by Robert Traill


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, has been asserted by Protestant divines to be not only the procuring and meritorious cause of our justification (for this the Papists admit) 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 there is in such school-terms, the common Protestant doctrine has been that a convinced sinner, seeking justification, must have nothing in his eye but this righteousness ofĒ Christ, as God proposes nothing else to him, and that God in justifying a sinner accepts him in this righteousness alone, when he imputes it to him.

Now, about the imputed righteousness of Christ, some say1 that it belongs only to the person of Christ. He was under the law and bound to keep it for himself, so 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 to 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 of which they place all our justifying righteousness, understanding hereby our personal inherent holiness and nothing else.

They hold that Christ died to merit this of the father, namely, 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 that we are enemies to evangelical holiness, slighting the practice of all good works, and allowing our hearers to live as they please.

Thus they slander the preachers of free grace, because we do not place justification in our own inherent holiness; but in Christís perfect righteousness, imputed to us upon our believing in him. This 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 does not show itself by good works; without which no man is or can be justified, either in his own conscience or before men.

But it does not follow from this that we cannot be justified in the sight of God by faith only, since 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 between the direct fact 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 are 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 arises from the sense that faith gives of its own inward act, upon a serious review. The truth and sincerity of this 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, as plain as these things are, 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 which mistakes in plain cases usually proceed. When we press sinners to come to Christ by a direct act of faith, consisting in a 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, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification,2 lately published, has largely opened this, and the true controversy of this day, though it be eight or nine years since he died.

3. We seem to differ about the interest, and room, and place, that faith has in justification.

That we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ is so plainly a New Testament truth that no man pretending however barely to the Christian name denies it. The Papists own it; and the Socinians, and Arminians, and all own it. But how different are their senses of it! And indeed you cannot more speedily and certainly judge of the spirit of a man than by his real inward sense of this phrase (if you could reach it), ĎA sinner is justified by faith in Jesus Christ.í

Some say that faith in Jesus Christ justifies as it is a work, by the act of believing; as if it came in the place of perfect obedience, required by the law. Some say that faith justifies as it is informed and animated by charity. This is the teaching of the Papists, who plainly confound justification and sanctification. Some say, that faith justifies as it is a fulfilling of the condition of the new covenant: If you believe you shall be saved. Nay, they will not stop there, but they will have this faith to justify as it has a principle and fitness in it to dispose to sincere obedience.

The plain old Protestant doctrine is that the place of faith in justification is only that of a hand or instrument, receiving the righteousness of Christ, for the sake of which alone we are justified. So that, though great scholars do often confound themselves and others in their disputations about faithís justifying a sinner, every poor plain believer has the marrow of this mystery feeding his heart; and he can readily tell you that to be justified by faith is to be justified by Christís righteousness, apprehended by faith.

4. We seem to misunderstand one another about the two Adams, and especially the latter.

See Romans 5, verse 12 to the end. In that excellent scripture a comparison is instituted which, if we did duly understand and agree in it, we should not readily differ in the main things of the gospel. The apostle there tells us that the first Adam stood in the place of all his natural posterity. He had their stock in his hand. While he stood they stood in him; when he fell, they fell with him. By his fall he derived sin and death to all those that spring from him by natural generation. This is the sad side. But he tells us, in opposition to that, and by way of comparison with it, that Christ, the second man, is the new head of the redeemed world. He stands in their place. His obedience is theirs; and he communicates to his spiritual offspring the very contrary to that which the first sinful Adam does to his natural offspring: righteousness instead of guilt and sin, life instead of death, justification instead of condemnation, and eternal life instead of hell deserved.

So that I think the third, fourth and fifth chapters of the epistle to the Romans, for the mystery of justification; and the sixth, seventh and eighth, for the mystery of sanctification, deserve our deep study.

But what say others about Christís being the second Adam? We find them unwilling to speak of it; and when they do, it is quite alien from the scope of the apostle in that chapter. Thus to us they seem to say:

    That God as a rector, ruler, governor, has resolved to save men by Jesus Christ;

    That He rule of this government is the gospel, as a new law of grace;

    That Jesus Christ is set as the head of this rectoral government;

    That in that slate he sits in glory, ready and able, out of his purchase and merits, to give justification and eternal life to all that can bring good evidence of their having complied with the terms and conditions of the law of grace.

Thus they anticipate the last day, and hold forth Christ as a Judge rather than a Saviour. Luther was wont to warn people of this distinction frequently in his commentary on the epistle to the Galatians. And no other headship of Christ do we find some willing to admit than what belongs to his kingly office. As for his suretyship, and being the second Adam, and a public person, some treat it with contempt.

I have heard that Dr Thomas Goodwin was in his youth an Arminian, or at least inclining that way, but was by the Lordís grace brought off by Dr Sibbesí clearing up to him this same point of Christís being the head and representative of all his people. Now, though we maintain steadfastly this headship of Jesus Christ, yet we do not say that there is an actual partaking of his fulness of grace till we are in him by faith; though this faith is also given us on Christís behalf (Phil. 1:29), and we believe through grace (Acts 18:27). And we know no grace, we can call nothing grace, we care for no grace, but what comes from this head, the Saviour of the body. But so much shall serve to point out the main things of difference and mistakes.

Is it not a little provoking that some are so captious that no minister can preach in the hearing of some of the freedom of Godís grace, of the imputation of Christís righteousness, of sole and single believing on him for righteousness and eternal life, of the impossibility of a natural manís doing any good work before he is in Christ, of the impossibility of the mixing of manís righteousness and works with Christís righteousness in the business of justification, and several other points, but he is immediately called, or suspected to be, an Antinomian? If we say that faith in Jesus Christ is neither work, nor condition, nor qualification, in justification; but is a mere instrument, receiving (as an empty hand receives the freely given alms) the righteousness of Christ; and that, in its very act, it is a renouncing of all things but the gift of grace; the fire is kindled. So that it is come to this, as Mr Christopher Fowler said, that he that will not be Antichristian must be called an Antinomian.

Is there a minister in London, who did not preach, some twenty, some thirty years ago, according to their standing, that same doctrine now by some called Antinomian? Let not Dr Crispís book be looked upon as the standard of our doctrine. There are many good things in it, and also many expressions in it that we generally dislike, it is true that Mr Burgess3 and Mr Rutherford4 wrote against Antinomianism, and against some that were both Antinomians and Arminians.

And it is no less true that they wrote against the Arminians, and did hale the new scheme of divinity so much now contended for, and to which we owe all our present contentions. I am persuaded that if these godly and sound divines were on the present stage, they would be as ready to draw their pens against two books lately printed against Dr Crisp as ever they were to write against the Doctorís book. Truth is to be defended by truth; but error is often, and unhappily, opposed by error under truthís name.

But what shall we do in this case? What shall we do for peace with our brethren? Shall we lie still under their undeserved reproaches; and, for keeping the peace, silently suffer others to beat us unjustly? If it were our own personal concern, we should bear it. If it were only their charging us with ignorance, weakness, and being unstudied divines (as they have used liberally to call all that have not learned, and dare not believe, their new divinity), we might easily pass it by, or put up with it. But when we see the pure gospel of Christ corrupted and an Arminian gospel newly patched up and obtruded on people, to the certain peril of the souls of such as believe it; and our ministry reflected upon, which should be dearer to us than our lives, can we be silent?

As we have a charge from the Lord to deliver to our people what we have received from him, so, as he calls and enables, we are not to give place by subjection, even for an hour, to such as creep in, not only to spy out, but to destroy, not so much the gospel liberty as the gospel salvation we have in Christ Jesus, and to bring us back under the yoke of legal bondage (Gal. 2:4-5). And indeed the case in that epistle to the Galatians and ours have a great affinity.

Is it desired that we should forbear to make a free offer of Godís grace in Christ to the worst of sinners? This cannot be granted by us: for this is the gospel faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation (and therefore worthy of all our preaching of it), that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and the chief of them (1 Tim. 1:15). This was the apostolic practice, according to their Lordís command (Mark 16:15-16; Luke. 24:47). They began at Jerusalem, where the Lord of life was wickedly slain by them; and yet life in and through his blood was offered to, and accepted and obtained by, many of them. Every believerís experience witnesses to this, that every one that believes on Jesus Christ, acts that faith as the chief of sinners. Every man that sees himself rightly thinks so of himself, and therein does not think amiss. God only knows who is truly the greatest sinner, and every humbled sinner will think that he is the man.

Shall we tell men that unless they are holy they must not believe on Jesus Christ? That they must not venture on Christ for salvation till they are qualified and fit to be received and welcomed by him? This would be to forbear preaching the gospel at all, or to forbid all men to believe on Christ. For never was any sinner qualified for Christ, He is well qualified for us (I Cor. 1:30); but a sinner out of Christ has no qualification for Christ but sin and misery. Whence should we have any better, but in and from Christ? Nay, suppose an impossibility, that a man were qualified for Christ; I boldly assert, that such a man would not, nor could ever, believe on Christ. For faith is a lost, helpless condemned sinnerís casting himself on Christ for salvation; and the qualified man is not such a person.

Shall we warn people, that they should not believe on Christ, too soon? It is impossible that they should do it too soon. Can a man obey the great gospel command too soon (1 John 3: 23)? Or do the great work of God too soon (John 6:28-29)? A man may too soon think that he is in Christ; and that is when it is not so indeed; and this we frequently teach. But this is but an idle dream, and not faith. A man may too soon fancy that he has faith; but, I hope, he cannot act faith too soon. If any should say a man may be holy too soon, how would that saying be reflected upon? And yet it is certain that, though no man can be too soon holy (because he cannot too soon believe on Christ, which is the only spring of true holiness), yet he may, and many do, set about the study of that which he counts holiness too soon; that is, before the tree is changed (Matt. 12:33-35); before he has the new heart (Ezek. 36:26-27), and the Spirit of God dwelling in him, which is only obtained by faith in Christ (Col. 3:14); and therefore all this manís studying of holiness is not only vain labour but acting of sin.

And if this study, and these endeavours, be managed as commonly they are, to obtain justification before God, they are the more wicked works still. And because this point is needful to be known, I would give you some testimonies for it. First, the doctrine of the Church of England in her Thirty-Nine Articles, Article 13:

Works done before the grace of Christ, and the inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God; forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ: neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the school-authors say) deserve grace of congruity. Yea, rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin. So also the Westminster Confession of Faith, xvi:7.

And Calvin (Institutes, in.xv.6), speaking of the Popish schoolmen, says:

They have found out I know not what moral good works, whereby men are made acceptable to God before they are ingrafted into Christ. As if the Scripture lied when it said, They are all in death who have not the Son, 1 John 5:12. If they be in death, how can they beget matter of life? As if it were of no force, Whatsoever is not of faith is sin; as if evil trees could bring forth good fruit.

Read the rest of that section. To the contrary, the Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 7, says boldly, ĎWhosoever shall say, That all works done before justification, howsoever they be done, are truly sin, and deserve the hatred of God, let him be anathema.í And to give you one more bellowing of the beast, wounded by the light of the gospel, see the same council, Session b, Canon 11: Si quis dixerit,Gratiam qua justificamur esse tantum favorem Dei; anathema sit (Whosoever shall say, That the grace by which we are justified is the mere favour of God, let him be anathema).

ĎThis is fearful blasphemyí, says Dr Downham5, Bishop of Londonderry, in his orthodox book on justification, 3:1, where he says, ĎThe Hebrew words which in the Old Testament signify the grace of God do always signify favour, and never grace inherent. And above fifty testimonies may be brought from the New Testament to prove that by Godís grace his favour is still meant.í But what was good Church of England doctrine at and after the Reformation cannot now go down with some Arminianizing Nonconformists.

If then nothing will satisfy our quarrelling brethren but either silence as to the main points of the gospel, which we believe, and live by the faith of, and look to be saved in; which we have for many years preached with some seals of the Holy Ghost in converting sinners to God, and in building them up in holiness and comfort, by the faith and power of them; which also we vowed to the Lord to preach to all that will hear us, as long as we live, in the day when we gave up ourselves to serve God with our spirit in the gospel of his Son: if either this silence, or the swallowing down of Arminian schemes of the gospel, contrary to the New Testament, and unknown to the Reformed churches, in their greatest purity, be the only terms of peace with our brethren, we must then maintain our peace with God, and our consciences, in the defence of plain gospel-truth, and our harmony with the Reformed churches; and in the comfort of these bear their enmity.

And though it is usual with them to vilify and contemn such as differ from them, for their fewness, weakness, and want of learning; yet they might know, that the most learned and godly in the Christian world have maintained and defended the same doctrine we stand for, for some ages. The grace of God will never want, for it can, and will furnish, defenders of it. England has been blessed with a Bradwardine,6 an Archbishop of Canterbury against the Pelagians; a Twisse7 and Ames8, against the Arminians. And though they that contend with us would separate their cause altogether from that of these two pests of the church of Christ, I mean Pelagius and Arminius, yet judicious observers cannot but already perceive a coincidency; and do fear more, when either the force of argument shall drive them out of their lurking-holes, or when they shall think fit to discover their secret sentiments, which yet we but guess at.

Then, as we shall know better what they would be at, so it is very likely that they will then find enemies in many whom they have seduced by their craft, and still seem to be in their camp; and will meet with opposers, both at home and abroad, that they think not of.


  1. What follows is a summary and critique of the views of Richard Baxter.
  2. Reprinted Welwyn: Evangelical Press, 1981.
  3. Anthony Burgess, Puritan minister, member of the Westminster Assembly and author of Vindiciae Legis, A Vindication of the Moral Law (1646).
  4. Samuel Rutherford, Scottish Presbyterian minister, Commissioner to the Westminster Assembly and Professor of Divinity, author of A Display of Spiritual Antichrist (1648) and An Examination of Arminianism (1668).
  5. George Downham, author of The Covenant of Grace, Dublin, 1631.
  6. Thomas Bradwardine (c. 1290-1349), briefly Archbishop of Canterbury and author of the voluminous De Causa Dei Contra Pelagium
  7. William Twisse, the first presiding officer (prolocutor) of the Westminster Assembly. Though otherwise a sound divine, Twisse unfortunately asserted that justification is from eternity, that is, before faith. In other words, Twisse dispensed with the necessity of the application of redemption in real historical time. The Westminster Confession (xi:iv) corrected this by stating: ĎGod did, from all eternity, decree to justify the elect . . . nevertheless they are not justified until the Holy Spirit doth in due time actually apply Christ unto them.í (See J. 1. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puriton Vision of the Christian Life. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1990, p. 155.)
  8. William Ames (1576-1633), author of The Marrow of Sacred Theology, 1623.


Robert Traill (1642-1716), son of a Scottish Covenanting minister, fugitive, exile and prisoner on the Bass Rock during the 'Killing Times', wrote his masterly defence of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in 1692 to dispel such obscurity. This article is taken from Traill's book, Justification Vindicated, first published in 1692 and republished by the Banner of Truth in 2002.

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