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Justification (3) The Efficient Causes of Justification. George Downame

In the Third Chapter, Book One of his Treatise on Justification Bishop Downame sets out and expounds the efficient causes of justification.

For ease of reference we have set out below Downame's definition of justification, which he refers to through this chapter in his exposition.

"Justification is a most gracious and righteous action of God, whereby he imputing the righteousness of Christ to a believing sinner, absolves him from his sins, and accepts of him as righteous in Christ, and as an heir of eternal life, to the praise and glory of his own mercy and justice."


But in this definition besides the genus, not only all the causes of justification, but also the essential parts thereof are briefly comprised; which I will now distinctly propound. The causes, because in the knowledge of them stands the science of everything: the essential parts, because in them justification itself consists. The causes of justification, as of all other things, are four: the Efficient, the Matter, the Form, the End.

The Efficient Causes (Principal)

The efficient causes are of two sorts, either principal or instrumental. The principal is God, which I noted in the definition, when I said, it is an action of God. For it is God that justifieth, as the Scriptures in many places do testify: as namely, Rom. 3. 26, 30. & 4. 5, 6. & 8. 30, 33 and Gal. 3. 8. God, I say, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. For it being an outward action of God (or, as the Schoolmen speak, ad extra) respecting the creatures, it is the common action of the whole Trinity. And thus God alone, as the judge does justify. For he alone is the Lawgiver, who has power over our souls against whom we sin, and by our sin become his debtors, when we transgress his law. And therefore he alone properly forgives sins, as himself professes, Isa 43. 25. and as the Scribes and Pharisees confess as a received truth, Luke 5. 21. For who may take upon him to remit those debts, which we owe to God? It is he, who reconciles us unto himself in Christ, not imputing our sins, 2 Cor. 5. 19. and accepting of us in his beloved, Eph. 1. 6. It is he alone, that forgiving our sins frees us from hell, and gives us right to his heavenly kingdom. Which doctrine serves, first, for our direction and instruction, where to seek and to sue for justification and remission of sins. Not to any creature, but to God alone in the name and mediation of Christ, to whom alone our Saviour directs us to sue for pardon. Secondly, it ministers strong consolation to all the faithful. For seeing it is God that justifies them, who shall lay any thing to their charge? Who shall condemn, &c? Thirdly, it serves for the confutation, or rather condemnation of the Pope and all popish priests, who take upon them power, not as ministers of the Gospel to declare and pronounce remission of sins, but as judges to remit them: it being a proper attribute of God, Exod. 34. 7, which he appropriates to himself, Isa 43. 25. and which no mere man can without blasphemy arrogate to himself, Mark. 2. 7.

With the principal cause we are to join the consideration of the motives, or moving causes; both without God, and also within himself, which are indeed principia agendi. The former, are man’s misery (which though it be not properly a cause but the object of mercy, yet is said to be a motive, and is used as a reason, to move to mercy; and thence misericordia has its name) and Christ’s merits, which properly are the procatarctic cause of our justification, besides which there is no other merit. The moving causes within God are his mercy and his justice, which I signified in the definition, when I said, that justification is a most gracious and right action of God. For as in many, if not in all the works of God, his mercy and justice meet together, so especially in the work of our justification and redemption, which Cardinal Cajetan well observed, The holy Scripture, saith he, doth not say that we are justified by grace alone, but by grace and justice together, but both of God, that is, by the grace of God and by the justice of God, and not by the righteousness of men. By grace, I understand the gracious love and favour of God in Christ, vouchsafed unto us in him before all secular times, 2 Tim. 1. 9, in which he has graciously accepted us in his beloved, by which as we are elected and called and shall be saved; so by the same we are justified, and that freely without any cause in us, Rom. 3. 24. Now the Lord is said to justify us by his grace, first, because of his free-grace, he gave his own Son to be our righteousness. Secondly, because of his own free grace he has given us those means whereby the righteousness of Christ might be communicated unto us, as namely the ministry of the Word and of the Sacraments. Thirdly, because of his grace he blesses those means unto us, working and increasing in us the grace of faith by which we are justified: and lastly, when we do by faith, which is his gift, believe, he freely imputes unto us the righteousness of Christ, accepts of us in him, and in him adopts us to be his sons and heirs of eternal life.

But as the Lord is gracious in justifying a believing sinner, so he is also righteous, Rom. 3. 25, 26. For therefore has the Lord set forth his Son and our Saviour to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness through the remission of sins that are past by the forbearance of God: to declare I say at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus. For such is the righteousness of God, that he forgives no man’s sin for which his justice is not fully satisfied by Christ: neither does he accept of any as just, but such as by imputation of Christ’s righteousness are made just in him. The consideration of this justice of God in forgiving sins, does afford singular comfort to the faithful. For seeing the Lord forgives no sin for which his justice is not satisfied; and seeing our Saviour has fully satisfied the justice of his Father for the sins of all that believe in him: from hence we may be assured, that as there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, so no punishment properly so called, that is, such a penalty as is inflicted in ordine justitiae, and by way of vengeance: because it cannot stand with the justice of God to punish the second time those sins in us, for which his justice is already fully satisfied in Christ.

But the actions of God the principal efficient of justification are to be distinguished, according to the distinction of the three Persons.

For God the Father justifieth as the primary cause and author: the Son as the meritorious cause: the Holy Ghost as the cause applicatory, that is to say, God the Father through the Son does justify us by the Holy Ghost. The Father, I say, as primary cause; and that in two respects; first, in that he gave his only begotten Son for us, and set him forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, that all who believe in him should be justified, Rom. 3. 25 & John 3. 16. Secondly, as the judge in absolving those that believe, and pronouncing them just in Christ.

The Son, as the Mediator and meritorious cause; and that also in two respects. First, as he is our Surety, who paid our debt, and our Redeemer who laid down the price of our redemption for us, Isa. 53. 11, affording unto us the matter and merit of our justification. Secondly, as he is our Intercessor and Advocate to plead for us, that his merits may be imputed to us, Rom. 8. 34, 1 Joh. 2. 2, Heb. 7. 25 & 9. 24.

God the Father therefore justifies, as the primary cause per authoritatem, as the Schoolmen speak; the Son, as the secondary cause per ministerium. For so it is said, Isa. 53. 11. My righteous servant shall justify many. The Father, as the Judge; the Son, as the Mediator and Advocate. The Father, as the Creditor accepting Christ’s satisfaction for us: the Son, as the Surety paying our debt for us. But howsoever God the Father has given his Son, and the Son has given himself for us, and has paid that price, and performed that obedience which is sufficient for our justification: notwithstanding none are actually justified by the merits of Christ, but they only to whom they are applied. For although the sufferings of Christ be a precious salve to cure our souls; yet they will not heal us unless they be applied. And although his righteousness be as a wedding garment to cover our nakedness, yet it will not cover us, unless it be put on.

In the third place therefore the Holy Ghost may also be said to justify us, because he does apply unto us Christ’s merits unto our justification; both as he is the Spirit of regeneration working in us the grace of faith, by which we receive Christ unto our justification in foro coelesti: and also as he is the Spirit of adoption confirming our faith, and working in us the assurance of our justification, by which we are justified in for conscientiae.

The Efficient Causes (Instrumental)

Now the means of this application, are instrumental causes of our justification, and do justify instrumentally. And these are of two sorts, viz. on God’s part, and on ours. For to effect this application, there must be manus dei offerentis, the hand of God offering, and manus accipientis, the hand of the receiver. The instruments on God's part, are the ministry of the Word and Sacraments, whereby the Holy Ghost does beget and confirm faith in us. In respect whereof Ministers are said to justify men; Dan. 12. 3. For as touching the ministry of the Gospel: first, in it the benefit of the Messias, as namely reconciliation, adoption, and justification, &c. is revealed and offered to all that shall believe, and by it we are stirred up to receive and embrace it. In which respect the preaching of the Gospel is called the ministry of reconciliation; and the Ministers are God’s Ambassadors sent to entreat men in God's name and in Christ’s stead, that they would be reconciled unto God, 2 Cor. 5. 18, 20.

Secondly, the Holy Ghost having thus by the ministry of the Gospel knocked at the door of men’s hearts, in his good time makes it effectual, opening their hearts to give a lively and effectual assent to the Gospel, whereby they receiving Christ and believing in him are justified. Thus faith comes by hearing the Word. And in this respect preachers of the Gospel are said to be the ministers by whom men do believe, 1 Cor. 3. 5.

Thirdly, in the preaching of the Gospel, seconded and made powerful by the operation of the Holy Ghost, the sentence of justification and remission of sins, and consequently of salvation is pronounced and concluded in the conscience of the faithful: when as out of the general promise of the Gospel, Whosoever truly believes in Christ has remission of sinns, being by the Minister conditionally applied to the hearer, and absolutely assumed by the believer, after this manner, If thou, saith the Minister, doest truly believe in Christ, thou hast remission of sins and thou shalt be saved, Rom. 10. 9. But I (saith the faithful hearer) do truly believe in Christ, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost; this conclusion is inferred, as the verdict of the Holy Ghost testifying with the conscience of the faithful in the assumption, according to God’s Word contained in the proposition: therefore I have remission of sins, therefore I shall be saved. And in this sense Ministers are said to remit sins, John 20. 23, and consequently to justify, when they do pronounce remission of sins to them that believe and repent. And whatsoever they do in this behalf upon earth according to the Word, is ratified in heaven.

As touching the sacraments: in them first the benefit of the Messias is represented before our eyes by the outward signs; whereupon the Sacrament is called verbum visibile. Secondly, such is the sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified, that together with the sign the thing signified, that is, Christ with all his merits is offered in the lawful use of the sacrament. Thirdly, the benefit of the Messias is not only offered in the lawful use together with the sign, but also conferred and given to every faithful and worthy receiver. And hereof the sacrament is a pledge given to the believer, to assure him, that as the minister does give unto him the sign, so the Lord does give unto him the thing signified. And in this sense every sacrament is a seal of that righteousness which is by faith, Rom. 4. 11 annexed to the promise of the Gospel, which by delivery of the sacrament is particularly applied to every faithful receiver, to assure him in particular of his justification and salvation by Christ. Thus the ministry of the Gospel is the means to beget faith, and the sacraments the instruments to confirm the same. But the Papists deny both, for that faith is begotten in the ministry of the Word, and that so men attain to remission of sins and justification, they say, it is a fiction of the heretics of these times. Neither do they grant that sacraments are seals of righteousness, or that they were ordained to seal the promises unto us. But they hold them to be such effectual instruments as do by virtue inherent in themselves confer justifying grace (which they call gratiam gratum facientem) ex opere operato. By which doctrine, a, they have turned religion into a mere outward formality, according to the prophecy of them, 2 Tim. 3. 5 ascribing all the degrees of salvation to be achieved in this life, viz. vocation, justification, sanctification to the external use of the sacraments; so they have made their doctrine of justification to be an idle speculation, whereof in their practice there is little or no use. For to what purpose do they dispute of justification, by virtuous preparations and gracious dispositions, when they teach that the sacraments do ex opere operato, that is, by the very performance of the outward act justify the receiver, requiring in him neither any virtuous preparation, or gracious disposition, for without them he is justified. Only this caution they do interpose, that he do not ponere obicem mortalis peccati, that he put not the obstacle of mortal sin. For if those things should necessarily be required, then the sacraments should confer grace, not ex opere operato, as they stiffly hold, but ex opere operantis. So much of the hand of the giver.

Faith justifies as an instrument

The instrument on our part which is, as it were, manus accipientis, the hand of the receiver, is the grace of justifying faith; which I noted in the definition, when I said, that the Lord imputes the righteousness of Christ to a believing sinner. Now as touching faith, divers things are to be considered.

For first, it is said to justify, not as it is a quality or habit in us, as the Papists teach; ipsa fides, saith Bellarmine, censetur esse justitia, faith itself is accounted to be justice, and itself is imputed unto righteousness, Rom. 4. 5. for so it is a part of sanctification; but as it is the instrument, and, as it were, the hand to receive Christ, who is our righteousness. For if we should be justified by faith as it is an habit in us properly, then we should be justified by habitual and inherent righteousness, which hereafter I shall fully disprove. And if we be not justified by it, as it is an habit, then much less as it is an act, as Bellarmine and his followers teach; as though ipsum credere, did properly justify. Which opinion is worse than the other. For faith does justify (as hereafter shall be proved) as the instrument only; but it is the instrument, not as it is an act, but as it is an habit producing that act: and therefore it is said that we are justified by faith, and that faith is imputed unto righteousness. But if we should be justified by it, as it is an act, then we should be justified by our own works: which hereafter is also to be confuted: and further, if we were justified by it, as it is an act, then we should be no longer justified actually than we do actually believe, so there should be an intercision of justification (which I proved before to be a continued act) so oft as there is an intermission of the act of faith; which is ridiculous. Again, if we should be justified by faith, either as it is an habit, or an act in sensu proprio; as they speak, and not relatively or metonymically; then should we be justified by one habit alone, or by the act of one habit: and consequently by a partial and most imperfect righteousness. When it is certain that all the habits and acts of grace, which are in the best, concurring together are not sufficient to justify a man before God for the reasons hereafter to be delivered, (Book 4. & 7.). It is true, that faith is imputed for righteousness, and is accepted of God, as the perfect performance of the whole law: but this is to be understood relatively in respect of the object received by faith, that is, Christ, who is the end and complement of the Law to all that believe; insomuch that whosoever truly believes in Christ, has fulfilled the Law.

Secondly is the consequent of the former. For if faith does justify only as it is an hand or instrument to apprehend and receive Christ, then justifying faith must be such a faith as does apprehend, receive and embrace Christ, which is not done, neither by the implicit, nor the unformed, nor the bare historical and general faith of the Papists; but it is done first by a lively and effectual assent to the special doctrine concerning justification and salvation by Christ, which is the condition of the Evangelical promise; and then by a sound application of the promise to ourselves, as having that condition. For by a lively and effectual belief we receive and embrace Christ, not only in our judgements by a willing and firm assent, being undoubtedly persuaded and assured that he is the Saviour of all that truly believe in him; but also in our hearts by an hungering desire to be made partakers of him, and in our wills by resolving, both to acknowledge him to be our Saviour, and also to rest upon him for salvation. Having this lively assent, which is the condition of the promise, we are to apply the promise to ourselves, as belonging to us. By the former degree we are justified, before God in foro coelesti; by the latter, we are justified in foro conscientiae, in the court of our own conscience. By the former, we are justified properly; by the latter, we are not properly justified, but are in some measure assured of our justification. By the former I do effectually believe, that Jesus is the Saviour; by the latter I do truly believe, that he is my Saviour. That faith therefore which does justify, does specially apprehend, and apply Christ: and the proper object of faith, as it justifies, is Christ, or the promise of salvation by Christ; and therefore is often called faith in Christ, or the faith of Christ. For although by that faith, which justifies, I believe all the articles of Christian religion, and every truth revealed by God in his word; yet I am not justified properly by believing any other truth, but only by believing the truth; neither is the promise of justification and salvation made to any other belief, but only to faith in Christ.

Thirdly, by this faith apprehending and receiving Christ, we are not prepared only and disposed to justification, as the Papists absurdly teach, affirming that faith does justify, even as servile fear does, by preparing only and disposing; for then a man indued with justifying faith, might be as far from justification, as he that is possessed with servile fear. But how can these two assertions be reconciled, that faith does justify by disposing only as a preparative disposition, and yet that it justifies formally as an habit infused, and as a part of inherent justice. But the truth is, that by a true justifying faith we are not prepared only, but we are actually justified. For no sooner does a man believe by a true justifying faith, but he is justified and entitled unto the kingdom of heaven. As soon as he does believe, he is translated from death to life, yea, so soon he has eternal life, that is, he has just right unto the heavenly kingdom.

Fourthly, when we say that faith does justify, we do not mean that it justifies absolutely or in respect of its own worth and dignity; and much less, that it does merit justification, either as it is an habit, or as it is an act, but relatively in respect of the object which it does apprehend, that is, Christ, who is our righteousness. For seeing faith does receive Christ and make us partakers of him, therefore all those benefits which we receive from Christ are attributed in the holy Scriptures to faith: as to justify, to save, &c. not, that these effects are to be ascribed to the virtue of faith absolutely, but relatively in respect of the object. So when it was said to the woman, thy faith has saved thee, the meaning is, Christ received by faith has saved thee. Thus by the faith of Peter and John the cripple was cured, Act. 3. 6 yet not by any power or holiness of theirs, vers. 12. But the name of Christ, that is, Christ himself, by faith in his name, as the instrument, did cure him, vers. 16 so the name of Christ by faith in his name does justify and save, Act. 10. 43 & John 20. 31. And that faith does not justify in respect of its own worth appears by this evidence, because the faith of divers men, though unequal in degrees doth justify alike, and therefore is called, of equal value, as Saint Peter speaks of all the faithful to whom he writes, 2 Pet. 1. 1 (that is, as the Latin interpreter translates, to them that have obtained coequal faith with us in the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ). For it is not faith properly, which does justify, but the righteousness of Christ, received by faith. The alms received by a weak hand relieves the party, as well as that which is received by a strong hand: because it is not the hand properly which relieves, but the alms. And for the same cause the righteousness of justification is equal in all that are justified, neither does it in the same persons admit of degrees. For it is the most perfect righteousness of Christ, to which, considered as created and finite, nothing can be added.

Fifthly, from hence we learn the true meaning of that question, whether we be justified by faith or by works, not as opposing the inward grace of faith to the outward acts of obedience, which indeed are the fruits of faith: but as opposing the righteousness of Christ apprehended by faith, to that righteousness which is inherent in ourselves, and performed by our selves.

Sixthly, when we say that faith does justify alone, two things are implied: First, that we are justified by the righteousness of Christ alone apprehended by faith, and not by any righteousness inherent in us. Secondly, that this righteousness of Christ, by which alone we are justified, is apprehended by faith only. Not that justifying faith is or can be alone: but because there being many graces in the faithful, which all have their several commendations; yet none of them serves to apprehend Christ’s righteousness, but faith only, and yet that faith which is alone, severed from all other inward graces, and outward obedience, does not justify either alone or at all; because it is not a true and lively, but a counterfeit and a dead faith. For even as the eye among all the parts of the body, which all have their several uses, has only the faculty of seeing: and yet that eye which is separated from the rest of the parts, does see neither alone nor at all, because it is but the carcass of an eye. So among all the graces of the soul, it is the office of faith alone, as the eye of the soul, to look upon him that was figured by the brazen Serpent: yet if it should be severed from the rest, it were dead. For as Saint James saith, that faith which is alone and by itself is dead. And as the eye, in respect of being, is not alone, yet in respect of seeing it is alone: so faith which is not alone, doth justify alone.

Seventhly, and lastly, when we say that faith does justify alone, we were never so absurd, as the Papists absurdly charge us, as if we meant, that faith alone does sanctify. For although nothing in us does confer with faith to the act of justification as any cause thereof, (in which sense we say, it justifies alone) yet in the subject; that is, the party justified, many graces do concur with faith, as the necessary fruits thereof; wherein, as also in our obedience, our sanctification stands, wherefore faith, which justifies alone, is but one of those many graces, wherein besides our obedience, our sanctification does consist.


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