Some Non-Essential Differences Between Those who Do Trust Christ’s Righteousness, by John Owen
That which is of real difference among persons who agree in the
substance of the doctrine, may be reduced unto a very few heads; as, —
(1.) There is something of this kind about the nature of faith whereby we are justified, with its proper object in justifying, and its use in justification. And an instance we have herein, not only of the weakness of our intellects in the apprehension of spiritual things, but also of the remainders of confusion and disorder in our minds; at least, how true it is that we know only in part, and prophesy only in part, whilst we are in this life.
For whereas this faith is an act of our minds, put forth in the way of duty to God, yet many by whom it is sincerely exercised, and that continually, are not agreed either in the nature or proper object of it. Yet is there no doubt but that some of them who differ amongst themselves about these things, have delivered their minds free from the prepossession of prejudices and notions derived from other artificial reasonings imposed on them, and do really express their own conceptions as to the best and utmost of their experience.
And notwithstanding this difference, they do yet all of them please God
in the exercise of faith, as it is their duty, and have that respect unto its proper object as secures both their justification and salvation. And if we cannot, on this consideration, bear with, and forbear, one another in our different conceptions and expressions of those conceptions about these things, it is a sign we have a great mind to be contentious, and that our confidences are built on very weak foundations.
For my part, I had much rather my lot should be found among them who do really believe with the heart unto righteousness, though they are not able to give a tolerable definition of faith unto others, than among them who can endlessly dispute about it with seeming accuracy and skill, but are negligent in the exercise of it as their own duty.
(2.) There has been a controversy more directly stated among some
learned divines of the Reformed churches , about the righteousness of Christ that is said to be imputed unto us. For some would have this to be only his
suffering of death, and the satisfaction which he made for sin thereby,
and others include therein the obedience of his life also. The occasion, original, and progress of this controversy, the persons by whom it has been managed, with the writings wherein it is so, and the various ways that have been endeavoured for its reconciliation, are sufficiently known unto all who have inquired into these things.
(3.) Some difference there has been, also, whether the righteousness of
Christ imputed unto us, or the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, may be said to be the formal cause of our justification before God; wherein there appears some variety of expression among learned men, who have handled this subject in the way of controversy with the Papists.
The true occasion of the differences about this expression has been this, and no other: Those of the Roman church do constantly assert, that the righteousness whereby we are righteous before God is the formal cause of our justification; and this righteousness, they say, is our own inherent, personal righteousness, and not the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us: wherefore they treat of this whole controversy — namely, what is the righteousness on the account
whereof we are accepted with God, or justified — under the name of the
formal cause of justification.
In opposition unto them, some Protestants, contending that the righteousness wherewith we are esteemed righteous before God, and accepted with him, is the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us, and not our own inherent,
imperfect, personal righteousness, have done it under this inquiry, –namely, What is the formal cause of our justification? Which some have said to be the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, — some, the righteousness of Christ imputed.
But what they designed herein was, not to resolve this controversy into a philosophical inquiry about the nature of a formal cause, but only to prove that that truly belonged unto the righteousness of Christ in our justification which the Papists ascribed unto our own. ..They all deny that in the
justification of a sinner there either is, or can be, any inherent formal cause of it.
Wherefore, notwithstanding the differences that have been among some in
the various expression of their conceptions, the substance of the doctrine of the reformed churches is by them agreed upon and retained entire. For they all agree that God justifies no sinner, — absolves him not from guilt, nor declares him righteous, so as to have a title unto the heavenly inheritance, — but with respect unto a true and perfect righteousness; as also, that this righteousness is truly the righteousness of him that is so justified; that this righteousness
becomes ours by God’s free grace and donation; and that this is the perfect obedience or righteousness of Christ imputed unto us.