Robert Traill: No Justification In Our Holiness

After some Divines were being unjustly charged of antinomianism, Robert Traill wrote this letter originally “TO A MINISTER IN THE COUNTRY”.

“The party here suspected of Antinomianism, do confidently protest, before God, angels, and men, That they espouse no new doctrine about the grace of God and justification, and the other coincident points, but what the reformers at home and abroad did teach, and all the Protestant churches do own. And that in sum is: “That a law-condemned sinner is freely justified by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ; that he is justified only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to him by God of his free grace, and received by faith alone as an instrument; which faith is the gift of the same grace.” For guarding against licentiousness, they constantly teach, out of God’s word, “That without holiness no man can see God: That all that believe truly on Jesus Christ, as they are justified by the sprinkling of his blood, so are they sanctified by the effusion of his Spirit: that all that boast of their faith in Christ, and yet live after their own lusts, and the course of this world, have no true faith at all; but do, in their profession, and contradicting practice, blaspheme the name of God, and the doctrine of his grace; and continuing so, shall perish with a double destruction, beyond that of the openly profane, that make no profession.” And when they find any such in their communion, which is exceeding rarely, they cast them out as dead branches. They teach, “That as the daily study of sanctification is a necessary exercise to all that are in Christ; so the rule of their direction therein, is the holy spotless law of God in Christ’s hand: That the Holy Ghost is the beginner and advancer of this work, and faith in Jesus Christ the great mean thereof: That no man can be holy till he be in Christ, and united to him by faith; and that no man is truly in Christ, but he is thereby sanctified. They preach the law, to condemn all flesh out of Christ, and to shew thereby to people the necessity of betaking themselves to him for salvation.” See the savoury words of blessed Tindal, called the apostle of England, in his letter to John Frith, written Jan. 1533; Book of Martyrs, vol. 2. p. 308. “Expound the law truly, and open the veil of Moses, to condemn all flesh, and prove all men sinners, and all deeds under the law, before mercy have taken away the condemnation thereof, to be sin, and damnable; and then as a faithful minister, set abroach the mercy of our Lord Jesus, and let the wounded consciences drink of the water of him. And then shall your preaching be with power, and not as the hypocrites. And the Spirit of God shall work with you; and all consciences shall bear record unto you, and feel that it is so. And all doctrine that casteth a mist on these two, to shadow and hide them, I mean the law of God, and mercy of Christ; that resist you with all your power.” And so do we.

What is there in all this to be offended with? Is not this enough to vindicate our doctrine from any tendency to licentiousness? I am afraid, that there are some things wherein we differ more than they think fit yet to express. And I shall guess at them.

1. The first is about the imputed righteousness of Christ. This righteousness of Christ, in his active and passive obedience, hath been asserted by Protestant divines, to be not only the procuring and meritorious cause of our justification; for this the Papists own; but the matter; as the imputation of it is the form of our justification: though I think, that our logical terms are not so adapted for such divine mysteries. But whatever propriety or impropriety be in such school-terms, the common Protestant doctrine hath been, That a convinced sinner seeking justification, must have nothing in his eye but this righteousness of Christ, as God proposeth nothing else to him; and that God in justifying a sinner, accepts him in this righteousness only, when he imputes it to him.

Now, about the imputed righteousness of Christ some say, “That it belongs only to the person of Christ: he was under the law, and bound to keep it for himself; that he might be a fit Mediator, without spot or blemish. That it is a qualification in the Mediator, rather than a benefit acquired by him, to be communicated to his people.” For they will not allow “this personal righteousness of Christ so be imputed to us any otherwise than in the merit of it, as purchasing for us a more easy law of grace; in the observation whereof they place all our justifying righteousness:” understanding hereby “our own personal inherent holiness, and nothing else.” They hold, “That Christ died to merit this of the Father, viz. that we might be justified upon easier terms under the gospel, than those of the law of innocency. Instead of justification by perfect obedience, we are now to be justified by our own evangelical righteousness, made up of faith, repentance, and sincere obedience.” And if we hold not with them in this, they tell the world, we are enemies to evangelical holiness, slighting the practice of all good works, and allowing our hearers to live as they list. Thus they slander the preachers of free grace, because we do not place justification in our own inherent holiness; but in Christ’s perfect righteousness, imputed to us upon our believing in him. Which faith, we teach, purifies the heart, and always inclines to holiness of life. Neither do we hold any faith to be true and saving, that doth not shew, itself by good works; without which no man is, or can be justified, either in his own conscience, or before men. But it doth not hence follow, that we cannot be justified in the sight of God by faith only, as the apostle Paul asserts the latter, and the apostle James the former, in a good agreement.

2. There appears to be some difference, or misunderstanding of one another, about the true notion and nature of justifying faith. Divines commonly distinguish betwixt the direct act of faith, and the reflex act. The direct act is properly justifying and saving faith; by which a lost sinner comes to Christ, and relies upon him for salvation. The reflex act is the looking back of the soul upon a former act of faith. A rational creature can reflect upon his own acts, whether they be acts of reason, faith, or unbelief.

A direct act of saving faith, is that by which a lost sinner goes out of himself to Christ for help, relying upon him only for salvation. A reflex act ariseth from the sense that faith gives of its own inward act, upon a serious review. The truth and sincerity of which is further cleared up to the conscience, by the genuine fruits of an unfeigned faith, appearing to all men in our good lives, and holy conversation. But for as plain as these things be, yet we find we are frequently mistaken by others: and we wonder at the mistake; for we dare not ascribe to some learned and good men, the principles of ignorance, or wilfulness, from whence mistakes in plain cases usually proceed. When we do press sinners to come to Christ by a direct act of faith, consisting in an humble reliance upon him for mercy and pardon; they will understand us, whether we will or not, of a reflex act of faith, by which a man knows and believes, that his sins are pardoned, and that Christ is his: when they might easily know, that we mean no such thing. Mr Walter Marshall, in his excellent book, lately published, hath largely opened this, and the true controversy of this day, though it be eight or nine years since he died.”

Traill, R. (1810). The Works of Robert Traill (Vol. 1, pp. 256–259). Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.

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