Sunday, January 04, 2009

0 The Root Cause of Errors Concerning Justification

John Brown begins in earnest in chapter 2 of his work, "A Life of Justification Opened," to explain the doctrine of justification by first training his sights on the root cause of doctrinal error concerning justification. In this chapter, his aim is to remind us of the fact that the true Gospel of a fully gracious justification runs counter to the natural tendency of man to want to lift himself up. We want to 'play a part' and contribute something, according to our nature. He notes that
...there is a corrupt bias in the heart of men by nature, and a strong inclination, to reject the Gospel doctrine of free justification, through faith in Christ; and to ascribe too much to themselves, in that affair: as if they would hold the life of justification, not purely of the free grace and rich mercy of God, through Jesus Christ; but of themselves, either in whole, or in part, in one measure, or another. (p. 9, John Brown of Wamphray, "A Life of Justification Opened")
We value our own contributions too much, and do not readily lay aside claims to our own self-help. Particularly, I think, in the times in which we live, to submit to a salvation wholly of another's doing is too detrimental to self-esteem. But this Gospel is exactly that which must be proclaimed, Brown argues - it must be presented so that it is clear that
in very deed, free Gospel justification is so contrived and ordered as that none have any real ground of boasting, or of glorying in themselves, or of ascribing any part of the glory thereof unto themselves, as if they, by their deeds or works, did contribute anything to the procuring thereof. (p. 9, John Brown of Wamphray, "A Life of Justification Opened")
In this section, and in the treatise in general, Brown addresses not simply justification by works in its rawest and most crass form, but in the many forms that justification by some partial contribution on our behalf that have arisen in the church, and exist today. It is the subtler errors that we should be most concerned about - the subtler ways in which we corrupt true doctrine of wholly gracious justification and subtitute a poor replacement that enables us to contribute just a little bit to our salvation. Brown writes:
This is most manifest from the many errors and false opinions, that are vented, owned and maintained, with so much violence and corrupt zeal, and all to cry up self, in less, or in more; and to cry down grace. Hence so many do plead, with great confidence, for an interest of our works, in our justification; such as Papists, (who quite mistake the nature of true justification) Socinians, Arminians, and others, who side with these in less, or in more, and will plead for a justification by our inherent righteousness, or works of righteousness, which we do. Others, that will not plead for such an early interest of our works, in this matter, will plead for faith, as our Gospel righteousness; and affirm, that the very act of our obedience in us, is imputed for a righteousness to us, and is accounted such by God; and so, hath the same place in the New Covenant, that complete and perfect obedience had in the Old Covenant of works, made with Adam; which, as shall hereafter appear, drives us upon the same rock. (p. 10, John Brown of Wamphray, "A Life of Justification Opened")
If not simply works as such, there are those in Brown's day who would argue for acceptance as righteousness our 'evangelical obedience' or our faith itself, as though that could serve as the ground for our being accounted righteous. All of these are erroneous, and give man glory and reason for boasting (even in the seemingly humble case of a man offering his faith as the sacrifice on the basis of which he is decalred 'righteous' by God) as Brown will show in the coming chapters of this treatise. If justification is not a declaration of righteousness that is grounded WHOLLY outside ourselves, then we have fallen prey to the sinful tendency to find some ground for acceptance within us - and have corrupted the truth of the Gospel.



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