Providence Presbytery
of the Presbyterian Church in America
Justification: from Jonathan Edwards: - April 21, 2010
A Mini-Theology by John H. Gerstner

Articulus stantis aut candentis ecclesiae ('the doctrine by which the church stands or falls') - so said Martin Luther about justification by faith alone. John Calvin agreed, calling justification by faith the 'hinge' of the Reformation. But was that the historic Christian view? One may say generally of the history of the doctrine of justification that solafideanism (justification ¬ by ¬ faith ¬ aloneism) was taught implicitly, but not explicitly, from the beginning of the church. That is, it was known in the early church that salvation was by faith alone, but not until the sixteenth century was the church called upon to define that teaching more precisely. Those in the church who had quietly apostatized, opposed this essential truth (adheres of Tridentine Roman Catholicism), while the faithful (Protestants) affirmed it. The Reformers defined and refined the doctrine in the fires of controversy. The historian of doctrine, Louis Berkhof, correctly observed that in the early church faith 'was generally regarded as the outstanding instrument for the reception of the merits of Christ, and was often called the sole means of salvation.'1 Faith rather than works was 'repeatedly expressed by the Apostolic Fathers, and reoccur[s] in the Apologists.''2 The most influential theologian of the early church was certainly Augustine (354¬430). Before we consider his teaching about our crucial doctrine, we note in passing that the standard creed of the Reformation, the Augsburg Confession (1530), found solafideanism in Augustine's mentor and predecessor, Ambrose, under whose preaching Augustine was converted. Article VI of the Confession speaks of solafideanism: 'The same [justification by faith] is also taught by the Fathers: For Ambrose says, 'It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved freely receiving.'' In spite of this, many cannot find the doctrine in Augustine. Many historical theologians interpret him as confusing justification with sanctification, of which justification is merely a part.3 This is not accurate, however. Though Augustine finds justification and sanctification inseparable, they are not indistinguishable. Augustinian justification leads into sanctification, but is not confused with it. According to Augustine, man's faith in Christ justifies him.4 Confession of Christ is efficacious for the remission of sins.5 We are justified by the blood of Christ,6 and we have no merits which are not the gifts of God.7 Of course, faith is active through love (fides quae cantate operatur), but this does not imply that justification is on the basis of love. Before we leave Augustine, a relatively recent Roman Catholic work requires attention. Father P. Bergauer's Der Jakobusbrief bei Augustinus (The Epistle of James According to Augustine) shows clearly that Luther disagreed not only with the Epistle of James but with Augustine as well.8 Luther became convinced that James was opposed to Paul's doctrine of justification by faith alone and thus dismissed the epistle as non-canonical. This is well¬known, but Bergauer also notes that in so doing, Luther was consciously departing from Augustine as well. We sadly agree with Bergauer that Luther erred with respect to both James and Augustine. Bergauer's work confirms, however, what we will shortly note, that Luther was clearly a solafidean, although without recognizing that James and Augustine were also. The Reformer erred, apparently because he could not find explicit forensic language in either James or Augustine. Ian Sellers sees that it is the post¬Augustinian movement which 'conflates the immediacy of the act of justification with the later process of sanctification.'9 Nevertheless, many post Augustinians kept their concepts clear as we will see even in the Scholastic era, though many did not. For the complete article go to the web-site: