“this Error of seeking Righteousness by our Works”

One doctrine the 17th century Scottish theologians got right (among many!) was justification.  While England was being troubled by both neonomianism on the one hand and antinomianism on the other the Presbyterian leaders of the Scottish church avoided both extremes.  It was the entrance of the dead faith of moderatism that paved the way for the neonomianism of Baxter to enter the Scottish Church.  It was this the Marrowmen did so much to fight against.  But among the mid 17th Century leaders of the Scottish church all was well.  Here is David Dickson opposing the error of those seeking to add “works righteousness” to justification:

Unto this Error of seeking Righteousness by our Works, after entering in the way of Justification by Grace, we are all naturally inclined; for, the Covenant of Works is so engraven in all Adam’s Children, Do this and live, that hardly can we renounce this way of Justification, and howsoever it be impossible to attain Righteousness this way, yet hardly can we submit our selves to the Righteousness by Faith in Christ, which not only the Expereince of Israel after the Flesh maketh manifest, but also the Experience of the Galatians lets us see; for, they having once outwardly renounced Justification by Works, and embraced the Covenant of gracious Reconciliation by Faith in Jesus, did turn about for a time, to seek Justification by the Works of the Law, and were on the way of falling from Grace and Communion…
David Dickson, Therapeutica Sacra (Edinburgh: Evan Tyler, 1664), 298.

Why is justification a perennial issue for the Christians?  Because we are all by nature inclined to want to add something to our justification.  Dickson’s example of the Galatians gives all a stark warning against this tendency:

…the Galatians, who having begun in the spiritual way of Justification by Faith, sought to be perfected by the fleshly way of Justification by works, and did fall in danger of falling from Grace and excluding themselves from the blessing of the promise through Christ.
Dickson, Thereputica Sacra, 746.

But what of the teaching of James.  Dickson accounts for this well:

…the Gospel doth not teach us to seek the Justification of our Persons before God by Works, but by Faith in Christ, and then teacheth us to seek the Justification of our Faith before Men in our own and others Conscience, by the sincere endeavour of new Obedience…
Dickson, Thereputica Sacra, 315-6

May we all be enabled to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (WLC Q&A 70):

What is justification?

Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.


3 Responses to ““this Error of seeking Righteousness by our Works””

  1. Why Do Some Reformed People Corrupt the Gospel of Grace? « Heidelblog Says:

    […] Read more of and about Dickson at James Durham Thesis. […]

  2. GLW Johnson Says:

    BB Warfield in the article on ‘Faith’ that appears in the volume ‘Bibiblical and Theological Studies’ (P&R,1968) pp.415-418 is in my opinion the most concise analysis of this issue on James and Paul’s understanding of faith, works, and justification.

  3. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Thanks for the Warfield reference. The Lion of Princeton is always a pleasure to read – a rare combination of theological brilliance and wonderful fluency in communication.


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