A misapprehension of the genuine doctrine of justification by faith as taught in the Epistles of Paul, has had a blighting influence upon the cause of holiness. It has ever been the aim of man, in his natural state, to find some way to heaven without the necessity of putting away sin from the heart and life. Paul’s declaration: that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law, could easily be perverted by such persons. It was only necessary to change the meaning of the phrase ” works of the law,” from, signifying, as it does, the ritual code of Judaism, and making it mean the moral law. Then by extracting from faith the element of a complete surrender of the will to the Divine, direction, and the result is a way to heaven without the troublesome necessity of inward and outward moral purity. Such persons will find but poor comfort in reading the writings of Swedenborg.
What is the genuine Pauline doctrine of justification by faith ? In the first place it is evident that faith in us effects no change in God, though it is according to the appearance that the Lord changes with our varying states. It only accomplishes a change in our mode of apprehending Him. This is manifest to any one who is capable of rational thought. Swedenborg, from the Word of God, declares that the Lord is Love itself and Mercy itself; that He condemns no man, but freely forgives all men. Infinite Love can entertain no vindictive feeling. Christ, who is the one only God, said to the woman who was accused of crime, ” Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.” On the cross He forgave His murderers, who did not ask the favor of Him, or even accept it. It would be unreasonable to suppose that He did not feel as merciful toward us as toward them. Paul also declares that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. The more a parent loves a child, the more he can overlook and forgive in the erring one. The Lord’s love to us is infinite. All feelings purely human are derived from Him, because He is the Infinite Man. If we can forgive an erring child, much more can the fatherly love of God freely overlook all our sins. But it is the law of our spiritual nature that a heart, in a state of conscious disobedience, condemns itself. This always must be so. This law is expressed by Our Saviour, when He declares that He came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.. He that believeth not is condemned already, because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (Jno. iii. 18.) John also says, “If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God. (1 Jno. iii. 21.) It is not possible for a soul in open rebellion against the Divine government to apprehend God as forgiving us, or to view Him otherwise than as condemning us. That evil state, of the will is necessarily attended with the falsity in the understanding that the Divine Being is angry with us, and will punish us. On the other hand, when we put away evils as sins, and do this as of ourselves, or from choice and in freedom, we come into an attitude of submission and obedience to the Divine will, and our heart no longer condemns us, and we have confidence toward God. For so far as we put away evils as sins, so far we have faith, or a persuasion that the Lord pardons and saves us. This right state of the will is always followed by the truth in the understanding that the Lord, of His boundless love and mercy, freely forgives us, that He is not angry with us, and will not punish us. But all this time no change has been wrought in God. The change in us has affected our conceptions of Him. The soul is not pardoned as the reward of its faith, but it is by faith that we come to the inward consciousness of the pardon which the Lord extends to all. It is the appropriation by us of what always existed in Him.
Faith includes not only the Divinely imparted conviction that God forgives, but also that obedience of the will which renders such a persuasion possible. In the New Testament, the word rendered unbelief, is also rendered disobedience. The term, in fact, includes both ideas. Unbelief is not merely a state of the understanding, but also of the will. So faith is not simply an act of the intellect, but a condition of the will. It includes a complete self-surrender—a denial of our own will in obedience to the will of God. When a soul is in that moral attitude, there flows into it from God the sweet assurance that He forgives and saves. This is justification by faith. Paul manifestly uses the term faith in this comprehensive sense, when he declares that “the just shall live by faith, or the justified by faith shall live.” Justification, in the Pauline doctrine, is a being made just or righteous, and not that phantasm denominated justification, which is the being called and treated as if the sinner were righteous. This is calling evil good, and good evil; putting darkness for light, and light for darkness. (Isa. v. 20.) According to Paul, justice, or righteousness, was the highest moral position. This is an idea that he carried over into Christianity from Judaism—from the Old Testament theology. Swedenborg has shown that righteousness refers to the state of the will, and holiness to the state of the intellect. Holiness is predicated of truth grounded in goodness, and righteousness is that good from which truth proceeds. The latter is a freedom from evils; the former a freedom from falsities, in consequence of a right state of the heart. These are not separable, but exist together. A genuine faith can never exist separate from charity, or a life of love. Swedenborg has shown that faith separate from love and obedience, is not faith. It lacks Divine vitality. Faith alone, would be no faith. Paul seems to have conceived of the justified, or righteous man, as of one who is in a state of unqualified obedience. This was attained by faith—not a mere belief of the truth but by a complete self-surrender, which is always accompanied by the consoling consciousness that the Lord forgives and saves. Thus being justified by faith we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. .v. 1.)
Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)