ONE OF the main subjects to be discussed by ARCIC 11 will be justification by faith, the root cause of the Reformation.
Professor Henry Chadwick has recently published the paper which he has written at the command of ARCIC outlining the reconciliation that he envisages.
The basis of the new agreement he calls "double justice", ie we are justified both by works done through the grace of God and by the imputation of Christ's righteousness.
This solution to the problem was, he says, first put forward at the Council of Trent but set aside; later it was reviewed at the Council of Regensberg (1541) by Gropper from the Catholic side, but rejected by Luther and also by Pope Paul III.
Professor Chadwick attempts to breathe new life into this ancient corpse in the hope that it might yet stand up.
We may hope to get to heaven, Professor Chadwick argues, only if, as baptised believers, we strive for what is right and good; if we pray, study scripture, give alms and so on. All this is the work of God's grace in us, but there is a large measure of imperfection in all our good works.
We need therefore not only to bring such good works before God's Tribunal, but we need to have our righteousness "topped up" by the imputed righteousness of Christ, if we are to have a true hope of heaven.
That is, in substance, the scheme that Professor Chadwick suggests.
He thinks it stands a better chance of acceptance today than in 1541 because, in the first place, Anglican separation from Rome is, in his view, chiefly political not doctrinal, being a matter for the Crown and the Privy Council.
Secondly, theologians have now on the whole ceased to believe in the possibility of the precise formulation of doctrine; we cannot escape from approximation and historical conditioning in such matters.
Professor Chadwick's proposal will not do because it Leads to confusion about the real nature of justification and so obscures the Gospel.
Those who have dealt faithfully with the Biblical doctrine of justification have always found it necessary to distinguish what Professor Chadwick seeks to merge viz. justification and sanctification; Christ's work for us and the Holy Spirit's work in us.
The justification of the sinner rests neither in whole nor in part upon the good works he has done or may do, not even those done after regeneration and by the grace of God.
Justification rests always and completely upon the finished, redemptive work of' Christ and his perfect righteousness. Justification by faith excludes works altogether, even faith itself as a work, because the nature and purpose of faith is not to lean upon itself but entirely upon Christ.
"Justification", wrote Cranmer, "is not the office of man, but of God; for man cannot make himself righteous by his own works, neither in part nor in whole".
Yet it is Professor Chadwick's purpose to make justification depend in part upon man's good works and in part upon the righteousness of Christ. If we trust in any righteousness besides the perfect righteousness of Christ, which is granted to those who believe, then Christ will profit us nothing (Gal 5 2-4). "It is Christ alone that justifies me", said Luther, "both against my evil deeds and without my good deeds". The lesson of this is that if we do not trust in Christ wholly we do not trust in him at all.
However far the believer advances in a life of service to God and to his fellowmen he still remains utterly dependent upon the righteousness of Christ for his justification.
It is a pity that Professor Chadwick builds his hope of reconciliation on the revival of this old and unsatisfactory compromise of "double justification".
It is even more sad that he buttresses it with the belief that it is no longer possible or even necessary to be precise about doctrine. Such a view is quite contrary to that of the apostle Paul who thought that the doctrine of justification could be stated with sufficient precision to distinguish it from the false Gospel being preached in Galatia.
To build an agreement on such a basis as this is to build upon sand, but worse, it reveals a fundamental failure to understand experimentally the importance of justification by faith.
This is not an academic question; it is "the grace wherein we stand"; it is that by which the sinner lives before God and without which he is annihilated.
The doctrine of justification by faith is, as Luther said, the article of a standing or falling church. Where this doctrine is understood, experienced and preached, the church stands in the grace of God; where it is neglected, misrepresented or denied the church falls from grace, its life drains away.
Next week, Professor Henry Chadwick will reply to Dr Samuel.