Article of the Month
by B.B. Warfield
“When we attempt to gain an apprehension of Paul’s doctrine of salvation on the ground of an alien righteousness,” remarks Professor George B. Stevens, “we must bear in mind that Paul was waging an intense polemic—the great conflict of his life.” The remark is true enough in itself, but will scarcely warrant Professor Stevens’ inference from it, namely, that we must be careful therefore not to take Paul’s statements in this matter au pied de la lettre; that we must expect (and will find) a certain exaggeration in his language at this polemic point, a certain one-sidedness in his assertions; and be, therefore, prepared to tone down the extremity of his statements to more reasonable proportions. From this warning of Professor Stevens’ we may, perhaps, learn this much, however: that Paul’s statements at this point are radical and leave little room for that nice balancing so dear to the hearts of so-called “moderate” thinkers, by which they would fain retain some room for glorying in the flesh while yet joining in the universal song of the saints of God, Gloria Deo Soli.
It is clear, at once, that the forms of Paul’s language at least do not easily lend themselves to the notion that, though Divine aid is requisite to salvation, yet the fundamental movement (hereunto must be of man’s own making; or even that, though salvation is predominatingly from God, yet this is not to the exclusion of the necessity on man’s part of at least assent and consent to the Divine working; that if the basis of the Divine acceptance of man is to be found in the work of Christ, at least, faith is demanded of man as the condition on the performance of which alone will this acceptance be accorded to him. It is something like this that Professor Stevens wishes to reserve to man as his part in salvation. And it is in his effort to rescue this to man from the obviously unwilling hands of Paul that he is led to remark that Paul’s language must be interpreted as that of a headlong controversialist, who in his zeal falls into “a certain one-sidedness” in his representations, and keys his reasonings so high that they must be taken rather as “purposely one-sided argumenta ad hominem” and do not fairly set forth perhaps Paul’s whole thought on the subject. Whence, we saw it seems perfectly clear that, the language of Paul, taken as it stands, excludes even so much of a human element lying at the basis of salvation. What he says—whatever he means is obviously that our own righteousness in every item and degree of it—is wholly excluded from the ground of our salvation; and the righteousness provided by God in Christ is the sole ground of our acceptance in His sight. According to his express statements, at least, we are saved entirely on the ground of an alien righteousness and not at all on the ground of anything we are or have done, or can do,—be it even so small a matter as believing.
For the rest, true as it is that in this matter Paul was involved in an ineradicable conflict with the Judaizers—in what may be with good right called indeed “the conflict of his life”—it is very easy to press beyond the mark in our estimate of the effect of this conflict upon his thought or even upon his language. After all, Paul’s interest in the ground of human salvation was a positive one, rather than a negative one. In the providence of God he was led to develop his doctrine of salvation for the benefit of his disciples in conflict with Judaizers; and we view it to-day in the forms of statement given it under the necessities of that controversy. But there is no reason to believe that he would not have taught precisely that same doctrine of salvation, though, doubtless, in different forms of statement, had he been required to meet erroneous teaching of a totally different kind, proceeding from a wholly different quarter—that is, if we really believe that the essence of his doctrine is the truth of God, given him by revelation, and not merely his personal position assumed to hold standing ground for himself as a determined opponent of the old Jewish party in the Church. In other words, the conflict with the Judaizers was not first with Paul and his doctrine of salvation second, either in time or importance; but, on the contrary, his doctrine of salvation was first and his controversy with the Judaizers both subsequent and consequent to it. He did not hold this doctrine of salvation because he polemicized the Judaizers, but he polemicized the Judaizers because he held this doctrine of salvation. He did not attain this doctrine of salvation then in controversy with the Judaizers, but he controverted the Judaizers because their teaching impinged on this precious doctrine. Though, therefore, the forms in which he states the doctrine in these epistles take shape from the fact that he is rebutting, the assaults on it and the subtle undermining of it derived from the conceptions of the Judaizers, the doctrine stated is prior in the order of time and thought in his mind to the rise of the danger to it which he is repelling in these expressions. The interest and importance of this to us is that it thereby is brought to our clear consciousness that Paul’s fundamental interest in this matter turns not on the violence of his conflict with the Judaizers but on the profundity of his conviction of the truth of his position. Whenever he replies to the Judaizers’ assault in whatever sharpness of rebuke and keenness of polemic thrust, his primary interest is not in silencing his opponents but in upholding his teaching.
We could not have a better illustration of this than in the passage now before us. The whole of it is suffused with an emotion which is far deeper and far purer than polemic zeal. Nowhere do Paul’s polemics burn more fiercely. Nowhere is his language sharper or his expressions more “extreme.” But nowhere is it clearer that his heart is set on higher things than on the refutation of errorists whom he would correct; and nowhere is it less legitimate to pare down his expressions to the level of mere controversial violence. The Apostle as he opened the third chapter of this Epistle was contemplating drawing it to a close. “Finally, my brethren,” he says, using the familiar formula for introducing the concluding words,— “finally, my brethren,” he says, closing the letter, as is his wont, with some striking fundamental thought that would abide in the mind of his readers as a last message to their souls,—”finally, my brethren, let your joy be in the Lord.” This is no mere formula of farewell, as some, misled by the “rejoice”—which is to be sure an ordinary formula of epistolary salutation—have imagined. The conception of Christian rejoicing is a fundamental note of this letter, and here it has all the emphasis that this gives it. And it is not merely the idea of rejoicing that is here emphatic, but the added idea of rejoicing “in the Lord.” “Finally, my brethren,” says the Apostle, “let your joy be in the Lord.” Ah, this is where the Apostle’s heart is as he opens this paragraph—this is the thought he would leave with his readers. “Let your joy be in the Lord” not in yourselves, but in the Lord. We should say, perhaps, rather, Let your boast be in the Lord; let your glorying be only in the Lord. It means fundamentally the same thing. The Apostle would bring his letter to a close by reminding his readers of the very core of the saving proclamation. They are saved—not self-saving souls. Let them rejoice, let them continually joy, in the Lord!
This is not a new theme with the Apostle. It is rather one of his favourite subjects, (his of boasting in Christ Jesus. He is conscious that he harps on it. But he is not ashamed of harping on it; it is the heart of the Gospel and he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. But he makes a quasi-apology for so harping on it. “I know this is repetitious,” he says at once, “but I like to say it, and it may be useful to you. “To write the same things to you, to me on the one hand is not irksome, but to you on the other it is safe.” It is a joy to Paul to cry over and over and over again, “Let your joy be in the Lord”; in Him only put your boasting; in Him alone do your glorying; and it is a safe thing to impress on his readers. At the mention of this, the floods of polemics rush in. Paul remembers those who were endangering the purity of this attitude of dependence on the Lord alone in his flocks, and remembering them, what can he do but burst out with renewed warnings?
So the letter does not close, after all, at this point, but instead, we have the sharp exhortation, “Mark ye the dogs! Mark ye the evil workers! Mark ye the concision!” Why does his polemic burn so hotly against these men? Simply because they endangered that attitude which he was impressing on his readers, and in which the whole Gospel consisted for him—the attitude of entire dependence on Christ to the exclusion of everything in themselves. Accordingly his rapid and clearly cut speech leaps at once into the reason: “Mark ye the concision,—the concision I say, the mere imitation; for we are the circumcision, the real sealed ones to God, who worship by the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.”
We do not need to follow the subsequent turns of the polemic into which the Apostle here enters. It is enough for us to note that the language abundantly confirms the interpretation of the drift of the paragraph and the intent of its opening words on which we have insisted. Paul exhorts his readers “to let their joy be in the Lord,” and he repudiates the concision on the express ground that their claims are antagonistic to a purely spiritual worship, to boasting in Christ Jesus alone and the withdrawal of all confidence from the flesh. This is that to which the Apostle is engaged in exhorting his readers therefore boasting in Christ Jesus alone and the removal of all confidence in the flesh. We all know how richly he develops this idea in the following words enumerating his own high claims in the flesh and asserting roundly that all of them are but as refuse to him in the matter of salvation. Christ Jesus is all. The language of our text is but the elaboration of this vital idea in other and more precise language. All that he is, all that he has sought after, all that he has done,—though from a fleshly point of view far superior to what most men can appeal to—all, all, he counts (not merely useless but) loss, all one mass of loss, to be cast, away and buried in the sea, “that he may gain Christ and be found in Him.” On the one side stand all human works—they are all loss. On the other hand stands Christ—He is all in all. That is the contrast. And this is the contrast re-expressed more formally in our text: “not having my own righteousness that is out of law, but that, which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that is from God on faith.”
The contrast is between the righteousness which a man can make for himself and the righteousness that God gives him. And the contrast is absolute. On the one, in the height and the breadth of its whole idea—we cannot exaggerate here— Paul pours contempt, as a basis or, nay, even the least part of the basis, of salvation. On the other, exclusively, he bases the totality of salvation. The outcome is, that not merely polemically but fundamentally, he founds salvation solely on an alien righteousness, with the express exclusion of every item of our own righteousness. The whole contents of the passage demands this as Paul’s fundamental thought.
Now, it is not necessary for us, on this occasion, to stop to analyze in its details Paul’s thought; to show by detailed exposition how utterly the righteousness rejected by him is rejected and how exclusively the righteousness laid hold of by him is trusted in, and how completely the ground of our trust is cleansed by Paul from every scintilla of human works. It will suffice for the present to accept the discrimination he makes in the large and to try to realize how fully to him the totality of the Gospel lay just in this discrimination. The Gospel, to Paul, consists precisely in this: that we do nothing to earn our salvation or to secure it for ourselves. God in Christ does it all.
It is easy, of course, to brand such an assertion as immoral. Men were not slow to brand it as immoral in Paul’s day, and men are not slow to brand it as immoral (“unethical” is their way of phrasing it) to-day. “What,” they say, “we are to do nothing! Christ does it all! Nothing depends on us! Not even our believing! Then, let us eat, drink and be merry!” They do not stop to consider that the repetition against those who draw this doctrine from Paul’s leaching, of precisely the same charge that was urged against Paul, is the last thing which could be needed to prove that Paul has not been misunderstood when he is interpreted as advancing by set purpose just this doctrine. Paul does not meet the charge by explaining that he wishes his words concerning the exclusion of all our righteousness from the ground of salvation to be taken cum grano salis; but by explaining that, being saved not indeed “out of works” but certainly “unto good works,” we cannot walk in sin and yet be saved. This positing of a new antithesis, not out of works but unto good works, clinches the essence of his doctrine, and may be adopted by us as the sole defence it needs against the accusations of men.
You remember how Mr. J. A. Kroude in a famous essay adduced as a speaking evidence of the “immorality of Evangelicalism,” the well-known revival hymn beginning:
“Nothing either great or small,
What was particularly offensive to him was the assertion that
“Doing is a deadly thing,
And the consequent exhortation
“Cast your deadly doing down,
It is, nevertheless, the very cor cordis of the Gospel that is here brought under fire. The one antithesis of all the ages is that between the rival formulae: Do this and live, and, Live and do this; Do and be saved, and Be saved and do. And the one thing that determines whether we trust in God for salvation or would fain save ourselves is, how such formulae appeal to us. Do we, like the rich young ruler, feel that we must “do some good thing” in order that we may be saved? Then, assuredly, we are not yet prepared to trust our salvation to Christ alone—to sell all that we have and follow Him. Just in proportion as we are striving to supplement or to supplant His perfect work, just in that proportion is our hope of salvation resting on works, and not on faith. Ethicism and solafideanism—these are the eternal contraries, mutually exclusive. It must be faith or works; it can never be faith and works. And the fundamental exhortation which we must ever be giving our souls is clearly expressed in the words of the hymn, “Cast your deadly doing down.” Only when that is completely done is it really Christ Only, Christ All in All, with us; only then, do we obey fully Paul’s final exhortation: “Let your joy be in the Lord.” Only then do we renounce utterly “our own righteousness, that out of law,” and rest solely on “that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God on faith.”
Dr. Benjamin B Warfield graduated from the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, in 1871 and after a period of study abroad at Edinburgh and Heidelberg entered Princeton Theological Seminary and was graduated with the class of 1876. Following a year’s study at Leipzig, Germany, and a short pastorate in Baltimore he was appointed instructor in New Testament Language and Literature in Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh and a year later elected professor. In 1886 he was called to succeed Archibald Alexander Hodge as professor of Systematic Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary — a position which he occupied with great distinction until his death in 1921.
Dr. Warfield won early recognition as a scholar, teacher and author. He received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the college of New Jersey in 1880; that of Doctor of Laws from both the College of New Jersey and Davidson college in 1892; that of Doctor of Letters from Lafayette College in 1911; and that of Sacrae Theologiae Doctor from the University of Utrecht in 1913. He was editor of the Presbyterian and Reformed Review from 1890-1903 and until the time of his death, the chief contributor to the Princeton Theological Review.
This article is taken from Faith and Life, pp. 314-325, published by The Banner of Truth.
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