Justification by Faith in 17th Century English Puritanism

A Paper Presented at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Atlanta, Georgia

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., Chancellor/CEO (Elect),
James M. Baird Jr. Professor of Pastoral Theology
Reformed Theological Seminary[1]

This paper seeks to provide selective but representative case samples and qualitative analysis to inquire into the possible consensus of a doctrine of justification by faith in seventeenth century English Puritanism.[2] “Was there a consensus for a doctrine of justification by faith given the broad and diverse theological and ecclesiastical interest groups of that period in that place?” Because this period in church history was so vital to establishing confessions of faith of several major groups in Christianity, including Anglican, Presbyterian, Independent and Erastian, and given that there is great growth in most of these groups in the global south and east, and also some degree of confusion, or at least divergent opinions about justification by faith, in these groups, in the West,[3] it is hoped that this paper might contribute to the strengthening of the one and clarifying discussions of the other.

First, this paper will seek to put forth a brief context of Seventeenth Century Puritanism in relationship to the (then) hope for theological consensus statements (on justification by faith among other doctrines) being put forth by divergent parties in the Westminster Assembly. Second, brief sketches of party representatives in the Westminster Assembly and their views on justification by faith will be considered. Third, a case study will be offered of a radical “right” wing of English Puritanism, the Welsh Puritan Vavasor Powell and his conviction on justification by faith; and fourth, a summary of the view of justification by faith will be presented from perhaps a surprising entry into the study, the chief nemesis of the movement, and one who would have represented an antagonist of English Puritanism.

A delimitation: when we refer to the doctrine of justification by faith alone we appeal to the historic Protestant confessions[4] of faith which seek to delineate the doctrine that God revealed in Holy Scripture, as in Genesis 15:6 concerning Abraham’s faith:

“And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”[5] [6]

St. Paul spoke of this “being justified freely” in Romans 3:20-26 and considered the fallen-condition-necessity for a divine intervention in the human race to bring a man into a right relationship to his God, the means, namely, “…the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood…,” through which God Himself secures this glorious remedy, and the divinely ordained instrument which is faith through which a sinner may receive this standing with his Creator:

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift,[7] through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:20-26 ESV).[8]

We assume the statement of A.A. Hodge that

“justification is a purely judicial act of God as judge, whereby he pardons all the sins of a believer, and accounts, accepts, and treats him as a person righteous in the eye of the divine law [and that] this justifying act proceeds upon the imputation or crediting to the believer by God of the righteous of this great Representative and Surety, Jesus Christ [and that] the essential and sole condition upon which this righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer is, that he exercise faith in or on Christ as his righteousness [and that] this faith is a gift of God…In Scripture, justification is always set forth as the opposite of condemnation. The opposite of ‘to sanctify’ is ‘to pollute,’ but the opposite of ‘to justify’ is ‘to condemn.’ Rom. 8:30-34; John 3:18.”[9]

In considering the doctrine of justification by faith we appeal to The Harmony of the Protestant Confessions[10] on justification, that while some language nuances exist, the doctrine is essentially agreeable with, for instance, articles 12,13, and 14 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England:

XI. 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 most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

XII. Of Good Works. Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

XIII. Of Works before Justification. Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.[11]

I.  A Brief Historiographical Sketch and context for considering justification in Seventeenth Century Puritanism

Seventeenth century English Puritanism represents a high mark in the history of the Church with preachers and divines who rank among the greatest in the history of the Church. While this is so and despite some sentimental or nostalgic sentiments from some quarters of the faith—and in particular my own Reformed faith—Seventeenth Century English Puritanism was not the golden age of Protestantism, if indeed there ever was one. One may say that all periods of history are filled with greatness (perhaps more than many periods, admittedly) and with mediocrity and with shame. One is reminded of Dickens’ famous lines and there could not be a better application than Seventeenth Century Puritanism:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all doing direct the other way.”[12]

It was, as Sir Christopher Hill put it, the “world turned upside down.”[13] This was so not only in its religion, but also in its political arena. Here the King was murdered by Cromwellian extremists, The Lord Protector himself, despite those glaring extremes and not always with a unified Puritan backing. In ways he would not have intended, he brought about a purer constitutional monarchy, albeit with far too much blood in its purification, that deserves his statue in front of the House of Commons today. While great in securing civil liberties from a despotic king, Cromwell also violated civil liberties as he oversaw the execution of the great Welsh preacher, Christopher Love, whom he found a traitor for plotting to bring Charles II back to England.[14] Love was one of the most sought after Presbyterian preachers in London and his implication in the treasonous plot has been disproved by history and his death remains another black mark on the otherwise freedom-fighter Cromwell. Just as a side note, Christopher Love’s own story is one of the most tender stories of the period. Cromwell was also opposed by Vavasor Powell (more on his later in the paper), the controversial Puritan figure from Radnorshire Forest, a Parliamentarian chaplain, Congregationalist pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Dartford, Kent, who was sent out by the Westminster Assembly to plant churches in Wales. He was a fiery minister who not only seemed to delight in kicking out Establishment clergy from their livings, but also enjoyed dabbling in politics and in millenarian ideas. Nevertheless, he was a favorite preacher of Parliament. It was Powell who filled the pulpit of the late, venerable Dr. William Gouge of Black Friars, the eldest member of the Westminster Assembly, when he passed away. On the day that Oliver Cromwell was named Lord Protector, Vavasor Powell would ask that congregation at Black Friars whether they would have Jesus Christ to rule over them or Oliver Cromwell. That homiletic tactic landed Powell in jail, the first of many imprisonments at Fleet Street for his apparent seditious preaching. All of this is mentioned to say this: What started as Laudian (referring to the Haman-like clerical figure, William Laud the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the royal drama of Charles I) Arminianism versus Calvinistic Puritanism, King verses Parliament, ended up being Puritan turning against Puritan. While Seventeenth Century Puritanism bequeathed us with extraordinary biographies to model our lives by, the highest of theological statements and confessions, and volumes of sermons and pastoral counseling materials, it was, if golden, burnished by these events I mention and many others. We must remember that this was the age of the overturning of the Church of England, an arguably unnecessary act of regicide by men seeking freedom in the name of God, and the establishment of a republican government for the glory of God. The English Civil War formed a dramatic backdrop not only for Puritan in fighting, but the rise of sectarianism and cults. There were Levelers and Quakers, and Ranters and Diggers. A cynical Anglican critic might be tempted, with some justification, to assert that this period was the height of Non Conformity’s worst tendencies. It could be argued that the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone according to the Scriptures alone would be, like most every other doctrine, up for grabs, given the upside world of Seventeenth Century religious England, Wales and Scotland.

II. Justification in the Divergent Membership of the Westminster Assembly (1643-1649)

However—and we are bound by history itself to insert this critical “however”—in the midst of this crisis and chaos of Seventeenth Century England, Wales and Scotland, we must admit that though it may not have been a golden age, it was, in spite of that worst kind of war, where brother fights against brother, and where the rule of law and the desire for rights lead to regicide, and where political intrigue, religious confusion and institutional decay all conspire to bring about national paralysis, it was the age of great men showing extraordinary humility and boldness, great compromises of opinion concerning doctrine, church government and worship practices, without compromising of the Word of God. It was the age when the Parliament called together, against his majesty’s own orders, ten Lords, twenty Commoners, and one hundred and twenty one Divines (and twenty one additional Divines to replace those who were fearful of the king or who died before work began, to labor from July 1, 1643 until three weeks “after the king’s decapitation,”[15] that is the 22nd of February 1649. During that time the Westminster Assembly had met one thousand one hundred and sixty-three sessions in order to answer the questions, “What does the Bible teach about doctrine? What does the Bible teach about church government and what does the Bible teach about worship?” As Hetherington remarked,

“Open, candid, brother-like consultation may do much, when Christian men fairly and honestly wish to arrive at as close a degree of uniformity, in doctrine, worship, and government, as can be attained, with due respect to liberty and integrity of conscience.”[16]

They did, indeed, do much. Despite their party spirit—a division of Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Erastians, and Independents—the influential and often stubborn “Dissenting Brethren (which included, and this is noteworthy as we consider the divergent views and parties assembled, the famous preacher and president of Magdalene College, Jeremiah Burroughs and Dr. Thomas Goodwin, respectively)”[17] this assorted collection of clerics produced tremendous treasures for the Church of Jesus Christ for years to come down to our own age.[18] The product of their deliberations, inevitable “jealousies and rivalries”[19] mixed with great prayer and deep devotion, was the Westminster Confession of Faith,[20] the Larger and Shorter Catechisms,[21] and the Directory for Public Worship, all built upon a study of and appreciation of the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion,[22] a familiarity with other Reformed confessions.[23] Each statement was grounded in Scripture and cited with Scripture by Parliamentary requirement, a notion not anticipated by the Assembly, given Parliament’s prior history of not liking Scripture quoted in state documents, but which made the Confessional documents “a much more perfect work”[24] as Hetherington said. Symington went so far as to say we owe a debt to the civil government for forcing the Assembly to add the Scripture proofs![25]

The first case of understanding justification by faith is, then, with this particular group. No large degree of copy is actually needed to defend their unanimity concerning their view of the doctrine of justification because despite their parties, the admitted problems of rivalries and jealousies, of questionable political decisions and the constant attacks from cultic groups of their day, did not quench the zeal for this doctrine. As it was the core of Luther’s faith, of Calvin’s faith, and as it is the very hallmark of historic Protestantism, so it is clearly given in the Confession of Faith[26] and in the Catechisms.[27] [28]

Perhaps it may be more convincing to see how the doctrine was used by the parties of the Assembly in their own ministries—Anglican, Erastian, Presbyterian, and Independent.

The Anglican minister, Anthony Burgess (Anglican in the Assembly, though he later became a non conformist, ejected in the Uniformity Act of 1662, but then retired back into a parish life with “his friend, Samuel Langley, until his death in 1664”), one of the most “seriously underestimated” of the divines, in the opinion of Joel Beeke,[29] wrote a very popular book, The True Doctrine of Justification. In it he wrote in meticulous Puritan fashion, but with the flair of an experiential preacher as well:

“First, it is of great consequence to have this Doctrine kept pure…[it is] the soul and pillar of Christianity…. Justification is that which differentiates the Orthodox from Pagans Papist, Socinains and Arminians…It is very necessary to keep this pure, because of the manifold truths that must fall if this fall; if you erre in this, the whole truth about Originall sine, Free-will, and Obligation of the Law will likewise perish…It is of great influence into practice…this is the water that their souls pant after, this is the bread that their fairing stomachs would gladly feed on…”[30]

William Gurnall, no member of the Assembly, but an Anglican Puritan of Lavenham, who proved agreeable to the Confession of Faith and to the Act of Uniformity as well (neither trusted by Conformist nor Non Conformist but loved by his parish at Lavenham where he served all of the days of his ministry and where one may find his resting place in the church yard there today), was the famous author of the famous The Christian in Complete Armour.[31] It is worthy citing a Puritan who was not a member of the Assembly, who was an Anglican, who was not ejected in 1662 and who stands in a unique position. Was his faith the faith of Westminster? There can be no doubting about his views on the doctrine of justification by faith:

“As God did single Christ out from all others, to be the only Mediator betwixt him and man, and his righteousness to be the meritorious cause of our justification, so he hath singled faith out from all the other graces, to be the instrument or means for appropriating this righteousness of Christ to ourselves.”[32]

Turning to Erastian members of the Assembly, or those who saw that the power of the Church originated from the civil magistrate,[33] one can look to the eminent Hebrew scholar and pastor, Dr. John Lightfoot, known in his preaching and his preeminently scholarly work in ancient languages. But Lightfoot was known for his strong Presbyterian convictions and the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone being the cornerstone of those convictions.[34]

When one turns to the Independents one can choose from any of the five (there were actually more than five)[35] to validate the strong position on justification by faith. Thomas Goodwin is one example. Influenced in his boyhood by the preaching of Richard Sibbes at Trinity Church, Cambridge, and the college chaplaincy of John Preston at Christ’s College, Cambridge, Goodwin was steeped in Puritan theology. His early years of training and God’s call on his life not only propelled him to the presidency of Magdalene College, Oxford, but prepared him for a life of preaching and teaching. No divine was closer to Oliver Cromwell than Dr. Thomas Goodwin and he was present at the Lord Protector’s deathbed. Evidences of his orthodox views on justification are not only on display in his 12 volume Works, or his The Unregenerate Man’s Guiltiness Before God in Respect of Sin and Punishment, or his over 900 page commentary on Ephesians, but especially on his significant contribution to the great Congregational confession, the Savoy Declaration of Faith (1658). In Chapter Eleven, “Of Justification,” one sees the full bloom of his faith:

“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 Christ’s active obedience to the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.”[36]

With Erastian, Independent and Anglican evidences being put forward to display the uniform positions on justification by faith it hardly seems necessary to add the Presbyterians to the list. Instead, one feels quite safe in positing the resolution that English Puritans at the Westminster Assembly, represented by the more extreme members, as in Erastians, or the least numerical members, as in the Independents and the Anglicans, each held identical views of justification by faith. In all of their views, there was no exception to the approbation of the Thirty-Nine articles or other Reformed confessions concerning justification by faith. As William Symington wrote of the Westminster Assembly parties, their sometimes strident views and difficult sessions, and their highly partisan divisions:

“Such, properly speaking, were the parties which existed in the Westminster Assembly, parties whose jarring sentiments, while occasioning long and sometimes bitter and unseemly contentions, nevertheless under Providence tended materially to the elucidation and final triumph of truth, and to the confirming of men’s minds in the scriptural soundness of conclusions which had been arrived at by such a deliberate and sifting process.”[37]

III. Justification in the Theology of the Radical Welsh Puritan, Vavasor Powell (1617-1670)

The Welsh Puritan, Vavasor Powell,[38] perhaps the most interesting and overlooked of all of the Welsh Puritans, was born in the village of Knuckles, in Radnorshire, Wales.

“He was deeply influenced by the evangelistic preaching of the great Walter Cradock and the writings of Richard Sibbes and William Perkins and showed all of the signs of a genuine conversion. In the same year of his conversion, he was apparently called to preach and began a fruitful itinerant ministry in his home country. In 1640, he was arrested for his Puritan preaching in Breconshire and upon the outbreak of the civil war, Powell went to London. Powell preached in London and served as Puritan vicar at Dartford Parish Church until he was called by his countrymen to return to Wales to carry on an evangelistic ministry there. The Westminster Assembly sent him to Wales. Upon Powell’s return to Wales, he carried on an extensive preaching ministry that took him to nearly every parish in Wales. He became known as the “metropolitan of itinerants” for his great energetic ministry in that country. Powell was a noted preacher of the day and preached before the Lord Mayor of London on 10 December 1649 and before Parliament on 28 February 1650. He was also a defender of Calvinism and held a disputations with Arminians of his day, such as the 31 December 1649 debate with John Goodwin on the matter of Universalism.”[39]

Yet Powell is often viewed with skepticism and some even doubt his place within Puritanism.

“For Christopher Hill, Vavasor Powell is a revolutionary who contributes, if not unwittingly, to the upheaval in 17th century society.”[40]

Richard Baxter was not as impressed by Powell, a sort of Seventeenth Century “tea party” candidate for Puritan leadership, as many of the people were (including prominent political supporters). In fact, Baxter penned vehement treatises about Vavasor Powell after Powell’s death. Powell’s friends defended their late hero with a popular book, “A Winding Sheet for Mr. Baxter’s Dead”[41] to combat the charges which the otherwise irenic pastor of Kidderminster had put forth. Others, like Burroughs, Love, Nye, and Goodwin had been more charitable to Powell in his day. Historians have been divided, but all, including those who do see him as a thoroughgoing Puritan, as this author does, see him as being on the radical wing of the Puritan movement. Even so, the eminent John Owen wrote the preface to the commentary that Powell penned (and which subsequent editions were in use in the United States in the 19th century).

Despite the controversies over this Welsh preacher, Powell held to justification that was no different from the Westminster Assembly that had sent him out to Wales to propagate the Gospel. Indeed, in his book, Christ and Moses Excellency, Powell shows that the Law could not do what Christ did on the cross. Justification could not be accomplished through the works of the law but only through Jesus Christ and His merits and His death on the cross.[42] Powell would write,

“Oh soule, consider how the God of grace owned thee, how the Lord of grace bought thee, how the Word of grace called thee, how the Herbe of grace healed thee, and how the Spirit of grace wrought in thee, and sealed thee…”[43]

The late R. Tudur Jones wrote about Powell’s theology of justification and his view of works flowing from justification:

“[Powell believed that] Although man is justified by grace alone and thereby brought into the Covenant of Grace, he is still bound to discharge duties. But he performs these duties to God…not in order that he may be justified, but ‘to express our love to Christ’.[44]

He would strengthen his positions on justification by faith alone in other works,[45] which sold well during this lifetime but more importantly demonstrated that even the radical wing of the Puritan party held the same view of justification as those eminent but sometimes divided divines who penned those six articles of chapter XI of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

IV. Justification in the Theology of Archbishop William Laud?

This might be a surprise or even a non sequitur when speaking about justification by faith in Seventeenth Century Puritanism. Yet the force of the argument that justification in Seventeenth Century English could not be more strenuously defended than by bringing forth the persecutor of the Puritans in that day, William Laud, as a possible confessor of the historic Protestant view of justification. Discerning Laud’s views on this, at the outset, is not easy. The present author has  written in other places,

“Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645), in the opinion of Patrick Collinson was ‘the greatest calamity ever visited upon the Church of England.’[46] That statement not withstanding, Laud was obviously a very gifted cleric who rose through the ecclesiastical ranks to the very pinnacle of power in his day. He went from St. John’s College, Oxford to ordination (1601) to the presidency of St. John’s (1611), then bishop of St. David’s, Wales (1621) to bishop of London (1628) then chancellor of Oxford University (1629), to become the archbishop of Canterbury (1633). What is ambition and success to some is to others ugly ambition. Though a possible caricature of a wicked and mad Arminian has been balanced by the helpful work of Kevin Sharpe in his August, 1983 History Today article,[47] never the less, Laud remained a controversial figure until his death on the scaffold. What was his legacy? It may have been that Puritan ascendancy during his life owed as much to Laud as it did to its own promotion. As William Hunt has written, ‘The credit for transforming social Puritanism into a revolutionary force belongs very largely to William Laud.”[48]

Laud was not only politically opposed to the Puritan-Calvinistic school, but primarily interested in liturgical uniformity for the sake of what he apparently felt was the very preservation of the English Church. In defending his convictions and in counseling the king, he made remarkably stupid mistakes. His statement, for instance, concerning the altar and the Puritan pulpit and their place of preeminence in the worship setting is an example of his inflammatory public discourse with the Puritans:

“The altar is the greatest place of God’s residence upon earth, greater than the pulpit…”[49]

Could one imagine any leader seeking to find common ground with his adversaries saying something as amazingly abrasive as that? He was clearly not just an opponent, but, sadly, history must admit, Laud was, even if he would have preferred another characterization, an enemy. His motivations may have been, as Kevin Sharpe has asserted, “order and discipline” in the Church he loved; yet his strategy was proven to be terribly flawed. Nevertheless, history demonstrates that William Laud held firmly, in his own way, to the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion[50] even down to his beheading on January 10, 1645 at Tower Hill. At that place, in the final moments of a man’s life, when declarations have more meaning, more credence, than at any other time, and when political intrigue and other Machiavellian motivations can be disentangled from one’s own genuine faith, the enemy of the Puritans repudiated popery and Roman doctrines—and presumably justification by any other means than the merits of Christ’s blood sacrifice and faith being the instrument to take hold of that offer of grace—and Laud declared his adherence to Protestant theology.[51] He left a considerable amount of diary material, which primary source material was not consulted in this study. However, the Laudian historian, Kevin Sharpe, has written:

“His diary, a record of dreams, omens and insecurities, of the application of the scriptural text to everyday life, has been aptly described as a Puritan document.”[52]

It would be interesting to see if his adherence to Protestantism did indeed include a thorough-going view of justification that was actually the same as those he sought to impose liturgical reform upon and who ultimately executed him for it. There could certainly be an argument for it. Traditionalist and Revisionist historians continue to grapple with any final and complete profile of this enigmatic man, William Laud. Yet his own statements lead one to conclude that his Protestant faith was somehow shrouded in his urgent concern for “the external fabric and outward worship of the Church…”[53]

Conclusions

Seventeenth Century English Puritanism lacked uniformity in many ways. It existed and it flourished, after all, within a veritable cauldron of political, economic, civil and religious upheaval. Yet within the context of these challenges, Seventeenth Century English Puritanism maintained, in its understanding and preaching of the classical confessional statements of faith, an undeniable consensus on the doctrine of justification by faith. Even Laudian confessions seem to point to his inclusion in this faith. It is therefore posited that any estimation of justification by faith in the years after will have to be measured against this time and place in Protestant history. Any modern deviation from the classical confessional views of justification by faith, any forays into pre Reformational views of justification and their consequent liturgical practices must go through this period in church history; a period when all sides held that salvation was only accomplished by the merits of Jesus’ blood and righteousness received, personally, by faith:

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

The preaching of Jeremiah Burroughs on this point was the theology of an entire movement:

Christ is the only means of conveyance of good that God the Father intends to communicate unto the children of men in order to eternal life; He is all in all. This which I am to preach to you now, namely God’s communicating Himself in His mercy to mankind through a Mediator, is the very sum of the gospel, the great mystery of godliness. It is the chief part of the mind and counsel of God that He would have made known to the children of men in this world. This is the great message that the ministers of the gospel have to bring, and it is the most absolutely necessary point in all theology.[54]

Justification by faith alone in Christ alone was the absolute necessary point in Seventeenth Century Puritanism and it is the point today, for it is simply the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the Gospel that must be preached without equivocation or caveat so that the supernatural Word of God will do its work and save human beings from their sins through faith in the finished work and perfect life of Jesus our Lord.

Bibliography

Burgess, Anthony. The True Doctrine of Justification. 2nd. ed. London: Thomas Underhil, 1651.

Burroughs, Jeremiah. Christ Is All in All: Fire and Ice Sermon Series, 1657. http://www.puritansermons.com/pdf/burrou1.pdf (accessed November 16, 2010).

Calvin, John. Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Translated by The Reverend John Owen. English edition, 1568 ed.: Accordance Bible Software, Versions 8.4.7 (July 2010, © OakTree Software, Inc), 1539.

Dickens, Charles. Tale of Two Cities: © 2003-2005 LiteraturePage.com and Michael Moncur. All rights reserved. , Originally published 1859. http://www.literaturepage.com/read/taleoftwocities-1.html (accessed November 13, 2010).

Gurnall, William. The Christian in Complete Armour. Vol. III. London: L.B. Seeley, 169, Fleet Street, 1821.

Gurnall, William, and J. C. Ryle. The Christian in Complete Armour Puritan Classics. Evansville, Ind: Sovereign Grace Book Club, 1958.

Hanko, Herman. “A Comparison of the Westminster and the Reformed Confessions.”  (© 1986, 1992). http://www.prca.org/articles/article_8.html#3 [accessed November 16, 2010].

Hetherington, W. M. History of the Westminster Assembly. 1 vols. Edmonton, AB Canada: Still Water Revival Books, 1993. Reprint, 1993 reprint of the third edition, 1856.

Hetherington, William Maxwell. History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. Reprint edition of the the third edition, 1856. ed. Edmonton, AB Canada: Still Water Revival Books, 1993.

Hill, Christopher. The World Turned Upside Down. [S.l.]: Penguin, 1975.

Hodge, Archibald Alexander. The Confession of Faith; a Handbook of Christian Doctrine Expounding the Westminster Confession. London,: Banner of Truth Trust stamped: distributed by Bible Truth Depot, Swengel, 1958.

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

Kistler, Don. A Spectacle Unto God : The Life and Death of Christopher Love (1618-1651). Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994.

Lightfoot, John, and J. R. Pitman. The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot. [S.l.]: Printed by J. F. Dove, 1822.

Milton, Michael A. “The Application of the Theology of the Westminster Assembly in the Ministry of the Welsh Puritan, Vavasor Powell (1617-1670).” Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Wales, 1998.

New Reformation Study Bible : English Standard Version. 1st ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 2005.

Nuttall, Geoffrey F., and Robert Buick Knox. Reformation, Conformity and Dissent: Essays in Honour of Geoffrey Nuttall. London: Epworth Press, 1977.

Piper, John. The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2007.

Powell, Vavasor. Christ and Moses’ Excellency. London: R.I. for Hannah Allen, at the Crown in Popes-Head-Alley, 1650.

Rev. Peter Hall, M.A. The Harmony of Protestant Confessions Exhibiting the Faith of the Churches of Christ, Reformed after the Pure and Holy Doctrine of the Gospel, Throughout Europe (Translated from the Latin). Edinburgh; Dublin: John F. Shaw, 1842.

The Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, 1658. London,: Evangelical Press, 1971.

Symington, William. The Westminster Assembly of Divines: Part I Excerpts from William Symington, ‘Historical Sketch of the Westminster Assembly of Divines,’ in Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, by the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland, Glasgow, 1843., edited by Grace Online Library: Grace Online Library, 1843. http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/articles/full.asp?id=43||664 (accessed November 16, 2010).

Symington, William. The Westminster Assembly of Divines: Part Iii Excerpts from William Symington, ‘Historical Sketch of the Westminster Assembly of Divines,’ in Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, by the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland, Glasgow, 1843., edited by Grace Online Library: Grace Online Library, 1843. http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/etc/printer-friendly.asp?ID=666.

Todd, Margo. Reformation to Revolution : Politics and Religion in Early Modern England Rewriting Histories. London ; New York, N.Y.: Routledge, 1995.

Wright, N. T. What Saint Paul Really Said. Oxford: Lion, 1997.


[1] © 2010 Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., all rights reserved.

[2] In this paper English Puritanism involves those involved with the Puritan movement in England whether they are properly English or Welsh or for that matter Scot.

[3] See N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said (Oxford: Lion, 1997). The commentary about the nature of justification, its proper understanding in Paul’s writings, and its use an “ecumenical doctrine,” have been answered by many, for example, by John Piper, The Future of Justification : A Response to N.T. Wright (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2007). For a summary of the debate and a Reformed response, see: “Tom Wright’s View of Justification: An Ecumenical Interpretation of Paul, has been published online by Banner of Truth at http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?195 (accessed November 15, 2010).

[4] M.A. Rev. Peter Hall, The Harmony of Protestant Confessions Exhibiting the Faith of the Churches of Christ, Reformed after the Pure and Holy Doctrine of the Gospel, Throughout Europe (Translated from the Latin) (Edinburgh; Dublin: John F. Shaw, 1842).

[5] For a Hebrew reading of this passage see http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0115.htm.

[6] All English Bible citations are taken from The New Reformation Study Bible : English Standard Version, 1st ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 2005).

[7] Calvin’s explanation of justified freely by His grace is worthy to be quoted at this point: “The meaning is, — that since there remains nothing for men, as to themselves, but to perish, being smitten by the just judgment of God, they are to be justified freely through his mercy; for Christ comes to the aid of this misery, and communicates himself to believers, so that they find in him alone all those things in which they are wanting. There is, perhaps, no passage in the whole Scripture which illustrates in a more striking manner the efficacy of his righteousness; for it shows that God’s mercy is the efficient cause, that Christ with his blood is the meritorious cause, that the formal or the instrumental cause is faith in the word, and that moreover, the final cause is the glory of the divine justice and goodness.

With regard to the efficient cause, he says that we are justified freely, and further, by his grace; and he thus repeats the word to show that the whole is from God and nothing from us. It might have been enough to oppose grace to merits; but lest we should imagine a half kind of grace, he affirms more strongly what he means by a repetition, and claims for God’s mercy alone the whole glory of our righteousness, which the sophists divide into parts and mutilate, that they may not be constrained to confess their own poverty. — Through the redemption, etc. This is the material,—Christ by his obedience satisfied the Father’s justice, (judicium — judgment,) and by undertaking our cause he liberated us from the tyranny of death, by which we were held captive; as on account of the sacrifice which he offered is our guilt removed. Here again is fully confuted the gloss of those who make righteousness a quality; for if we are counted righteous before God, because we are redeemed by a price, we certainly derive from another what is not in us. And Paul immediately explains more clearly what this redemption is, and what is its object, which is to reconcile us to God; for he calls Christ a propitiation, (or, if we prefer an allusion to an ancient type,) a propitiatory. But what he means is, that we are not otherwise just than through Christ propitiating the Father for us.” Taken from his commentary on 3.24 in John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans., The Reverend John Owen, English edition, 1568 ed. (Accordance Bible Software, Versions 8.4.7 (July 2010, © OakTree Software, Inc), 1539).

[8] See the Greek manuscript at http://www.greekbible.com/index.php.

[9] Archibald Alexander Hodge, The Confession of Faith; a Handbook of Christian Doctrine Expounding the Westminster Confession (London,: Banner of Truth Trust stamped: distributed by Bible Truth Depot, Swengel, 1958).

[10] See Rev. Peter Hall.

[11] See Thirty Nine Articles of The Book of Common Prayer, 1928 edition, at http://www.anglicansonline.org/basics/thirty-nine_articles.html, (accessed November 16, 2010).

[12] Charles Dickens, “Tale of Two Cities,” (© 2003-2005 LiteraturePage.com and Michael Moncur. All rights reserved. , Originally published 1859). http://www.literaturepage.com/read/taleoftwocities-1.html (accessed November 13, 2010).

[13] Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down ([S.l.]: Penguin, 1975).

[14] See Don Kistler, A Spectacle Unto God : The Life and Death of Christopher Love (1618-1651) (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994).

[15] W. M. Hetherington, History of the Westminster Assembly, 1 vols. (Edmonton, AB Canada: Still Water Revival Books, 1993; reprint, 1993 reprint of the third edition, 1856).

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Indeed, having been a representative to the Lausanne Third Congress on World Evangelization, Cape Town 2010, and had the opportunity and privilege to speak with ministers and people who subscribe to the Westminster Assembly’s faith as the very doctrine of the Bible (representing, I might add, all of the parties present also at Westminster in the 1640s!), I was reminded of the global impact this confession is having in the Twenty First century.

[19] Hetherington.

[20] The House of Commons gave final approval to the Confession of Faith in December of 1646. Note the comment by William Symington on the doctrinal agreement by the divergent parties in the Assembly: “These points having been settled, the drawing up and passing of the Confession of Faith were comparatively easy matters, inasmuch as the members of the Assembly were pretty much agreed on doctrinal points” (see William Symington, “The Westminster Assembly of Divines: Part Iii,” in Excerpts from William Symington, ‘Historical Sketch of the Westminster Assembly of Divines,’ in Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, by the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland, Glasgow, 1843., ed. Grace Online Library (Grace Online Library, 1843). http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/etc/printer-friendly.asp?ID=666.

[21] For a narrative on the forming and approval of the catechisms and the Assembly’s design for each, see ibid.

[22] Hetherington.

[23] See, for instance, Herman Hanko, “A Comparison of the Westminster and the Reformed Confessions,” (© 1986, 1992). http://www.prca.org/articles/article_8.html#3 (accessed November 16, 2010).

[24] Hetherington.

[25] “It is singular that the Confession of Faith should have been submitted at first without the proofs, considering the way in which the Assembly proceeded with the Directory and Form of Government, and it is not less singular that for the supply of this defect we should be indebted to a request of the civil power.” See Symington.

[26] The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) (see http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/westminster_conf_of_faith.html [accessed November 16, 2010]:

CHAPTER XI.

Of Justification.

I. 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 any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not 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.

II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.

III. Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction of his Father’s justice in their behalf. Yet inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them, and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead, and both freely, not for any thing in them, their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.

IV. God did, from all eternity, decree to justify the elect; and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins and rise again for their justification; nevertheless they are not justified until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.

V. God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may by their sins fall under God’s Fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.

VI. The justification of believers under the Old Testament was, in all these respect, one and the same with the justification of believers under the New Testament.

[27] The Westminster Shorter Catechism with Proof Texts (see http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/WSC_frames.html [accessed November 16, 2010]):

Q. 33. What is justification? A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace,[91] wherein he pardoneth all our sins,[92] and accepteth us as righteous in His sight,[93] only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us,[94] and received by faith alone.[95]

[28] The Westminster Larger Catechism (see http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/larger1.html [accessed November 16, 2010]:

Question 70: What is justification?

Answer: Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

Question 71: How is justification an act of God’s free grace?

Answer: Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepts the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

Question 72: What is justifying faith?

Answer: Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

Question 73: How does faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?

Answer: Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and his righteousness.

[29] Randall J. Joel R. Beeke and Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006).

[30] Anthony Burgess, The True Doctrine of Justification, 2nd. ed. (London: Thomas Underhil, 1651).

[31] William Gurnall and J. C. Ryle, The Christian in Complete Armour, Puritan Classics (Evansville, Ind: Sovereign Grace Book Club, 1958).

[32] William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, vol. III (London: L.B. Seeley, 169, Fleet Street, 1821).

[33] From the theological positions of one, Erastus, “a physician at Heidelberg, who wrote on the subject of Church government…” see William Maxwell Hetherington, History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, Reprint edition of the the third edition, 1856. ed. (Edmonton, AB Canada: Still Water Revival Books, 1993).

[34] See  the profile of John Lightfoot in Beeke’s Meet the Puritans, and see also John Lightfoot and J. R. Pitman, The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot ([S.l.]: Printed by J. F. Dove, 1822).

[35] See Michael A. Milton, “The Application of the Theology of the Westminster Assembly in the Ministry of the Welsh Puritan, Vavasor Powell (1617-1670)” (Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Wales, 1998).

[36] The Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, 1658,  (London,: Evangelical Press, 1971).

[37] William Symington, “The Westminster Assembly of Divines: Part I,” in Excerpts from William Symington, ‘Historical Sketch of the Westminster Assembly of Divines,’ in Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, by the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland, Glasgow, 1843., ed. Grace Online Library (Grace Online Library, 1843). http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/articles/full.asp?id=43||664 (accessed November 16, 2010).

[38] “The primary critical work done on Vavasor Powell has come from the scholarly writings of R. Tudur Jones, D. Phil., Oxford and professor at Bangor Theological College, Wales. His book, The Life, Work and Thought of Vavasor Powell, as well as several monographs: “The Healing Herb and the Rose of Love: The Piety of Two Welsh Puritans” in Reformation, Conformity and Dissent, “The Sufferings of Vavasor” in Welsh Baptist Studies, and Vavasor Powell (a popular work which appeared in the 50th anniversary of the Vavasor Powell Memorial Chapel at Knuckles, but whose contribution is more scholarly than “tribal”) have, in this writer’s opinion, placed him without peer at the helm of Vavasorian scholarship. In addition, The Welsh Saints, 1640-1660 by G.F. Nuttall stands as the other great resource for studies on Powell. Vavasor Powell appears in numerous other ecclesiastical and general histories of which the following shall be considered: Derek Hirst’s Authority and Conflict; Sir Christopher Hill’s contributions: God’s Englishman, The Century of Revolution, 1603-1714 and The World Turned Upside Down. These works which provide only glimpses into the life and work of Powell the minister, are, never the less, helpful in placing Powell within the larger flow of 17th century ecclesiastical history. In several Welsh general histories, Vavasor Powell is again seen within the greater interests of history and, thus, his overall ministry may be more suitably evaluated. Of the many good general histories, John Davies’ A History of Wales (University of Wale Press) [should] be examined.”—Milton, 26.

[39] Milton.

[40] Ibid.

[41] The complete title of this 1685 work is: “A Winding Sheet for Mr. Baxter’s Dead: Or, Those whom he hath Kill’d and Slain in his ‘Catholic Communion’, sweetly embalmed, and decently Buried again. Being an Apology for Several Ministers, viz., Mr. Erbury, Mr. Cradock, Mr. Vavasor Powel [sic], and Mr. Morgan Lloyd, misrepresented by Mr. Baxter to the world.” See ibid.

[42] See Vavasor Powell, Christ and Moses’ Excellency (London: R.I. for Hannah Allen, at the Crown in Popes-Head-Alley, 1650).

[43] Ibid, 155.

[44] Tudur Jones, “The Healing Herb and the Rose of Love: The Piety of Two Welsh Puritans,” in Geoffrey F. Nuttall and Robert Buick Knox, Reformation, Conformity and Dissent : Essays in Honour of Geoffrey Nuttall (London: Epworth Press, 1977).

[45] God the Father Glorified: and the worke of mens Redemption, and Salvation finished by Iesus Christ on Earth Opened in a SERMON Before the Right Honorable the Lord Major, and the Right Worshipful the Sheriffes, Aldermen, and Recorder, of the Citie of London, the second day of the tenth Moneth (called December) 1649. By Vavasor Powell, a willing (though weake) Labourer in Christs Vine—yard in Wales…London, Printed by Charles Sumpter, for Hannah Allen, at the Crowne in Popes—Head—Alley, 1649; Saving Faith Set forth in Three Dialogues, or Conferences:

1. Between Publican.

2. Christ Pharisee.

3. and a Doubting Beleever.

Whereunto is added TWO SERMONS One of them Preached before the Parliament the other Before the Lord Mayor of the City of London. By Vavasor Powell, Minister of the Gospell. London, Printed by Robert Ibbitson for Livewell Chapman, at the Crown in Popes—head Alley. 1651; CHRIST EXALTED above all Creatures by GOD His Father, OR A Sermon Preached before the Right Honourable, the Parliament of the Commonwealth of ENGLAND. (At their solemne Fast, observed the last day of the last Month called February 1649.) By Vavasor POWELL. Esa. 2. 11. 17. And the Lord alone shal be exalted in that day He hath on his vesture, and on his thigh, a name written, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, Rev. 19. 16. LONDON, Prinred [sic] by Robert Ibbitson for Livewell Chapman at the Crown in Popes—head Alley. 1651; Divine Love: or The willingness of Jesus Christ To Save SINNERS; Discovered in three Divine Dialogues Between I. Christ and a Publican. ii. Christ and a Pharisee. ii. Christ and a Doubting Christian. With several other brief Tracts. By V.P. London, Printed for N. Crouch at the George over against the Stocks—Market. 1677.

This is bound along with

The Threefold State of a CHRISTIAN Discovered

By Nature

By Grace

And in Glory

With the Character of a Christian. A miscellany of Divine Contemplations, Observations, and Directions to a holy Life and Conversation. By V.P. Thy Threefold State here Thou may’st see, what thou hast been, ast, And shall be. Printed for N.C. 1677.

[46] Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants (Oxford, 1982), p.. 90.

[47] The endnote in Sharpe’s Chapter Four contribution to Reformation to Revolution (p.. 77) provide a further reading list for Sharpe’s view of Laud. The references list: “Archbishop Laud and the University of Oxford” in History and Imagination, ed. H. Lloyd-Jones et al. (London, 1981), and references in The Personal Rule of Charles I (New Haven, 1983).

[48] Hunt, p.. 253.

[49] Nicholas Tyacke, “Puritanism, Arminianism and Counter-Revolution,” in Margo Todd, Reformation to Revolution : Politics and Religion in Early Modern England, Rewriting Histories (London ; New York, N.Y.: Routledge, 1995).

[50] See Kevin Sharpe’s excellent overview of Laud’s orthodox views in “Archbishop Laud,” in ibid.

[51] Ibid. See also the account of his execution at his page on NNDB: http://www.nndb.com/people/435/000107114/ (accessed on November 17, 2010).

[52] Kevin Sharpe in ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Jeremiah Burroughs, “Christ Is All in All,” (Fire and Ice Sermon Series, 1657). http://www.puritansermons.com/pdf/burrou1.pdf (accessed November 16, 2010).

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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