JUSTIFIED BY FAITH
Extracts* from a treatise by Dr. J. Owen on “The Doctrine of Justification by Faith”.
To understand the nature of justifying faith aright, or the act and exercise of saving faith in order unto our justification, we must consider the things which are necessarily prior to it.
(1.) Conviction of sin. Let no man think to understand the gospel, who knoweth nothing of the law. God’s constitution, and the nature of the things themselves, have given the law the precedency with respect to sinners; “for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” And gospel faith is the soul’s acting according to the mind of God, for deliverance from that state and condition which it is cast under by the law. And all those descriptions of faith which abound in the writings of learned men, which do not at least include in them a virtual respect unto this state and condition, or the work of the law on the consciences of sinners, are all of them vain speculations. There is nothing in this whole doctrine that I will more firmly adhere
unto than the necessity of the convictions previous to true believing;
without which not one line of it can be understood aright, and men do but beat the air in their contentions about it. See Rom. 3,21-24.
Wherefore, the faith which the gospel requires, that which has the gospel for its principle, rule, and object, is not required of us and cannot be acted by us, but on a supposition of the work and effect of the law in the conviction of sin, by giving the knowledge of it, a sense of its guilt, and the state of the sinner on account of it. And that faith which has not respect to this, we absolutely deny to be that faith whereby we are justified. Gal. 3,22-24; Rom. 10,4.
This our Saviour himself directly teaches in the gospel. For He calls unto Him only those who are weary and heavily laden; affirms that the “whole have no need of the physician, but the sick; ” and that He “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” In all which He intends not those who were really sinners, as all men are,Â—for he makes a difference between them, offering the gospel unto some and not unto others,Â—but such as were convinced of sin, burdened with it, and sought after deliverance.
So those to whom the apostle Peter proposed the promise of the gospel, with the pardon of sin thereby as the object of gospel faith, were “pricked to the heart” upon the conviction of their sin, and cried, “What shall we do?” Acts 2,37-39. Such, also, was the state of the jailer to whom the apostle Paul proposed salvation by Christ, as what he was to believe for his deliverance. Acts 16,30,31.
(2.) A sincere assent to all divine revelations, whereof the promises of grace and mercy by Christ are a special part. This Paul supposed in Agrippa when he would have won him over to faith in Christ Jesus: “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest,” Acts 26,27.
(3.) The proposal of the gospel, according to the mind of God, is necessary; that is, that it be preached according to God’s appointment: for not only the gospel itself, but the dispensation or preaching of it in the ministry of the church, is ordinarily required unto believing. This the apostle asserts, and proves the necessity of it at large, Rom. 10,11-17. Herein the Lord Christ and his mediation with God, the only way and means for the justification and salvation of lost convinced sinners, as the product and effect of divine wisdom, love, grace, and righteousness, is revealed, declared, proposed, and offered unto such sinners: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith,” Rom. 1,17. The glory of God is represented “as in a glass,” 2 Cor. 3,18; and “life and immortality are brought to light through the gospel,” 2 Tim. 1,10;
Wherefore the persons who are required to believe, and whose immediate duty it is so to do, are such who really in their own consciences are brought to make the inquiries mentioned in the Scripture,Â—”What shall we do? What shall we do to be saved? How shall we fly from the wrath to come? Wherewithal shall we appear before God? How shall we answer what is laid unto our charge?”Â— or such as, feeling the guilt of sin, do seek for a righteousness in the
sight of God, Acts 2,37-38, 16,30-31; Micah 6,6-7; Isa. 34,4; Heb. 6,18.
On these suppositions, the command and direction given unto men being, “Believe, and thou shalt be saved;” the inquiry is. What is that act or work of faith whereby we may obtain a real interest in the promises of the gospel, and the things declared in them, unto their justification before God?
It is evident, from what has been said, that faith does not consist in any one single act of the mind or will, for there are such descriptions given of it in the Scripture, such things are proposed as the object of it, and such is the experience of all that sincerely believe, as that no one single act either of the mind or will, can fully describe it. Nor can an exact order of those acts of the soul which are concurrent with it be prescribed; only what is essential to it is manifest.
That which seems to have the priority is the assent of the mind to that which the Psalmist flies to for relief, under a sense of sin and trouble, Ps. 130,3-4, “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” The sentence of the law and judgment of conscience lie against him as unto any acceptation with God. Therefore, he despairs of being acquitted before Him. In this state, that which the soul first fixes on, for relief, is, that “there is forgiveness with God.” This, as declared in the gospel, is, that God in His love and grace will pardon and justify guilty sinners through the blood and mediation of Christ. So it is proposed, Rom. 3,23-24. The assent of the mind to that which is proposed in the promise of the gospel, is the root of faith, the foundation of all that the soul does in believing; nor is there any evangelical faith without it. But yet, considered, as a mere act of the mind, the essence and nature of justifying faith does not consist solely in that, though it cannot be without it. But, this is accompanied, in sincere believing, with an approbation of the way of deliverance and salvation proposed, as an effect of divine grace, wisdom, and love; whereon the heart rests according to the mind of God.
This is that faith whereby we are justified and I shall now show what is included in it, and inseparable from it.
(1.) It includes in it a sincere renunciation of all other ways and means for the attaining of righteousness, life, and salvation. This is essential to faith. Acts 4,12 Hos. 14,2-3; Jer. 3,23; Ps. 71,16, “I will make mention of thy righteousness, of thine only.” When a person ‘” in the condition before described (and such alone are called
immediately to believe. Matt. 9,13,11,28; 1 Tim. 1,15), many things will present themselves to him for his relief, particularly his own righteousness, Rom. 10,3. A renunciation of them all, as to any hope or expectation of relief from them, belongs to sincere believing, Isa. 50,10-11.
(2.) There is in it the will’s consent, whereby the soul goes cordially and sincerely to the way of salvation proposed in the gospel for all its expectation of pardon of sin and righteousness before God. This is that which is called “coming to Christ,” and “receiving
him,” whereby true justifying faith is so often expressed in the Scripture as “believing in him,” or “believing on his name.” The whole is expressed, John 14,6, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
(3.) An agreement of the heart with God, as the author and principal cause of the way of salvation prepared, as acting in a way of sovereign grace and mercy towards sinners: “Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him
glory; that your faith and hope might be in God,” 1 Pet. 1,21. The heart of a sinner does in this way give to God the glory of all those holy properties of his nature which he designed to manifest in and by Jesus Christ. See lsa. 42,1;49,3. And this agreement of the heart with God is that which is the immediate root of that waiting, patience, long-suffering, and hope, which are the proper acts and effects of justifying faith, Heb. 6,12-19.
(4.) Trust in God, or the grace and mercy of God in and through the Lord Christ, as set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, belongs to this; for the person called to believe is,Â—first, Convinced of sin, and exposed to wrath; secondly. Has nothing else to trust to for help and relief; thirdly. Does actually renounce all other things that offer themselves for that purpose and therefore, without some act of trust, the soul must lie under actual despair;
which is utterly inconsistent with faith, or the choice and approbation of the way of salvation described before.
(5.) The most frequent declaration of the nature of faith in the Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, is by this trust; because it is that act which composes the soul, and brings it to all the rest it can attain. For all our rest in this world is from trust in God; and the special object of this trust, is “God.. .in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” For this is implied where His goodness. His mercy. His grace. His name. His faithfulness. His power, are expressed, as being that which faith relies upon; for they cannot be the object of our trust, except on account of the covenant which is confirmed and ratified in and by the blood of Christ alone.
* These extracts have been abridged and the language somewhat modernised.