Historical insights – Anselm alone

 


The History of Justification by Faith Alone up to the Reformation

Thomas R. Thompson

Monergism.com

In reading Church History it’s clear that apostasy happened early. Christians added onto the Gospel – “another gospel” was being taught, from leading a moral life, to being baptized, to believing the creeds, to maintaining unity with the Bishop of Rome. Only very recently have I learned that the Gospel of grace was absent for a long time. I thought it had to be there. But even the Waldensians didn’t include Faith Alone in their 12th century confession of faith; even the early reformer and martyr John Huss didn’t see this truth.

Anselm of Canterbury was a man who knew that we could not pay our debt of sin, and that only the Lord Jesus Christ, because He is both God and Man, could do this for us and did this for us. Hallelujah!

Man cannot pay the debt owed for his sins (c. 1050)

“Until Anselm of Canterbury it was rare for anyone to speak as if he understood that man has nothing to offer God in exchange for the forgiveness of sins. The dominant thought was being baptized, or performing some act of charity was sufficient to cancel sins committed. Anselm is his writing Why God became Man, explains why this is not possible. Anselm shows man has no capability to make satisfaction to God for even the smallest of his sins.

“Anselm starts by explaining what it means to sin, and how to make satisfaction for it. He notes all the thoughts and labors of a man ought to be subject to the will of God. This is the debt that all men owe to God, and it is sin to not give Him that. No one who pays this debt sins, and anyone who does not pay it sins. Should one sin against God, it is not enough to simply return what was taken. To make satisfaction one must return more than was taken. It is not enough for someone who has injured another to restore his original condition without giving some compensation for the pain and injury suffered. (Anselm, Why God became Man, Book 1, Ch. XI)

“When man sinned in the garden, and surrendered his will to the devil, he took from God whatever God planned for humanity. Therefore, according to strict justice in order to make satisfaction with God, man would need to conquer the devil to regain what was lost. Since man was conquered by the devil and stole what belonged to God, and God lost it, so by the fact of man conquering the devil, the devil loses and God regains it. In addition, man would also need to justify as many men as God had planned for the Heavenly City that was lost due to the fall. However, sinful man is incapable of this, because a sinner cannot justify another sinner. Therefore man has no capacity to merit any justice from God for the things he does. Anything man may consider offering to God is only giving to God what is already owed. (Anselm, Why God became Man, Book 1, Ch. XXIII)

“It would not be until 500 years later and Martin Luther, that many would understand the full weight of Anselm’s arguments. In the light of such convincing arguments, it makes previous church council matters on reinstating lapsed Christians and the like seem rather petty. Man has no ability to do penance for any of his sins, so it seems rather foolish to construct systems whereby satisfaction is made to God based on man’s so-called merits. If the church considered this bigger problem initially, they may not have invented so many things for one to do to obtain forgiveness of sins. They did not before Anselm, nor after him. As a result the church continues to develop its merits based salvational system, until the weight of this system brings about its own collapse.”

.