Peter Brain rubs the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith into the heart of the pastor.
Bishop Peter Brain has just retired from the Parish of Rockingham, WA.
Martin Luther’s famous saying that justification by faith is the article of a standing or falling church has proven true over the past 500 years, but can be applied equally to those who are called to pastoral ministry.
The versical from Morning and Evening Prayer: 'Clothe your ministers with righteousness along with its response: And make your chosen people joyful, remind us that a very real benefit of justification by faith is that, when evident in the life and preaching of the minister, it will bring church members much joy'. This quote from Psalm 132:9 reminds us of the reformed nature of ministry, with the word minister replacing priest. Reformed pastors know that their standing with God is secure through faith in Christ not because of the size of the church they serve or the gifts they may have. Security in this truth will keep us from despair when there appears to be little response, from pride when there is and from using our members as fodder to feed our egos or drive our agendas. Ministers will want to live rightly in glad response to the one who has so graciously justified us through faith in Christ alone. This will bring joy to ministers and people alike along with glory to God.
Though justification is the prime and fundamental blessing of the gospel, it is not — as J. I. Packer reminded us in Knowing God, chapter 19 — the highest blessing. His suggestion that this highest blessing is adoption is music to the pastor’s ears. It is a marvellous thing to know that forensically there is no charge remaining against us but it is of even more comfort that, as a consequence, we enjoy a familial relationship with God as adopted children. Sir Marcus Loane captured this in his words, ‘the voice that spells forgiveness will say, “you may go; you have been let off the penalty which your sin deserves”. But the verdict which means acceptance will say, “you may come; you are welcome to all my love and all my presence.”’
What great comfort this brings to the pastor who is down and discouraged. We can come, not as a pastor, but as a son or daughter. When we are down we are able to look up with confidence and find the forgiveness, the wisdom, the solace or the strength we need. Our Father does not answer us according to our performance, feelings or even the strength of our faith, but because, in Christ, we belong to him as beloved children.
It means too that we are wise to read the Bible — which Augustine described as ‘letters from home’ — not only as servants in preparation for teaching, but as children eager to relate to their Father. The experience of the translators of the AV in 1611 (‘if we be ignorant, they will instruct us. If we be out of the way, they will bring us home. If we be out of order they will reform us. If in heaviness they will comfort us; if dull quicken us; if cold, enflame us’), will be ours as we read the Bible as children who love to hear their Father’s voice, be it of comfort, correction or counsel.
Justification by faith enables us to work hard. This was summarised by Calvin who said ‘it is faith alone which justifies, yet the faith which justifies is not alone.’ This means we can work with confidence, neither frantically nor hurriedly, but patiently trusting God to work through us. We work not to impress others but because God’s love compels us. This responsive aspect of working hard and diligently because we are saved, is captured in the words: ‘I will not work my soul to save, For that my Lord has done. But I will work like any slave, For love of God’s dear Son.’
This reflects the biblical imperative of Ephesians 2:10 and 1 Corinthians 15:10. We are content to get on with our work without it defining us, knowing that it is God alone who sees and knows all that we do, to whom we must give an account and who can be counted upon to sustain us.
Justification by faith means that we can cope with criticism, just or unjust, since he graciously pardons and understands our pain when we are treated unjustly. We don’t have to justify ourselves. Indeed we will be able to see criticism, even failure, as ways he graciously grows us.
Justification by faith will help us to be brave in the face of opposition and suffering, just as the Reformers were. They were sustained, even to death, by their assurance of salvation, through the Scriptures they had come to love and believing prayer through our one Mediator and the warm-hearted fellowship that justified sinners enjoy as adopted children.