John Owen on the Imputation of Christ's Active Obedience

John Owen

This article by Rev. Michael Brown originally appeared in The Outlook magazine. For other magazine and journal articles published by Pastor Brown, see the archives on this blog.

Introduction

     In 1677, when John Owen (1616-1683) published his book, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated, the Protestant doctrine of justification was still engulfed in controversy. “In my judgment,” said the English Calvinist, “Luther spake the truth when he said, ‘Amisso articulo justificationis, simul amissa est tota doctrina Christiana.’ And I wish he had not been a true prophet, when he foretold that in the following ages the doctrine hereof would be again obscured.”[1] As a Reformed theologian, Oxford University Vice-Chancellor, and Congregationalist pastor, Owen defended the Protestant and confessional doctrine of justification against Arminianism, Socinianism, and Roman Catholicism.[2] Indeed, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith was primarily a repudiation of these three positions, particularly Socinianism.

     These were not, however, Owen’s only opponents on this subject. While Protestants in the seventeenth-century generally understood the formal cause of a believer’s justification to be the imputed righteousness of Christ, not all agreed on the precise definition of that imputed righteousness. At the Westminster Assembly (1643-1649), for example, the majority believed that the imputed righteousness of Christ included both Christ’s active and passive obedience. A small minority, however, affirmed the latter but denied the former. Among these were the Assembly’s first prolocutor, William Twisse (1578-1646), and the theologian Thomas Gataker (1574-1654).[3] While Owen was not present at the Westminster Assembly, he was nevertheless fully committed to the majority view of imputed active obedience.

     This essay shall pursue the question of why Owen believed that the imputation of Christ’s active obedience was an essential element of the doctrine of justification, and how Owen linked it to the “covenant of redemption” or pactum salutis. This is a significant question to consider in the present day for, within Reformed and Presbyterian circles, a substantial amount of debate has erupted over the issue of imputed active obedience.[4] In the midst of such a debate, it may be helpful to consider why Owen, one of the preeminent theologians of Reformed Orthodoxy, said what he said about imputation in justification.

     Moreover, there is a need to look more closely at the connection in Owen’s thought between the pactum salutis and imputed active obedience. Recent scholarship has shown that Owen’s doctrine of justification by faith is intelligible only in light of his covenant theology. Mark Jones has successfully made this case, building on the broader arguments of Sinclair Ferguson and David Wong.[5] Carl Trueman, in his recent John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man, interacts extensively with Owen’s doctrine of the pactum salutis, and shows its connection to justification by faith.[6] It is the goal of this essay to elucidate further the important arguments of Trueman and Jones by focusing on one particular aspect of Owen’s theology, which Trueman and Jones do not emphasize in their work. It looks at the connection between Owen’s doctrine of the pactum salutis and his doctrine of imputed active obedience with regard to the work of the Holy Spirit.[7] This essay argues that for Owen, God imputes Christ’s active obedience to the believer in justification because of the roles of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the pactum salutis.

     In order to examine this thesis, a concise observation will be made of Owen’s doctrine of the pactum salutis, Christ’s role as surety and mediator in the covenant of grace, the work of the Holy Spirit coalescing Christ and the church into one mystical person, and faith as the sole instrument in justification.

Trinitarian Salvation: Owen’s Doctrine of the Pactum Salutis

     By the mid-seventeenth-century, the doctrine of the pactum salutis had become quite prevalent in Reformed Orthodoxy, both in Britain and on the continent.[8] Owen was no exception to this trend. In his 1655 work against the Socinians, Vindiciae Evangelicae, Owen described the pactum salutis as “that compact, covenant, convention, or agreement, that was between the Father and the Son, for the accomplishment of the work of our redemption by the mediation of Christ, to the praise of the glorious grace of God.”[9] He saw five major elements within this covenant: (i) The Father, as “promiser,” and the Son, as “undertaker,” voluntarily agreed together in counsel to achieve a common purpose, namely, “the glory of God and the salvation of the elect.”[10] (ii) The Father prescribed conditions for this covenant, which consisted of the Son assuming human nature, fulfilling the demands of the law through his obedience, and suffering the just judgment of God for the elect in order to satisfy God’s justice on their behalf.[11] (iii) The promises of the covenant, which were two: First, the Father assisting the Son in the accomplishment of his redeeming work by continually being present with him as he underwent the afflictions and trials of his earthly life. Secondly, if the Son did what was required of him, the work itself would prosper by bringing about the deliverance and glorification of those for whom he obeyed and suffered. These promises the Father confirmed with an oath.[12] (iv) The Son voluntarily accepted the conditions, and assumed the work as surety of the covenant.[13] (v) The Father approved and accepted the performance of the Son, who likewise laid claim to the promises made in the covenant.[14]

     Owen believed the pactum salutis to be the basis and driving purpose of redemptive history.[15] For Owen, it was a doctrine too important to state vaguely in the church’s confession. The confession he helped craft in 1658 for the Congregationalist churches, namely, the Savoy Declaration, a modification of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) to suit Congregationalist polity, included explicit language on the pactum salutis.[16] Westminster Confession of Faith: VIII.1 reads, “It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be Mediator between God and man.” VIII.1 of the Savoy Declaration, however, reads: “It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to chuse [sic] and ordain the Lord Jesus his onely [sic] begotten Son, according to a Covenant made between them both, to be the Mediator between God and Man.”

     Trueman points out that Owen made a significant contribution to the seventeenth-century development of this doctrine by considering the Holy Spirit’s function in the pactum salutis. This was, according to Trueman, “a point which represents a distinctly Trinitarian advance on the works of Fisher and Bulkeley who, with their exclusive attention to the Father-Son relationship were arguably vulnerable to the accusation of developing a sub-Trinitarian foundation for the economy of salvation.”[17] Owen was careful to describe the distinct roles of each Person in the Godhead, showing the Trinitarian nature of salvation. With regard to the Holy Spirit, it was through him that the Virgin Mary conceived the Incarnate Christ, that the Son offered himself to the Father, and that the Son was raised from the dead.[18] The Spirit also brings the elect into union with Christ their Savior efficaciously and keeps them secure.[19]

     Thus, the pactum salutis was for Owen an intra-Trinitarian covenant that made explicit Christ’s role as the second Adam and federal head, who, on behalf of those given to him by the Father, overcame the catastrophic consequences of the first Adam’s breaking of the covenant of works (foedus operum), and merited the benefits of redemption mediated in the covenant of grace (foedus gratiae). As with many federalist theologians of his day, Owen saw a necessary and vital connection between the covenant of redemption and the pre-fall covenant of works and post-fall covenant of grace. His view of the pactum salutis provided the foundation for his understanding of imputed active obedience, for apart from this covenant from eternity past, Christ would not have come as the surety and mediator in the covenant of grace, and the Holy Spirit would not have united the elect to Christ.

Christ’s Role as Surety and Mediator in the Covenant of Grace

     Owen did not begin his case in The Doctrine of Justification by Faith with an explanation of the pactum salutis. He began, rather, with a lengthy introduction stating his reasons and pastoral concerns for taking up this work, namely, “the glory of God in Christ, with the peace and furtherance of the obedience of believers.” He followed this with a full six chapters on the nature and object of justifying faith, as well as the meaning of justification itself.[20] As Mark Jones rightly points out, “Owen’s primary goal is to establish the forensic sense of the term because of the obvious implications this has for the [Reformed] doctrine of justification.”[21] 

     When Owen came to the seventh chapter of his study, however, he began to deal with the nature of imputation more precisely. Responding to what he called “the two grand parties by whom the doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ is opposed; - namely the Papists and the Socinians,” as well as the “many interlopers, who, coming in on their hand, do make bold to borrow from both as they see occasion,”[22] Owen argued for an alien righteousness. Righteousness either comes from within us or from outside of us. “In the one way, the foundation of imputation is in ourselves; in the other, it is in another: which are irreconcilable.”[23] Not even one’s faith can be this ground, for if God merely regards our faith as righteousness then it is ours by justice and not by grace, a salvation by works and not by faith.[24] Thus, Owen concludes:

This imputation is an act of God ‘ex mera gratia,’ – of his mere love and grace; whereby, on the consideration of the mediation of Christ, he makes an effectual grant and donation of a true, real, perfect righteousness, even that of Christ himself, unto all that do believe; and accounting it as theirs, on his own gracious act, both absolves them from sin and granteth them right and title unto eternal life. Hence, - in this imputation, the thing itself is first imputed unto us, and not any of the effects of it; but they are made ours by virtue of that imputation. [25]

The mediation of Christ, as the surety in the covenant of grace, provides imputed righteousness for the believer.

     For Owen, the only apostolic meaning of the term “surety” is one who “is an undertaker for another, or others, who thereon is justly and legally to answer what is due to them, or from them.” In chapter eight of The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, Owen explained that a surety is “one that voluntarily takes on himself the cause and condition of another, to answer, or undergo, or pay what he is liable unto, or to see it done; whereon he becomes justly and legally obnoxious [i.e. liable] unto performance.”[26] Christ as surety was a necessity for our redemption due to the broken covenant of works, in which there was no surety:

In the first covenant made with Adam there was no surety, but God and men were the immediate covenanters; and although we were then in a state and condition able to perform and answer all the terms of the covenant, yet it was broken and disannulled…It was man alone who failed and broke that covenant: wherefore it was necessary, that upon the making of the new covenant…we should have a surety and undertaker for us. [27]

Because Adam failed to render perfect, complete, and personal obedience to God in the covenant of works, humankind did not attain the eschatological life and goal for which God created them.[28] Thus, God sent Christ as “a surety and undertaker for us.”

     In using this language, Owen made an argument against the Arminian Grotius (1583-1645), the Socinian Schlichtingius (1592-1661), and the seventeenth-century Anglican theologian, Bishop Hammond (1605-1660), all of whom he explicitly named as asserting just the opposite, viz., that Christ was a sponsor or surety for God, rather than for us.[29] Contrary to these claims, Owen maintained that the sponsorship and surety of Christ, as prescribed in the pactum salutis and applied in the covenant of grace, was directed to God on behalf of sinners, and not to sinners on behalf of God.[30] For Owen, Christ’s role as surety was inseparable from his priesthood: “he is a surety as he is a priest, and in the discharge of that office; and therefore is so with God on our behalf.”[31]

     This was important for Owen’s case against the Socinian claim that the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience in justification was impossible because Christ accomplished his work (including his death on the cross) for himself and on his own behalf.[32] Owen opposed this claim by explaining that the whole point of the Incarnation was to fulfill the conditions of the pactum salutis and obtain salvation on behalf of sinners. The “ineffable union between the human nature with the divine” is what qualified Christ to act as priest and mediator for sinful humans:

Whereas, therefore, he was neither made man nor of the posterity of Abraham for himself, but for the church, - namely, to become thereby the surety of the covenant, and representative of the whole, - his obedience as a man unto the law in general, and as a son of Abraham unto the law of Moses, was for us, and not for himself, so designed, so performed; and, without a respect unto the church, was of no use unto himself. He was born to us, and given to us; lived for us, and died for us; obeyed for us, and suffered for us; - that “by the obedience of one many might be made righteous.” This was the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ;” and this is the faith of the catholic church. And what he did for us is imputed unto us. [33]

Sent as a public person on behalf of others, Christ was not actively obedient to the law for his own sake. He was actively obedient to the law of God for the sake of others.[34]    

One Mystical Person: The Principal Foundation of Imputation

     In chapters eight and nine of his study, Owen identified the principal foundation of imputation as the work of the Holy Spirit: “The principal foundation hereof is, - that Christ and the church, in this design, were one mystical person; which state they do actually coalesce into, through the uniting efficacy of the Holy Spirit.”[35] This union between Christ and his people, which the Holy Spirit creates, necessarily involves double imputation: “Hence, as what he did is imputed unto them, as if done by them; so what they deserved on the account of sin was charged upon him.”[36] Owen quoted several of the early church fathers in support of his claim, including Augustine, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Athanasius, Eusebius, and Chrysostom.[37] He did this in order to show that “such a union between Christ and believers is the faith of the catholic church, and hath been so in all ages.”[38] Owen also referred to several passages in Scripture that he believed taught this mystical union in “divers kinds.”[39] These passages were (in his order): Eph 5.25-32; 1 Cor 12.12; Eph 4.15; Col 2.19; John 15.1, 2; and Rom 5.12.[40]

     For Owen, this mystical union, which the Holy Spirit creates, is rooted in the pactum salutis:

The first spring or cause of this union, and of all the other causes of it, lieth in that eternal compact that was between the Father and the Son concerning the recovery and salvation of fallen mankind. Herein, among other things, as the effects thereof, the assumption of our nature  (the foundation of this union) was designed. The nature and terms of this compact, counsel, and agreement, I have declared elsewhere; and therefore must not here again insist upon it. But the relation between Christ and the church, proceeding form hence, and so being an effect of infinite wisdom, in the counsel of the Father and Son, to be made effectual by the Holy Spirit, must be distinguished from all other unions or relations whatever. [41]

The role of the Holy Spirit in the outworking of the pactum salutis was to cause Christ and believers to “coalesce into one mystical person. This is by the Holy Spirit inhabiting in him as the head of the church in all fullness, and in all believers according to their measure, whereby they become members of his mystical body.”[42] Because of the Holy Spirit, “Christ and believers are one mystical person, one spiritually-animated body, head and members.”[43]

     Owen believed that this mystical union between Christ and believers resulted in the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience:

God hath appointed that there shall be an immediate foundation of the imputation of the satisfaction and righteousness of Christ unto us; whereon we may be said to have done and suffered in him what he did and suffered in our stead, by that grant, donation, and imputation of it unto us…that it may be made ours: which is all we contend for. And this is our actual coalescency into one mystical person with him by faith. Hereon doth the necessity of faith originally depend. [44]

Thus, believers are “made righteous by the righteousness of Christ, which is not inherent in us, but only imputed unto us.”[45]

Conclusion

     So committed was Owen to the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, that the Savoy Declaration, which he played a major role in constructing, modified the Westminster Confession of Faith to include words to that effect. While it essentially adopted the Westminster Confession’s language on justification (i.e. Chapter XI), the Savoy Declaration replaced the words, “but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them” (WCF XI.1) with the words, “but by imputing Christ's active obedience to the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole     righteousness.”[46] For Owen, the imputation of Christ’s active obedience was a necessary component of the doctrine of justification and deserved more specific wording than previously afforded by the Westminster Confession. Aware of the debates within the Reformed churches of his day, he believed that his Puritan contemporaries who had deviated from this doctrine not only departed from Scripture, but from “the ancient doctrine of the church of England.”[47]

     In 1677, when he came to write his extensive work on justification, Owen made it clear that Christ’s passive obedience imputed to the believer was not enough for a right standing before God. He said, “the obedience of Christ unto the law, and the imputation thereof unto us, are no less necessary unto our justification before God, than his suffering of the penalty of the law, and the imputation thereof unto us, unto the same end.”[48] Because the law of God commands, “Do this and live,” Owen believed that “we have need of more than the mere sufferings of Christ, whereby we may be justified before God.”[49] Mere pardon and acquittal is not enough.[50] Only perfect righteousness merits God’s approval.[51]

     Owen believed that, because of the pactum salutis, God imputed this active righteousness of Christ to believers who are coalesced with him into one mystical person. By understanding this mystical union of Christ and his elect as the principal foundation of imputation, Owen in no way conflated the chronological order and distinction of justification and sanctification, nor deviated from a confessional, Reformed formulation of sola fide.[52]

Bibliography

Works by John Owen

 The Doctrine of Justification by Faith though the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated (1677), in The Works of John Owen, vol. V. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, repr.1998.

“The Everlasting Covenant, the Believer’s Support under Distress,” (1669), in Works, vol. IX.

Salus Electorum, Sanguis Jesu; or, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise of the Redemption and Reconciliation that is in the Blood of Christ (1648), in Works, vol. X.

 

The Doctrine of the Saints Perseverance Explained and Confirmed (1654), in Works, vol. XI.

Vindiciae Evangelicae; or, The Mystery of the Gospel Vindicated and Socinianism Examined (1655), in Works, vol. XII.

 

Secondary Sources

 

Clark, R.S. Casper Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant: The Double Benefit of Christ. Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2005.

Ferguson, Sinclair. John Owen on the Christian Life. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987.

Jones, Mark. “Covenant and Justification in the Thought of John Owen.” MA thesis. Potchefstroom: North-West University, 2006.

Muller, Richard. Post-Reformation Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725. Volume Four. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003.

Oliver, Robert [ed.]. John Owen: The Man and His Theology. Philipsburg: P & R, 2002.

Packer, J.I., A Quest for Godliness. Wheaton: Crossway, 1990.

Toon, Peter. God’s Statesman: The Life and Work of John Owen. Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1971.

Trueman, Carl. The Claims of Truth. Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998.

________. John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man. Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007.

Van Dixhoorn, Chad. “Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly 1643-1652.” PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2004.


[1] “When the article of justification is lost, at the same time the whole Christian doctrine is lost.” John Owen, Works, V (Reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust. 1998), 67. Hereafter, this essay will refer to Owen’s Works simply by volume number.

[2] So well known was Owen’s opposition to these three positions, that on his tombstone in Bunhill Fields, London, are inscribed the audacious words, “The Arminian, Socinian, and Popish error, those Hydras, whose contaminated breath, and deadly poison infested the church, he, with more than Herculean labour, repulsed, vanquished, and destroyed.” See Peter Toon, God’s Statesman: The Life and Work of John Owen (Exeter: Paternoster, 1971), 182-83.

[3] Chad Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly 1643-1652,” (PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2004) 7 vols, vol 1, 324-330.

[4] On the one hand are those holding to the so-called New Perspectives on Paul and/or Federal Vision, who outright “deny that faithfulness to the gospel message requires any particular doctrinal formulation of the ‘imputation of the active obedience of Christ.’” See “A Joint Federal Vision Statement,” 2007, signed by John Barach (minister, CREC), Randy Booth (minister, CREC), Tim Gallant (minister, CREC), Mark Horne (minister, PCA), Jim Jordan (minister ARC, Director of Biblical Horizons, member CREC), Peter Leithart (minister, PCA), Rich Lusk (minister, CREC), Jeff Meyers (minister, PCA), Ralph Smith (minister, CREC), Steve Wilkins (minister, PCA), Douglas Wilson (minister, CREC). The full document can be found at www.federal-vision.com. On the other hand are those who have responded to these movements by affirming the necessity of Christ’s active obedience imputed to the believer in justification See R. S. Clark [ed.], Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California (Philipsburg: P & R, 2007); Michael S. Horton, Covenant and Eschatology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007); Guy Waters, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis (Philipsburg: P & R, 2006); Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul: A Review and Response (Philipsburg: P & R, 2004); Cornelis Venema, Getting the Gospel Right (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2006).Most notable are the recent acts of Reformed synods and Presbyterian general assemblies that have assigned study committees, adopted statements, and/or made recommendations to their churches against the New Perspectives on Paul and Federal Vision. See, for example, the “Report of the Special Committee to Study the New Perspective on Paul: A Report Adopted by the 259th Synod of the Reformed Church of the United States, May 16-19, 2005;” “Report on Justification, Presented to the Seventy-third General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church,” 2006; “Report of Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theology” presented to the 35th PCA General Assembly, 2007; and the statements approved by Synod Schererville 2007 of the United Reformed Churches in North America.

[5] Mark Jones, “Covenant and Justification in the Thought of John Owen,” MA thesis (Potchefstroom: North-West University, 2006); Sinclair Ferguson, “The Doctrine of the Christian Life in the Teaching of John Owen (1616-1683),” PhD dissertation (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University, 1979); David Wong, “The Covenant Theology of John Owen,” PhD dissertation (Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1998)

[6] Truman, John Owen, 80-113.

[7] Trueman provides extensive treatment of Owen’s doctrine of the pactum salutis and how it relates to the Incarnation and priesthood of Christ and the Christological role of the Holy Spirit. He does not connect this, however, to imputation directly, either in his chapter on Owen’s covenant theology (67-99) or his noteworthy chapter on Owen’s doctrine of justification (101-121). Under the subheading, “Owen on Imputation of Active and Passive Righteousness” (107-113), the role of the Holy Spirit in the pactum salutis is not dealt with at all. 

[8] See Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, Volume Four (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 266-67, where he mentions Amandus Polanus (1561-1610) and Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669); and Trueman, John Owen, 81-87, where he mentions David Dickson (1583-1662), Edward Fisher (1627-1655) and Peter Bulkeley (1583-1659). For an example of how the idea of the pactum salutis is found in sixteenth-century theologians, such as Caspar Olevianus, see R.Scott Clark, Casper Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant: The Double Benefit of Christ (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2005), 177-80.

[9] XII, 497.

[10] XII, 498-500. Owen cited Prov 8.22-31; Ps 60.14; Isaiah 9.6; Zech 4.12-13; 13.7; Heb 2.9-10; 12.2.

[11] XII, 499, 501-2. Owen cited Job 33.23, 24; Isa 42.1; 49.5; 53.10; John 14.28; Rom 8.3; Gal 4.4; Phil 2.6-7; Heb 10.5-9. See also X, 168-174; XXII, 446-481.

[12] XII, 499, 503-5. Said Owen, “He who prescribes the hard conditions of incarnation, obedience, and death, doth also make the glorious promises of preservation, protection, and success. And to make these promises more eminent, God confirms them solemnly by an oath. He is consecrated a high priest for evermore by the ‘word of the oath,’ Heb. vii.28.” Owen cited Ps 16.10-11; 22.30-31; 89.27-28; Isa 42.4, 6; 50.5-9; 52.1-4; 53.10,11; Heb 5.7; 7.21, 28; 12.2. See also X, 168-71.

[13] XII, 499, 505. Said Owen, “[Christ] made himself surety of the covenant, and so was to pay what he never took. He voluntarily engaged himself into this sponsion; but when he had so done, he was legally subject to all that attended it, - when he had put his name into the obligation, he became responsible for the whole debt. And all that he did or suffered comes to be called ‘obedience;’ which relates to the law that he was subject to, having engaged himself to his Father, and said to the LORD, ‘Thou art my Lord; lo, I have come to do thy will.’” Owen cited Ps 16.2; 40.7-8; Isa 50.5; Phil 2.6-8. See also X, 174.

[14] XII, 499, 505-507. Owen cited Job 33.24; Ps 2.7-8; Isa 49.5-9; Dan 9.24; Acts 13.33; Rom 1.4; Jn 17 (which, said Owen, “the whole chapter is the demand of Christ for the accomplishment of the whole compact and all the promises that were made to him when he undertook to be a Saviour, which concerned both himself and his church”); Heb 7.25; 9.24.

[15] Carl Trueman rightly says, “The covenant of redemption is the foundation of the economy of salvation and of the Incarnation and it is this, therefore, that should be the starting-point of any discussion of the person of Jesus Christ in Owen’s theology. John Owen, 80.

[16] Peter Toon points out that “a committee of six – Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, William Bridge, William Greenhill, Joseph Caryl (all of whom had been members of the Westminster Assembly) and John Owen – was appointed to prepare a the draft of a declaration of faith and church order.” God’s Statesman, 103-07. Likewise, Carl Trueman says that because Owen “was one of the principal architects of the [Savoy]…the document can be assumed to reflect his theology and his view of the inadequacy or ambiguity of the original Westminster Confession of Faith formulation.” John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007), 108.

[17] Trueman, John Owen, p.86

[18] X, pp.163-78. Owen referred to Mt 1.18; Lk 1.35, 80; Rom 1.4; 8.11; Heb 9.14; and 1 Pet 3.18.

[19] XI, pp.336ff. For an example of how Owen preached on the roles of each divine Person of the Godhead in the pactum salutis, see his sermon, “The Everlasting Covenant, the Believer’s Support under Distress,” (1669), in Works, vol. IX, 418-19.

[20] V, 7.

[21] Mark Jones, “Covenant and Justification in the Thought of John Owen, 1616-1683,” 110.

[22] V, 165. While Owen refrains from naming names, he more than likely is making a reference to theologians such as Johannes Piscator (1546-1625) and Thomas Gataker, who, according to Trueman, “regarded Christ’s positive obedience to the law as being part of his obligation as rational creature,” a position akin to the Socinians whom Owen named outright. See Truman, Owen, 108-09. Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was also undoubtedly included in Owen’s indictment, as he (Baxter) essentially assumed Socinian arguments against the Reformed doctrines of atonement and justification in his Aphorismes of Justification (London, 1649), and engaged in lively exchange with Owen over the matter for a number of years. Denying imputed active obedience, Baxter charged Owen’s position of imputed active obedience as leading to antinomianism.

[23] V, 172.

[24] V, 172.

[25] V, 173-74. Owen continued in the remainder of the chapter refuting the Socinian notion that Christ’s righteousness is not what is imputed to the believer, but only a participation in its effects. Owen pointed out that certain Protestants of his day had been influenced by this Socinian idea: “And it is not pleasing to see among ourselves with so great confidence take up the sense and words of these men in their disputations against the Protestant doctrine in this cause; that is, the doctrine of the church of England.” On page 175, he called them “impertinent cavils that some of late have collects from the Papists and Socinians, - that if it be so, then are we as righteous as Christ himself, that we have redeemed the world and satisfied for the sins of others, that the pardon of sin is impossible and personal righteousness needless.”

[26] V, 182.

[27] V, 186. See also his comments on 275-77, as well as X, 82-84; XIX, 337, 388; XXIII, 60-62.

[28] X, p.84. Owen called this life the “supernatural end whereunto [man] was created.”

[29] V, 183.

[30] V, 184-96.

[31] V, 186.

[32] V, 252-62. Owen divides those who oppose the imputed active and passive obedience into three groups: those who saw it is impossible; those who saw it as useless; and those who saw believing it as pernicious. In the first group he quotes Socinus, De Jesu Christo Servatore, 3.5 as arguing that “whatever was of offering or sacrifice in the death of Christ, it was for himself…what he did could not be for us.”

[33] V, 258.

[34] For Owen, all of Christ’s obedience was, ultimately, active obedience, even his suffering and death. In some regards, Owen found the debates in his day over the distinction between the active and passive obedience of Christ to be, in a certain respect, foolhardy, “for [Christ] exercised the highest active obedience in his suffering, when he offered himself to God through the eternal Spirit.” V, 253.

[35] V, 176. See also his comments on pages 196, 209, 214, 217-18, and 222.

[36] V, 176.

[37] V, 177-78.

[38] V, 209.

[39] V, 178.

[40] V, 179.

[41] V, 179.

[42] V, 209.

[43] V, 214.

[44] V, 217-18.

[45] V, 219.

[46] The whole of Westminster Confession of Faith XI.1 reads as follows: “Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.” XI.1 of the Savoy Declaration is identical except for the noted change.

[47] V, 164. On page 63, Owen said, “There hath been a controversy more directly stated among some learned divines of the Reformed churches (for the Lutherans are unanimous on the one side), about the righteousness of Christ that is said to be imputed to us. For some would have this to be only his suffering of death, and the satisfaction which he made for sin thereby, and others include therein the obedience of his life also.” For Owen, the former had clearly strayed from the English Reformation. Included among his critique was Richard Baxter (1615-1691), whose 1649 Aphorisms of Justification (London, 1649) denied the imputed active obedience of Christ, affirmed justification through an obedient faith, and sharply criticized Owen’s 1647 work, The Death of Death. Baxter and Owen engaged in an ongoing debate over the doctrines of atonement and justification. As for believing this to be a deviation from the English Reformation, Owen said on pages 164-65, “Especially the church of England is in her doctrine express as unto the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, both active and passive, as it is usually distinguished. This hath been of late so full manifested out of her authentic writings, - that is, the articles of religion, and books of homilies, and other writing publicly authorized, - that it is altogether needless to give any father demonstration of it…Wherefore, in what I have to offer on this subject, I shall not in the least depart from the ancient doctrine of the church if England; yea, I have no design but to declare and vindicate it, as God shall enable…the life and continuance of any church on the one hand, and its apostasy or ruin on the other, do depend in an eminent manner on the preservation or rejection of the truth in this article of religion; and, I shall add, as it hath been professed, received, and believed in the church of England in former days.”

[48] V, 252.

[49] V, 254. Owen continued, “but the whole law of what I intend it, that Christ’s fulfilling of the law, in obedience unto its commands, is no less imputed unto us for our justification than his undergoing the penalty of it is.”

[50] V, 263.

[51] V, 275-77.

[52] V, 290-94. Owen explained his understanding of sola fide explicitly in chapter 15 (290-94), and sought to reconcile justification in Paul and James in chapter 20 (384-400). In making these closing arguments in his study, Owen appears to have sought to vindicate himself from the charges of antinomianism by Baxter.

Not By Faith Alone: The Neonomianism of Richard Baxter

baxter

NOT BY FAITH ALONE: The Neonomianism of Richard Baxter (1615–91)

By Rev. Michael Brown

This article was published in the Puritan Reformed Journal 3, no.1, Jan 2011. Used by permission.

Introduction

During its so-called Counter-Reformation of the mid-sixteenth century, Rome sharply criticized the Protestant doctrine of justification for being a teaching that inevitably led to antinomianism, that is, a belief that rejects the moral law of God as the rule of life for believers in the new covenant.[1] Understanding Protestants to teach that good works are an evidence but not the ground or instrument of one’s justification and that a sinner is justified “by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ” apart from all good works, Rome declared in its Council of Trent (1546) that anyone teaching such things was anathema.[2] Their concern was that such a doctrine would result in moral laxity. Protestants, on the other hand, insisted that Rome’s fears were unfounded. As they codified their doctrine in confessions and catechisms, they contended that it did not make Christians careless and profane, for, as the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) states, “it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by true faith should not bring fruits of thankfulness.”[3]

Rome’s denouncement of the Protestant doctrine of justification continued into the seventeenth century, spearheaded by Catholic apologists such as the Jesuit Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621). Yet, Rome was not the only critic of this doctrine. Arminians, such as Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) and Socinians, such as Jonas Schlichtingius (1592–1661), opposed it as well.[4] For the heirs of Calvin, a defense of the Protestant doctrine of justification became significantly more complex than it had been for the early Reformers.[5] Moreover, there arose an internal challenge for the Reformed orthodox, particularly those in Britain, in the teachings of Richard Baxter (1615–91), a minister in Kidderminster, England, who sought to revise the Protestant doctrine of justification. 

In recent decades, scholars have assessed Baxter’s treatment of justification and come to different conclusions as to what Baxter taught. C. Fitzsimons Allison, for example, has argued that Baxter’s doctrine of justification is difficult to distinguish from that of the Council of Trent.[6] Hans Boersma, on the other hand, has sought to exonerate Baxter of these charges and claims that Allison makes “an unfair criticism, based on a misunderstanding of what Baxter actually taught.”[7] In his 1993 study, A Hot Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification in Its Seventeenth-Century Context of Controversy, Boersma challenges Allison’s argument that Baxter substituted faith in place of Christ’s righteousness as the formal cause of justification.

Is Allison correct in his assessment of Baxter, or has he, as Boersma claims, made an unwarranted accusation about his teaching and unfairly painted him in Roman Catholic colors? The purpose of this paper is not to make or support any particular dogmatic construction concerning justification, whether Baxterian, Roman Catholic, antinomian, or that of the Reformed orthodox. Rather, it pursues the question of what Baxter believed with regard to the doctrine of justification in his historical context. It argues that Allison’s thesis holds up under Boersma’s criticism by showing that Baxter held a view of justification that was difficult to distinguish from that of the Council of Trent, and that he did so in order to safeguard against his perceived threat of antinomianism.[8]

In order to prove this thesis, this study makes three observations. First, it deals with Baxter’s perceived threat of antinomianism; second, it considers briefly Rome’s doctrine of justification; third, it examines Baxter’s doctrine of justification.

Baxter’s Perceived Threat of Antinomianism 

In the summer of 1645, during the struggle of the English Civil War, Baxter accepted an invitation to become a chaplain in the New Model Army of Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658).[9] While his military service amounted to a stint of less than two years (his health failed in February 1647), it proved to be formative for his theology, especially his doctrine of justification. He became deeply disturbed by the antinomianism he saw amongst the soldiers in Cromwell’s army. That antinomianism, according to E. F. Kevan, had as its main object the glory of Christ; “but, failing to understand the true relation between ‘law’ and ‘grace’, they extolled the latter at the expense of the former.”[10] For Baxter, antinomianism was more than a misunderstanding about the role of the law in the life of the believer; it amounted to a denial of the Gospel, “subverting the very substance of Christian religion…I think it fitter to call them Antigospellers, or Antichristian, or Libertines, than Antinomians.”[11] According to Baxter, antinomianism was rife in the New Model Army, its soldiers “falling in with Saltmarsh, [who said] that Christ hath repented and believed for us, and that we must no more question our faith and Repentance than Christ.”[12]

Baxter referred to John Saltmarsh (d.1647), a preacher, writer, and chaplain in General Fairfax’s army, who was accused of antinomianism[13] by the staunch Presbyterian leader of the Scottish delegation to the Westminster Assembly, Samuel Rutherford (1600–61).[14] In 1645, he published Free-Grace: or, the Flowings of Christs Blood Freely to Sinners, a book which Baxter believed was rapidly becoming popular in England yet was full of antinomian error.[15]

Saltmarsh’s views on justification, which Baxter considered to be antinomian, can be summarized in the following points. First, he held to a view of “eternal justification,” that is, the idea that the elect were not only elect in eternity, but also justified in Christ in eternity.[16] Chad Van Dixhoorn has rightly noted that the “idea of an eternal justification is the intellectual starting point for a number of key tenets of antinomianism.”[17] Second, the difference between the old and new covenants is that under the old a believer obtained salvation upon performing certain conditions, but in the new, such conditions are abrogated by virtue of the finished work of Christ.[18] Third, the new covenant is not, properly speaking, with the elect, but with Christ, who fulfilled the necessary conditions of the old covenant for the elect. The elect are in the new covenant in the sense that they are in Christ.[19] Fourth, while the law continues to command obedience in the new covenant, and still reveals sin in the life of the believer, it “cannot tax him with damnation,” for it has been fully satisfied by Christ.[20] “Christ hath believed perfectly, he hath repented perfectly, he hath sorrowed for sin perfectly, he hath obeyed perfectly…we are to believe that repentance true in him, who hath repented for us.”[21] Fifth, a justified person may fall back into sin, but this does not change the justified person’s status with God. While Christians should flee from sin and continually repent of it, such sin, though it “grieves the Spirit of God…cannot alter the love of God” toward the justified.[22]

Another writer charged with antinomianism by Rutherford and Baxter, as well as a petition sent to the House of Commons by the Westminster Assembly on August 10, 1643, was John Eaton (c.1575–1641).[23] From his posthumous and highly influential Honey-combe of Free Justification by Christ Alone (1642), it is clear that his views on justification were similar to those of Saltmarsh. There were some additional points he emphasized, which Baxter also found objectionable. First, believers are perfect and sinless in God’s sight by virtue of Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to them, even though, as justified sinners, they still feel the imperfections of their sanctification throughout their lives.[24] This was similar to Luther’s dictum simul iustus et peccator (“at once righteous and a sinner”). Second, good works flow out and are the fruit of justification. It is therefore pointless to call people to good works without grounding them in justification. “If we call unto people for Sanctification, zeale and works, the fruits of the same, only with legal terrours, not putting under the fire of justification, we shall either but little move them, or else, with a constrained sanctity, make them worse hypocrites, twofold more the children of hell than they were before.”[25] Third, the double imputation of the elect’s sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to the elect meant that, upon the cross, Christ was “made a sinner.”[26] Likewise, the person in Christ is no longer “an idolater, a persecutor, a thief, a murderer, an adulterer, or a sinful person…you are all that he was, and he is all that you were.”[27]

A third writer accused of antinomianism, and perhaps the most well known in the seventeenth century, was Tobias Crisp (1600–43).[28] His collection of sermons, titled, Christ Alone Exalted, were reprinted in 1690 and sparked fierce debates. His views regarding justification were on many points similar to those of Saltmarsh and Eaton. Prominent in his thought are the following. First, Crisp firmly held to the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience to the believer. Believers are in Christ in such a way that God accounts them as being as perfectly obedient to the law as was Christ.[29] While this view was not distinct to so-called antinomian teaching (e.g. HC 60), it was nevertheless a view Baxter associated with antinomianism, as we shall see below. Second, due to his belief in eternal justification, Crisp believed that justification precedes faith. This seems to be a position he held out of his concern to guard faith from being construed as a condition of the new covenant or, more specifically, a work. [30] This point in particular allegedly earned him the acrimonious title from Baxter, “Jezebel.”[31] Third, sanctification, while inseparable from justification, is not guided by the law, but by Christ; he alone is the way to salvation. “There is never a School-Master in the World can teach the perfect Trade of walking Uprightly, but Christ alone.”[32] Crisp was adamant that the only effective way to motivate people to holiness is by preaching the grace and forgiveness freely given in Christ.[33]

It should be noted, however, that, whatever his views on justification, Crisp did in fact hold to the moral law as the Christian’s rule of life. He made this unequivocally clear in a sermon on John 8:36, “Christian Liberty no Licentious Doctrine.”[34] After emphasizing that the believer is righteous before God only by virtue of the alien righteousness of Christ and not by any inherent righteousness in the believer himself, Crisp went on to explain that this did not preclude the believer’s obligation to obedience to God’s commands:

But this doth not take away our Obedience, nor our Services in respect of those ends for which such Services are now required of Believers. We have yet several ends for Duties and Obedience; namely, that our Services may glorifie God, and evidence our thankfulness; and that they may be profitable to Men, that they may be Ordinances wherein to meet with God, to made good what he hath promised; so far we are called out to Services, and walking Uprightly, Sincerely, Exactly, and Strictly.[35]

 Good works, according to Crisp, bring glory to God and evidence one’s justification.

To combat antinomianism, Baxter wrote on the doctrine of justification. His first work, Aphorismes of Justification with Their Explication Annexed (1649), revealed a significant revision of the Protestant doctrine of justification. As Allison notes, this book “elicited a storm of protest, and Baxter found himself involved for the rest of his life in controversies about justification.”[36] As we will see below, Baxter modified his view of justification in order to refute antinomianism. Despite the controversies that resulted from his revisions, controversies primarily with the Reformed orthodox, he became convinced over time that his polemical writings on justification had successfully silenced antinomianism. By 1664, he concluded that this “Sect” had been extinct for many years.[37]

It was therefore much to his vexation to discover almost thirty years later that antinomianism was still alive and kicking. In 1690, the sermons of Tobias Crisp were reprinted by Crisp’s son Samuel, indicating a rising interest in the teachings Baxter had spent most of his life refuting. What is more is that the preface to the published sermons contained a rebuttal of Baxter’s view of imputation. This was enough to move the aging Baxter to attack Crisp’s views in a lecture given in the joint Presbyterian-Congregationalist lectures at Pinner’s Hall, and to continue writing on the subject, even up to his death.[38] In 1690 he published The Scripture Gospel defended, and Christ, Grace and Free Justification Vindicated Against the Libertines, Who use the names of Christ, Free Grace and Justification, to subvert the Gospel, and Christianity, etc., and in 1691 he published An End of Doctrinal Controversies Which have Lately Troubled the Churches by Reconciling Explication, without Much Disputing.[39]

Antinomianism, as J.I. Packer put it, would be “Baxter’s lifelong bogey…he attacked their positions as bound to prove libertine in effect. This was the whole point and purpose of his onslaught.”[40] Before examining Baxter’s view of justification, however, it is necessary for us to look at several features of Rome’s interpretation of the same doctrine.

Rome’s Doctrine of Justification

While it is beyond the scope of this essay to engage in a full-scale analysis of Rome’s doctrine of justification, we will focus briefly on three points within her doctrine as stated in the Council of Trent. The first is Rome’s denial of the imputed obedience of Christ as the ground of the believer’s justification. According to Trent, justification is not a one-time forensic act in which Christ’s obedience and righteousness is imputed to the believer (e.g. HC 60; BC 22; WCF 11.1; WLC 70-73), but a gradual process of moral change in the believer’s life, wrought by grace. This was a rejection of the sharp distinction Protestants made between justification and sanctification. Session 6, Chapter 7, states that justification “is not the remission of sins merely but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to the hope of life everlasting.”[41] Whereas the Reformed orthodox insisted that Christ’s righteousness is the formal cause of justification, Rome contended otherwise:

[T]he alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby he himself is just, but that whereby he maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we, being endowed by him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as he wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-opertation.[42]

In other words, justification, for Rome is the Holy Spirit’s process of inward, moral renewal, since one is justified only if one is actually and truly just.

This ontological understanding of justification arose in large part from the distinction made by late medieval scholastic theologians between meritum de congruo and meritum de condigno. The former was a half-merit not truly deserving of God’s grace; it received grace proportionate to and congruent with a believer’s good works on the basis of divine generosity. The latter, on the other hand, was a full merit truly deserving of God’s grace. Connected to this was the Franciscan teaching that God’s covenant was facientibus quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam (“To those who do what is in them, God will not deny grace”).[43] The Reformers and their orthodox heirs, on the other hand, rejected the medieval notion of congruent merit and instead embraced a doctrine of imputed condign merit – merit which the first Adam failed to achieve but which the second Adam attained through his active obedience – to the sinner who received it through faith alone.[44]

Thus, for Rome, justification excluded the Protestant notion of the imputed obedience of Christ as the ground of justification. Righteousness is not imputed, but infused.  “Whence man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these [gifts] infused at once, faith hope, and charity.”[45]Session 6, Canon 11, made this even more clear:

If anyone saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema.[46]

Contrary to Protestant and Reformed orthodox thought, Rome’s denied the imputed obedience of Christ as the ground of the believer’s justification.

The second point we must consider in the Tridentine doctrine of justification is the matter of faith. Trent officially adopted the medieval understanding of faith taught clearly Thomas Aquinas (c.1224–74). Faith, for Aquinas, was first a habitus mentis, a habit of the mind, in which eternal life was begun, causing the intellect to assent to doctrinal truth.[47] To this “unformed faith,” however, must be added hope and love, that is, acts of obedience, which causes the faith to be fides formata, “formed faith.”[48] This was codified by Trent in Session 6, Canon 11, as quoted above, and in Canon 12, which declared: “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified: let him be anathema.”[49] For Rome, saving faith was not, as the Reformed held, notitia (“knowledge”), assensus (“assent”), and fiducia (“trust”) in the Gospel (e.g. HC 21), but a faith that obeys. 

Rome viewed this obedience as possible for believers under the new covenant largely because of a distinction made by Aquinas between old law (lex vetus) and new law (lex nova). Under the new covenant and new law, which was inaugurated by Christ, more grace is available to the believer was previously available under the old covenant and old law. [50] It is important to understand that, for Rome, this obedience under the new covenant was not, as the Reformed had claimed, merely the fruit of justification, but actually part of the cause and increase of justification. “If anyone saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof: let him be anathema.”[51]

Lastly, we must note that Rome formulated, at least implicitly, a type of “final justification” in Trent. In Session 6, Chapter 10, Trent declared that justification advances “from virtue to virtue…through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with works” so that there is a gradual “increase in that justice which [believers] have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified.”[52] In other words, complete justification is never attained in this life by a believer; it only comes at the conclusion of a lifetime of obedience and good works. 

 Having considered briefly Rome’s doctrine of justification, we are now prepared to look more closely at Baxter’s.

Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification

 Baxter’s treatment of justification was vast and his works on the subject spanned more than four decades.[53] As Packer has noted, “it was here [i.e. the doctrine of justification] that he supposed himself to be making his most valuable contribution to theology.”[54] While a comprehensive study of Baxter’s doctrine of justification is beyond the scope of this paper, we will, for the purpose of defending our thesis, examine four aspects of his doctrine of justification.

The first is Baxter’s denial of the imputed obedience of Christ as the ground of justification. He admitted that for about ten years, he rejected the belief commonly held amongst the Reformed orthodox that both the active and passive obedience of Christ were imputed to the believer in favor of a view that held only Christ’s passive obedience to be imputed.[55] This was a position similar to that of William Twisse (1578–1646) Thomas Gataker (1574–1654).[56] After ten years, however, Baxter embraced a different view of imputation, one which adapted the legal views of Hugo Grotius and essentially made the traditional distinctions of Christ’s active and passive obedience unnecessary.[57] Grotius outlined this view in his 1617 treatise, A Defence of the Catholic Faith concerning the Satisfaction of Christ against Faustus Socinus, in which he borrowed from Roman law a distinction between identical satisfaction (solutio eiusdem) and equivalent satisfaction (solutio tantidem) in order to combat the Socinian objection that the Protestant doctrine of a vicarious atonement makes salvation a matter of right and justice rather than forgiveness and mercy.[58] Grotius, and subsequently Baxter, held the position that Christ’s death was not an identical satisfaction for sins, but an equivalent one.

According to Packer, Baxter’s study of Saltmarsh “revolutionized his own thought; for he began to see that Saltmarsh’s gospel was an inescapable deduction from two doctrines he held himself – limited atonement and justification before faith.”[59] Adapting the Grotian position allowed Baxter to thwart the antinomian teaching of eternal justification. Carl Trueman offers this helpful summary of how this played out in Baxter’s thought:

[T]he Grotian distinction in this regard allows Baxter to avoid what he sees as the implication of eternal justification which the solutio eiusdem concept implies: if the actual sins of a particular sinner are really imputed to Christ and punished on the cross, then that sinner is, from that moment onwards, really justified, regardless of when they come to exercise faith. In other words, for Baxter the problem with Reformed Orthodox views of imputation is not simply that what is imputed to the believer subverts the need for good works; it is also that what is imputed to Christ subverts the need for good works as well.[60]

Thus, Baxter, in his effort to refute antinomianism, rejected the Reformed orthodox teaching of double imputation, that is, the great exchange between the sins of the elect and the obedience of Christ by imputation (cf. HC 60; BC 22-23; WCF 11; WLC 70-73). “Take heed of the Errors of the Antinomians,” warned Baxter, “[errors which teach] that Christ’s satisfaction is ours…before the Application.”[61]

What then, for Baxter, was the ground of justification if it was not the imputed obedience of Christ? He held that Christ’s righteousness caused a change in the demands of the law. Packer observes that the difference between orthodox Calvinism and Baxter has to with the law of God and how it is satisfied in Christ for the believer. “Where orthodox Calvinism taught that Christ satisfied the law in the sinner’s place, Baxter held that Christ satisfied the Lawgiver and so procured a change in the law. Here Baxter aligns himself with Arminian thought rather than with orthodox Calvinism.”[62]

Yet, on this point, Baxter also appears to have aligned himself to some degree with Roman Catholic thought. Not only did he, like Rome, reject the imputation of Christ’s obedience as the ground of justification, but he also seems to have suggested a scheme similar to Rome’s old law/new law distinction: Christ’s work makes the terms of the new covenant more lenient than the old, procuring a change in the law that makes obedience possible.

This leads us to the second point we must consider in Baxter’s doctrine of justification, namely, his notion of a twofold righteousness. “[A]s there are two Covenants, with their distinct Conditions: so there is a twofold Righteousness, and both of them absolutely necessary to Salvation.”[63] The first of these two is what he called legal righteousness, that is, the righteousness earned under the law of works. This righteousness is not personal to the believer, “for we never fulfilled, nor personally satisfied the law,” but is “wholly without us in Christ.”[64] He claimed this to be the type of righteousness of which Paul spoke in Philippians 3, juxtaposing it to the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ.

The second type of righteousness, however, is evangelical righteousness, which, according to Baxter, does belong to the believer, and consists of the believer’s faith. Says Baxter, “faith is imputed for Righteousness…because it is an Act of Obedience to God…it is the performance of the Condition of the Justifying Covenant.”[65] Allison seems correct in his charge that “Justifying faith, for Baxter, is that which is imputed and reckoned for righteousness as a condition of the new covenant.”[66] Packer does not contest this point; he fully recognizes that, for Baxter, a believer’s faith “constitutes him righteous. This is evangelical righteousness.”[67] He clearly believed that one’s faith, rather than the active and passive obedience of Christ, is the ground of and condition for one’s justification. As Allison summarizes,

Baxter takes the position that Christ himself fulfilled the conditions of the old covenant, and thereby purchased for us easier terms within the new covenant. On account of Christ’s righteousness, our own righteousness (faith and repentance) is accounted, or imputed, as acceptable righteousness. We are, in other words, justified by our own righteousness on account of the righteousness of Christ.[68]

In other words, Christ’s righteousness makes justification by a believer’s righteousness (i.e. his faith) possible.

That the Reformed orthodox found this formulation upsetting comes as no surprise, for their confessional standards taught the very opposite about faith, namely, that it was not the ground of justification, but the instrument (i.e. HC 60-61; BC 22; WCF 11.1-2; WLC 70-73). Yet, what they found even more provocative in Baxter’s position was his insistence that justifying faith contained works, which is the third point we must consider in Baxter’s doctrine of justification.

For Baxter, faith itself is not the sole ground of a believer’s justification; rather, faith must be joined to works. “Both justifie in the same kinde of causality, viz. as Causae sine quibus non…Faith as the principal part; Obedience as the less principall. The like may be said of Love, which at least is a secondary part of the Condition.”[69] The evangelical righteousness of which Baxter spoke, that is, the righteousness apart from which one cannot be justified, contained the believer’s obedience. Boersma does not dispute this point in Baxter’s thinking. He fully concedes that Baxter made evangelical obedience “a secondary part of the condition of the continuation of justification.”[70] Using the analogy of a insignificant amount of rent paid by a tenant, rent costing only a “pepper corn,” Baxter said this is what the believer’s obedience contributes to salvation.[71] Said Baxter:

A Tenant forfeiteth his Lease to his Landlord, by not paying his rent; he runs deep in debt to him, and is disabled to pay him any more rent for the future, whereupon he is put out of his house, and cast him into prison till he pay his debt. His Landlord’s son payeth it for him, taketh him out of prison, and putteth him in his house again, as his Tenant, having purchased house and all to himself; he maketh him a new Lease in this Tenor, that paying but a pepper corn yearly to him, he shall be acquit both from his debt, and from all other rent from the future, which by his old lease was to be paid; yet doth he not cancel the old Lease, but keepeth it in his hands to put in suite against the Tenant, if he should be so foolish as to deny the payment of the pepper corn. In this case the payment of the grain of pepper is imputed to the Tenant, as if he had paid the rent of the old Lease: Yet this imputation doth not extoll the pepper corn, nor vilifie the benefit of his Benefactor, who redeemed him: nor can it be said that the purchase did only serve to advance the value and efficacy of that grain of pepper. But thus; a personall rent must be paid for the testification of his homage.[72]

In other words, Christ, like the landlord’s son in this analogy, has paid the cost (the lease) of what the sinner (the tenant) owed God (the landlord). The new covenant is like a new lease which only demands a small payment (a peppercorn), namely, obedient faith.[73] For Baxter, a denial of this pepper corn of obedience contributed to salvation made one an antinomian. “The ignorant Antinomians think, it cannot be a Free Act of Grace, if there be any Condition on our part for enjoying it. As if…the Tenants redemption were the less free because his new Lease requires the Rent of a pepper corn in token of homage!”[74]

The similarities of this point of Baxter’s to Rome’s doctrine are obvious. Whereas Trent requires obedience for justification, so too does Baxter, a point not lost on the Reformed orthodox. John Owen (1616–83), for example, responded to Baxter in his 1677 treatise on justification, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith though the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated. While Owen wrote this treatise primarily against “the two grand parties by whom the doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ is opposed; - namely the Papists and the Socinians,” he also aimed his guns at neonomians such as Johannes Piscator (1546-1625), Gataker, and Baxter, to whom he clearly refers as the “many interlopers, who, coming in on their hand, do make bold to borrow from both as they see occasion.”[75] Preceding Owen was Samuel Petto (c.1624–1711), who, in his 1674 treatise on covenant theology, The Difference Between the Old and New Covenant, refuted Baxter’s analogy of a “peppercorn” payment of rent: “We claim Salvation not in the right of any act of ours, not upon the Rent of Faith (as men hold Tenements by the payment of a Penny, a Rose, or such like) no such thing here; all is paid to the utmost Farthing by our Surety, and we hold and claim upon the obedience of Jesus Christ alone.”[76] For the Reformed orthodox, faith is a gift that bestows a title upon the believer because of the obedience of Christ alone.

Lastly, we must briefly consider Baxter’s view of “final justification.” For the pastor from Kidderminster, continuance of justification depends not on faith alone, but also upon the believer’s personal faithfulness and covenant-keeping:[77]

In our first Believing we take Christ in the Relation of a Saviour, and Teacher, and Lord, to save us from all sin, and to lead us to glory. This therefore importeth that we accordingly submit unto him, in those his Relations, as a necessary means to the obtaining of the benefits of the Relations. Our first faith is our Contract with Christ…And all Contracts of such nature, do impose a necessity of performing what we consent to and promise, in order to the benefits…And in humane contracts it is so. Barely to take a Prince for her husband may entitle a woman to his honours and lands; But conjugal fidelity is also necessary for the continuance of them; for Adultery would cause a divorce…Covenant-making may admit you, but its the Covenant-keeping that must continue you in your priviledges.[78]

In other words, a believer enters the salvific relationship with God by faith, but must remain in that relationship by his (the believer’s) faithfulness. Notice what Baxter says: “Our first faith is our Contract with Christ,” but, as in human contracts, in order to obtain the benefits of that contract, we must perform “what we consent to and promise.” Christ may be our faithful Husband, but we must be his faithful bride if want to continue in the privileges of salvation and reach final justification. “Faith, Repentance, Love, Thankfulness, sincere Obedience, together with finall Perseverance, do make up the Condition of our final Absolution in Iudgement, and our eternal Glorification.”[79]

In one of his most lucid statements on this point, Baxter said:

And that the Law of Grace being that which we are to be judged by, we shall at the last Judgment also be judged (and so justified) thus far by or according to our sincere Love, Obedience, or Evangelical Works, as the Conditions of the Law or Covenant of free Grace, which justifieth and glorifieth freely in all that are thus Evangelically qualified, by and for the Merits, perfect Righteousness and Sacrifice of Christ, which procured the Covenant or free Gift of Universal Conditional Justification and Adoption, before and without any Works or Conditions done by Man Whatsoever. Reader forgive me this troublesome oft repeating of the state of the controversy; I meddle with no other. If this be Justification by Works, I am for it.[80]

In other words, the “perfect righteousness and sacrifice of Christ” secured more lenient terms for believers than previously enjoyed under the old covenant so that a believer’s faith (which must include “sincere love, obedience, or evangelical works”) is imputed for righteousness “as the condition of the law.”

Because Baxter’s construction of justification bore striking similarities to the Roman Catholic position that Christ obeyed the law in order to make it possible for sinners to cooperate with grace toward future justification, it elicited intense responses from Reformed orthodox writers. John Owen, for example, wrote in 1677 The Doctrine of Justification by Faith through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ. In it he lamented, “In my judgment Luther spake the truth when he said, ‘Amisso articulo justificationis, simul amissa est tota doctrina Christiana.’ And I wish he had not been a true prophet, when he foretold that in the following ages the doctrine hereof would be again obscured.”[81]

Conclusion

Whether or not we agree with Baxter’s view of justification, we must conclude that, at least in three aspects, namely, a denial of the imputation of Christ’s obedience as the ground of justification, a faith that obeys as the ground of righteousness, and final justification, it is, as Allison rightly pointed out, “difficult to distinguish…from that of the Council of Trent.”[82] Baxter’s views on justification accurately earn him the title, “neonomian,” for they restate the gospel as merely a “new law.”

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Baxter, Richard. Aphorismes of Justification with Their Explication Annexed. London, 1649.

 ________.  Of Justification: Four Disputations Clearing and amicably Defending the Truth, against the unnecessary Oppositions of divers Learned and Reverend Brethren. London, 1658.

 ________.  A Treatise of Justifying Righteousness, In Two Books. London, 1676.

 ________. An End of Doctrinal Controversies Which have Lately Troubled the Churches by Reconciling Explication, without Much Disputing. London, 1691.

 ________. Reliquiae Baxterianae: Or, Mr. Richard Baxter’s Narrative of The most Memorable Passages of His Life and Times. London, 1696.

 ________. Richard. Baxters Apology Against the Modest Exceptions of Mr. Thomas Blake. London, 1654.

 ________. Rich: Baxter’s Confession [sic] of his Fatih, Especially concerning the Interest of Repentance and sincere Obedience to Christ, in our Justification & Salvation. Written for the satisfaction of the misinformed, the conviction of Calumniators, and the Explication and Vindication of some weighty Truths. London, 1655.

 Crisp, Tobias. Christ Alone Exalted: Being the Compleat Works of Tobias Crisp, D.D. containing XLII. Sermons. London, 1690.

 ________. Christ Made Sin: II Cor.V.xxi. Evinc’t from Scripture, Upon Occasion of An Exception taken at Pinners-Hall, 28 January, 1689, At Re-printing the Sermons of Dr. Tobias Crisp. London, 1691.

 Owen, John. The Doctrine of Justification by Faith though the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated (1677), in The Works of John Owen, vol. V. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, repr.1998.

 Petto, Samuel. The Difference Between the Old and New Covenant Stated and Explained: With an Exposition of the Covenant of Grace in the Principal Concernments of It. London, 1674.

Rutherford, Samuel. A Survey of the Spirituall Antichrist, Part I and Part II. London, 1648.

 __________. Letters of Samuel Rutherford (1664), ed. Andrew Bonar. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, repr.2006. 

Saltmarsh, John. A peace but no pacification, or, An answer to that new designe of the oath of pacification and accommodation lately printed a subject for all that love true peace and liberty to consider. London, 1643.

________. Free-Grace: or, the Flowings of Christs Blood freely to Sinners. London, 1645.

Williams, Daniel. Gospel-Truth Stated and Vindicated, Wherein some of Dr. Crisp’s Opinions Are Considered; And The Opposite Truths Are Plainly Stated and Confirmed. London, 1692.

Witsius, Herman. Conciliatory, Or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain Under the Unhappy Names of Antinomians and Neonomians (1696), trans. Thomas Bell. Glasgow, 1807.

________. The Economy of the Covenants Between God & Man (1677). Kingsburg: den Dulk Christian Foundation, repr. 1990.

Secondary Sources

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Beeke, Joel R. and Pederson, Randall J., eds. Meet the Puritans. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006.

Boersma, Hans.  A Hot Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification in Its Seventeenth-Century Context of Controversy. Zoetermeer: Uitgevererij Boekencentrum, 1993.

Clark, R. Scott. “Do This and Live: Christ’s Active Obedience as the Ground of Justification,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry; Essays By the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, R. Scott Clark, ed. Phillipsburg: P & R, 2007.

________ . “How We Got Here: The Roots of the Current Controversy over Justification,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry; Essays By the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, R. Scott Clark, ed. Phillipsburg: P & R, 2007.

________. “Letter and Spirit: Law and Gospel in Reformed Preaching,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry; Essays By the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, R. Scott Clark, ed. Phillipsburg: P & R, 2007.

Coffey, John. Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Fesko, J.V. Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine. Philipsburg: P & R, 2008.

Kevan, E.F. The Grace of Law: A Study of Puritan Theology. 1964, repr. Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria, 1993.

Matthew, H.C.G., Harrison, Brian Howard, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000. Oxford: OUP, 2004.

Muller, Richard. After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

________. Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins. 1986, Grand Rapids: Baker, rep.2008.

________. Post-Reformation Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725. Four vols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003.

Packer, J.I. The Redemption & Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter. Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2003.

Ramsey, D. Patrick. “Meet Me in the Middle: Herman Witsius and the English Dissenters.” Mid-America Journal of Theology 19 (2008), 143-64.

Schaff, Philip. ed., The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (1931, Grand Rapids: Baker, repr.1998)

Trueman, Carl R. “A Small Step Towards Rationalism: The Impact of the Metaphysics of Tommaso Campanella on the Theology of Richard Baxter,” in Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment. Trueman and R. Scott Clark, eds. Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1999.

________. The Claims of Truth. Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998.

________. John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man. Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007.

________. “Richard Baxter on Christian Unity: A Chapter in the Enlightening of English Reformed Orthodoxy,” Westminster Theological Journal 61 (1999), 53-71.

Van Dixhoorn, Chad. “Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly 1643-1652,” 7 vols. PhD. dissertation. University of Cambridge, 2004.

Watts, Michael Watts. The Dissenters: From the Reformation to the French Revolution. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, repr.1985.

Wedgwood, C.V. The King’s War 1641–1647. New York: MacMillan, 1959.


[1] From the Greek anti (“against”) and nomos (“law”).

[2] Council of Trent, session 6, canon 24, as quoted in Philip Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (1931, Grand Rapids: Baker, repr.1998), 2:115. See also canon 11 in Schaff, 2:112-13.

[3] HC Q.64.

[4] See John Owen’s arguments against these thinkers in his The Doctrine of Justification by Faith though the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated (1677), in The Works of John Owen, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, repr.1998), 5:183ff.

[5] On Reformed orthodoxy, see Richard Muller, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); idem, Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins (1986, Grand Rapids: Baker, rep.2008); idem, Post-Reformation Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003).

[6] See C.F. Allison, The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter (London: SPCK, 1966), 154–77, esp.163.

[7] See Hans Boersma, A Hot Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification in Its Seventeenth-Century Context of Controversy (Zoetermeer: Uitgevererij Boekencentrum, 1993); 15-16.

[8] R. Scott Clark briefly makes this same point in a footnote in his, “How We Got Here: The Roots of the Current Controversy over Justification,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry; Essays By the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, R. Scott Clark, ed. (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2007), 15n27.

[9] See Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 31; and Watts, Dissenters, 106-11. On the English Civil War, see C.V. Wedgwood, The King’s War 1641–1647 (New York: MacMillan, 1959).  

[10] E.F. Kevan, The Grace of Law: A Study of Puritan Theology (1964, repr. Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria, 1993), 24.

[11] Richard Baxter, “Rich. Baxter’s Admonition to Mr William Eyre of Salisbury,”in Richard. Baxters Apology Against the Modest Exceptions of Mr. Thomas Blake (London, 1654), 6. See also Packer, Redemption, 352.

[12] Richard Baxter, A Treatise of Justifying Righteousness, (London, 1676), 1:22. See also his Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 32-33, 68-69; Watts, Dissenters, 109-10, 293-4; Allison, Rise of Moralism, 155-6; Carl Trueman, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007), 106-7, 11; J.I. Packer, The Redemption & Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2003), 202-8.  

[13] On Saltmarsh, see H.C.G. Matthew, Brian Howard Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000 (Oxford: OUP, 2004), 770; Watts, Dissenters, 110, 112, 122, 181-83, 192; Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 26, 68-69, 119, 214; Kevan, The Grace of Law, 28; Packer, Redemption, 27, 202-5, 248-56, 274, 352-61; Allison, Rise of Moralism, 170-1.

[14] Samuel Rutherford, A Survey of the Spirituall Antichrist, Part I and Part II (London, 1648); 1:193. On Rutherford’s life and theology, see his Joshua Redivinus or Mr. Rutherfoord’s Letters (Rotterdam, 1664), reprinted as Letters of Samuel Rutherford (1664), ed. Andrew Bonar (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, repr.2006); and John Coffey, Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

[15] See Richard Baxter, Rich: Baxter’s Confession [sic] of his Fatih, Especially concerning the Interest of Repentance and sincere Obedience to Christ, in our Justification & Salvation (London, 1655), preface.

[16] John Saltmarsh, Free-Grace: or, the Flowings of Christs Blood Freely to Sinners (London, 1645), 125.

[17] Chad Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly 1643-1652,” 7 vols. PhD. dissertation (University of Cambridge, 2004), 1:277.

[18] Saltmarsh, Free-Grace, 142-45.

[19] Saltmarsh, Free-Grace,161-3.

[20] Saltmarsh, Free-Grace, 143.

[21] Saltmarsh, Free-Grace, 84.

[22] Saltmarsh, Free-Grace, 145. Cf. 76.

[23] On John Eaton, see Watts, Dissenters, 180; Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 68; Kevan, The Grace of Law, 25-27; Packer, Redemption, 248-56, 352-63; Allison, Rise of Moralism, 169-70.

[24] John Eaton, Honey-Combe of Free Justification (London, 1642), 87. 

[25] Eaton, Honey-combe, 476.

[26] Eaton, Honey-combe, 363.

[27] Eaton, Honey-combe, 273.

[28] On Tobias Crisp see Watts, Dissenters, 180-1, 293-5; Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 61-68, 214, 238, 255, 303, 329; Kevan, The Grace of Law, 25-27; Packer, Redemption, 248-50, 352-61, 409-13; Allison, Rise of Moralism, 171-2; Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, eds., Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 164-68.

[29] See his sermon on Isaiah 53:6, “Sin Transacted Really Upon Christ” in Christ Alone Exalted, 178-310.

[30] See his sermon on Isaiah 42:6-7, “The New Covenant of Free Grace,” in Christ Alone Exalted, 74-92.

[31] As reported by Crisp’s son, Samuel, in the Preface to Tobias Crisp, Christ Made Sin (London, 1691).

[32] Christ Alone Exalted, 49. From his sermon on John 14:6, “Christ the Onely Way,” in Christ Alone Exalted, 14-58.

[33] See his sermon on Isaiah 43:25, “God Remembers Not Our Sins” in Christ Alone Exalted, 159-74.

[34] Christ Alone Exalted: Being the Compleat Works of Tobias Crisp, D.D. containing XLII. Sermons (London, 1690), 110-28.

[35] Christ Alone Exalted, 125-6. See also Crisp’s sermon on Isaiah 41:10, titled, “God’s Covenant with His People, The Ground of their Security,” in Christ Alone Exalted, 526-47.

[36] Allison, Rise of Moralism, 154.

[37] Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae: Or, Mr. Richard Baxter’s Narrative of The most Memorable Passages of His Life and Times (London, 1696), 1:111.

[38] Baxter was not the only one involved in refuting antinomianism. Daniel Williams (c.1643–1715/6) took up Baxter’s mantle and wrote Gospel-Truth Stated and Vindicated, Wherein some of Dr. Crisp’s Opinions Are Considered; And The Opposite Truths Are Plainly Stated and Confirmed (London, 1692). Williams was opposed by Isaac Chauncey (1632–1712), who published, Neonomianism Unmask'd: Or, The Ancient Gospel Pleaded, Against the Other, Called a New Law Or Gospel (1692) in which he defended Crisp’s views. The debates between Williams and Chauncey led to some division between English Presbyterians and Congregationalists who had, for years, met at Pinners Hall for joint lectures and, since March of 1691, participated in the so-called Happy Union. Things turned unhappy, however, when Williams was ousted and a rival lectureship at Salter’s Hall was formed by disgruntled Presbyterians. These events led the divided Nonconformists to ask the Dutchman Herman Witsius (1636–1708) to mediate between the parties. Witsius agreed and subsequently produced his Conciliatory, or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, under the unhappy names of Antinomians and Neonomians (1696). For more on this, see Watts, Dissenters, 290-7; and D. Patrick Ramsey, “Meet Me in the Middle: Herman Witsius and the English Dissenters.” Mid-America Journal of Theology 19 (2008), 143-64.

[39] The title page of Scripture Gospel defended, notes the “sudden reviving of Antinomianism, which seemed almost extinct near Thirty four years.”

[40] Packer, Redemption, 351-2.

[41] Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 7, as quoted in Schaff, 2:94.

[42] Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 7, as quoted in Schaaf, 2:95.

[43] See Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 113, 191-2; Clark, “How We Got Here,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, 12-13; and Fesko, Justification, 17-18. 

[44] See, for example, Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God & Man (1677) (Kingsburg: den Dulk Christian Foundation, repr. 1990), 1:90-92.

[45] Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 7, as quoted in Scaff, 2:96.

[46] Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon11, as quoted in Schaff, 2:112-13. 

[47] See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1989), II-II Q,4.1. See also W. Robert Godfrey, “Faith Formed by Love or Faith Alone?” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, 269-70.

[48] See Aquinas, Summa, I-II Q. 4.4.

[49] Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon12, as quoted in Schaff, 2:113.

[50] See Aquinas, Summa, I-II Q. 112.1; II-II Q.4.3. See Clark’s summary of Aquinas’ position and influence upon later Roman Catholic thought in “Letter and Spirit: Law and Gospel in Reformed Preaching,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, 336-37.

[51] Session 6, Canon 24, as quoted in Schaff, 2:115.

[52] Session 6, Chapter 10, as quoted in Schaff, 2:99.

[53] Some of his most important works on justification from which we gain a clear picture of what he believed are: Aphorismes of Justification (London, 1649), Rich: Baxter’s Confession [sic] of his Faith, Especially concerning the Interest of Repentance and sincere Obedience to Christ, in our Justification & Salvation. Written for the satisfaction of the misinformed, the conviction of Calumniators, and the Explication and Vindication of some weighty Truths (London, 1655); Of Justification: Four Disputations Clearing and amicably Defending the Truth, against the unnecessary Oppositions of divers Learned and Reverend Brethren (London, 1658), A Treatise of Justifying Righteousness, In Two Books (London, 1676), and An End of Doctrinal Controversies Which have Lately Troubled the Churches by Reconciling Explication, without Much Disputing (London, 1691).

[54] Packer, Redemption, 241. For a fuller treatment of Baxter’s doctrine of justification, see Boersma’s dissertation, A Hot Pepper Corn, and Chapter 10 of Packer’s Redemption, 241-69.

[55] Baxter, Aphorismes, 44-54.

[56] See Baxter, Aphorismes, 44-52. On the views of Twisse and Gataker, see Chad Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly 1643-1652,” (PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2004) 7 vols, vol 1, 324-330.

[57] Baxter, Aphorismes, 54.

[58] Hugo Grotius, A Defence of the Catholic Faith concerning the Satisfaction of Christ against Faustus Socinus (1617), trans. by Frank Hugh Foster (Warren F. Draper, 1889), 3:319-20. For an excellent summary of Baxter’s adaption of Grotius’ view, see Carl Trueman, The Claims of Truth The Claims of Truth (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), 210-11; and idem, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007), 106-7.

[59] Packer, Redemption, 204.

[60] Trueman, John Owen, 107.

[61] Baxter, Apology, 13.

[62] Packer, Redemption, 262.

[63] Baxter, Aphorismes, 102.

[64] Baxter, Aphorismes, 103.

[65] Baxter, Treatise, 178.

[66] Allison, Rise of Moralism, 156.

[67] See Packer, Redemption, 258.

[68] Allison, Rise of Moralism, 156-7.

[69] Baxter, Aphorismes, 290. See also his Confession, 297, and his Of Justification, 220.

[70] Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 167.

[71] Baxter, Aphorismes, 110; Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 24.

[72] Baxter, Aphorismes, 83-84.

[73] See Samuel Petto’s (c.1624–1711) rebuttal of this very point in his The Difference Between the Old and New Covenant Stated and Explained: With an Exposition of the Covenant of Grace in the Principal Concernments of It (London, 1674), 199-200.

[74] Baxter, Aphorismes, 109-10.

[75] John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith though the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated (1677) in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, repr.1998.), 5:165.

[76] Samuel Petto, The Difference Between the Old and New Covenants (London, 1674), 200. Interestingly, Owen wrote the forward to this book.

[77] See Packer, Redemption, 257ff.

[78] Baxter, Of Justification: Four Disputations Clearing and amicably Defending the Truth, against the unnecessary Oppositions of divers Learned and Reverend Brethren (London, 1658), 123-4. See also his End of Doctrinal Controversies, 252ff.

[79] Baxter, Confession, 56.

[80] Baxter, Treatise, 163.

[81] “When the article of justification is lost, at the same time the whole Christian doctrine is lost.” Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated,Works (1677) in Works, 5:67. For more on Owen’s doctrine of justification and the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, see Truman, John Owen, 101-21; R. Scott Clark, “Do This and Live: Christ’s Active Obedience as the Ground of Justification,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, 236; and Michael Brown, “John Owen on the Imputation of Christ’s Active Obedience” in The Outlook, volume 58, issue 9, October 2008, 22-27.

[82] Allison, Rise of Moralism, 163.