Justifying Faith

While denying the Roman Catholic doctrine that love is the life and soul of justifying faith, John Ball (1585-1640) strenuously affirmed that justifying faith cannot be without love. Faith and love are distinct graces which are “infused together” by the Holy Spirt at regeneration and “the exercise of faith and love be inseparably conjoined (Treatise of Faith, 45-46).” Where there is justifying faith there is love: “As light and heat in the Sun be inseparable, so is faith and love, being knit together in a sure bond by the Holy Ghost (pg. 38).
 
If faith and love are distinct yet inseparable, so it is sometimes argued, “then Faith alone doth not justify (pg. 56).” The presence of love at the moment of justification implies that it is along with faith a co-instrument of justification. Ball responded to this objection by appealing to a common turn of phrase regarding the role of faith in justification: faith alone justifies but the faith which justifies is not alone. Or as it stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.”
 
Ball observed that while faith is utterly alone in terms of the instrument of justification, it is not alone in terms of the presence of love or other virtues for that matter. Justifying faith is “ever accompanied with all other saving graces" (WCF 11.2). Thus love is present in the person at the moment of justification, but love is not the instrument or co-instrument of justification. Faith and faith only is that instrument. The “alone” of faith alone refers not to the absence of other saving graces or virtues but to its role in justification. Employing a standard illustration of the time, Ball said that faith is like an eye in the body. Only the eye sees but in order for the eye to see it must in a body that is alive and so with other working parts:
“The eye alone sees, the ear alone hears: but it must be a living eye, and hearing ear, not separated from the head, or broken off from the rest of the body.  Faith alone justifies without other graces, not in regard of their presence, but in regard of their co-working with faith to this effect of our justification. It is one thing to say, the eye is in the head without other senses, and another thing to say, the eye doth see alone, no other sense seeing with it…So faith cannot be without love, and yet we apprehend not the promises of eternal life by works, but by Faith alone; although truly they cannot be apprehended by parties destitute of works, at least of sincere resolution to walk in obedience" (pg. 57).
This relationship between faith and love helps to identity the role of repentance in justification. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, repentance is not a cause of pardon, “yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it" (WCF 15.3). Since justification includes pardon (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 70), and repentance is necessary for pardon, it follows that repentance is necessary for justification. But it is not necessary in the same way faith is. As Ball explained elsewhere, even though repentance is necessary to see our sinfulness and to turn away from it to Christ, it is “no healing of our wound, or cause of our acquittance" (The Covenant of Grace, 18). Repentance must accompany faith and is a sine qua non of justification but it does not unite one to Christ. That role belongs exclusively to faith and therefore faith is the alone instrument of justification. In other words, faith, unlike repentance, is not “a cause without which the thing is not done [causa sine qua non], but a cause whereby it is done" (The Covenant of Grace, 19). The presence of love or hope or repentance along with faith at the moment of justification, therefore, does not compromise sola fide. Faith alone is the instrument of justification, yet it is not alone in the person justified. The eye alone sees, yet the eye is not alone in the head.  The faith that justifies is not a naked, dead faith, but a living faith that is “ever accompanied with all other saving graces.”


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.