All the Solas of the Reformation are inextricably linked: the Scriptures infallibly and emphatically tell us (Sola Scriptura) that salvation is by faith alone (Sola Fide), which is given to us as an unwarranted gift of God by His grace (Sola Gratia), afforded to us only by the finished work of Christ (Solus Christus), so that all the praise, honor, and glory goes to God and to God alone (Soli Deo Gloria).
Sola Fide: The Ground of Our Salvation
While the formal principle of the Reformation is Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, the material principle of the Reformation is Sola Fide, faith alone. This is the starting post of the Gospel.
“We are not justified through ourselves or our wisdom or piety or works which we have done in holiness of heart, but through faith, by which the Almighty God has justified the elect.” Clement (1st Century)
“O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous Man, while the righteousness of that One should justify many sinners.” Mathetes Diognetus (2nd Century)
“Approving mere faith, God bestowed upon us forgiveness of sins.” Theodoret (4th Century)
“Salvation is of the Lord, for believers cannot do anything apart from what they have received.” Augustine (5th Century)
“It ought to be the first concern of every Christian to lay aside all confidence in works and grow in the knowledge of Christ Jesus, who suffered and rose for him.” Martin Luther (16th Century)
“Faith alone justifies, and yet the faith that justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun that warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light.” John Calvin (16th Century)
“On the system of ‘Do this and live,’ no peace, and even no true obedience, can ever be attained. It is ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ When this belief enters the heart, joy and confidence enter along with it. The righteousness we try to work out for ourselves eludes our impotent grasp, and never can a soul arrive at a true and permanent rest in the pursuit of this object.” Thomas Chalmers (19th Century)
- The Heresy of Works Righteousness: Isa 64:6; Rom 3:20; Titus 3:4-5; 2 Tim 1:9; Eph 2:8-9; Gal 2:21; Rom 8:3; Rom 9:16; Rom 11:6; Rom 3:20; Rom 4:1-3; Gal 2:16; Gal 3: 11; Gal 3:21
- Making a Distinction: Dead Faith: James 2:26; Vain Faith: 1 Corinthians 15:2; Carnal Faith: Luke 8:13; Demonic Faith: James 2:19 Versus Obedient Faith: Romans 1:5; Saving Faith: 1 John 5:1
For Further Reading and Study:
The Doctrine of Justification by Faith by John Owen (Banner of Truth)
Faith Alone by R.C. Sproul (Tyndale)
Faith Alone by Thomas Schreiner (Zondervan)
Sola Fide: The Reformed Doctrine of Justification by J.I. Packer (Baker)
Going Deeper #2
Working Out What God Has Worked In
“Christ purchased your inheritance and He makes you fit for it. He has gone to prepare a place for you there, and He prepares you here for the place.” Thomas Chalmers
“You cannot too soon mix up dependence upon more grace, with diligence in the use of all the grace that has already been imparted. When you do whatever your hand findeth to do, you are only stirring up the gift that is in you.” Thomas Chalmers
“Satan, that arch-bailiff, no longer has warrant to pursue you for the heavy arrears of all your negligence and misconduct, for your liberty in Christ is altogether sure.” Thomas Chalmers
“Though no longer under the economy of ‘do-and-live,’ still, Christians are under the economy of ‘live-and-do.'” Thomas Chalmers
Whatever diversity marked the discussions and colloquies of the magisterial Reformers, there always remained substantial agreement on the doctrine of justification by faith. All the Reformed confessions agree that the ground of the Gospel is the free declaration by God that sinners are regarded as righteous only for the sake of Christ’s righteousness, his condign merits imputed to believers received only through faith, trusting, resting, and receiving in Christ and in his finished work.
This is the unanimous doctrinal declaration of the Genevan Confession (1536), the Belgic Confession (1560), the Scots Confession (1560), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Second Helvetic Confession (1566), the Canons of Dort (1619), and the Westminster Standards (1648).
Nevertheless, there have been dissenting voices, from the beginning of the Reformation right up to the present. These dissenting voices proclaim what the Apostle Paul asserted was nothing other than “another Gospel.” They proclaim instead a kind of works righteousness moralism.
As had been the case in Galatia in the first century, there were those in the sixteenth century who feared that the Good News of free acceptance, of free salvation (redemption, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification) would lead to carelessness in the Christian life and even antinomianism. And of course, there indeed were some who tried to take the opportunity of the recovery of the Gospel to promote an antinomian heresy.
Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, and all the magisterial Reformers rejected such antinomianism in all its forms as an offense to the law and an abuse of the Gospel of grace. “Should we sin that grace may abound? May it never be!” (Rom 6:1).
Nevertheless, despite clarity on this essential (sine qua non) doctrine, despite clarity on the moral and logical necessity of holiness and progressive sanctification as the natural fruit of justification those dissenting voices have persisted in seeking to corrupt the Reformed standard of Sola Fide, either by changing the ground (Christ’s perfect righteousness for us), or by changing the instrument (faith trusting, resting in, and receiving Christ) of justification.
This is precisely why the seventeenth century theologian, J.H. Alsted, asserted that Sola Fide is literally the “article of the standing or falling of the church.” That is as much the case in our own day as it was in his.
For Further Reading and Study:
Healthy Christian Growth by Sinclair Fergu