skillful defense of Roman theology by the able scholars of the Council of Trent. 2) The work of scholars who maintained that there was no real difference between Romish and Reformed doctrine. 3) The rise of Arminian and Pelagian error introduced soon after the Synod of Dort. 4) The extreme opinions of the Antinomian party strongly advanced during the troubled period of the Commonwealth. 5) Neonomianism which propounded the doctrine of Justification as consisting mainly in substituting the personal righteousness of the believer, for the imputed righteousness of Christ, as that which is the immediate or proximate ground of his acceptance.

"In this respect, it is substantially the same with the doctrine of the Romish Church; but its Evangelical character was supposed to be sufficiently preserved by ascribing to Christ the whole merit of procuring - not the pardon and acceptance of any sinner - but a 'new law of Grace,' whose conditions he might fulfil for himself so as to secure his own justification; a law so relaxed and modified that it does not, like the old law, require perfect obedience, but accepts and rewards any kind or amount of obedience, however imperfect, if only it be sincere."

Buchanan identified these five phenomena as the sources of doctrinal declension in the Church of England. Behind these Buchanan detected the natural tendency towards self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is the poison that makes bad doctrine lethal. We humans, universally, do not comprehend the spiritual nature of the law and our incapacity to keep it and our inherent hatred towards it. Our enslavement to sin and hostility toward God petrifies the will in terms of making the slightest move towards God apart from regeneration - a sovereign act solely of God. The denial of a free Justification is inevitably the denial of free grace. It robs us of the very nectar of the Gospel which enables us to affirm that having no righteousness of our own, no desire for it, no ability to attain it, we are accounted righteous before God through the righteousness of Christ. Justification is a gift personally granted to us by our divine champion. How infinitely sweet. God has chosen to do it all - put us right with himself through the obedience of his Son, and his perfect work of restoration is not tainted by anything of ours. That awareness sends us into raptures of joy - that God should love us so dearly as not to commit our safety to any weak contribution of ours.

To refute Justification by faith alone amounts to spiritual cruelty. Our pride remains unbroken however pious we may be. We place too heavy a yoke upon the ungodly who feel their burden of sin and mistrust their hearts to do anything true or worthy before God. The role of Christian ministry is first to humble the sinner with the knowledge of his spiritual destitution and helplessness; then to heal and hearten him with the good news of grace. We must not hinder the sinner's approach to God or delay their deliverance. We must all hit rock bottom before we find our refuge in the Rock upon which we may stand confidently before God for all eternity. The essence of Reformed Protestantism is to be able to observe the distinction between the divine dealing with sin as guilt and the divine dealing with sin as a power. The gracious divine answer to the first is Justification - pardon and acceptance. When we are accepted the process of our purification begins - Sanctification. Justification is instantaneous and Sanctification commences concurrently and is gradual.

This distinction is imperative for a right comprehension and presentation of the Gospel.


Justification: Anglican Alignment With the Apostle James

Buchanan's Vindication of the Doctrine of Article 11

Perhaps the greatest and most enduring challenge to the Reformational stance on Justification within the Church of England (though the New Perspective on Paul probably creates as much confusion and endangerment to the Gospel if it is not successfully countered) came with the ascendancy of the Tractarian movement and the views of its major leaders John Newman and Edward B. Pusey.

Newman was the principal advocate of the notorious notion that the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion could be interpreted in a manner consistent with the doctrines of the Church of Rome. It was this development that created the largely acrimonious clash between the Catholic and Protestant parties as to which was the legitimate claimant to the guardianship of the historic theology and practice of the Church of England.

While tensions and animosity have to a large extent abated, and mutual respect cultivated, - for many thinkers of a catholic tendency have very ably defended the grounds for Christian faith, the veracity of Holy Scripture, the declarations of the Creeds, and have enriched Anglican spirituality, - nonetheless there is a serious cleavage between these churchmanships as to how salvation through Christ is grasped. Much agreement is achievable in the realms of apologetics, ethics, and personal Christian development, but it is the priority of Reformed Evangelicalism to think, speak, and proclaim God's way of justifying the sinner with absolute clarity in all its consoling power.

"The attempt to construct a "via media" between the Popish ad Protestant doctrines of Justification, which was made by Dr . Newman while he was yet a clergyman of the Church of England, resulted only in his laying down, not a third line of rails that should run parallel with the other two, but a crossing merely, by which he, and many of his followers, might effect a passage from one to the other."

"He seems to have concluded that it was safer, on the whole, to accept the Popish, than to adhere to the Protestant doctrine."

How striking the contrast, in this respect, between Dr. Newman and Cardinal Bellarmine. The Romish cardinal contended, with great ability and zeal, as a first rate controversialist , against the Protestant doctrine, but ended by making his memorable confession - 'IT IS THE SAFEST COURSE, - by reason of the UNCERTAINTY OF OUR OWN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, and the danger of vain glory, - to repose OUR WHOLE TRUST in the mercy and loving kindness of God ALONE;' the Englishman contended, with the utmost activity of a very subtle intellect, for a 'via media' of his own, but ended by abandoning the doctrine of the Reformers, and uniting himself with the Church of Rome."

Here, incidentally, is found sufficient refutation of the claim that our justification, beginning with faith, comes to fulfillment through our grace-inspired works. We must always, on that basis, dread the possibility that our works are not righteous enough in terms of holiness and perfect love; and if we dare to assume that our works are satisfactory how could we possibly avoid "the danger of vain glory". Pride is always whispering in the ear and to the ego of the best of saints. The formula "faith plus" raises huge doubts over the quality of the "plus" and consigns the soul to the whirlwinds of radical and ever-present insecurity. Only the doctrine of Justification by faith alone does justice to the wonderful and boundless grace of God, and only that doctrine is kind to the convinced sinner who trembles at his desperate condition. Tell a real sinner that his right relationship with God is partly determined by his works and he will instantly cry, "I am ruined.".

Buchanan exhibits the fact that Newman's understanding of Justification is riddled with complexity and contradiction, "The difficulty which one feels in dealing with it, arises not so much from the strength of his arguments, as from the subtle and intricate terms in which they are expressed, - from the frequent occurrence of paradoxical, or contradictory, statements, - and what Lord Jeffrey called a sort of 'wriggling lubricity,' which makes them elude our grasp, the more firmly we attempt to hold them" (shades of the Federal Vision theology).

"But these are not its worst features; it is an elaborate attempt to overthrow the Protestant doctrine of Justification, and to undermine the only ground of a sinner's acceptance with God. As such it has been characterized in strong terms by Dr. Bennett*, when he says that, since the Council of Trent, 'perhaps there has never been a book published, at least among Protestants (as Newman was at the time), more full of insidious, but determined, opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ as our righteousness. Contradiction, obscurity, mystification . . .monkish gloom, and schismatic profession of dissent from Protestants and from Romanists - all are brought into the field, to bear gainst the only righteousness in which a sinner can stand before God' " (Dr. James Bennett*, Justification as revealed in Scripture, in opposition to the Council of Trent, and Mr. Newman's Lectures, 1840).

The Christian Gospel is the revelation of the glory of God and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Its intention is to bring us to the exclusive trust, gratefulness, and praise to the triune God alone.

The doctrine of Justification as it is derived from Scripture and described by the Reformation is an open door into the wonderland of divine goodness to the wholly undeserving. Hide that entrance to the presence and favor of God by false directions and poisonous overhanging vines of wrong teaching and at the very least you delay discovery, but worse still you may deny admission for ever. We cannot risk the clarity and integrity of the Gospel by adding to it, obscuring it in any way, or reducing the divinely given ease of access to life through the righteousness of Christ for those who are devoid of virtue and merit entirely.

The works necessary to salvation have been wrought by him. The rectitude that entitles us to the favor and friendship of the Father is his. All adulation and adoration is due to God. Justification by faith alone secures these convictions and it is jealousy for the honor of God that will cause us ever to cling to that splendid, ingenious, and generous method of reconciling us to God. We are indebted to the righteousness of Christ accounted as ours (acceptance) and our sins are remitted by the shedding of his blood (pardon). We will not vandalize the salvific masterpiece of God by daubing it with the miserable scratchings and graffiti of our own efforts whether our tools come from Rome, or Newman and his fellow artificers. We folk of the Reformation see red as the colour of our salvation - the rosy red blood of the Redeemer (John Donne). And we cannot help but see red - the red of indignation - when there are attempts to mix the pure grace of God with the polluted works of man. It robs God of his praise and men of the possession of salvation. It fosters within us a self-congratulatory sense of contributing to our own salvation - "thanks be to God and me".

"It has been said, that a 'period of about seventy years, or two generations, seems generally sufficient to complete a thorough and entire change in the prevailing system of theology; that in 1560, under Archbishop Parker, the Church of England was Calvinistic and thoroughly Protestant; . . . that in 1630, - seventy years after, - under Archbishop Laud, the same Church had become Arminian, and scarcely, or very faintly, Protestant;' and that if we ' once more pass over seventy years, and come down to the year 1700, a third, and totally different school from either of the former meets our view, for the Tillotsons and Burnets are neither of the school of Parker, nor yet do they resemble Laud.' "

Buchanan goes on to describe, by means of seventies, other periods in the saga of the Church of England. His closing musings are prophetic.

"What course events may take, it is impossible to foretell; but, looking to mere human probabilities, of two schemes, one or other is likely to be attempted, or perhaps each of them in succession; - either the Established churches will be stript of a definite creed, if not by a legislative act, by the more insidious method of judge-made law; and made so comprehensive as to include men of all shades of opinion, from semi-Popery, through the various grades of Pelagian, Arian, and Socinian error, down to ill-disguised infidelity."

Looking at our Anglican Communion we appear to be in that period now. Let us pray that our exile into comprehensiveness and infidelity will be cut short; that we will emerge into the freedom and clarity of Gospel truth and once again become stoutly Reformed and Protestant strenuously holding to Scripture and boldly declaring its faith without equivocation and compromise.

Article 11: Justification

It is not because of any good works or deservings on our part, but only by faith which rests on the merit of our Lord and saviour jesus Christ, that we are accounted righteous before God. Therefore the doctrine that we are justified by faith alone is most edifying and full of strength and comfort. (This doctrine is more fully explained in the Homily on Justification in the First Book of Homilies.) - See Church Society.

Post Script

The world says, because we preach faith we deny good works, this is the usual objection against the doctrine of imputed righteousness, but it is a slander, an impudent slander. It was a maxim in the first reformers' time, that though the Arminians preached up good works, you must go to the Calvinists for them. Christ's sheep study to be useful, and to clothe all they can; we should labour with our hands, that we may give to all those that need. George Whitefield

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church

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