The Biblical Beauty of Sola Fide: Understanding faith in Christ with John Owen (Matthew Barrett)
In the new issue of Credo Magazine, “Justification: The Doctrine On Which the Church Stands or Falls,” Matthew Barrett has contributed an article called, “The Biblical Beauty of Sola Fide: Understanding faith in Christ with John Owen.” Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration.
Here is the introduction to the article:
Is justification by faith alone? And if so, how does Scripture describe faith in Christ? Our answer to these questions could fill an entire volume! And no doubt there are volumes of books today that attempt to do just that. But rather than looking to legions of contemporary authors, let’s take a trip back in time and sit at the feet of Puritan theologian, John Owen (1616-1683), who was truly one of the greatest Reformed theologians in church history, especially when it came to probing the depths of Scripture in order to draw theological conclusions about the most important matters of the Christian faith.
Justification by works excluded
In his 1677 book, The Doctrine of Justification By Faith, through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated, Owen introduces his readers to the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone, plumbing the pipelines of Scripture in order to demonstrate, against all opponents, that this doctrine is deeply biblical in nature. While Owen has much to say on the matter, we should begin with Owen’s emphasis on the sinful condition of man. Once we have a biblical view of man, it will become obvious that the sinner cannot be justified by works of the law.
According to Owen, each human being is in the same “state that Adam was in after the fall” and the only solution to such a state is one God himself proposed in Genesis 3:15 that would be manifested at the proper time (Heb. 1:1), namely, at the “incarnation and suffering of Christ.” But not only is man born into a state of guilt and wrath, he is also born with a depraved nature, controlled by the power of sin, so much so that his whole soul is defiled. In other words, so depressing is man’s state that justification by works or by an inherent righteousness is absolutely removed from the picture and in no way can be a possibility.
Therefore, justification by works of the law is precluded. Works, no matter what type, are excluded from our justification before God. As Paul states in Romans 3:20, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Consequently, it is not by one’s personal righteousness that he will be justified in God’s sight. The law does not save us, but instead exposes our sinfulness, our failure to uphold God’s moral standard, and thereby condemns us before a holy God (Gal. 2:19–21; Rom. 3:19).
Read the rest of Barrett’s article today:
Justification: The Doctrine on which the Church Stands or Falls
While we could point to many different factors that led the sixteenth century Protestant Reformers to break from Rome, perhaps one that would be at the very top of the list is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. For Luther and Calvin, this doctrine is the very hinge on which the Christian religion turns. In part this is because sola fide is what sets Protestants apart. While every other religion puts something of man into the equation, Protestantism removes man’s works from the justification formula altogether. Therefore, the “sola” in sola fide makes all the difference in the world.
With over 2,000 years of church history in our rear view mirror, it appears that sola fide is a doctrine that comes under discussion in every generation. Our generation is no exception. Much dialogue continues over the New Perspective on Paul, Protestant and Catholic statements of agreement, and the relationship between justification and the Christian life. In this issue I am proud to welcome some of the finest thinkers on the subject in order to better understand what Scripture says about how sinners can be made right with a holy God.
Contributors include Thomas Schreiner, Michael Allen, Michael Horton, Philip Ryken, J.V. Fesko, Matthew Barrett, Korey Maas, Guy Waters, Brian Vickers, Fred Zaspel, and many others.