I love these two quotes articulating with power and absolute clarity the wonderful truth that we, as sinners, are justified (reckoned as righteous in the sight of God) by faith alone.
The first quote, by John Owen, could have been written today. It certainly needs to be heard today. He points out that many, out of pious anti-antimomian motives, err when they include works in the definition of the faith by which we are justified. Watch out for that venomous snake in the grass! We are not justified by “obedient faith,” as Norman Shepherd would say, but by faith alone. In its role as the instrument by which we are justified, faith excludes even the good works that are the necessary fruit of faith. Let that sink in.
“It hath been said, that faith is the receiving of Christ as a priest, and a lord, to be saved by him, and ruled by him. This sounds excellent well. Who is so vile that, endeavoring to believe, is not willing to be ruled by Christ, as well as saved by him? A faith that would not have Christ to be Lord to rule us, is that faith alone which James rejects. He that would be saved by Christ, and not ruled by him, shall not be saved by him at all. We are to receive a whole Christ, not by halves;—in regard of all his offices, not one or another. This sounds well, makes a fair show, and there is, in some regard, truth in what is spoken; but ‘Latet anguis in herba’ [a snake is hiding in the grass],—Let men explain themselves, and it is this: The receiving of Christ as a king, is the yielding obedience to him. But that subjection is not a fruit of the faith whereby we are justified, but an essential part of it; so that there is no difference between faith and works or obedience, in the business of justification, both being alike a condition of it … Others at length mince the matter, and say, that faith and works have the same respects to our justification that shall be public and solemn at the last day, at the day of judgment … How they will justify themselves at the day of judgment for troubling the peace of the saints of God, and shaking the great fundamental articles of the Reformation, I know not … It is true, then, we acknowledge, that faith receives Christ as a lord, as a king; and it is no true faith that will not, doth not do so, and put the soul upon all that obedience which he, as the captain of our salvation, requires at our hands. But faith, as it justifies (in its concurrence, whatever it be, thereunto), closeth with Christ for righteousness and acceptation with God only. And, give me leave to say, it is in that act no less exclusive of good works than of sin. It closeth with Christ in and for that, on account whereof he is our righteousness, and for and by which we are justified” (John Owen, “The Strength of Faith,” Works, vol. IX, pp. 24-26)
The second quote, by John Murray, passionately spells out exactly why it is that we are justified by faith alone. Other graces or fruits of faith do not have that unique quality of being utterly receptive and extraspective, looking away from ourselves to Christ and his righteousness. Beware of cutting the throat of the sinner’s confidence by inserting works into the definition of faith!
“The differentiating quality of faith is that the nature and function of faith is to rest completely upon another. It is this resting, confiding, entrusting quality of faith that makes it appropriate to and indeed exhibitive of the nature of justification. It is consonant with its source as the free grace of God, with its nature as a forensic act, and with its ground as the righteousness of Christ. Faith terminates upon Christ and his righteousness and it makes mention of his righteousness and of his only. This is the Saviour’s specific identity in the matter of justification—he is the Lord our righteousness. And in resting upon him alone for salvation it is faith that perfectly dovetails justification in him and his righteousness. Other graces or fruits of the Spirit have their own specific functions in the application of redemption, but only faith has as its specific quality the receiving and resting of self-abandonment and totality of self-commitment. This is both the stumbling-block and the irresistible appeal of the gospel. It is the stumbling-block to self-righteousness and self-righteousness is the arch-demon of antithesis to grace. It is the glory of the gospel for the contrite and brokenhearted—if we put any other exercise of the human spirit in the place of faith, then we cut the throat of the only confidence a sinner conscious of his lost and helpless condition can entertain. Justification by faith is the jubilee trumpet of the gospel because it proclaims the gospel to the poor and destitute whose only door of hope is to roll themselves in total helplessness upon the grace and power and righteousness of the Redeemer of the lost. In the words of one, ‘cast out your anchor into the ocean of the Redeemer’s merits.’ Faith is always joined with repentance, love, and hope. A faith severed from these is not the faith of the contrite and therefore it is not the faith that justifies. But it is faith alone that justifies because its specific quality is to find our all in Christ and his righteousness” (John Murray, Collected Writings, vol. 2, pp. 216-17).