Alien righteousness

Homily number 3, “On the salvation of mankind” is the Church of England’s official sermon on the subject of justification and salvation. This classic Protestant teaching is referred to in the 39 Articles as “a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.”

As Martin Luther rightly said, “No one will be justified by any works whatever, no matter how many, but by faith alone, which comes forth from the fear of the Lord, before whom no one will be able to stand by his own merits.” We have seen that reflected in Homily 2, in last week’s blogposts. Luther’s conclusion was that “we must live by alien righteousness.” (Works, 16:120). Moreover, explains Luther, “Once a Christian is righteous by faith and has accepted the forgiveness of sins, he should not be so smug, as though he were pure of all sins… He is righteous and holy by an alien or foreign holiness—I call it this for the sake of instruction—that is, he is righteous by the mercy and grace of God. This mercy and grace is not something human; it is not some sort of disposition or quality in the heart. It is a divine blessing… Is not this righteousness an alien righteousness? It consists completely in the indulgence of another and is a pure gift of God, who shows mercy and favour for Christ’s sake.’ (Works, 12:328)

Our Homilies seem to be on exactly the same page here. Here’s how Homily 3 begins…

“Because all people are sinners and offenders against God, and breakers of his law and commandments, therefore no one can, by their own acts, works, and deeds (seem they never so good) be justified, and made righteous before God. Everyone of necessity is constrained to seek for another righteousness or justification, to be received at God’s own hands — that is to say, the forgiveness of their sins and trespasses, in such things as they have offended. And this justification or righteousness, which we so receive of God’s mercy and Christ’s merits. embraced by faith, is taken, accepted, and allowed of God, for our perfect and full justification.

In order to understand this more fully, it is our part and duty ever to remember the great mercy of God — how (all the world being wrapped in sin by breaking of the Law) God sent his only son, our Saviour Christ, into this world to fulfil the Law for us, and by shedding of his most precious blood, to make a sacrifice and satisfaction, or (as it may be called) to make amends to his Father for our sins, to assuage his wrath and indignation conceived against us for the same.”

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