The Reformation Solas: Solus Christus

John Owen, in his “Greater Catechism” written for the adults within his parish of Fordham in Essex, asks concerning the Person of Jesus Christ (chap. 10, Q. 6), “Wherefore was our redeemer to be man?” His answer: “That the nature which had offended might suffer, and make satisfaction, and so he might be every way a fit and sufficient Saviour for men” (emphasis mine).[1]  His use of the word sufficient was a purposeful and explicit confession of the Reformation principle of Solus Christus, that Christ alone is our sufficient Savior; nothing else is needed but Christ for men to be made right with God. Hence Stephen Wellum more recently writes in his excellent book Christ Alone that “the Reformers’ main disagreement with Rome was their rejection of [Rome’s] sacramental theology, which they insisted undermined the sufficiency of Christ’s work.”[2]

In other words, what Solus Christus sought and still seeks to protect is the truth that the person and work of Jesus alone is the only sufficient ground of our being saved. Intimately tied to Sola Fide, that we are justified by faith alone, Solus Christus aims to protect the only object of that faith, namely, Jesus Christ. What Christ accomplished was a full salvation, as opposed to a partial salvation, and therefore He alone can be trusted. Roman Catholicism on the other hand understood (and still understands) the institution of the Roman Church to be the continued means of “incarnated” grace offered to all who might participate. Thus, what Christ secured was only the entrance into more grace which could be found in the Church alone. What’s needed, says Rome, is more merit given through the church’s sacraments. We believe in Jesus, yes, but we must also believe in His church through which his righteousness becomes infused; it really becomes my righteousness. Thus, it was the word “alone” in Christ alone which so perturbs the Roman Catholic church.

As the Lion of Princeton, B.B. Warfield, so beautifully put the matter, “The saving power of faith resides thus not in itself, but in the Almighty Saviour on whom it rests... It is not faith that saves, but faith in Jesus Christ… It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith or the attitude of faith or the nature of faith, but in the object of faith; and in this the whole biblical representation centres, so that we could not more radically misconceive it than by transferring to faith even the smallest fraction of that saving energy which is attributed in the Scriptures solely to Christ Himself.”[3]

In what ways is Christ alone a sufficient Savior? In three ways. He is a sufficient Savior in his atoning work on the cross. He is a sufficient Savior as our great High Priest. And he is a sufficient Savior as the ever-continuous source sanctifying grace.

The Sufficient Atonement of Christ

When Christ, just before dying, uttered the words “It is finished” he was confessing the definitive completion of his substitutionary atonement - that now, with his death, all the sins of all God’s elect were completely atoned for. Nothing else was needed because the perfect Lamb of God was the sufficient sacrifice. Paul, writing to Timothy, says that Christ is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5), and he can say this because Christ is “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15). As the author of Hebrews says later in chapter 10, “when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God… for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:12-14). What Jesus did in his death was sufficient to perfect any who might put their faith in him. Sola Fide; Solus Christus.

The Sufficient Priestly Work of Christ

The Scriptures of course present Jesus not only as the only sufficient sacrifice we need, but alos the only sufficient High Priest we need. He offered himself by himself; he was not a slain lamb only, but also our active high Priest. Thus, Hebrews again, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.” Why? “To make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17).  But the author continues his argument. “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb. 2:18-3:1). We are commanded to consider, look to, think upon Jesus who is our sufficient high priest.

The central point is that he alone is who we should be looking to, even now! “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).

The Sufficient Sanctifying Grace of Christ

John Owen, near the end of his meditations on The Glory of Christ, says that “the way whereby we may be made partakers of [present sanctifying] grace, is by a steady view of the glory of Christ.”[4] It is Jesus now, ascended high into glory and yet still our sympathetic priest, from whom we receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Here, the Apostle Paul is especially clear. Writing to the Galatian church who had begun to turn their eyes away from the sufficiency of Jesus and instead began trusting in their own continued effort for sanctification, Paul writes, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh” (Gal. 3:1-3)? It is by faith alone in Christ alone that we find true sanctifying grace. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon calls us to “Remember, sinner, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that is the instrument–it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not to thy hope, but to Christ, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Christ, the author and finisher of thy faith; and if thou doest that, ten thousand devils cannot throw thee down…”[5]

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.

 



[1] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 1: The Glory Of Christ (Banner of Truth, 2008), 479.

[2] Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus As Savior (Zondervan, 2017), 257.

[3] Benjamin B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 2: Biblical Doctrines (Baker, 2000), 504.

[4] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 1: The Glory Of Christ (Banner of Truth, 2008), 436.

[5] Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon (Banner of Truth), 42.