Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.—Rom. 8.33


Of Justification by Faith Only,

By Patrick Symson.

Anno Dom. 1615.

TrueCovenanter.com Editor’s Introduction.

The following Treatise is extracted from Patrick Symson’s history of the first nine centuries of the Christian Church, specifically from the second part, titled, A Short Compend, of the Arian and Eutychian Persecutions, Comprised in the 4th, 5th, and 6th Centuries.  For each century in this History, Mr. Symson provides three useful Treatises relating to the time.  This treatise on Justification by Faith Alone is the last of three provided in relation to the sixth century.  His three main heads of discussion are:

  1. Where the Scriptures clearly show that Justification is by Faith alone.

  2. The Difference Between Justification and Sanctification.

  3. Whether our Works may be said to Merit good from God.


THE defenders of man’s free-will in all ages, have been also enemies to the doctrine of grace: and therefore this treatise doth adhere to the former [treatises concerning Freewill, Satisfaction, and Indulgences,] with a pertinent coherence.  The order I mind to follow by the Lord’s assistance, in this question, Whether we be justified only by faith, or partly by faith, and partly by works, is this:  First shortly to entreat a place of Scripture, whereinto this question is clearly discussed.  Next, to speak of the difference of Justification, and Sanctification, and of the Law, and of the Gospel.  And thirdly, to declare that we can not be saved, neither by our own merits, nor by the merits of other men, but only by the merits of the suffering of Christ.

[ Where the Scriptures Clearly Show that Justification is by Faith ]

The place of Scripture which I shall lay down for a ground is this: Behold he that lifteth up himself, his mind is not upright in him, but the just shall live by faith. [Habac. 2.4.]  The purpose of the Prophet in this verse is to comfort GOD’s people who were to be transported captives and prisoners to Babylon.  The Prophet would exhort them with patient expectation to wait upon their promised deliverance, whereby it should come to pass, that they should be in better estate than the Babylonians their enemies: for the Babylonians rejoiced in their own strength, sacrificed unto their own net, & leaned upon a staff that could not hold them up, [Hab. 1.16]: but GOD’s people, albeit afflicted for a time, if by faith they should take hold of the promise of GOD, they should see in GOD’s appointed time a comfortable issue of all their troubles.

The Prophet in the word Behold, would reduce them to a consideration of things they had seen with their eyes, and heard with their ears, to wit, that their fathers who trusted more in the horses of Egypt, than in the quiet rest of the promises of GOD, they found the help of Egypt to be their confusion. {61}  This one example which they saw with their own eyes, might have taught them to lean at all times upon the staff of GOD, and to forsake all vain confidence, either in themselves or others.  In the next words, he who is puffed up in himself, The Prophet expressly pointeth out the persons of whom he is speaking, namely, of them who leans not unto their own strength or wisdom.  Truly GOD’s people should be like unto mount Sion, fair of situation, and the glory of the whole earth, [Psalm 48,] yet not rejoicing in itself, but in the goodness of GOD, who pleased to dwell in the palaces thereof, who laid the foundations of it in the holy mountains, and who loved the gates of Sion more than all the habitations of JACOB. [Psalm 87.1,2.]  Let Caucasus, Olympus Parnassus and Atlas rejoice in their bigness and height, but Sion rejoiceth in this, that it is the mountain which GOD hath chosen to be the place whereupon his holy Sanctuary should be builded.  So do the Elect of God rejoice in the Lord’s goodness, but others are lift up in themselves, as the Prophet speaketh.

In the words following, his heart is not upright in him, the Prophet declareth the inconvenience that followeth upon the leaning to our own strength, to wit, we are utterly disappointed of our expectation, and whereas we looked for rest & tranquillity to our consciences, the contrary falleth out, that we are like unto men out of their right wits, wavering minded, & so tossed with doubting, that they know not what course to take, because their mind is not solidly settled, nor upright within them.  This is the just Judgment of GOD, punishing the contempt of that quiet and peaceable harbery [shelter, harbour] that is to be found in the bosom of the compassions of GOD in his Son CHRIST JESUS: they who despise this sure harbery, are worthy to be tossed with mighty storms, and to be in hazard and jeopardy of their lives, as the Centurion was, who despised the wholesome counsel of PAUL at Candie, [Crete]. [Acts 27.]

[It] Followeth in the words of the Prophet, but the just man shall live by faith.  Likeas they who lean upon their own strength can find no tranquillity and rest unto their consciences, even so on the other part these who by constant faith lean upon the promises of GOD, they shall find rest to their souls: but the Prophet chooseth rather to say, that the just man shall {62} live by faith, to declare, that by leaning to the sweet promises of GOD’s word, we shall not only find rest unto our souls, but also spiritual life, [Eph. 2.1,] which is the fountain of true rest and tranquillity: so are we in this case not unlike unto SAUL, who in seeking his fathers asses found a kingdom, [1 Sam. 9]; [as] we, in seeking of rest, we have found life, the true fountain of our rest.

The last words of the verse, by his own faith, are to be considered: for by them we perceive, that the promises of GOD must be particularly applied to our souls, and that we must not be wavering, and doubtsome in our faith, but firm and stable, forasmuch as things necessary to the maintenance of this present life, have also need to be particularly applied, such as food, raiment, and medicine: Even so in things necessary unto eternal life, our souls have great need of particular application of comfort; we must have the blood of the Lamb sprinkled upon the posts of our own houses, [Exod. 12,] else can we not be saved from the sword of the destroying Angel; we must also receive the Angels of GOD under our own roof with LOT, else can we not be saved from the flame of fire which destroyeth ungodly cities. [Gen. 19.]  And finally, we must be like unto the vessels of the LORD’s tabernacle, which were all particularly anointed with holy oil, in time of the dedication of the Tabernacle, [Exod. 40,] else we shall not be counted holy vessels in the house of our GOD.

But because the Apostle PAUL citeth this place of Scripture to confirm, that we are justified once by faith, [Gal. 3.11,] consider how firm and sure this argument standeth: We are justified by that same thing, whereby our souls do live; but so it is, that our souls do only live by faith; therefore we are justified by faith only.  The Apostle wisely considered, that no man could live spiritually, except he had a fellowship with GOD.  Again, there is no fellowship that mortal and sinful men can have with GOD, without remission of sins.  Neither is there any remission of sins without a Mediatour and Advocate. [1 John 1, 2.1.]  And we can take no hold of this Mediatour, except only by {63} faith [John 3,]: so that by faith we live, and by faith we are made just in the sight of GOD.

[ A Precious Description of Faith’s Work ]

Then this place of Scripture teacheth us, that it is faith only that leadeth us unto CHRIST, in whom we find righteousness and life, but by a due and competent order, to wit, by stripping us naked of all conceit of our own strength and righteousness, to the end we may have the greater delight in the salvation that is offered to us in CHRIST.  Faith is not like unto a robber who strippeth a man naked without any purpose to clothe him with a better garment.  But faith doth to us as the father of the forlorn son did to him, and as the Angel of GOD did to JOSHUA the high Priest. [Luke 15, Zech. 3.]  Both these were unclothed of their beggarly raiments, but only of purpose to clothe them with better apparel: so doth faith strip us naked of all vain conceit of our own righteousness, to the end it may lead us to the wardrobe of GOD there to be clad with the garment of the righteousness of CHRIST, which is able to cover our nakedness, and to present us holy, blameless, and undefiled before his father.

Before I leave the words of the Prophet HABAKKUK, let us yet again ponder the Emphatic word Behold, for by seeing and hearing some good lessons may be learned, Behold men who have leaned upon the staff of GOD in our own time, how peaceably have they concluded their days, with SIMEON [Luke 2] rejoicing that they had seen the salvation of GOD.  And on the other side men who have leaned to their own righteousness (albeit only in a part) what agony, & trouble of conscience have they found in their last battle, until they have forsaken all confidence in their own merits, and leaned only unto the merits of the passion of our sweet LORD and Saviour JESUS CHRIST.

The Papists in our COUNTRY for the most part have been like unto the fishes called Amphibia which can live both in the Sea and on the Land, but when any man approaches near to do them harm, they trust more to the sea than to the land; even so when the terrors of death begins to {64} shake our country people, then they leave confidence in their own merits, and betake themselves unto the deep Ocean sea of the mercies of GOD in JESUS CHRIST.

[ The Difference Between Justification and Sanctification ]

In the second head I promised to speak of the difference betwixt Justification & Sanctification, & betwixt the righteousness of the Law, and the Gospel.  Our Justification is a free forgiveness of our sins for CHRIST’s sake, and a free imputation of his righteousness to us. [Rom. 4; Psalm 32; Romans 8.]  Our Sanctification is an inherent holiness begun in us by the operation of GOD’s Spirit, to be a testimony that we are in CHRIST.  The not observing of the difference betwixt these two hath been, and as yet is the ground of great errours.  True it is, that these two gifts are freely bestowed upon us at one and the self-same time, yet are they distinct in order of causes, because Justification is the ground, from whence Sanctification as an effect doth flow,  And like as the stars called Pleiades or Vergiliæ, they do arise and manifest themselves unto the world all at one time: yet are they distinct stars, and Electra is not Alcinoe, nor Alcinoe Celeno, nor Celeno Maia, And the like may be spoken of the other three, whose apparition, and disparition, albeit it be inseparable, yet are they distinct stars: Even so Justification and Sanctification are inseparably linked together, yet are they two distinct gifts of GOD.  I will use yet another similitude for declaration of the same purpose.  If a sword be laid into the fire, until the metal thereof be fiery coloured, this sword at one time hath two powers, one to cut, and another to burn, yet is not cutting burning, nor burning cutting, but these two distinct powers are at one time inseparably in one subject: Even so are we at one and the selfsame time both justified and sanctified, yet are they still two different gifts of GOD.

Now the doctrine of Justification rightly taught is our chief encouragement to Sanctification, and on the other part the doctrine of Sanctification rightly taught, giveth unto us the greatest assurance of our Justification.  A man who is assured, that his sins are freely forgiven, that he is beloved of GOD in CHRIST, yea and that he hath put on CHRIST, as the Apostle speaketh, [Rom. 13.14,] he may with courage, and gladness address {65} himself to lead an holy life, being fully persuaded that GOD will accept of his willing obedience, albeit it cannot be perfect in all points, so long as we dwell in this sinful tabernacle.  And on the other side, when the spirit of sanctification worketh in our members, it is a token that we are incorporated into the stock of CHRIST by true faith.  For like as the spirit of man quickeneth no member that is cut off from his body, even so the spirit of CHRIST worketh not true sanctification in any person who is not made a member of Christ’s body by true justifying faith.  For this cause the Roman Church blames us undeservedly, as though by teaching that we are justified only by faith, we had impaired the zeal of the people in doing of good works.  To this I answer, that more credit is to be given to the holy Apostle PAUL, who was taught in all truth immediately by Christ himself, than to the calumnies of the adversaries of the doctrine of grace: for the Apostle exhorting the Romans to a godly conversation, he saith, I beseech you, brethren, for the mercies of God, that ye offer up your bodies an holy, lively and acceptable sacrifice to God, [Romans 12.1.]: and what mercies are those, I pray you, whereof the Apostle speaketh, but the mercies whereof he hath entreated in the former part of that Epistle, to wit, GOD hath freely elected us, he hath freely justified us, he hath freely sanctified us, and he shall freely in his appointed time glorify us.  Now in regard of all these mercies, let us endeavour to lead a holy conversation, as it becometh them who are partakers of so great mercies.  This holy exhortation could not have been drawn from a more pithy, more persuasive and moving ground.  Therefore we will walk in the footsteps of the holy Apostles, and continue still exhorting the people to lead an holy conversation in regard of the rich mercies of GOD in CHRIST, who hath freely elected them to eternal life, and freely justified them by faith in CHRIST alanerly. [only.]

Whereas they object, that experience itself testifieth, that people are not now so bent and ready to do good, as when the Roman doctrine was sounded in their ears, that we are justified partly by faith, and partly by works.  If by good works they mean works of superstition, such as leaving {66} in their legacies rents to sacrificing Priests for saying of soul Masses, we are glad that by the preaching of the Gospel superstition is somewhat abated, like as the great deluge of waters began by degrees to be diminished in the days of NOAH, and that by means of the wind, which the LORD sent forth to blow upon the waters. [Gen. 8.]  But if they mean by good works, such works as GOD hath commanded in his holy law, then I answer, that the faults of some people are not to be imputed to the doctrine of the Gospel, but to the corruption of man’s nature, continually repining against the known truth of GOD.  Likeas when RACHEL left her father’s house, and followed JACOB her husband, and the calling of GOD, and in the meantime she stole her father’s Idols, & with them polluted the house of JACOB.  Now who shall bear the blame of this fault? whether the holy calling of GOD, or JACOB the preacher of the LORD’s calling to his wives, or RACHEL, who followed not the calling of GOD aright?  Here I know every man will lay the blame upon RACHEL, because she left in outward appearance her father’s house, yet she left not the corrupt manners of her father’s house.  In like manner in our days, the festered manners of the people, are not to be imputed to the Gospel,neither to the true preachers of it: but to the corrupt nature of man taking occasion by the Law to work all kind of iniquity. [Rom. 7.8.]  And in like manner taking occasion by the Gospel to be more bent to evil doing than ever it was before: but let true Christians mark, that albeit the doctrine of Justification by faith only, were a thousand ways abused, yet because it is the holy Apostolic doctrine, and necessary unto eternal life, it must needs be preached, and believed of all the true disciples of CHRIST.

The Law and the Gospel go not so in hands together, as Justification and Sanctification does: but rather by the great providence of GOD the one standeth over against the other, and either of them pointeth out the finger to the other.  The Law is a pædagogue to CHRIST, [Gal. 3,] and pointeth out the finger to the Gospel, that in it we may find CHRIST, and in CHRIST Salvation.  The Gospel on the other part pointeth out the finger to the Law, not to find in keeping of it salvation (which {67} we have already found in CHRIST) but to testify our thankfulness to GOD, who hath freely forgiven us in CHRIST his son: for what better testimony of thankfulness can we render to GOD, than a voluntary obedience to his holy Commandments, according as CHRIST saith, If any man love me, he will keep my Commandments, and my Father will love him, and we will come and dwell with him. [John 14.23.]

It may be demanded, Can not the righteousness of the Law, & the Gospel be mixed together in the matter of our Justification?  The Apostle PAUL giveth a negative answer unto this question, [Rom. 7,] that like as one woman cannot lawfully have two husbands at one time, but when the first husband is dead, she may be lawfully coupled to another, who is living; Even so we cannot adhere to the righteousness of faith in CHRIST, until we give over the righteousness of the Law, because in the matter of Justification the Law is unto us like a dead husband, of whom we can receive no comfort: so dead is our nature, that the Law cannot quicken it, but we must be coupled to CHRIST as unto a living husband, who by the righteousness of faith shall bestow upon us that comfort, which the Law could not afford unto us.  And in this Allegory, let us consider, that the Law is called the first husband, not because it was anterior to the Gospel (for the Apostle PAUL proveth the contrary in his Epistle to the Galatians, [Gal. 3.17,]) but because a man naturally seeketh first help in his own works, and seeketh not help in CHRIST, until the time he be utterly denuded of all hope of the righteousness of the Law, that is, of the righteousness of his own works.

Surely ignorance is the mother of many errours, and they who seek righteousness in the Law, they are ignorant in many things.  First, they know not the right end, wherefore the Law was given, to wit, for transgression, that is, to manifest it, but not to wipe it away. [Gal. 3.19.]  Secondly, they know not the nature of the Law, that it is spiritual, to the perfection whereof carnal men cannot attain. [Rom. 7.14.]  Thirdly, they are ignorant of the strict condition of the legal Covenant, which binds up unto a full obedience of all things commanded in the Law. [Levit. 18.5.]  Fourthly, they are ignorant of the peril that insueth upon the seeking of the righteousness of the Law, that they cannot submit themselves to {68} the righteousness of GOD. [Rom. 10.3.]  When all these inconveniences do follow upon seeking justification by the Law, or by works, it were a wise course to seek righteousness where it may be found, that is to say, in faith, which coupleth us to CHRIST, whom the father hath given unto us to be our wisdom, our justification, our sanctification, and our redemption, [1 Cor. 1.30]: and let it not be said, that the fishers of Bosphorus Tracius in seeking fish, are wiser than we in seeking the salvation of our souls.  For they spread not out their nets in the shallow coast of Chalcedone, where no fish can be found, but in the deep coast of Byzantium, where abundance of fish are to be found: Even so, if we be wise, let us seek salvation where it may be found.

[ Whether Our Works Merit Good at the Hands of God ]

In the third head it is to be declared, that neither in our own works, neither in other men’s works (CHRIST’s works only excepted) can a saving power be found to work our salvation.  Our works are considered two manner of ways.  First, as they are before our regeneration altogether sinful, and no man doth affirm that such works can save us, either in whole or in part.  Secondly, as they are after our regeneration, and of these works much is spoken, namely, that Christ’s death is so meritorious, that by virtue of it he hath purchased a power to our works after regeneration, that they might merit good things at the hands of GOD.  To this I will return such an answer as Alamundarus prince of Saracens returned to the Eutychian Heretics sent by Severus to persuade him to their opinion.  To whom he replied, that strange things were lately come unto his ears, namely, that GABRIEL the Angel of GOD was dead.  When they answered, that was impossible, and repugnant to reason, that an Angel should die, Then the Prince subjoined, that like as they would not receive his information, because it was repugnant to reason: even so he would not receive their instructions, because they neither agreed with Scripture, nor yet with good reason.  In like manner I say to Papists, that their naked assertions not confirmed by testimonies of holy Scripture, are nothing to us, but we may lay them aside with as great liberty, as they are prodigal in alleging them. {69}

We will answer to such arguments as seem to be countenanced with some appearance of Scripture.  Now they say that the word μισθος frequently used in Scripture importeth the merit of our good works, because GOD vouchsafeth upon them a reward.  To this I answer, that if Scripture be conferred with Scripture, that same thing, which in one place is called μισθος, that is, a reward, in another place is called κληρονομια, that is, an heritage, in these words, Come ye blessed of my father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you, from the foundation of the world. [Matth. 25.34.]  When that thing, which properly is an inheritance is called a reward, it is spoken metaphorically, in respect it is given in the end of the world, as an hire is given to a servant in the end of the day.

The second argument proving the merit of men’s works, and consequently Justification by works in a part, is this, that some men in Scripture are called worthy, as when it is said to the Angel of the Church of Sardis, Thou hast a few names yet in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. [Rev. 3.4.]  To this I answer, the godly are called worthy, not in themselves, but in Christ, who hath made them Kings, and Priests unto GOD.  In themselves they are called unworthy, as when it is said, No man was found worthy to open and to read the book. [Rev. 4.12.]  And in another place it is said, that the afflictions of this present time are not worthy of the glory that is to be shewed unto us. [Rom. 8.18.]  Now it is known, that patient suffering of evil for Christ’s sake, is a degree of greater obedience, than willing doing of good, and if the suffering of the Saints be not worthy of the glory that is to be revealed, how much less can our doings be worthy of that glorious inheritance.

The third argument is taken from the nature of a conditional covenant bound up betwixt two parties, which do import that condition should be kept: but so it is, that GOD hath covenanted with such as live a godly life, that they shall dwell in the holy mountain of God, [Psalm 15]: therefore, by virtue of this Covenant men who lead a good life, are worthy to dwell in heaven.

To this I answer, that this covenant foresaid, is either Legal {70} or Evangelical: if it be Legal, we cannot fulfill the condition thereof, because the Law requireth a perfect obedience, which we cannot attain unto.  If it be an Evangelical covenant, the Mediator of the new covenant JESUS CHRIST is present at the covenant making: for whose sake I grant, that GOD promiseth unto us a dwelling place in heaven, and for his sake also he performeth his promise, & giveth unto us a resting place in his holy Mountain, and in all this have we no cause to rejoice in ourselves, but in the mercies of our GOD.  Concerning our satisfactions, whereby the Roman Church saith, That sins committed after baptism should be pardoned; this belongeth to another Treatise of Indulgences, and Satisfactions,—for the present I overpass this point of men’s merits with silence.

The Roman Church that Mistress of error hath not only learned us to lean upon our own merits, but also to lean upon the merits of other men, such as holy Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs, because some of them have not only fulfilled the Commandments of GOD, but also have done more than the Law of GOD commanded.  For example, the Law of GOD forbiddeth to commit adultery, fornication, and all kind of uncleanness, [Exod. 20]: but many of the Apostles, Prophets, & Martyrs, not only abstained from all kind of whoredom, but also from marriage, & such works are called in the Roman Church, works of supererogation: these do come into the treasure of the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ, and he is a dispensator of them, to such as have need.  O deepness of errours: forged by Satan, & repugnant unto itself.  If abstinence from marriage be a work of supererogation, then either must marriage, even in men having a spiritual calling, be counted a thing lawful and agreeable to GOD’s Law, or else the abstinence from it cannot be called a work of supererogation.  I grant that same fathers counted abstinence from marriage a work of Evangelical perfection, like as the selling of all their possessions, and distributing them to the poor, but it entered not in their hearts to call such works of Evangelical perfection, works of supererogation, to be sent to the treasures of the bishop of Rome, that he might be a dispensator of them to such as had need. {71}

But now, suppose that any such works had been in the Saints of GOD, how can they be imparted, and communicated to others?  Can the oil of the wise Virgins be distributed to the foolish Virgins? [Matth. 25.]  It cannot be, because it cannot suffice them both.  Likewise, when we compear before the Judge of the world, we must compear clad with the innocency of CHRIST, and not with the merits of his Saints: for the Apostle saith, Put on the Lord Jesus, [Rom. 13.14,] but he saith not, Put on the merits of the Saints.  Moreover, we must be acceptable as the holy Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs were acceptable, but so it is, that they were acceptable to GOD only in Christ, as the Apostle saith, If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just. [1 John 2.1.]  Here none exception is made of Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, but all must be acceptable to GOD for Christ’s sake allenarly [alone.]  Finally, the holy men of God when they die, they rest from their labours, and their works follow them.  If the souls of the holy fathers do go to heaven, to the bosom of ABRAHAM, to the paradise of GOD, how can we think that their works do go to the treasure of the bishop of Rome, except they would say, that the souls of all the holy fathers are gone to the treasure of the bishop of Rome also, and their works and merits following them, are altogether lighted in his treasure.  But lest I should anticipate the treatise of Indulgences, I refer all farther discourse unto the [its] own place.  Entreating the Lord Jesus of his unspeakable favour, to remove the misty cloud of ignorance from our souls, that our hearts be not transported from the love of the Creator, to the love of the creatures: but that we may seek salvation in Christ, in whom only it may be found: to whom be praise for ever.  A M E N.