Monday, August 16, 2010

Cranmer on The Salvation of Man, Pt. 1

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop and reformer, guided the Church of England out of the Roman Catholicism of the medieval age into a protestant, reformed-catholic faith that exalted the Gospel through the clear proclamation of Christ's finished work of the cross as man's only ground and assurance of salvation.  Though Cranmer did not leave us with many written works which could be characterized as theological expositions, yet we do have several documents that show forth both his theological and pastoral strengths, none of which surpasses his Homily of Justification, as it is termed in Article XI of the English Church's confession, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.  That article reads:  We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification. 

Oddly enough, very few Christians, let alone Anglicans have read this homily (or any of those in the two books of homilies). Yet there may not be a more thorough sermon on justification that a person could read and benefit by than this one. Cranmer purposely divided it into three sections to be read on consecutive Sundays as stand alone homilies, which together constitute a blessed whole.  Presented here is part one of Cranmer's work.  The other two will follow in the next two posts.
[note:  there are a few places where I have updated words or phrases to reflect a more modern counterpart]


Of the Salvation of Mankind by Only Christ Our Saviour
from Sin and Death Everlasting.
(“Of Justification.”) - Archbishop Thomas Cranmer



BECAUSE all men be sinners and offenders against God and breakers of his law and commandments, therefore can no man by his own acts, works, and deeds  – seem they ever so good – be justified and made righteous before God.  But every man of necessity is constrained to seek for another righteousness, of justification to be received at God’s own hands, that is to say, the forgiveness of his sins and trespasses in such things as he hath offended.  And this justification or righteousness which we so receive of God’s mercy and Christ’s merits embraced by faith is taken, accepted, and allowed of God for our perfect and full justification.

The efficacy of Christ’s mission and oblation.

For the more full understanding hereof, it is our parts and duties ever to remember the great mercy of God:  how that all the world being wrapped in sin by breaking of the law, God sent his only Son our Saviour Christ into this world to fulfill the law for us, and by shedding of his most precious blood to make a sacrifice and satisfaction or (as it may be called), amends, to his Father for our sins to assuage his wrath and indignation conceived against us for the same, insomuch that infants being baptised and dying in their infancy are by this sacrifice washed from their sins, brought to God’s favour, and made his children and inheritors of his kingdom of heaven.  And they which in act or deed do sin after their baptism, when they turn again to God unfeignedly, they are likewise washed by this sacrifice from their sins in such sort that there remaineth not any spot of sin that shall be imputed to their damnation.  This is that justification or righteousness which St. Paul speaketh of when he saith, “No man is justified by the works of the law, but freely by faith in Jesus Christ,” and again he saith, “We believe in Jesus Christ that we be justified freely by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law, because that no man shall be justified by the works of the Law” (Galatians 2.16).

And although this justification be free unto us, yet it cometh not so freely unto us that there is no ransom paid therefore at all.  But here may man’s reason be astonished, reasoning after this fashion:  If a ransom be paid for our redemption, then is it not given us freely?  For a prisoner that payeth his ransom is not let go freely.  For if he go freely, then he goeth without ransom.  For what is it else to go freely than to be set at liberty without payment of ransom?

This reason is satisfied by the great wisdom of God in this mystery of our redemption, who hath so tempered his justice and mercy together that he would neither by his justice condemn us unto the everlasting captivity of the devil and his prison of hell remediless forever without mercy, nor by his mercy deliver us clearly without justice or payment of a just ransom; but with his endless mercy he joined his most upright and equal justice.  His great mercy he showed unto us in delivering us from our former captivity without requiring of any ransom to be paid or amends to be made upon our parts, which thing by us had been impossible to be done.  And whereas it lay not in us to do that, he provided a ransom for us that was the most precious body and blood of his own most dear and best beloved Son Jesus Christ who, besides this ransom, fulfilled the law for us perfectly.  And so the justice of God and his mercy did embrace together and fulfilled the mystery of our redemption.

And of this justice and mercy of God knit together speaketh St. Paul in the third chapter to the Romans, “All have offended and have need of the glory of God, but are justified freely by his grace, by redemption which is in Jesus Christ, whom God hath set forth to us for a Reconciler and Peacemaker through faith in his blood to show his righteousness” (Romans 3.23-25).  And in the tenth chapter, “Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every man that believeth” (Romans 10.4).  And in the eighth chapter:

“That which was impossible by the law, inasmuch as it was weak by the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh by sin condemned sin in the flesh that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us which walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit”
(Romans 8.3-5).

Three things must go together in our justification.

In these foresaid places the apostle toucheth specially three things which must go together in our justification:  upon God’s part, his great mercy and grace; upon Christ’s part, justice, that is, the satisfaction of God’s justice or the price of our redemption by the offering of his body and shedding of his blood with fulfilling of the law perfectly and thoroughly; and upon our part, true and lively faith in the merits of Jesus Christ, which yet is not ours but by God’s working in us.  So that in our justification there is not only God’s mercy and grace, but also his justice which the apostle calleth the righteousness of God and it consisteth in paying our ransom and fulfilling of the law.  And so the grace of God doth not shut out the justice of God in our justification but only shutteth out the righteousness of man, that is to say, the righteousness of our works as to be merits of deserving our justification.

How it is to be understood that faith justifieth without works.

And therefore St. Paul declareth here nothing upon the behalf of man concerning his justification, but only a true and lively faith.  Which nevertheless is the gift of God and not man’s only work without God.  And yet that faith doth not shut out repentance, hope, love, dread, and the fear of God to be joined with faith in every man that is justified, but it shutteth them out from the office of justifying [themselves].  So that although they be all present together in him that is justified, yet they justify not altogether.  Neither doth faith shut out the righteousness of our good works necessarily to be done afterwards of duty towards God – for we are most bounden to serve God in doing good deeds commanded by him in his holy scripture all the days of our life – but the scripture excludeth them so that we may not do them to this intent - to be made just by [the] doing of them.

For all the good works that we can do be imperfect and therefore not able to deserve our justification, but our justification doth come freely by the mere mercy of God. And of so great and free a mercy, that whereas all the world was not able of themselves to pay any part towards their ransom, it pleased our heavenly Father of his infinite mercy without any our desert or deserving to prepare for us the most precious jewels of Christ’s body and blood whereby our ransom might be fully paid, the law fulfilled, and his justice fully satisfied so that Christ is now the Righteousness of all them that truly do believe in him.  He for them paid their ransom by his death.  He for them fulfilled the law in his life.  So that now in him and by him every true Christian man may be called a fulfiller of the law.  Forasmuch as that which their infirmity lacked, Christ’s righteousness hath supplied.

1 comment:

  1. Jack,

    What a great quote. This portion, where Cranmer writes, "For all the good works that we can do be imperfect and therefore not able to deserve our justification, but our justification doth come freely by the mere mercy of God", to me shows he was very much in the same mindset as the Continental Reformers on this issue.