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By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
August 21, 2020


James Buchanan in his magisterial work on the subject of Justification inveighs against the dangerous distortion of this Scriptural doctrine of prime importance. He does so with obvious pastoral concern for those deprived of the liberty and joy that this sublime truth confers upon believers and anxious inquirers eager for the assurance of salvation. There are many twisted versions of the meaning of justification abroad throughout Christendom and it is a gospel necessity to refute these errors concerning the way to life in step with God.

By deferring full justification to the end time, N.T. Wright seriously participates in the cultivation of spiritual anxiety in tender souls and he fosters the suppression of Christian liberty and felt confidence in the Savior in the children of God. NTW joins an array of false teachers who perplex the Lord's people with bold and baffling contradiction of the plain teaching of Holy Scripture. No wonder that John Newton opined, "I get more warmth and light sometimes by a letter from a plain person, who loves the Lord Jesus, though perhaps a servant maid, than from some whole volumes, put forth by learned doctors" (Christian History, Issue 81, 2004).

It is against the plethora of erroneous teaching on the way of salvation that Buchanan administers the consolation afforded us in the redemption wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ.

"These views are as injurious to the souls of men, as they are dishonoring to the work of Christ. They prevent many from 'receiving and resting on Christ,' at once and alone, 'for salvation, as he is freely offered to them in the Gospel;' and even when there is a yearning of heart towards him, and perhaps an incipient trust in him, they prevent all 'joy and peace in believing,' by spreading a veil over the eye of faith itself, and generating 'the spirit of bondage unto fear.' These obstacles to a simple, childlike, cordial, confiding reception of the Gospel as 'glad tidings of great joy,' can only be removed by a right apprehension of the completeness, and efficacy, of that satisfaction, which Christ has already made to the law and Justice of God."

NTW casts a veil over the simple, saving gospel, over the only trustworthy source of salvation truth - the word of the Lord Jesus Christ impressed upon the heart. Redemptive knowledge is his to impart: "By his knowledge my righteous servant (student Isa. 50:4-5) will justify many" (Isaiah 53:11b).

Buchanan devotes a chapter in his classic study of justification on the history of the doctrine in the Church of England. He outlines the various attempts at denying the confessional allegiance of the English Church to the principle of justification by faith alone and states that the family of Reformed Churches on the Continent regarded the Ecclesia Anglicana as being in fundamental harmony with themselves as to how salvation in Christ is to be grasped.

"When we turn to the Articles this one fact should be conclusive ;- all the Protestant Churches, at home or abroad, Lutheran and Calvinistic, whether they be adherents of the Augsburg, or French, or the Belgic, or the Westminster Confessions, will cheerfully accept the 11th Article, and the 'Homily of Salvation,' as being in substance a sound and correct expression of their faith on the subject of Justification - provided only they be allowed to understand them in their plain and obvious meaning . . . At the era of the Reformation, therefore, the Church of England formed no exception to the unanimity which then prevailed in regard to the ground and method of a sinner's acceptance with God; And if the light of the Gospel, which dawned upon her at first so brightly, has often since then suffered a partial eclipse, she has always preserved her Articles and Homilies as the authorized exponents of her creed; and there have never been awanting, in any age of her history, some faithful and steadfast witnesses to the truth, such as Davenant and Downham, Barlow and Beveridge, Andrewes, and even the 'judicious' Hooker, - who continued to shine 'like lights in a dark place,' and transmitted a noble testimony to the generation following.' (James Buchanan, D.D.,LL.D., The Doctrine of Justification, Banner of Truth, 1961).


Article 11. Of the Justification of Man

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore that we are justified by Faith only is a wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely expressed in the Homily of Justification.

Excerpts from the Homily on Justification

Part Two

But this saying that we be justified by faith only - freely - and without works, is spoken for to take away clearly all merit of our works, and being unable to deserve justification at God's hands: and thereby most plainly to express the weakness of man and the goodness of God; the great infirmity of our selves, and the might and power of God; the imperfection of our own works, and the most abundant grace of our Saviour Christ; and therefore wholly to ascribe the merit and deserving of our justification unto Christ only, and his most precious blood-shedding. This faith the Holy Scripture teaches us; this is the strong rock and foundation of Christian religion: this doctrine all old and ancient authors of Christ's Church do approve; this doctrine advances and setteth forth the true glory of Christ, and beateth down the vain-glory of man; this whosoever denieth, is not to be accounted for a Christian man, nor a setter-forth of Christ's glory: but for an adversary to Christ and his Gospel, and for a setter-forth of men's vain-glory.

Part Three

Truth it is, that our own works do not justify us, to speak properly of our justification: that is to say, our works do not merit or deserve our remission of sins, and make us, of unjust, just before God: but God of his mere mercy, through the only merits and deservings of his Son Jesus Christ, doth justify us. Nevertheless, because faith doth directly send us to Christ for remission of our sins; and that, by faith given us of God, we embrace the promise of God's mercy, and of the remission of sins - which thing none other of our virtues or works properly doth - therefore the Scripture useth to say, that faith without works doth justify.

Salient Comments

Justification by faith, according to the standards of constitutional Anglicanism, is "the strong rock and foundation of Christian religion" an assertion that equates to Luther's statement that justification is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls.

Dom Gregory Dix, eminent liturgiologist, remarks that Cranmer's Prayer Book is "the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to the doctrine of 'Justification by faith alone.'"

"Thomas Cranmer discovered the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone when he was a student at Cambridge University. When he became Archbishop of Canterbury, he used his considerable liturgical talents to ensure that this doctrine was incorporated into the official forms of worship of the reformed church of England (Owen Collins, Introduction, The Daily Book of common Prayer, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2000).

It is glaringly evident that NTW functions as a scholar and theologian at a far distance from the tenets of classic and authentic Anglicanism. He doesn't mind, of course, as he sees himself as a pioneer into clearer truth, but the fact remains that he is a renegade voice on the Anglican scene and a dismantler of its historic faith as are so many other deviant bishops in our time (Welby, Cottrell, Baines, etc) . The excuse for this state of affairs that is often proffered is that Anglicanism is a big tent. And of course, so it should be in the unity of revealed truth and faithful proclamation. But the license for untrammeled inclusivity has meant that our beloved Communion has become a mega-marquee of miry muddle. Many clergy ought to examine their consciences concerning denominational attachment, and especially those leaders culpable of lax doctrinal discipline.


NTW states that the resolve to adhere to historic creeds and confessions of the church is imitative of the Roman Catholic attitude. He thinks it odd that conservative Protestants should be of a similar mind. Obviously, everything depends upon the quality of tradition being upheld and conserved. Imprecision is a tactic of NTW when he endeavors to remove an orthodox obstruction to the many novelties he intends to impose upon Christian comprehension. "Come on", he remarks, the word, God's word is sufficient." But that is not enough to claim "the word, the word" when it is recognized that the word of God, even when appealed to, is often perverted, and pastoral concern for the integrity of the gospel, and the wellbeing of the flock of Christ determines that the church must guide and clarify the deposit of truth entrusted to it.

The Church is the witness and keeper of Holy Writ (Article 20). By the guidance of God the Church establishes safe steps to truths that are sure (the Trinity, the Deity of the Lord Jesus, the efficacy of his blood-shedding) that need to be mapped with clarity. Statements of faith must be formulated, agreed and disseminated. NTW showers us with many. The mind of the Church matters and it seeks to harmonize with the mind of the Spirit in Holy Writ. In its confessions the Church submits to examination and avoids equivocation, a popular device with those bent on disruption. With the clamor of many voices falsely claiming to be speaking for the Lord creeds and confessions are a necessity.

John Robinson, Calvinist dissenter ministering in Holland in the 17C, despatched a company of like-minded believers emigrating to the New World in the interests of religious freedom, with an encouraging word of farewell: "God has more light yet to break out of his holy Word" - a message of enormous comfort to this "key-tapper" in a time of pastoral need. NTW sees himself as a luminary shining forth this "more light". So, also, do many other errorists. Claims of new light need to be rigorously checked. Robinson was referring to brighter, fuller, streams of continuous pure light - not to a change of filaments or bulbs. Robinson was looking to genuine, useful light and not to sudden flares and sparks that indicated problems with apparatus. Robinson did not envisage new light, but more light already recognized and enjoyed, and increasingly strengthened. Certainly, In his case Robinson was not envisaging change in the key principles of the gospel but confirmation of truth emphasized more fully in the effulgence of the Spirit's shining navigation through the deeper mysteries of God.

When NTW is critical of a doctrine he seeks to restyle he does so dismissively with over -simplification and the charge that its adherents are hopelessly naive. Their retention of justification by faith, now that he has corrected their mistakenness, is hopelessly pathetic. He sets them up as people lacking substance (straw men) and then peppers them with cheap shots in pursuit of his role as cleric of confusion combining heresy with hubris.

NTW's explanation of justification by faith is not simply a dilution of the gospel, but rather, a denial: "This, then, is Paul's famous doctrine of "justification by faith." It is not that "faith" in the sense of a "religious awareness" is somehow a kind of human experience that is superior to others, but that those who believed the gospel and were loyal to the One God it unveiled were to be known, and were to know themselves, as the single worldwide family promised to Abraham. And that meant a new community sharing a common table despite all differences: neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, no "male and female", since all "all are one in Messiah, Jesus" (Paul, p161).

This is such a lame summary of the powerful doctrine of justification by faith - forgiveness from God; acceptance with God - for rebellious and wretched sinners! NTW has stated that justification is not a "salvation" term. What conviction of sin and rescue does the man enjoy? Essentially a universal community under God seems to the sum of his message - Jewish ethnic and religious symbolism removed for the admission of Gentiles. A woeful evacuation of the gospel from teaching, too tepid to stir the hearts of those seeking "real Salvation and the true Knowledge of God'.

It is remarkable that the lessons for the Sunday ahead at time of writing (The Eleventh Sunday After Trinity) boldly refute the miserable views of professor Wright.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scriptures . . . (1 Corinthians 15: 1-3).

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 18:13-14).

No wonder the collect for the day draws near to our heavenly Father in these words expressing the divine preference for mercy upon his people: Lord God, you who show your almighty power most of all in showing mercy and pity: Mercifully grant us such a measure of your grace, that in obeying your holy commandments we may obtain your gracious promises, and share in your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

There cannot be any doubt as to the nature of the gospel of justification by faith in the quote from St Paul. It declares salvation from sin as being of "first importance". We are assured of the gospel of Paul. It was not merely concerning a universal community, but a rather specific community - those justified by faith.

The tax collector mentioned by the Lord Jesus, the one who merits and grants our salvation, is a mightily humbled, importunate sinner (just like Luther). The Author of our salvation declared him justified before God - not merely a candidate for a universal community, but again a very particular community - those justified by faith.

Surely the Lord Christ and the apostle Paul are trustworthy voices! That is why the doctrine of justification by faith is "famous"!

By the way, if only the tax collector did not look "up to heaven'. It is the wrong direction according to NTL, branding all who use the expressions as benighted literalists. O, we are all so wrong until we meet the Sage of Sarcasm - the mood in which Luther is censured:

"Once gain the problem has been the wrong framework. If we come with the question, "How do we get to heaven," or, in Martin Luther's terms, "How can I find a gracious God?" and we try to squeeze an answer to those questions out of what Paul says about justification, we will probably find one. It may not be totally misleading. But we will miss what Paul's "justification". is all about. It isn't about a moralistic framework in which the only question that matters is whether we human beings have behaved ourselves and so amassed a store of merit ("righteousness") and, if not, where can we find such a store, amassed by someone else on our behalf. It is about the vocational framework in which humans are called to reflect God's image in the world and about the rescue operation whereby God has, through Jesus, set humans free to do exactly that." (Paul: The Challenge of Paul).

The passage above does nothing to Wright's credit. It is, frankly, quite childish and ultimately quite revealing of its author's spiritual state of insensibility to the basic gospel. Believers do not desire "to get to heaven" in some childish fairy tale sense. They are desirous of fellowship and close communion with God. They long to lodge with him everlastingly. They do know how to deal with figurative language. Knowing their unworthiness, wretchedness and guilt their overwhelming desire is to find "this gracious God" whom they have wantonly offended, who appeals for their safe return to him. There is no need "to squeeze" with great pressure justification by faith from the content of Scripture. It is plainly to be seen. They have not simply drifted into misbehavior. The have sinned against the Lord with hostility and seriously grieved him. Wright has scorned the imputed righteousness of Christ and scaled down the great deliverance he has wrought for us, diminishing the infinite compassion and glorious kindness of our dying Lord whose atoning work annihilates sin and death.

Psalm 143:2 cited in the introductory service of Morning Prayer in BCP 1662 (O how we need such verses at the outset of our trite approach to worship) puts us in mind of our dire need of justification: Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

Modern rendition: Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. NIV.

Our predicament is that we have no righteousness now or potentially. It is already too late and impossible to strive for it. We need the righteousness of another afforded to us in the Gospel.

N.T. Wright is not only far inferior to Luther as a pastor. He is no true pastor at all.

A quote for July 14 from the excellent and highly recommended daily devotionals from Luther Alone edited by James C, Galvin Zondervan, 2005

"Don't make the mistake of thinking that Christians are people who never sin or feel sinful. Rather, because of their faith in Christ, God simply doesn't attribute their sin to them. This teaching is comforting to those who have terrified consciences. For good reason we often try to impress on people that sins are forgiven and that righteousness is attributed to believers for the sake of Christ." (Galatians 2:16).

"He shed his most precious blood for you."


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