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A Learned Discourse of Justification, Works,and...

Written by: Hooker, Richard    Posted on: 04/01/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

    A Sermon by Richard Hooker     with Introductory comments by James Kiefer

Richard Hooker (1554?-1600) was possibly the greatest theologian that England has ever produced. In 1585, he was appointed Master of the Temple: that is, was assigned to one of the most visible pulpits in England. Almost immediately, he incurred the suspicions of the Puritan party. In the course of one of his sermons, he said:  "I doubt not but God was merciful to save thousands of our fathers living in popish superstitions, inasmuch as they sinned ignorantly." This sentence, which today would be fiercely attacked by those who thought it arrogant, narrow, and bigoted, was at the time attacked on opposite grounds. Walter Travers, the afternoon lecturer at the Temple, said that since the adherents of the Pope did not believe in justification by faith, they could not be justified by faith, which meant that they could not be justified at all, which meant that they were certainly damned, with no exceptions. Hooker, he claimed, had sold out to the enemy. The sermon given below is Hooker's reply.

In reading it, remember that, when he argues that the popish errors do not automatically damn all who hold them, he needs to state emphatically that he is not himself one who hold such views.

Note also, that he frequently devotes a paragraph to stating the case for the Puritan position (as represented by Travers) and then the following paragraph to a rebuttal. The reader must be attentive to when Hooker is speaking for the prosecution and when for the defense. Doubtless, when the sermon was delivered "live," there were clues in the manner of delivery that are not evident in the written script. I have taken the liberty of inserting the signposts [OBJECTION:] and [REPLY:] where I thought they might be helpful.  I have also included the paragraph numbering (which I think to be standard) from the Everyman's edition, and the section titles (which I do not think to be standard) from the  P E Hughes edition.

The standard edition of Hooker's writings, edited by John Keble, has footnotes for most of the quotations, from Scripture and other sources. Some of these have been reproduced here, but those interested in his quotations other than from Scripture will want to consult the Keble notes.

For a general account of the writings and thought of Hooker, see C S Lewis's ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY, EXCLUDING DRAMA (Oxford U Pres, 1954), especially pages 441-463. (To the reader anxious to understand the issues of the Reformation, I recommend the whole work, but especially pages 32-44, 162-165, 177-180, 181-192, 438-463.)

To Lewis's account of Hooker, one bit of information must be added. In Lewis's day there was some doubt about the authenticity of the last three of the eight books of Hooker's masterpiece, the LAWS OF ECCESIASTICAL POLITY. Only the first five were published in Hooker's lifetime. Since then, the manuscript of the last three books, in Hooker's handwriting, has come to light, and there is accordingly no scholar (as far as I know) who disputes their genuineness.

And now for Hooker's sermon.

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        A Learned Discourse of Justification,             Works, and how the Foundation                 of Faith is Overthrown

                        by                     Richard Hooker

      "The wicked doth compass about the righteous;         therefore perverse judgment doth proceed."                       Habakkuk 1:4

    1> For better manifestation of the prophet's meaning in this place we are: first, to consider "the wicked," of whom he saith that they "compass about the righteous"; secondly, "the righteous" that are compassed about by them; and, thirdly, that which is inferred, "therefore perverse judgment proceedeth." Touching the first, there are two kinds of wicked men, of whom in the fifth of the former to the Corinthians the blessed Apostle speaketh thus: "Do ye not judge them that are within? But God judgeth them that are without."[1 Cor 5:12f] There are wicked, therefore, whom the Church may judge, and there are wicked whom God only judgeth, wicked within and wicked without the walls of the Church. If within the Church particular persons, being apparently such, cannot otherwise be reformed, the rule of apostolical judgment is this: "Separate them from among them you";[1 Cor 5:13] if whole assemblies, this: "Separate yourselves from among them; for what society hath light with darkness?"[2 Cor 6:14] But the wicked whom the prophet meaneth were Babylonians, and therefore without. For which cause we have heard at large heretofore in what sort he urgeth God to judge them.

    2> Now concerning the righteous, there neither is nor ever was any mere natural man absolutely righteous in himself: that is to say, void of all unrighteousness, of all sin. We dare not except, no not the blessed Virgin herself, of whom although we say with St. Augustine, for the honour's sake which we owe to our Lord and Saviour Christ, we are not willing, in this cause, to move any question of his mother; yet forasmuch as the schools of Rome have made it a question, we must answer with Eusebius Emissenus,[The quotation that follows has not been traced, but it probably comes from a treatise or homily wrongly attributed to Eusebius of Emesa.] who speaketh of her, and to her, to this effect: "Thou didst by special prerogative nine months together entertain within the closet of thy flesh the hope of all the ends of the earth, the honour of the world, the common joy of men. He, from whom all things had their beginning, hath had his own beginning from thee; of thy body he took the blood which was to be shed for the life of the world; of thee he took that which even for thee he paid. The mother of the Redeemer herself, otherwise than by redemption, is not loosed from the band of that ancient sin." If Christ have paid a ransom for all,[1 Tim 2:6] even for her, it followeth that all without exception were captives. If one have died for all, all were dead, dead in sin;[2 Cor 5:14f; Eph 2:1,5] all sinful, therefore none absolutely righteous in themselves; but we are absolutely righteous in Christ. The world then must show a Christian man, otherwise it is not able to show a man that is perfectly righteous: "Christ is made unto us wisdom, justice [that is, righteousness], sanctification, and redemption"[1 Cor 1:30]: wisdom, because he hath revealed his Father's will; justice, because he hath offered himself a sacrifice for sin; sanctification, because he hath given us of his Spirit; redemption, because he hath appointed a day to vindicate his children out of the bands of corruption into liberty which is glorious.[Rom 8:21] How Christ is made wisdom, and how redemption, it may be declared when occasion serveth; but how Christ is made the righteousness of men we are now to declare.

    3> There is a glorifying righteousness of men in the world to come; and there is a justifying and a sanctifying righteousness here. The righteousness wherewith we shall be clothed in the world to come is both perfect and inherent. That whereby we are justified is perfect, but not inherent. That whereby we are sanctified, inherent, but not perfect. This openeth a way to the plain understanding of that grand question, which hangeth yet in controversy between us and the Church of Rome, about the matter of justifying righteousness.

    4> First, although they imagine that the mother of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ were, for his honour, and by his special protection, preserved clean from all sin, yet touching the rest they teach, as we do, that all have sinned; that infants who did never actually offend have their natures defiled, destitute of justice, and averted from God.[See Council of Trent, sess V, decree concerning original sin. 4] They teach, as we do, that God doth justify the soul of man alone, without any other coefficient cause of justice; that, in making man righteous none do work efficiently with God, but God.[Trent VI,ch 7] They teach, as we do, that unto justice no man ever attained, but by the merits of Jesus Christ.[Ibid] They teach, as we do, that although Christ as God be the efficient, as man the meritorious, cause of our justice, yet in us also there is something required.[TrentjVI ch 4,5; canons 4,9] God is the cause of our natural life; in him we live: but he quickeneth not the body without the soul in the body. Christ hath merited to make usjust; but as a medicine which is made for health doth not heal by being made but by being applied, so by the merits of Christ there can be no justification without the application of his merits. Thus far we join hands with the Church of Rome.


    5> Wherein then do we disagree? We disagree about the nature of the very essence of the medicine whereby Christ cureth our disease; about the manner of applying it; about the number and the power of means, which God requireth in us for the effectual applying thereof to our soul's comfort.

    When they are required to show what the righteousness is whereby a Christian man is justified, they answer that it is a divine spiritual quality, which quality, received into the soul, doth first make it to be one of them who are born of God; and, secondly, endue it with power to bring forth such works as they do that are born of him; even as the soul of man, being joined unto his body, doth first make him to be in the number of reasonable creatures, and, secondly, enable him to perform the natural functions which are proper to his kind; that it maketh the soul gracious and amiable in the sight of God, in regard whereof it is termed grace; that by it, through the merit of Christ, we are delivered as from sin, so from eternal death and condemnation, the reward of sin. This grace they will have to be applied by infusion, to the end that, as the body is warm by the heat which is in the body, so the soul might be righteous by inherent grace; which grace they make capable of increase; as the body may be more and more warm, so the soul more and more justified, according as grace shall be augmented; the augmentation whereof is merited by good works, as good works are made meritorious by it.[Trent VI, ch 10] Wherefore the first receipt of grace is in their divinity the first justification; the second thereof, the second justification.

    As grace may be increased by the merit of good works, so it may be diminished by the demerit of sins venial; it may be lost by mortal sin.[Trent VI, chs 14,15] Inasmuch, therefore, as it is needful in the one case to repair, in the other to recover, the loss which is made, the infusion of grace hath her sundry after-meals; for which cause they make many ways to apply the infusion of grace. It is applied unto infants through baptism, without either faith or works, and in them it really taketh away original sin and the punishment due unto it; it is applied unto infidels and wicked men in their first justification through baptism, without works, yet not without faith; and it taketh away both sin actual and original, together with all whatsoever punishment eternal or temporal thereby deserved. Unto such as have attained the first justification, that is to say, the first receipt of grace, it is applied further by good works to the increase of former grace, which is the second justification. If they work more and more, grace doth more and more increase, and they are more and more justified.

    To such as have diminished it by venial sins it is applied by holy water, Ave Marias, crossings, papal salutations, and such like, which serve for reparations of grace decayed. To such as have lost it through mortal sin, it is applied by the sacrament (as they term it) of penance; which sacrament hath force to confer grace anew, yet in such sort that, being so conferred, it hath not altogether so much power as at the first. For it only cleanseth out the stain or guilt of sin committed, and changeth the punishment eternal into a temporary satisfactory punishment here, if time do serve, if not, hereafter to be endured, except it be either lightened by masses, works of charity, pilgrimages, fasts, and such like; or else shortened by pardon for term, or by plenary pardon quite removed and taken away.[Trent VI, ch 14]

    This is the mystery of the man of sin. This maze the Church of Rome doth cause her followers to tread when they ask her the way of justification. I cannot stand now to unrip this building and to sift it piece by piece; only I will set up a frame of apostolical erection by it in a few words, that it may befall Babylon, in presence of that which God hath builded, as it happened unto Dagon before the ark.

    6> "Doubtless," saith the Apostle, "I have counted all things but loss, and I do judge them to be dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God through faith.[Phil 3:8f] Whether they speak of the first or second justification, they make the essence of it a divine quality inherent, they make it righteousness which is in us. If it be in us, then it is ours, as our souls are ours, though we have them from God and can hold them no longer than pleaseth him; for if he withdraw the breath of our nostrils we fall to dust; but the righteousness wherein we must be found, if we will be justified, is not our own: therefore we cannot be justified by any inherent quality. Christ hath merited righteousness for as many as are found in him. In him God findeth us, if we be faithful, for by faith we are incorporated into him.

    Then, although in ourselves we be altogether sinful and unrighteous, yet even the man who in himself is impious, full of iniquity, full of sin, him being found in Christ through faith, and having his sin in hatred through repentance, him God beholdeth with a gracious eye, putteth away his sin by not imputing it, taketh quite away the punishment due thereunto, by pardoning it, and accepteth him in Jesus Christ as perfectly righteous, as if he had fulfilled all that is commanded him in the law: shall I say more perfectly righteous than if himself had fulfilled the whole law? I must take heed what I say; but the Apostle saith, "God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.[2 Cor 5:21] Such we are in the sight of God the Father as is the very Son of God himself. Let it be counted folly, or phrensy, or fury, or whatsoever. It is our wisdom and our comfort; we care for no knowledge in the world but this: that man hath sinned and God hath suffered; that God hath made himself the sin of men, and that men are made the righteousness of God.

    You see therefore that the Church of Rome, in teaching justification by inherent grace, doth pervert the truth of Christ, and that by the hands of his Apostles we have received otherwise than she teacheth.


    Now concerning the righteousness of sanctification, we deny it not to be inherent; we grant that, unless we work, we have it not; only we distinguish it as a thing in nature different from the righteousness of justification: we are righteous the one way by the faith of Abraham, the other way, except we do the works of Abraham, we are not righteous. Of the one, St. Paul, "To him that worketh not, but believeth, faith is counted for righteousness.[Rom 4:5] Of the other, St. John, "He is righteous who worketh righteousness.[1 Jn 3:7] Of the one, St. Paul doth prove by Abraham's example that we have it of faith without works.[Rom 4] Of the other, St. James by Abraham's example, that by works we have it, and not only by faith.[Jas 2:18ff] St. Paul doth plainly sever these two parts of Christian righteousness one from the other; for in the sixth to the Romans he writeth, "Being freed from sin and made servants of God, ye have your fruit in holiness, and the end everlasting life.[Rom 6:22] "Ye are made free from sin and made servants unto God"; this is the righteousness of justification; "Ye have your fruit in holiness": this is the righteousness of sanctification. By the one we are interested in the right of inheriting; by the other we are brought to the actual possessing of eternal bliss, and so the end is everlasting life.

    7> The prophet Habakkuk doth here [Hab 1:4] term the Jews "righteous men," not only because being justified by faith they were free from sin, but also because they had their measure of fruit in holiness. According to whose example of charitable judgment, which leaveth it to God to discern what men are, and speaketh of them according to that which they do profess themselves to be, although they be not holy whom men do think, but whom God doth know indeed to be such; yet let every Christian man know that in Christian equity he standeth bound so to think and speak of his brethren as of men that have a measure in the fruit of holiness and a right unto the titles wherewith God, in token of special favour and mercy, vouchsafeth to honour his chosen servants. So we see the Apostles of our Saviour Christ do use everywhere the name of saints: so the prophet the name of righteous. But let us all endeavour to be such as we desire to be termed: "Godly names do not justify godless men," saith Salvianus. We are but upbraided when we are honoured with names and titles whereunto our lives and manners are not suitable.

    If we have indeed our fruit in holiness, notwithstanding we must note that the more we abound therein the more need we have to crave that we may be strengthened and supported. Our very virtues may be snares unto us. The enemy that waiteth for all occasions to work our ruin hath ever found it harder to overthrow a humble sinner than a proud saint. There is no man's case so dangerous as his, whom Satan hath persuaded that his own righteousness shall present him pure and blameless in the sight of God. If we could say, "we are not guilty of anything at all in our own consciences" (we know ourselves far from this innocency, we cannot say we know nothing by ourselves, but if we could) should we therefore plead not guilty in the presence of our Judge that sees further into our hearts than we ourselves are able to see? If our hands did never offer violence to our brethren, a bloody thought doth prove us murderers before him.[Cf Mt 5:21f] If we had never opened our mouths to utter any scandalous, offensive, or hurtful word, the cry of our secret cogitations is heard in the ears of God. If we did not commit the evils which we do daily and hourly, either in deeds, words, or thoughts, yet in the good things which we do how many defects are there intermingled!

    God, in that which is done, respecteth specially the mind and intention of the doer. Cut off then all those things wherein we have regarded our own glory, those things which we do to please men or to satisfy our own liking, those things which we do with any by-respect [that is, with any secondary or ulterior motive], not sincerely and purely for the love of God, and a small score will serve for the number of our righteous deeds. Let the holiest and best thing that we do be considered: we are never better affected unto God than when we pray; yet when we pray how are our affections many times distracted! How little reverence do we show to the grand majesty of that God unto whom we speak! How little remorse of our own miseries! How little taste of the sweet influence of his tender mercy do we feel! Are we not as unwilling many times to begin, and as glad to make an end, as if God in saying "Call upon me" had set us a very burdensome task?

    It may seem somewhat extreme which I shall speak; therefore let every man judge of it even as his own heart shall tell him, and no otherwise. I will but only make a demand: if God should yield to us, not as unto Abraham, if fifty, forty, thirty, twenty, yea, or if ten good persons could be found in a city, for their sakes that city should not be destroyed;[Gen 18:23ff] but if God should make us an offer thus large: "Search all the generations of men since the fall of your father Adam, find one man that hath done any one action which hath passed from him pure, without any stain or blemish at all, and for that one man's one-only action neither man nor angel shall feel the torments which are prepared for both" -- do you think that this ransom, to deliver men and angels, would be found among the sons of men? The best things we do have somewhat in them to be pardoned. How then can we do anything meritorious and worthy to be rewarded?

    Indeed, God doth liberally promise whatsoever appertaineth to a blessed life unto as many as sincerely keep his law, though they be not able exactly to keep it. Wherefore we acknowledge a dutiful necessity of doing well, but the meritorious dignity of well doing we utterly renounce. We see how far we are from the perfect righteousness of the law. The little fruit which we have in holiness, it is, God knoweth, corrupt and unsound: we put no confidence at all in it, we challenge nothing in the world for it, we dare not call God to a reckoning, as if we had him in our debt-books. Our continual suit to him is, and must be, to bear with our infirmities, to pardon our offences.

    8> But the people of whom the prophet speaketh, were they all, or were the most part of them, such as had care to walk uprightly? Did they thirst after righteousness? Did they wish, did they long with the righteous prophet, "O that our ways were made so direct that we might keep thy statutes"? [Ps 119:5] Did they lament with the righteous apostle, "Miserable men, the good which we wish and purpose, and strive to do, we cannot"? [Rom 7:19,24] No, the words of other prophets concerning this people do show the contrary. How grievously doth Isaiah mourn over them: "Ah sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, wicked seed, corrupt children"! [Is 1:4] All which notwithstanding, so wide are the bowels of his compassion enlarged that he denieth us not, no not when we are laden with iniquity, leave to commune familiarly with him, liberty to crave and entreat that what plagues soever we have deserved we may not be in worse case than unbelievers, that we may not be hemmed in by pagans and infidels. Jerusalem is a sinful polluted city; but Jerusalem compared with Babylon is righteous. And shall the righteous be overborne, shall they be compassed about by the wicked? But the prophet doth not only complain, "Lord, how cometh it to pass that thou handlest us so hardly over whom thy name is called, and bearest with heathen nations that despise thee?" No, he breaketh out through extremity of grief and inferreth thus violently: This proceeding is perverse; the righteous are thus handled, "therefore perverse judgment doth proceed. [Hab 1:1-4; Ps 79; 106:41ff]


    9> Which illation [that is, inference] containeth many things whereof it were much better both for you to hear and me to speak, if necessity did not draw me to another task. Paul and Barnabas being requested to preach the same things again which once they had preached,[Acts 13:42] thought it their duties to satisfy the godly desires of men sincerely affected towards the truth. Nor may it seem burdensome to me, or for you unprofitable, that I follow their example, the like occasion unto theirs being offered me. When we had last the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews in our hands, and of that epistle these words, "In these last days he hath spoken unto us by his Son";[Heb 1:2] after we had thence collected the nature of the visible Church of Christ, and had defined it to be a community of men sanctified through the profession of that truth which God hath taught the world by his Son; and had declared that the scope of Christian doctrine is the comfort of them whose hearts are overcharged with the burden of sin; and had proved that the doctrine professed in the Church of Rome doth bereave men of comfort, both in their lives and at their deaths; the conclusion in the end whereunto we came was this: "The Church of Rome being in faith so corrupted as she is, and refusing to be reformed as she doth, we are to sever ourselves from her. The example of our fathers may not retain us in communion and fellowship with that church, under hope that we, so continuing, might be saved as well as they. God, I doubt not, was merciful to save thousands of them, though they lived in popish superstitions, inasmuch as they sinned ignorantly; but the truth is now laid open before our eyes." The former part of this last sentence, namely, these words. "I doubt not but God was merciful to save thousands of our fathers living In poplsh superstitions inasmuch as they sinned ignorantly" -- this sentence I beseech you to mark, and to sift it with the strict severity of austere judgment, that if it be found as gold it may stand, suitable to the precious foundation whereupon it was then laid; for I protest that if it be hay or stubble mine own hand shall set fire to it. [Cf 1 Cor 3:11ff] Two questions have risen by occasion of the speech before alleged: the one, whether our fathers, infected with popish errors and superstitions, might be saved; the other, whether their ignorance be a reasonable inducement to make us think that they might. We are therefore to examine first what possibility, and then what probability, there is that God might be merciful unto so many of our fathers.

    10> [OBJECTION:] So many of our fathers living in popish superstitions, yet by the mercy of God to be saved? No, this could not be: God hath spoken by his angel from heaven unto his people concerning Babylon (by Babylon we understand the Church of Rome), "Go out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. [Rev 18:4] For answer whereunto, first, I do not take these words to be meant only of temporal plagues, of the corporal death, sorrow, famine, and fire whereunto God in his wrath hath condemned Babylon; and that to save his chosen people from these plagues he saith, "Go out"; and with like intent, as in the Gospel, speaking of Jerusalem's desolation he saith, "Let them that are in Judea flee unto the mountains, and them who are in the midst thereof depart out";[Mt 24:15ff; Mk 13:14ff; Lk 21:21ff] or as in former times unto Lot, "Arise, take thy wife and thy daughters who are here, lest thou be destroyed in the punishment of the city"; [Gen 19:15] but forasmuch as here it is said, "Go out of Babylon that ye be not partakers of her sins, and by consequence of her plagues," plagues eternal being due to the sins of Babylon, no doubt their everlasting destruction, who are partakers herein, is either principally meant or necessarily implied in this sentence. How then was it possible for so many of our fathers to be saved, since they were so far from departing out of Babylon that they took her for their mother and in her bosom yielded up the ghost?

    11> [REPLY:] First, the plagues being threatened unto them that are partakers in the sins of Babylon; we can define nothing concerning our fathers out of this sentence, unless we show what the sins of Babylon be, and who they be that are such partakers in them that their everlasting plagues are inevitable. The sins which may be common both to them of the Church of Rome and to others departed thence must be severed from this question. He who saith, "Depart out of Babylon lest ye be partakers of her sins", showeth plainly that he meaneth such sins as, except we separate ourselves, we have no power in the world to avoid; such impieties as by law they have established, and whereunto all that are among them either do indeed assent or else are by powerable means forced in show and in appearance to subject themselves: as, for example, in the Church of Rome it is maintained that the same credit and reverence which we give to the Scriptures of God ought also to be given to unwritten verities; that the pope is supreme head ministerial over the universal Church militant; that the bread in the eucharist is transubstantiated into Christ; that it is to be adored, and to be offered up unto God as a sacrifice propitiatory for quick and dead; that images are to be worshipped, saints to be called upon as intercessors, and such like.

    Now, because some heresies do concern things only believed; as transubstantiating of sacramental elements in the eucharist; some concern things which are practised also and put in ure [usage], as adoration of the elements transubstantiated, we must note that the practice of that is sometimes received whereof the doctrine which teacheth it is not heretically maintained. They are all partakers in the maintenance of heresies who by word or deed allow them, knowing them, although not knowing them to be heresies; as also they, and that most dangerously of all others, who, knowing heresy to be heresy, do notwithstanding, in worldly respects, make semblance of allowing that which in heart and in judgment they condemn. But heresy is heretically maintained by such as obstinately hold it after wholesome admonition. Of the last sort, as also of the next before, I make no doubt but that their condemnation, without actual repentance, is inevitable. Lest any man therefore should think that in speaking of our fathers I speak indifferently of them all, Iet my words, I beseech you, be well noted: "I doubt not but God was merciful to save thousands of our fathers"; which thing I will now by God's assistance set more plainly before your eyes.

    12> Many are partakers of the error who are not of the heresy of the Church of Rome. The people, following the conduct of their guides, and observing as they did exactly that which was prescribed them, thought they did God good service, when indeed they did dishonor him. This was their error. But the heresies of the Church of Rome, their dogmatical positions opposite unto Christian truth, what one man among ten thousand did ever understand? Of them who understand Roman heresies, and allow them, all are not alike partakers in the action of allowing. Some allow them as the first founders and establishers of them, which crime toucheth none but their popes and councils. The people are clear and free from this. Of them who maintain popish heresy not as authors, but receivers of it from others, all maintain it not as masters. In this are not the people partakers neither, but only their predicants and their schoolmen [preachers and teachers]. Of them who have be

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