There are truly important works that have simply been forgotten or unjustly ignored. One of those is William Ames’ Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in defense of the Reformed theology and practice of worship. Another is William Perkins’ 1597 treatise, A Reformed Catholic subtitled Or a Declaration Showing How Near We may Come to the Present Church of Rome in Sundry Points of Religion and Wherein We Must Forever Depart From Them. To this he added, With An Advertisement [a statement calling attention to something] to All Favorers of the Roman Religion Showing How the Said Religion is Against the Catholic Principles and Grounds of the [English] Catechism.
William Perkins (1558–1602) is worthy of our attention for a few reasons. First, he was one of the most important English Reformed theologians of the Reformation/post-Reformation periods. The other is John Owen. Arguably Perkins should be on anybody’s short list of Great English Theologians. Second, his teaching was a great influence on the Westminster Assembly, and thus to understand Perkins is to understand our own confession more fully. Third, he articulated Reformed theology at a time when the Reformation was under assault from the Socinians, the Arminians (Remonstrants), and a renewed Romanism. We still face these challenges in our day. We know the Socinians as “The Unitarians” today but they were influential upon many of the followers of Arminius (post-Episcopius) and their methodological influence is still felt in American Evangelical circles. The advocates of Open Theism rely on essentially a Socinian view of God and biblical hermeneutic (approach to reading Scripture). “Biblicism,” i.e., the idea that one is going to read the Bible as if no one has ever read it before, is not only deliberately ignorant and contrary to the Reformation approach to reading Scripture with the church past and present, is essentially a Socinian approach to Scripture that yielded a denial of Christ’s divinity, the Trinity, and the atonement, among other things.
Most Reformed folk who are familiar with Perkins might think of his Golden Chaine, his exposition of the doctrine of predestination, and the criticism he received from Jacob Arminius but Perkins was much more than a theologian of predestination. He was a member of the “Spiritual Brotherhood” at Cambridge. He was a Reformed churchman who understood that theology is not mere theory. He defined it as the “science of living blessedly forever. ” He was as devoted to cultivating true piety as he was to defending true theology. For Perkins the two were inseparable. For more on his life and setting see Paul Schaefer’s The Spiritual Brotherhood, 49–107.
Were the Reformation a boxing match, it appeared in the first half of the sixteenth century that Rome was flat on the canvas. Beginning with Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556) in the 1540s, Rome got off the canvas, as it were, and began counter-punching theologically and militarily. Rome would try to recover her geo-political influence and the struggle would not end until the close of the Thirty-Years War (1648). The Jesuits and others proved to be a genuine difficulty for the Reformation. They began to make more sophisticated appeals to tradition and to Scripture that required increased sophistication from the Reformed.
This treatise is an interesting and useful example of the way the Reformed responded to the Roman response (the “Counter Reformation” or the “Catholic Reformation”). Perkins responded by challenging a central Romanist assumption: that the Roman communion is the “Catholic Church.”
Perkins began his assault on Rome in the dedicatory epistle. [NB: I’ve modernized the spelling, capitalization, and punctuation on C. S. Lewis’ theory that we tend to impute ignorance to older writers when we see variance from our practice.]
RIGHT worshipful, it is a notable policy of the devil, which he has put into the heads of sundry men in this age, to think that our religion, and the religion of the present Church of Rome are all one for substance: and that they may be re-united as (in their opinion) they were before. Writings to this effect are spread abroad in the French tongue, and respected of English Protestants more then is meet, or ought to be. For, let men in show of moderation, pretend the peace and good estate of the Catholic Church as long as they will; this union of the two religions can never be made, more then the union of light and darkness. And this shall appear, if we do but a little consider, how they of the Roman Church have razed the foundation.
For though in words they honor Christ, yet in deed they turn him to a Pseudo-Christ, and an idol of their own brain. They call him our Lord, but with this condition, that the Servant of Servants of this Lord, may change and add to his commandments: having so great power, that he may open and shut heaven to whom he will; and bind the very conscience with his own laws, and consequently be partaker of the spiritual kingdom of Christ.
Again, they call him a Savior, but yet in us: in that he gives this grace unto us, that by our merits, we may partake in the merits of the saints. And they acknowledge, that he died and suffered for us, but with this caveat, that the fault being pardoned, we must satisfy for the temporal punishment, either in this world, or in purgatory. In a word, they make him our Mediator of Intercession unto God: but withal, his Mother must be the Queen of Heaven, and by the right of a Mother command him there.
Thus, in word, they cry Hosanna, but indeed they crucify Christ. Therefore we have good cause to bless the name of God, that hath freed us from the yoke of this Roman bondage, and hath brought us to the true light and liberty of the Gospel. And it should be a great height of unthankfulness in us, not to stand out against the present Church of Rome, but to yield our selves to plots of reconciliation.
To this effect and purpose I have penned this little treatise, which I present to your worship, desiring it might be some token of a thankful mind, for undeserved love. And I crave withal, not only your worshipful (which is more common) but also your learned protection; being well assured, that by skill and art you are able to justify whatsoever I have truly taught. Thus wishing to you and yours the continuance and the increase of faith and good conscience, I take my leave.
Cambridge, June 28. 1597.
Your W. in the Lord,
Notice the issues that Perkins highlighted: the unique authority (and Spirit-wrought) clarity of the Scriptures, its corollary Christian freedom, the uniqueness of Christ’s once-for-all work, and the Roman denial of the assurance of faith that is gift of God to believers as a consequence of the first two.
These are the issues that face us today. Perkins was concerned about a false ecumenism then and we have just as much right to be concerned about it now. As Rome begins its year-long celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II it is well to remember that Vatican II changed none of the doctrines against which the Reformation reacted. The issues remain. The popular, informal role of Mary as mediatrix has become formalized. The Roman doctrine of the necessity of cooperation with grace as part of progressive sanctification unto eventual justification (after purgatory), the mediation of the saints, the authority of the church, all these issues are as divisive today as they were at Trent and Perkins’ re-assertion of the genuine catholicity (university) of the Reformed faith, against the pretension of the Roman Bishop and councils, is as relevant today as the day it was first published.
In his treatise defending the Reformation understanding of Scripture against resurgent Romanism Perkins counted 22 issues between Protestants (his term) and Rome:
1 Of Free-will.
2 Of Original sin.
3 Assurance of salvation.
4 Justification of a sinner.
5 Of Merits.
6 Satisfactions for sin.
7 Of Traditions.
8 Of Vows.
9 Of Images.
10 Of Real presence.
11 The sacrifice of the Mass.
12 Of Fasting.
13 The state of Perfection.
14 Worshipping of Saints departed.
15 Intercession of Saints.
16 Implicit faith.
17 Of Purgatory.
18 Of the Supremacy.
19 Of the efficacy of the Sacraments.
20 Of Faith.
21 Of Repentance.
22 The sins of the Roman Church.
He began he exposition with a decidedly unfriendly quotation from Revelation 18:4:
And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Go out of her my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and receive not of her plagues….
His intent, as he went on to make clear, was to identify Rome as the whore of Babylon:
And the whore of Babylon, as by all circumstances may be gathered, is the state or regiment of a people that are the inhabitants of Rome and appertain thereto. This may be proved by the interpretation of the holy Ghost: for in the last verse of the seventeenth Chapter, the woman, that is, the whore of Babylon, is said to be a city which reigns over the kings of the earth: now in the days when Saint John penned this book of Revelation, there was no city in the world that ruled over the kings of the earth but Rome; it then being the seat where the Emperor put in execution his imperial authority. Again, in the seventh verse she is said to sit on a beast having seven heads and ten horns: which seven heads be seven hills, verse 9. whereon the woman sits, and also they be seven kings. Therefore by the whore of Babylon is meant a city standing on seven hills. Now it is well known, not only to learned men in the Church of God, but even to the heathen themselves, that Rome alone is the city built on seven distinct hills….
In response to the charge that to separate from Rome is schism, Perkins replied:
…all those who will be saved, must depart and separate themselves from the faith and religion of this present church of Rome. And whereas they are charged with schism that separate on this manner; the truth is, they are not schismatics that do so, because they have the commandment of God for their warrant: and the party is the schismatic in whom the cause of this separation lies: and that is the Church of Rome, namely, the cup of abomination in the whores hand, which is their heretical and schismatical religion
His first charge against Rome, which he notes is not the principal issue, is that the Roman communion has corrupted the doctrine of sin. It comes under the heading of free will, which he defined thus:
Free-will both by them and us, is taken for a mixt power in the mind and will of man; whereby discerning what is good and what is evil, he doth accordingly choose or refuse the same.
He identified three aspects of free will. Natural, human, and spiritual. The question is whether, after the fall, humans have this power. He began to address this question the same way Augustine began with the Pelagians (and semi-Pelagians!) and the way Thomas Boston would do after Perkins, with the fourfold state of humanity:
Man must be considered in a four-fold estate, as he was created, as he was corrupted, as he is renewed, as he shall be glorified. In the first estate, we ascribe to mans will liberty of nature, in which he could will or not nill [to be unwilling] either good or evil: in the third, liberty of grace: in the last, liberty of glory. All the doubt is of the second estate: and yet therein also we agree
“All the doubt is of the second….” The issue between Rome and Protestants is what are the effects of the fall. How sinful are we? The great attraction of semi-Pelagianism has always been that they avoid to obvious and gross error of the Pelagians, who denied any legal or spiritual connection between Adam and us, formally by affirming our connection with Adam. They affirm that in Adam’s fall sinned we all but they deny what Paul, Augustine, the medieval neo-Augustinians, and the Protestants affirm, namely that the effect of Adam’s sin is extensive and intensive. According to the semi-Pelagians, whether in Rome or out, we’re not that sinful. In this case, they assert that we’re not so sinful that we cannot do our part in cooperation with grace, which is said to make it possible.
He distinguished between different aspects of human freedom. On the question of what Luther and Melanchthon called “external freedom,” i.e., the lack of compulsion, there is no disagreement:
Human actions are such as are common to all men good and bad, as to speak, and use reason, the practice of [al]mechanical and liberal arts, and the outward performance of civil and ecclesiastical duties; [such] as to come to [the] church, to speak and preach the word, to reach out the hand to receive the Sacrament, and to lend the ear to listen outwardly to that which is taught. And hither we may refer the outward actions of civil virtues: as namely, justice, temperance, gentleness, and liberality.
The Augustinian and Protestant doctrine of corruption (pravitas) does not teach that humans are as wicked as they could be. In the providence of God, by which the Spirit restrains evil, humans are capable of civil, outward, virtues.
Protestants agree with Rome that when fallen humans sin they do so without compulsion.
[I]n these we likewise join with the Papists, and teach, that in sins or evil actions man have freedom of will.
Perkins says that we Protestants even agree with Rome, in part on a second part of spiritual willing.
We likewise in part join with the Church of Rome, and say, that in the first conversion of a sinner, man’s free-will concurs with Gods grace, as a fellow or co-worker in some sort. For in the conversion of a sinner three things are required: the Word, God’s spirit, and man’s will, for man’s will is not passive in all and every respect, but has an action in the best conversion and change of the soul. When any man is converted, this work of God is not done by compulsion, but he is converted willingly: and at the very time when he is converted, by Gods grace he wills his conversion.
The point of discussion is what we now call “regeneration,” not sanctification as much as the moment of awakening from death to life. He quoted Augustine to the effect that when God gives quickening grace he also gives “a desire and will” simultaneously. We will freely but we do so with a renewed, Spirit-given, will. When he gives faith the Spirit gives a new will causing the will to “desire faith and to willingly receive the gift of believing….” So, even in regeneration we do not act under compulsion because, as Perkins noted, “no man can receive grace utterly against his will, considering [that] will constrained is no will.”
On free will, the difference between confessional Protestants and Rome is the effect of the fall.
The Papists say, mans will concurs and works with Gods graces in the first conversion of a sinner, by itself, and by it own natural power: and is only helped by the Holy Ghost. We say, that mans will works with grace in the first conversion: yet not of it self, but by grace. Or thus: They say, will has a natural cooperation: we deny it, and say it has cooperation only by grace, being in itself not active but passive, willing well only as it is moved by grace, whereby it must first be acted and moved, before it can act or will.
The difference between Rome and Protestants is illustrated by the different analogies we use. They use the analogy of a prisons and prisoners, who are said to be bound and weak, who are “but living in part” i.e., “not wholly dead” and therefore “yet has ability to stir….” On this image, if the warden [the Holy Spirit] “and do but untie his bands, and reach him his hand of grace, then can [the prisoner] stand of himself, and will his own salvation, or any thing else that is good.”
We Protestants, however, use a different image to describe the human condition after the fall: death. Perkins wrote that we must describe the prisoner as he actually is, “even stark dead” and “one that lies rotten in the grave, not having any ability or power to move or stir: and therefore he cannot so much as desire to do any thing that is truly good of himself” who is utterly dependent upon the Spirit, who
must first come and put a new soule into him, even the spirit of grace to quicken and revive him: and then being thus revived, the will beginneth to will good things at the very same time, when God by his spirit first infuseth grace.”
This is, as Perkins wrote, “the true difference betweene us and the Church of Rome in this point of free will.”
The next point of contention is over the doctrine of original sin, i.e., the teaching that “in Adam’s fall sinned we all.” The issue is not whether we sinned in Adam but whether, as Perkins put it, “after baptism…how far forth it remains after baptism.” In other words, after baptism, how sinful are we. This is important because, as he wrote, “hereupon depend many points of Popery.”
The Reformed and Romanists agree that after baptism “natural corruption” is abolished but we disagree as to what extent.
For Perkins there were three things in original sin:
- The punishment (the first and second death)
- Guiltiness (the binding up of the creature unto punishment)
- The fault (offending of God)
Under the third heading he addressed our guilt in Adam, the corruption of the heart, i.e., a natural inclination and proclivity to “any thing that is evil or against the law of God.”
According to Perkins, for the regenerate, in baptism, “the punishment of original sin is taken away” because “There is no condemnation (saith the Apostle) to them that be in Jesus Christ, Rom. 8. 1.”
Working backward, guilt is also taken away in the regenerate (i.e., those given new life). He cautioned that this is true of the person regenerate but not of the “sin in the person.” His clear intent was to restrict these benefits to the regenerate and he did not attribute the power of regeneration (new life) to the sacrament of baptism. In effect he was saying that Baptism was the sign and seal to the regenerate of what is promised in the gospel. He continued to explain that the corruption of sin remains until death.
Where he differ with Rome, however, concerns “the manner, and the measure of the abolishment of this sin.” Rome teaches, he argued, that, in baptism, original sin is “taken away” so completely that “it ceases to be a sin properly” so that it is now, after baptism, only a “want, a defect, a weakness” which leaves the potential of sin “like tinder” that is ready to burst into flames. They take this position in order to make it possible for them to “uphold some gross opinions of theirs namely, that a man in this life may fulfill the law of God: and do good works void of sin: that he may stand righteous at the bar of God’s judgement by them.”
In contrast, the Reformed teach that though “original sin be taken away in the regenerate” nevertheless it remains in them after baptism not only as “a want and weakness” but “as sin….”
He appealed to Romans 7:17. Sin, not mere want or weakness, dwells in baptized believers. Further, baptized infants “die the bodily death before they come to the years of discretion.” If baptism removes original sin in the way Rome claims there would be no cause of death them. Third, concupiscence (sinful desire) remains after baptism (Galatians 5:17 and (James 1:14). Finally, under this heading, Perkins appealed to Augustine (Epistle 29), where he argued that in baptism the reigning power of sin is broken but not that there is no sin whatever.
Perkins concluded this section by addressing four objections the essence of which has to do with defining sin. According to Perkins, Rome is Pelagianizing. Rome’s account of sin does not match the biblical doctrine of sin and it doesn’t square with Augustine’s (mature) doctrine of sin against the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians. Rome is implicitly perfectionist. Once again, according to Rome, in Adam we are sinful but we are not so sinful (depraved) that we cannot do our part, cooperate with grace unto sanctification and thence to justification.
Perkins’ third point against Rome concerned the assurance of salvation. According to Perkins, the Protestants and Rome agree that:
- A man in this life may be certain of salvation; and the same thing does the Church of Rome teach and hold (William Perkins, A Reformed Catholic562).
- A man is to put a certain trust [“affiance”] in God’s mercy in Christ for the salvation of his soul
- Assurance of salvation in our hearts is joined doubting; and there is no man so assured of his salvation, but he at sometime doubts
- A man may be certain of the salvation of men, or of the Church by Catholic faith: and so say we.
- A man by faith may be assured of his own salvation through extraordinary revelation, as Abraham and others were, and so do we.
The disagreements between the Reformed faith and Rome on assurance are quite substantial. Perkins wrote,
We hold that a man may be certain of his salvation in his own conscience even in this life, and that by ordinary and special faith. They hold that a man is certain of his salvation only by hope: both of us hold a certainty, we by faith, they by hope (ibid, 563).
There have been some Reformed writers who made assurance a second blessing. There are some who continue to teach that assurance may be had only by a special work of the Spirit. This is closer to the Roman dogma than to the confessional Reformed faith. According to Roman dogma, assurance is only “only probable.” Further, by contrast we “hold and avouch that our certainty by true faith is infallible.”
The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), which had been widely used in Latin and English by the time Perkins wrote, confessed that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. The first question began with “trust” (German) or “consolation” (Latin). Our comfort, trust, consolation is that we belong to Christ. It’s not that might belong or we belong if we meet a test. Our comfort is that we cannot be separated from Christ.
According to the Heidelberg Catechism, true faith is “a certain knowledge and a hearty trust” (following the German text). The Latin text, with which Perkins was certainly familiar defined faith as not only knowledge (notitia) “by which we firmly assent to all things, which God works in us by his Word, but also a certain trust (certa fiducia kindled (accensa) in my heart by the Holy Spirit through the gospel….” In fact, the catechism refers to certainty no fewer than nine times.
Perkins summarized the difference between Rome and the Reformed thus:
our confidence comes from certain and ordinary faith: theirs from hope, ministering (as they say) but a conjectural certainty.
He anticipates three objections from Rome:
- Where there is no word, there is no faith, for these two are relatives: but there is no word of God, saying, Cornelius believe thou, Peter believe thou, and thou shalt be saved (ibid);
- It is no article of the Creed, that a man must believe his own salvation: and therefore no man is bound thereto
- We are taught to pray for the pardon of our sins day by day, Mat. 6 12. and all this were needless, if we could be assured of pardon in this life.
It is true. God does not speak to men particularly, “Believe and you shall be saved. But yet does he that which is answerable hereunto, in that he gives a general promise, with a commandment to apply the same: and has ordained the holy ministry of the word to apply the same to the persons of the hearers in his own name: and that is as much as if the Lord himself should speak to men particularly. To speak more plainly: in the Scripture the promises of salvation be indefinitely propounded: it does not say any where, “If John will believe, he shall be saved;” or “if Peter will believe, he shall be saved;” but “whosoever believes shall be saved.” Now then comes the minister of the word, who standing in the room of God, and in the stead of Christ himself, takes the indefinite promises of the Gospel, and lays them to the hearts of every particular man: and this in effect is as much as if Christ himself should say, “Cornelius believe thou, and thou shalt be saved: Peter believe thou, and thou shalt be saved.”
These promises are not for “hypocrites, heretics, and unrepentant persons.” They are presumptuous, not believing. “Nevertheless it is true in all the elect having the spirit of grace, and prayer: for when God in the ministry of the word being his own ordinance….” When the offer of the gospel comes, they believe by divine grace.
Rome doesn’t understand the Creed.
for in that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, every article implies in it this particular faith. And in the first article, “I believe in God,” are three things contained: the first, to believe that there is a God, the second, to believe the same God to be my God, the third, to put my confidence in him for my salvation: and so much contain the other articles, which are concerning God.
Finally, to the objection that we cannot have assurance since that denies the fourth petition in the Lord’s Prayer that asks for the forgiveness of sins:
The fourth petition must be understood not so much of our old debts or sins, as of our present and new sins: for as we go on from day to day, so we add sin to sin: and for the pardon of them must we humble our selves and pray. I answer again, that we pray for the pardon of our sins; not because we have no assurance thereof, but because assurance is weak and small: we grow on from grace to grace in Christ, as children do to mans estate by little and little (ibid, 564).
According to Perkins “true faith” is “both an infallible assurance, and a particular assurance of the remission of sins, and of life everlasting.” True faith is not simply a categorical faith that certain things are true of believers but a particular faith, i.e., that things are true of one’s self. He appealed to Matthew 14:31, our Lord’s rebuke of the disciples’ unbelief. To doubt is not to believe. To believe is to trust. As Perkins says, “to be certain and to give assurance is of the nature of faith.” He also quoted Romans 4:20, 22. Abraham, he reminds us, “did not doubt” God’s promise but believed. The “property of faith is to apprehend and apply the promise, and the thing promised, Christ with his benefits” John 1:12).
The very act of communion presupposes a personal, particular assurance:
[H]e sets forth his best hearers, as eaters of his body and drinkers of his blood; and…he intends to prove this conclusion, that to eat his body and to drink his blood, and to believe in him, are all one. Now then, if Christ be as food, and if to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, be to believe in him, then must there be a proportion betweene eating and believing (ibid, 564.
Perkins also argued the “Holy Ghost particularly testifies to us our adoption, the remission of our sins, and the salvation of our soul. Therefore we may and must particularly and certainly by faith believe the same” (ibid, 565). Rome says that the Spirit does witness to us about our adoption but they reduce it to a “bare sense” or mere “comfortable feeling of God’s love and favor” but it is weak “and oftentimes deceitful.”
By definition, the command to pray presupposes faith. One cannot ask anything of God unless he believes that God has made a promise. Part of the Roman problem is that they do not distinguish the law and the gospel:
God in the Gospel commands us to believe the pardon of our own sins, and life everlasting; and therefore we must believe thus much, and may be assured thereof. This proposition is plain by the distinction of the commandments of the law, and of the Gospel, The commandments of the law show us what we must do, but minister no power to perform the thing to be done; but the doctrine and commandments of the Gospel do otherwise, and therefore they are called spirit and life: God with the commandment giving grace that the thing prescribed may be done. Now this is a commandment of the Gospel, to believe remission of sins, for it was the substance of Christ’s ministry, repent and believe the Gospel.
Since Rome makes all of Scripture a species of law (old law or new law) they see no free promise in Scripture. It’s worth noting how naturally Perkins turns to this distinction. It was a basic part of his hermeneutic (way of interpreting Scripture) and a quite uncontroversial piece of mental furniture.
Again, the gospel is not believed in general but in particular. It’s more than a vague hope. When Rome speaks of “hope” she makes it essentially uncertainty. Biblically, hope is certainty. “For the property of true and lively hope is never to make a man ashamed, Romans 5:5.” Rome objects that we can never be sure of our own disposition (to which we we come in the next post the series) and Perkins agrees. We cannot be certain of our disposition but we can be certain of God’s toward us and we may be, on the basis of his gracious promise in Christ revealed in his Holy Word.
In theological terms, there were two principles of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation: the formal principle and the material principle. The first, the formal principle, was the doctrine that Scripture is the sole, unique, and infallible authority for Christian faith and life. The second, the material principle, was the pan-Protestant consensus that sinners are justified, i.e., accepted by God as righteous, solely on the basis of righteousness or merit Christ earned for his people and imputed to them and received by faith that rests and trusts in Christ and his finished work.
In his fourth point, Perkins turned his attention to the material principle of the Reformation, the “justification of a sinner.” He first summarizes the Protestant position and then the Roman view indicating where we disagree. We get a glimpse into the significance of this section (and the heat with which it was composed) when he added, “wherein we are to stand against them, even to death.”
He began with “four rules:”
- Rule I. That justification is an action of God, whereby he absolves a sinner, and accepts him to life everlasting for the righteousness and merit of Christ.
- Rule II. That justification stands in two things: first, in the remission of sins by the merit of Christ his death: secondly, in the imputation of Christ his righteousness; which is another action of God whereby he accounts and esteems that righteousness which is in Christ, as the righteousness of that sinner which believes in him. By Christ his righteousness we are to understand two things, first, his sufferings specially in his death and passion, secondly, his obedience in fulfilling the law: both which go together: for Christ in suffering obedience and obeying suffered. And the very shedding of his blood to which our salvation is ascribed, must not only be considered as it is passive, that is, a suffering; but also as it is active, that is, an obedience, in which he showed his exceeding love both to his Father and us, and thus fulfilled the law for us. This point if some had well thought on, they would not have placed all justification in remission of sins as they do.
A word of explanation is in order here. Under this point Perkins not only gave a brief account of the Protestant doctrine of justification but articulated it in light of developments after Calvin, one of which was the denial by the Lutheran theologian Kargius and the Reformed theologian Piscator (and others) of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. To do this they first made a chronological distinction between the obedience Christ owed for himself, which he accomplished in order to qualify himself to be the Savior of sinners by his death. His passion, or “suffering” then, they argued is that part of Christ’s obedience intended to be substitutionary.The majority of the Reformed theologians, however, rejected the chronological distinction in Christ’s work. They taught that his “whole obedience” (to use the language that was proposed at the Westminster Assembly but rejected in favor of “perfect obedience” in order to satisfy the minority who opposed IAO) was both active and passive. This is why Perkins says that Christ suffered while he obeyed and he obeyed while he suffered. For more on this see the chapter on the imputation of active obedience in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.
- Rule III. That justification is from Gods mere mercy and grace, procured only by the merit of Christ.
- Rule IV. That a man is justified by faith alone; because faith is that alone instrument created in the heart by the holy Ghost, whereby a sinner lays hold of Christ his righteousness, and applies the same unto himself. There is neither hope, nor love, nor any other grace of God within man, that can do this but faith alone.
In contrast, Perkins wrote, the Roman communion teaches that before justification there must be a “preparation” which is worked partly by the Holy Spirit and partly by the “power of natural free will” by which a man disposes himself or a “habitus” is created in him toward future justification.
When Rome says “faith” they mean “a general knowledge” or an intellectual apprehension of one’s sins, “a fear of hell, hope of salvation, love of God, repentance and the like….” When we have attained to these things they are said by Rome to be “fully disposed” to their justification. In short, for Rome, justification is the process, the result of sanctification or grace and cooperation with grace.
For Rome, justification is not God’s declaration that we are righteous on account of what Christ has done for us but a recognition of the righteousness that has been wrought in us by grace and cooperation with grace.
To effect this, two things are required: first, the pardon of sin, which is one part of the first justification: secondly, the infusion of inward righteousness, whereby the heart is purged and sanctified, and this habit [disposition] of righteousness stands specially in hope and charity.
This is the first justification. According to Rome there is a second, when a “just man is made better and more just: and this, say they, may proceed from works of grace: because he which is righteous by the first justification, can bring forth good works: by the merit whereof he is able to make himself more just and righteous: and yet they grant that the first justification comes only of Gods mercy by the merit of Christ.”
The great difference between the Protestants and Rome is the “cause” or ground of justification with God. We say: “Nothing but the righteousness of Christ, which consists partly in his sufferings and partly in his active obedience in fulfilling the rigor of the law.” Rome grants that “in justification sin is pardoned by the merits of Christ, and that none can be justified without remission of sins” and they concede that “the righteousness whereby a man is made righteous before God, comes from Christ” alone. Further, the “most learned among them” teach that Christ’s satisfaction and merit is “imputed to every sinner” who believes and we agree.
The “very point of difference”is that we say that Christ made satisfaction for us and Rome says
“The thing…that makes us righteous before God, and causes us to be accepted to life everlasting, is remission of sins, and the habit of inward righteousness; or charity with the fruits thereof.
Perkins hastened to add that we believe in a “habit of righteousness.” We call it sanctification and it is the “most excellent gift of God” but it not the ground of justification but rather the fruit of justification.