Against Solifidianism: A Hackney Phalanx Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

In Barchester Towers, Trollope accurately captured over a century of Old High critique of 'Solifidianism' when he summarised Mr. Arabin’s sermon: "he taught them the great Christian doctrine of works and faith combined".  This critique stretched across the 'long' 18th century.  Waterland's A Summary View of the Doctrine of Justification - taking aim at "the Antinomian and Solifidian doctrines" - had declared, "we due care so to maintain the doctrine of faith, as not to exclude the necessity of good works".  Mant's 1812 Bampton Lectures, surveying the New Testament’s exhortations to good works and "practical righteousness", declared, "How different from these scriptural expositions of the terms of everlasting happiness, are the remonstrances and exhortations, addressed by the Solifidian to his hearers!". 

In a sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity - in A Course of Sermons, for the Lord's Day throughout the Year, Volume II (1817) - Joseph Holden Pott (associated with the Hackney Phalanx) demonstrated how (as Trollope indicated) this critique of Solifidianism found expression in the pulpit.  Preaching on verses from the Epistle of the day, 2 Corinthians 3:7-8, Pott emphasised that while justification was by grace alone, good works are "a real duty", necessary in those who have received the gift of justification:

Thus, for Christ's sake alone, and for his only merits, are the benefits bestowed. He paid the price. He laid the true ground of acceptance before God. He furnishes the sole plea, that shall abide in judgment in its own right, and redound to the benefit of others. But observe well, he who procured the blessing, and bestows it, requires the service: it is the known engagement of his covenant, the task of duty for his household. 

Thus is the obedience of the Christian candidate for life and glory, no free-will offering, no mere tribute of spontaneous gratitude, but a real duty, which is evermore required.

This requires - as the Prayer Book liturgy continually stated - "hearts ... set to obey thy commandments", "following the commandments of God", "obediently keep[ing] God's holy will and commandments:

But in order to shew more particularly how we stand affected also by the special word of testimony which the text conveys, and which relates to the rule of righteousness under every dispensation; that rule, the sum of which was written on the tables of the decalogue of old time, for the house of Israel; and which is confirmed to us by all the declarations and the precepts of our Lord and his Apostles, we have now to remark, that the same conclusions which were applicable to the Jewish people on this head, are applicable unto us . Thus the law of righteousness subsists still; it is coupled with the covenant of grace, as it was with every dispensation of religion. 

Turning to the Lord's teaching, Pott powerfully demonstrated how this call to walk in the way of the Commandments was integral to the Gospel:

That these things indeed are so, that the great rule of righteousness is not cancelled by the Gospel, we have our blessed Lord's repeated and distinct assurances in all his teaching. Thus, with respect to the perpetual obligations of the rule of righteousness on the hearts of Christians, our Lord declared that he came not to dissolve the law in this respect, but to confirm it, to enforce it with new motives and inducements, with quickening succours, with a requisite renewal of the heart for its performance, and with a call for service on our part, answerable to those great advantages, and inseparable from a state of trial  and a season of improvement. 

Who can forget those words of our Redeemer, "Think not I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil". And that we may not think that these assurances relate to that which was accomplished by our Lord himself, who was the true end of the Law and the Prophets, and who only wrought all righteousness, he adds, "Whosoever therefore shall break the least of these commandments" (accounting them to be of no force) "or shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” And what is the inference which our Lord draws in this place? Not that these things were for the old Israel only, but this, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven". In the same discourse, he thus presses and confirms the obligation of the law of God, and the former declarations of his will: "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets". 

Who can lose sight of our Lord's words, where he says so earnestly to his disciples, "If ye love me, keep my commandments". And again, "Not every one that saith, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father, which is in heaven". Thus also, when he reasoned with the young man, who demanded so distinctly, and without any fraudulent design or artful purpose, "What shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" The answer is, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments".

Justification itself being the gift of grace, the life of the justified must then bear the fruit of this in righteousness of life, following the Commandments.  Without the latter, we are left with the emptiness of Solifidianism, contrary to the Lord's teaching, being those who merely say "Lord, Lord":

These just reflections also follow with as clear a witness, that there remains no room for pride or boasting, for reliance on ourselves in all the work of our redemption; since on his own account, and before God, no man living shall be justified; the grant of pardon, grace, and life, becoming free to us, how ever richly purchased by the blood and merits of Christ Jesus. Thus also there is no room for carelessness of life, or for presuming confidence, without a suitable improvement of the gifts of grace; since the plain terms of the grant are coupled with it, and are distinctly set forth in our baptismal vow, in which we engage to forsake sin, to believe in all the articles of the Christian faith, to take Christ for our Saviour and our Lord, and to keep God's commandments with a real purpose and a true endeavour. To such candidates, and such only, is the promise of salvation made.

The sermon exemplifies the Old High critique of Solifidianism and its place in Anglican piety, holding together the wholesome doctrine that "we are justified by Faith only" with the New Testament's teaching, consistently set before us in the Prayer Book, on the necessity of good works. More than this, it points to a defining and attractive characteristic of traditional Anglican piety: that the life of faith is evidenced not through 'the Weird', not by means of dramatic experiences, but in the quiet, unremarkable rhythms of "a godly, righteous, and sober life".