The point at which it separates from the doctrine of our Liturgy and Articles is very evident. Our formularies speak of faith as in many ways essential to our justification, but not as the instrument of originally gaining it. This peculiar instrumentality of faith is the Lutheran tenet here to be discussed; and is plainly the consequence of what has been already adverted to, the attaching an exclusive importance to the doctrine of justification by faith only. Those who hold that this doctrine declares only one out of several truths relating to the mode of our justification, even though they express themselves like the strict Lutherans, may really agree with our Church; but it is far otherwise with those who hold it as comprehending all that is told us about that mode.
This then is peculiarly the Lutheran view, viz. that faith is the proper instrument of justification. That justification is the application of Christ’s merits to the individual, or (as it is sometimes expressed) the imparting a saving interest in Him, will not be denied by English divines. Moreover, it will be agreed that His merits are not communicated, or a saving interest secured, except through an instrument divinely appointed. Such an instrument there must be, if man is to take part in the application supposed; and it must be divinely appointed, since it is to convey what God Himself, and He alone, dispenses. It is then a means appointed by God and used by man, and is almost necessarily involved in the notion of justification. All parties seem to agree as far as this; but when we go on to inquire what it is which God has made His instrument, then, as I have said, we find ourselves upon the main subject of dispute between ourselves and the strict followers of the German Reformer. Our Church considers it to be the Sacrament of Baptism; they consider it to be Faith.
These two views indeed need not be, and have not always been, opposed to one another. Baptism may be considered the instrument on God’s part, Faith on ours; Faith may receive what Baptism conveys. But if the word instrument be taken to mean in the strictest sense the immediate means by which the gift passes from the giver to the receiver, there can be but one instrument; and either Baptism will be considered to convey it (whether conditionally or not, which is a further question), or Faith to seize, or, as it is expressed, to apprehend it,—either Faith will become a subordinate means, condition, or qualification, or Baptism a mere sign, pledge, or ratification of a gift which is really independent of it. And this is the alternative in which the question has practically issued at all times.
I am in this Lecture to consider the system of doctrine arising out of the belief that Faith, not Baptism, is the instrument of justification. What I think of that system may be gathered from what I say as I proceed. I have tried to delineate it fairly; at the same time I am sensible that I shall seem not to have pursued the subject to its limits. Yet I think I have reached the limits of the meaning of those who have brought it into discussion; and if I am obscure, it is because I have to use their language.