John Brown of Wamphray (c. 1610-1679) on justifying faith

John Brown of Wamphray Life of Justification Opened

John Brown of Wamphray (c. 1610-1679) was a prominent Scottish Covenanter and minister in the village of Wamphray, Annandale, who, after the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne (1660) and the Act of Uniformity (1662), was forced by the authorities to flee his native Scotland due to his outspoken opposition to prelacy (i.e. Episcopal polity imposed on the Church of Scotland at the time). He went into exile for the rest of his life in the Netherlands (described by one author as “the asylum of the banished” at the time), where he settled in Rotterdam, industriously wrote in favour of the Covenanter cause, and produced a number of noteworthy theological works. One of Brown’s major works is his The Life of Justification Opened, published posthumously in 1695 with a preface written by the Utrecht professor Melchior Leydekker. In the excerpt below, the spelling and punctuation of which I have slightly edited for clarity, Brown discusses justifying faith:

“[F]aith is the man’s looking to Christ, as the stung Israelite in the wilderness did look unto the brazen serpent (Jn. 3:14, 15) and saying, as it is (Is. 45:24), ‘In the Lord have I righteousness’: and it is the believer’s putting-on of the Lord Jesus, that he may be found in Him, and clothed with His righteousness (Phil. 3:9). It is the man’s receiving of Christ (Jn. 1:12) and receiving of the atonement in Him, and through Him (Rom. 5:11) and of abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:17). Therefore it is called a ‘believing on His name’ (Jn. 1:12) and ‘on Him, whom the Father hath sent (Jn. 6:29; 7:35; 17:20; Acts 16:31; 19:25). And because faith laid hold on this righteousness of Christ, therefore is this righteousness called the ‘righteousness of faith’ (Rom. 4:11) and the ‘righteousness which is of faith’ (Rom. 9:30), and that, ‘which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith’ (Phil. 3:9) Now if this be the native work of justifying faith […] to receive Christ, and His righteousness, and consequently to carry the man out of himself, that he may find and partake of that all-sufficient righteousness of Christ, to the end he may with confidence stand before God, and expect pardon and acceptance, it cannot be said without destroying the native work of justifying faith, that faith is that Gospel-righteousness unto which they may lean, and upon the account of which they may expect justification.”

What Brown is noting in this last sentence, as he makes clear numerous times elsewhere in this work, is that believers are not justified on account of their faith, as if that constituted their “Gospel-righteousness”, but on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them through faith as a mere instrument. He continues:

“Faith, in this matter, is as the eye of the soul, that seeth not itself, but looketh out to another. Beside, this would overturn the whole nature of the covenant of grace, and is irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Apostle Paul about justification […] Therefore, all who would live the life of justification must betake themselves to Jesus Christ, and lean on Him and to His righteousness: for with the robe of His righteousness must they alone be clothed, and in Christ alone must they be found, and they must think of standing before God, having on His righteousness, that God imputeth to believers, and which they receive by faith, in order to their justification.”

– John Brown of Wamphray (c. 1610-1679), The Life of Justification Opened, p. 58

For previous posts on justifying faith, see these by Henricus Siccama, H.C.G. Moule, William Ames, and Thomas Chalmers.

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Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) on the guilty conscience as a subjective witness to man’s fallen nature

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In vol. 3 of his Reformed Dogmatics (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek), Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) discusses man’s guilty conscience as a subjective witness of man’s fallen nature, in addition to God’s objective witness and verdict in the divine law:

“There really is a divine curse resting on humanity and the world. It is impossible to interpret life and history in light of the love of God alone. At work throughout the creation is a principle of divine wrath that only a superficial person can deny. Not communion but separation prevails between God and humankind; the covenant has been broken; God has a quarrel with his creatures. All stand guilty and punishable before his face (Matt. 5:21-22; Mark 3:29; James 2:10). The whole world is accountable to God (Rom. 3:19); it is subject to divine judgment and has no defense.

Subjectively this is confirmed by the divine witness in the conscience of every human being. Guilt and the consciousness of guilt are not the same. Those who try to deduce guilt from the consciousness of it block themselves from understanding guilt in its true significance and gravity. Ignorance can to some extent excuse sin (Luke 23:34; Acts 17:30), just as conscious and intentional violation aggravates sin (Luke 12:47; John 15:22; 9:41). But there also exist sins that are hidden from ourselves and others (Ps. 19:12), and also sins of ignorance are culpable (Acts 17:27-30; Rom. 1:19-21, 28; 1 Tim. 1:13-15). Yet objective guilt is more or less firmly reflected in the human consciousness. Immediately after the fall, the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, and they discovered that they were naked. Implied here is that they knew and recognized that they had done wrong. Shame is the fear of disgrace, an unpleasant and painful sense of being involved in something wrong and improper. Added to shame was fear before God and the consequent desire to hide from him – that is to say, the human conscience was aroused.  Before the fall, strictly speaking, there was no conscience in humans. There was no gap between what they were and what they knew they had to be. Being and self-consciousness were in harmony. But the fall produced separation. By the grace of God, humans still retain the consciousness that they ought to be different, that in all respects they must conform to God’s law. But reality witnesses otherwise; they are not who they ought to be. And this witness is the conscience. […] [The conscience] is proof that communion with God has been broken, that there is a gap between God and us, between his law and our state. This is clearly evident when our conscience accuses us. But also when in a given case it excuses us, that is, keeps silent, that separation from God underlies it (Rom. 2:14-15). The human conscience is the subjective proof of humanity’s fall, a witness to human guilt before the face of God. God is not the only accuser of humankind; in their conscience humans condemn themselves and take God’s side against themselves. The more precisely and meticulously the human conscience functions, the more it validates God’s idea of humans in Scripture.”

– Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 3, p. 172-173