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Sola fide? Samuel Johnson and the Augustinian doctrine of salvation.

For over thirty years, Donald J. Greene has been championing the orthodoxy of eighteenth-century Anglicanism in response to the many scholars who have concluded that the beliefs of Samuel Johnson and his contemporaries deviate from the cardinal doctrines of classical Protestantism.(1) In reply to these scholars, who in his view "assault and vilify eighteenth-century Anglicanism,"(2) Greene has steadfastly maintained that the Christianity of Johnson and his contemporaries is best characterized as "Augustinian," that is to say, consistent with those teachings of St. Augustine on grace and human nature that were revived by Luther and Calvin and set forth as the theological basis of the Protestant Reformation.(3) Greene, for example, has asserted that the most prominent divines of the period "held firmly, as against what they believed to be Roman Catholic teaching, to the [Reformers'] doctrine that we are justified by grace through our faith"; that "the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the foundation of the whole edifice of Johnson's religion, as it was of eighteenth-century Anglicanism, and of Protestantism generally"; and that "there is no essential difference between the orthodox Anglicanism of the eighteenth century and that of the preceding century, the seventeenth, the century of Donne and Herbert and Andrewes, or that of the sixteenth, the century of Latimer and Hooker and Spenser."(4) In his Samuel Johnson, he asks, "What was 'orthodox' Christianity for Johnson?" The answer: "Augustinian" Christianity.(5)

I have attempted elsewhere to respond to Professor Greene's claims about the character of eighteenth-century Anglicanism;(6) in this essay I will respond to his claims about the character of Samuel Johnson's Anglicanism, specifically his assertions relating to Johnson's beliefs about Christian salvation. Is it true that Johnson was an Augustinian Christian and, therefore, that "the foundation of the whole edifice of [his] religion" was "the doctrine of justification by faith alone"? In order to find the answer, it will be necessary to reconstruct, from his writings and the records of his conversation, Johnson's understanding of the Christian doctrine of personal salvation.


One of Johnson's fundamental and most characteristic assumptions concerning Christian salvation is that it is offered not gratuitously but conditionally. True, Christ's sacrifice has merited salvation, but only for those who fulfill the conditions under which it is offered. As Jean Hagstrum pointed out many years ago, this "belief in conditional salvation" constitutes one of the "main features" of Johnson's Christianity.(7) In Sermon 28, for example, Johnson warns Christians against falsely presuming that they can depend only on the merits of Christ; they still must perform certain conditions, or terms, if they wish to be saved: "Yet let us likewise be careful, lest an erroneous opinion of the all-sufficiency of our Saviour's merits lull us into carelessness and security. His merits are indeed all-sufficient! But he has prescribed the terms on which they are to operate."(8)

Certainly it was Johnson's belief in the contingency of salvation that provided the rational basis--whatever the irrational sources--for his much-discussed fear of death.(9) In remarks made to Boswell in May of 1784, he acknowledges that there are some Christians who do not fear death, because they believe that salvation does not depend on moral effort. But, "Others," he says, "and those the most rational in my opinion, look upon salvation as conditional; and as they never can be sure that they have complied with the conditions, they are afraid."(10) In June of the same year, Johnson again makes this point--only this time in reference to himself--in a memorable conversation with his old friend Dr. Adams:

JOHNSON. '... [A]s I cannot be sure that I have fulfilled the conditions on which salvation is granted, I am afraid I may be one of those who shall be damned.' (looking dismally.) DR. ADAMS. 'What do you mean by damned?' JOHNSON. (passionately and loudly) 'Sent to Hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly.'(11)

Though Johnson does not always discuss the conditions of salvation in the same language, with the same emphasis, or with the same degree of specificity, in written discourse he usually names them as "faith," "obedience," and "repentance," all of which are typical eighteenth-century designations.(12) In Sermon 9, for instance, he states that "[t]he terms, upon which we are to hope for any benefits from the merits of Christ, are faith, repentance, and subsequent obedience" (104). And in Sermon 28, he names the same three conditions: "Salvation is promised to us Christians, on the terms of faith, obedience, and repentance. I shall therefore endeavor to shew, how ... we may exert faith, perform obedience, and exercise repentance, in a manner which our heavenly Father may, in his infinite mercy, vouchsafe to accept" (303).


By faith, the first of the three conditions, Johnson seems to mean primarily a firm belief in the cardinal doctrines of Christianity. At least, this is the understanding of faith expressed in his formal definitions of the word. In Sermon 28, for instance, faith is defined as a full and undoubting confidence in the declarations made by God in the Holy Scriptures, a sincere reception of the doctrines taught by our blessed Saviour, with a firm assurance that he died to take away the sins of the world, and that we have, each of us, a part in the boundless benefits of the universal sacrifice. (303-4) And the first definition of faith in the Dictionary is simply "[b]elief of the revealed truths of religion." This notion of faith, moreover, can also be found in several of Johnson's infrequent discussions of the topic in the sermons. In Sermon 7, for example, a "well-grounded belief" is equated with "a firm and settled persuasion of the fundamental articles of our religion." The person who lacks faith is "[a] mind restless and undetermined, continually fluctuating betwixt various opinions, always in pursuit of some better scheme of duties, and more eligible system of faith, eager to embrace every new doctrine, and adopt the notions of every pretender to extraordinary light" (83). In Sermon 28, the truths listed as the proper objects of faith include all of divine revelation: "the declarations made by God in the Holy Scriptures.... the doctrines taught by our blessed Saviour" (303-4). But some of these truths and doctrines are of course more important than others. In this sermon, Johnson gives prominence to the doctrine of the Atonement, the notion that redemption was made possible by Christ's sacrificial death on the cross. Thus, faith means especialy the belief "that [Christ] died to take away the sins of the world, and that we have, each of us, a part in the boundless benefits of the universal sacrifice" (303-4). And in an Easter prayer of 1778, he asks for increase of "faith in [Christ's] merits."(13) Sermon 22 contains a brief list of truths to be believed, and again, the Atonement figures prominently among them: "We must then endeavour to invigorate our faith by returning frequently to meditate upon the objects of it, our creation, our redemption, the means of grace, and the hope of glory" (235).

It is not the Atonement, however, but the last item in this list which Johnson seems to consider the most important object of faith. For the "hope of glory" or the doctrine of immortality, with its plain implication of future rewards and punishments, is for Johnson a cardinal, if not the cardinal, tenet of the Christian religion. Boswell once remarked to Johnson that "the great article of Christianity is the revelation of immortality." And Johnson, Boswell records, "admitted it was."(14) In Sermon 25, Johnson singles out the "doctrine of futurity" as the pre-eminent feature of the Christian revelation: "To bring life and immortality to light, to give such proofs of our future existence, as may influence the most narrow mind, and fill the most capacious intellect, to open prospects beyond the grave ... is the peculiar excellence of the gospel of Christ" (265). Only in light of this close identification of faith with the "doctrine of futurity" does a statement like the following begin to make sense: The opinion of a learned Bishop of our acquaintance, as to there being merit in religious faith, being mentioned;--JOHNSON. 'Why, yes, Sir, the most licentious man, were hell open before him, would not take the most beautiful strumpet to his arms. We must, as the Apostle says, live by faith, not by sight.'(15) In other words, faith has "merit" because it makes hell a present reality for the believer and thus acts as a deterrent to vice.

Although Johnson seems to have conceived of faith mainly as intellectual assent to the truths of Christianity, the idea of faith as simply trust in God is not entirely lacking from his religious thought. In fact, the third definition of faith in the Dictionary is "[t]rust in God," and the following sentence of Swift is cited in illustration: "Faith is an entire dependence upon the truth, the power, the justice, and the mercy of God; which dependence will certainly incline us to obey him in all things." Johnson further expands this understanding of faith in Sermon 14, which expounds the text "Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee" (Isaiah 26:3). "Trust," writes Johnson, implies a kind of resignation to the honesty, or abilities of another. Thus we trust a physician, when we obey his directions without knowing, or asking, the particular reasons for the methods which he enjoins.... Thus we trust a patron when we serve him with diligence, without any other certainty of a reward than what our confidence in his generosity affords us.

Though these examples of trust are similar in kind to trust in God, they differ greatly in degree:

These instances may give us some idea of that trust which we ought to repose in God, but an idea, in the utmost degree, gross and inadequate. Our trust in God ought to differ from every other trust, as infinity differs from an atom. It ought to transcend every other degree of confidence, as its object is exalted above every degree of created excellence. (155)

However, this understanding of faith as trust in God does not seem to be quite as personal or experiential an understnding of faith as one might at first assume. For the object of trust is not so much God himself as his attributes. We trust God, says Johnson, because "[w]e know ... that he is infinite in wisdom, in power, and in goodness ... because he is omniscient ... because he is almighty" (155). And we presumably derive our knowledge of these qualities from the same sources from which we derive other divine truths: from revelation and from reason. There is little room in Johnson's religious thought for any direct, personal experience of God. In other words, Johnson's conception of faith as trust in God is not totally distinct from his conception of faith as assent to divinely-revealed truths about God.

What concerns Johnson most about faith, however, is not its definition but its effects. In fact, faith's necessity for salvation in the Johnsonian scheme seems to derive not from what it is but from what it does. And what faith does is produce obedience. Faith that does not produce obedience is not true faith and, consequently, does not fulfill the condition. In Sermon 23, Johnson underscores the worthlessness of unproductive faith when he asserts that those whose faith does not bring forth good works will be consigned to everlasting flames:

Those who contented themselves with believing, and professing Christianity, without obeying its precepts; those, who while they call the great Authour of our faith, the Lord, their Master, and their God, and yet neglect his precepts and work iniquity, will be rejected by him at the last day, as those whom he has never known; those to whom his regard never was extended; and, notwithstanding the confidence with which they may claim his intercession, will not be distinguished by any favour from other sinners. (156)

How does faith produce obedience? By providing motives powerful enough to compel sinful men to virtue. And it provides these motives by calling to mind those aspects of the doctrines believed which most arouse hope and fear. Faith in the Atonement, for example, inspires hope because it reminds Christians that God is merciful, that the price of salvation has been paid, and that sins may be forgiven. But as an illustration of God's great hatred of sin, it can also inspire fear.(16) And as I have already indicated, faith in the reality of heaven and hell is especially effective because it arouses fear of punishment as well as hope of reward. But even faith understood as trust in God will have a similar effect, since God's attributes as moral governor of the universe -- justice, power, omniscience, mercy, etc. -- imply that he has both the power and the intention to punish and reward.

Despite the ability of faith to engender good works, the relative infrequency of references to faith in his works and conversation seems to suggest that Johnson does not accord this condition a status in his scheme of salvation equal to that of obedience and repentance. The Life, for example, contains only one statement regarding faith (quoted above). "Virtue," by comparison, has nine citations in the index. And though the Life does include a Johnsonian pronouncement on the conditions of salvation, this pronouncement -- significantly -- does not contain any mention of faith: MRS. KNOWLES. 'The Scriptures tell us, "The righteous shall have hope in his death."' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Madam; that is, he shall not have despair. But, consider, his hope of salvation must be founded on the terms on which is promised that the mediation of our SAVIOUR shall be applied to us, -- namely, obedience; and where obedience has failed, then, as suppletory to it, repentance.'(17) In the periodical essays, Johnson never discusses faith per se, though a handful of them explicitly treat religious subjects and though one Rambler (no. 110) is entirely devoted to the topic of repentance. Most of the references to faith occur in the sermons, yet even these are remarkably few, with only two sermons, 14 and 28, containing any substantial discussion. And in Johnson's prayers and diaries, where obedience and repentance are a constant theme, I can find no more than eighteen repetitions of the word "faith" or its synonyms.(18)

Not only does Johnson place less emphasis on faith than he does on obedience and repentance; he also blurs the distinction between faith and obedience when he refers to beliveing as a moral act. Like the author of The Whole Duty of Man, Johnson refers to faith in Sermon 14 as a "duty," which is performed out of obedience to a divine "precept" (149). And faith is defined in the Dictionary not only as "obligation" but also as "acts ... required by religion or morality" and as simply "obedience." Thus faith, the cause of obedience, is also considered an act of obedience, a virtue, a good work. It is not so remarkable, then, that in his conversation with Mrs. Knowles Johnson neglects to mention faith as a condition of salvation: it is implied by "obedience."


It is not faith but obedience that receives the heaviest emphasis in the Johnsonian scheme of salvation. The performance, in obedience to divine law, of virtuous or morally commendable acts (traditionally called "good works") is for Johnson the very essence of religion and the proximate cause of salvation. The definition of "religion" in the Dictionary is "[v]irtue, as founded upon reverence of God, and expectation of future rewards and punishments." In Idler no. 43, man's task in life is to "advance himself to a higher and happier state of existence, by unremitted vigilance of caution, and activity of virtue."(19) In Sermon 5, Johnson asserts that tranquility can be found only by the man who realizes that he is "a being sent into the world only to secure immortal happiness by his obedience to those laws which he has received from his Creatour" (63). Rambler no. 7 designates "the perpetual renovation of the motives of virtue" as "the end for which all the rites of religion seem to be instituted."(20) And in Sermon 3, the salvific necessity of good works is forcefully asserted: The Bible tells us, in plain and authoritative terms, that there is a way to life, and a way to death; that there are acts which God will reward, and acts that he will punish. That with soberness, righteousness, and godliness, God will be pleased; and that with intemperance, iniquity, and impiety, God will be offended; and that of those who are careful to please him, the reward will be such, as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; and of those who, having offended him, die without repentance, the punishment will be inconceivably severe, and dreadful. (29-30) Clearly, these statements reflect a simple and historically rather common understanding of the Christian doctrine of salvation: God grants eternal life to those whose lives fulfill his precepts and commandments.

But it is here, however, that a contradiction seems to arise. As Donald Greene has pointed out, Johnson, like many Anglican divines of the period, believes man to be inherently weak, sinful, and depraved.(21) And nowhere does he assert that human works have any intrinsic value ("merit") that deserves God's favor. Yet the eternal destiny of this fallen creature seems to be dependent in large part upon his fulfillment of divine laws and precepts, which are by nature perfect. Does God, then, expect sinful beings to attain the perfection of divine righteousness?

Johnson answers this question in the same way as did many of his contemporaries -- by asserting that the demands of divine righteousness have been mitigated. So although it is true that our salvation hinges chiefly on obedience, it is not true that our obedience need be perfect. God in his mercy requires only that we do our best, and he graciously accepts our "best endeavors" as if they were truly meritorious.(22) Given man's natural depravity, it would be quite unreasonable for God to do otherwise. Indeed, as Johnson points out in Sermon 2, reason itself tells us that if God did insist on perfect obedience, human worship would be vain: If God were a power unmerciful and severe, a rigid exacter of unvaried regularity and unfailing virtue; if he were not to be pleased but with perfection, nor to be pacified after transgressions and offences; in vain would the best men endeavour to recommend themselves to his favour; in vain would the most circumspect watch the motions of his own heart, and the most diligent apply himself to the exercise of virtue.... God would not be to be served, because all service would be rejected. (18) God in his mercy therefore requires only sincere obedience. As long as the attempts to obey him are heartfelt and earnest, he will overlook the inevitable shortcomings. This kind of God, writes Johnson, is not vainly worshipped: It is reasonable, that we should endeavour to please him, because we know that every sincere endeavour will be rewarded by him; that we should use all the means in our power, to enlighten our minds, and regulate our lives, because ... our conduct, though not exactly agreeable to the divine ideas of rectitude ... will not be condemned by that God, who judges of the heart, weighs every circumstance of our lives, and admits every real extenuation of our feelings and transgressions. (19) Moreover, this condescension on God's part, this concession to human frailty, is seen as a major benefit of the Atonement. "[T]he blood of Christ," writes Johnson in Sermon 6, "was poured out upon the cross to make [our] best endeavours acceptable to God" (72).(23)


Repentance -- the third condition -- can be viewed as an extension of this divine leniency. Even though the believer can be assured that God will automatically overlook his errors and shortcomings as long as they are unintentional, some provision must also be made for deliberate "transgressions and offences." Repentance supplies this need. Thus, as Johnson explains in Sermon 2, even "those that have polluted themselves with studied and premeditated wickedness" are "not for ever excluded from his favour." For repentance gives them "means by which pardon may be obtained, and by which they may be restored to those hopes of happiness, from which they have fallen by their own fault" (19). Without the benefit of repentance, men could only languish hopelessly in their sins, and the "progress of life could only [be] the natural descent of negligent despair from crime to crime."(24)

The Dictionary defines repentance in its religious sense as "[s]orrow for sin, such as produces newness of life; penitence." Johnson, however, ordinarily emphasizes reform over contrition in the practice of repentance. Sorrow is a necessary constituent, but the sinner (to quote Sermon 2), "is only to expect mercy upon his reformation. For reformation is the chief part of repentance; not he that only bewails and confesses, but he that forsakes his sins, repents acceptably to God" (21). Rambler no. 110 stresses a similar point: "'Repentance is the relinquishment of any practice, from the conviction that it has offended God.' Sorrow, and fear, and anxiety, are properly not parts, but adjuncts of repentance."(25)

The mere intention of reforming is sufficient only when the time or opportunity for reformation is denied. Such is the situation addressed in Sermon 28. Preached by the soon-to-be-hanged Dr. William Dodd before other prisoners at Newgate, this sermon promotes repentance with a gallows urgency. Because of the lack of time remaining for reformation, in this case intention alone does suffice: "God will consider that life as amended, which would have been amended if he had spared it. Repentance in the sight of man, even of the penitent, is not known but by its fruits: but our Creator sees the fruit, in the blossom, or the seed" (308). This understanding of repentance is of course the exception, not the rule.

Repentance, if done properly, has wonderful efficacy, bringing forgiveness, reconciliation, and renewed hope of eternal blessedness. Even a lifelong, habitual course of sin will not condemn someone who repents in time, as Johnson asserts in Sermon 22:

Yet shall no man be excluded from future happiness ... even by long habits, of intemperance, or extortion. Repentance and new life will efface his crimes, reinstate him in the favour of his judge, restore him to those promises which he has forfeited, and open the paths to eternal happiness. (232) Indeed, so efficacious is repentance that a person killed while committing a crime can be saved if he truly repents:

BOSWELL. 'When a man is the aggressor, and by ill-usage forces on a duel in which he is killed, have we not little ground to hope that he is gone into a state of happiness?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, we are not to judge determinately of the state in which a man leaves this life. He may in a moment have repented effectually, and it is possible may have been accepted by GOD.'(26)

But this belief necessarily implies another less consoling idea: the failure to repent can condemn a sinner to eternal punishment. For repentance is not just one way of abolishing past sin; it is the only way. Hence its necessity for salvation. By postponing repentance, a sinner commits a damning error, a "folly," according to Johnson (in Rambler no. 71), "which sets eternity to hazard."(27)

That Johnson himself felt strongly both the efficacy and necessity of the third condition is especially indicated by its dominance as a theme throughout his prayers and meditations. (It should also be noted that he devoted three sermons and one Rambler to the topic.) The majority of his prayers, for instance, contain a plea for assistance in repenting. The birthday prayer of 1758 is typical: Almighty and most merciful Father, who yet sparest, and yet supportest me, who supportest me in my weakness, and sparest me in my sins, ... enable me to improve the time which is yet before me to thy glory and my own salvation. Impress upon my soul such repentance of the days mispent in idleness and folly, that I may henceforward diligently attend to the business of my station in this world, and to all the duties which thou hast commanded.(28) The focus here is also typical -- not on contrition but on amendment of life. If sorrow is mentioned, it is usually in an appeal that it might be productive of reformation, as in this prayer of 1754: "Almighty God vouchsafe to sanctify unto me the reflections and resolutions of this day, let not my sorrow be unprofitable; let not my resolutions be vain. Grant that my grief may produce true repentance."(29)

As this quotation also indicates, Johnson's famous resolutions, so often made and so often broken, cannot really be understood apart from his practice of repentance. True contrition brings forth resolutions, which in turn ought to bring forth amendment. "I am sorrowful, O Lord," writes Johnson on the anniversary of his mother's death, "let not my sorrow be without fruit. Let it be followed by holy resolutions and lasting amendment."(30)

Finally, it should be noted that as important as is repentance in the Johnsonian understanding of salvation, it nevertheless occupies a subordinate position in relation to obedience. As Johnson told Mrs. Knowles, the terms of salvation are first of all obedience, and "where obedience has failed, then, as suppletory to it, repentance" (emphasis mine).(31) And not only is repentance subordinate to obedience, it is, to some degree, itself a form of obedience. First of all, if repentance consists chiefly of reformation or amendment -- as Johnson seems to think -- then repentance could also be defined simply as the resumption of obedience. Of course, repentance has other elements, but the return to obedience seems paramount. Second, Johnson describes repentance, like faith, as a duty -- in other words, as an act of religious obligation.(32)


That it is possible to be saved by fulfilling the three conditions presupposes that certain provisions have been made for human sinfulness or depravity. In Johnson's view, these provisions have been made by Christ's atoning death on the cross.(33) Without Christ's satisfaction for sin, salvation would not be possible. Human sin required a "propitiation," which, among other things, compensated for "the imperfections of our obedience, and the inefficacy of our repentance."(34) It is Christ's "merits" which supply "what is deficient in our endeavours," allowing God to accept imperfect instead of perfect obedience.(35) But while the Atonement makes man's good works acceptable to God, it is grace that gives sinful man the inclination and the power to perform them.

By grace in the religious sense, Johnson almost always signifies divine assistance in the form of direct influence or inspiration, what in Roman Catholic theology is called "actual grace."(36) (To my knowledge, he never uses grace in the typically Protestant sense of "the free and unmerited favour of God" [OED].) Grace gives the Christian both the desire and the power to obey God, and indeed, no good work is possible without divine assistance. In his Easter Eve prayer of 1757, Johnson prays for "that grace without which I can neither will nor do what is acceptable to thee."(37) "By ... Grace whatever I have thought or acted acceptable to thee," runs a prayer of 1750, "has been inspired and directed."(38) Grace is especially needed for the exercise of repentance, as Johnson asserts in Sermon 2:

But as this reformation is not to be accomplished by our own natural power, unassisted by God, we must, when we form our first resolution of a new life, apply ourselves, with fervour and constancy, to those means which God has prescribed for obtaining his assistance.(24)(39)

And as this statement suggests, divine aid does not come unbidden to the believer; it must be sought for, chiefly in prayer but also in the Eucharist, which imparts "the supernatural and extraordinary influences of grace."(40) Thus, in the next sentence, Johnson specifies the "means which God has prescribed" as "frequent prayer" and "the holy sacrament" (24). The acquisition of grace, furthermore, requires extraordinary exertion -- not only the "fervour and constancy" of application mentioned above, but, according to Sermon 9, "our utmost natural powers." For in the bestowing of grace, "God only co-operates with the diligent and the watchful" (101). In short, grace is not given freely and unconditionally; it is given in response to human effort.


Reduced to its barest essentials, then, Samuel Johnson's conception of what is required on man's part for salvation can be expressed in a single sentence: Only that person can be saved who with God's help performs the conditions of salvation to the best of his ability. As I have tried to show, fulfilling this requirement means striving to live virtuously in obedience to divine and human laws, striving to believe the essential doctrines of Christianity, and, when one falls short, striving to bring forth an amendment of life out of sorrow for sin. Doing what is necessary for salvation, however, does not mean that Christians must believe, obey, and repent perfectly; they must only strive to do their best, with the assurance that divine grace is available to assist their efforts.

It is evident, furthermore, that this understanding of how salvation is attained by man is consistent with the theology of salvation that prevailed in eighteenth-century Anglicanism.(41) In fact, I think it is safe to assert that there is no idea in Johnson's theology of salvation that cannot readily be found in the writings of those divines who seem to have exercised the most influence during the period, divines such as Tillotson, Clarke, Nelson, Gibson, Law, or the author of The Whole Duty of Man, to name a few. Like them, Johnson believes that salvation is a posthumous condition, not in any way a present event; that God gives it conditionally, not gratuitously; that the essential condition of salvation is doing one's best to obey God; and that man cannot save himself, but must depend upon divine mercy and grace. Moreover, Johnson's understanding of fundamental religious ideas like faith, repentance, and grace seems indistinguishable from the understanding prevalent in conventional Anglicanism of the eighteenth century. Indeed, had Johnson made a conscious effort to be orthodox (and it is likely he did), he could scarcely have been more successful.

However, the orthodoxy of eighteenth-century Anglicanism does not seem to bear much resemblance to the Augustinian orthodoxy of the Protestant Reformation. In fact, its major emphases appear to be in such direct conflict with the Reformers' doctrine of salvation that if "Protestant" is used strictly to denote adherents of the central doctrines of the Reformation, neither Johnson nor any other typical eighteenth-century Anglican seems worthy of that designation.(42) It is this idea -- that the Anglicanism of the eighteenth century deviates from the Anglicanism of the Reformation -- that Donald Greene has contested so vehemently, and so often.(43)

Though I and others have responded to Greene's assertions about eighteenth-century Anglicanism,(44) no one has undertaken a thorough response to his claims about Johnson's Anglicanism, especially his assertion that the Augustinian doctrine of justification by faith alone was "the foundation of the whole edifice of Johnson's religion."(45)


As John Dillenberger has pointed out, the doctrine of justification by faith alone expresses "the central meaning of the [Protestant] Reformation."(46) Luther's recovery of this Pauline doctrine became the principal part of the Reformers' protest against the Roman Catholic interpretation of the Christian message of salvation. The doctrine had its origin in Luther's personal experience of guilt, anger, and despair, stemming from his inability to live up to the "counsels of perfection" required of a Roman Catholic monk. He eventually found liberation in St. Paul's doctrine that "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Rom. 3:28). And when he compared Paul's teaching with the theology and practice of the Church, he concluded that the Church erred by stressing the necessity of good works for salvation. As Luther and his followers demanded that the Church reform its theology and practice, "justification by faith alone" (sola fide) became their rallying cry. The doctrine was preached by all the Reformers--not only by Luther and Calvin, but by Melanchthon, Bucer, and Zwingli and in England by Cranmer, Latimer, and Tyndale.(47) Its classic formulation can be found in the Augsburg Confession of 1530: "Men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake through faith."

The key concept in the doctrine of faith alone is the idea of grace, which in this context means the free and unmerited favor of God. According to Paul Tillich, "The phrase should not be 'by faith alone' but 'by grace alone, received through faith alone.'"(48) Justification -- the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of righteousness -- is the unconditional gift of God, received by means of faith only. It cannot be earned or merited by man. In fact, to imply that justification is contingent at all upon man's "good works" is to deny the gracious or unconditional nature of the gift. Moral and pious acts, then, whether performed before or after justification, are useless for salvation. They cannot pay for sin or make the sinner righteous in God's eyes. As stated in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England, "Works done before the grace of Christ ... are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace" (Article 13). And "good works, which ... follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment" (Article 12).

Faith, furthermore, must not be understood as a good work itself, a human act which causes justification. As Tillich points out, the Reformers thought of faith only as a channel for justification: Faith is by no means the cause [of justification], but only the channel....If faith is a human work which makes us acceptable to God, and if this human work is the basis or cause of salvation, then we can never be certain of our salvation in the sense in which Luther sought for certainty when he asked the question, "How do I find a merciful God?" Therefore, whenever you are dealing with Protestant theology, dismiss forever this distortion of faith ... which sees faith as a cause instead of a channel. Luther made this clear repeatedly when he said that faith is always receiving and only receiving; it does not produce anything. Certainly it does not produce the good will of God.(49)

The Anglican Homily "Of the Salvation of Mankind," attributed to Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), makes the same distinction: That we are "justified freely by faith in Christ only" does not mean that "this our own act, to believe in Christ, or this our faith in Christ, which is within us, doth justify us, and deserve our justification unto us -- for that were to count ourselves to be justified by some act or virtue that is within ourselves."(50)

Though no human act can merit justification, the justified sinner will, theoretically, still perform good works. Indeed, good works are the necessary manifestation of an authentic faith in Christ. In "Dr. Johnson's 'Late Conversion': A Reconsideration," Donald Greene accurately describes the relationship that exists between "justifying faith" and good works: Faith and faith alone, is the one essential, on the part of the human individual, to justification; works without faith are useless. Nevertheless, true faith will necessarily bring forth good works; a profession of faith which is not followed by good works is necessarily a false one -- "faith" without works cannot be faith.(51)

True faith will bring forth good works because the Christian desires to obey God. For the doctrine of justification by faith places morality on a psychological foundation entirely different from that of the doctrine of conditional salvation. According to the doctrine of justification by faith, the Christian's desire to obey God stems not from fear or hope but from gratitude and love. Since he has already been justified freely, he has nothing to gain by his obedience nor to lose by his disobedience. This is what Luther meant by the "freedom of a Christian": "A Christian has no need of any work or law in order to be saved since through faith he is free from every law and does everything out of pure liberty and freely. He seeks neither benefit nor salvation since he already abounds in all things and is saved through the grace of God...."(52)


Clearly, one would be hard pressed to reconcile the Reformers' doctrine of justification with the Johnsonian way of salvation as described in this essay. First of all, there is no place in Johnson's scheme of salvation even for the concept of justification. In fact, the word is entirely absent from his religious vocabulary. To be justified means that the sinner is forgiven and considered righteous by God in this life. Hence justification is usually thought of as the first stage in the process of salvation. But for Johnson, salvation by definition is not a process; it is a posthumous condition, synonymous with heaven or eternal happiness. If there be any justification for the sinner, it would have to occur after death. And Johnson never asserts that even in heaven will men be considered righteous. Furthermore, in Johnson's theology, the pragmatic function of heaven and hell is essential. The hope of salvation and its converse, the fear of damnation, provide the incentives so necessary to fulfill the moral purpose of Christianity. Therefore, the Reformers' idea that salvation begins in this life, that men are forgiven and counted righteous before death, contradicts one of the cardinal doctrines of eighteenth-century Anglicanism -- the doctrine of eternal rewards and punishments.(53)

Just as foreign to Johnson's religious thought is the notion of grace as employed in the Reformation doctrine. As I have pointed out, grace for Johnson almost always signifies divine assistance. The classic Protestant idea of grace as divine favor freely bestowed appears to be entirely absent from his religious thought. However, given Johnson's conception of how salvation is attained by man, this absence would seem to be inevitable. In Johnson's view, salvation is not the free gift of God, received by passive faith only; it is a promise that can only be realized by those who fulfill the conditions under which it is offered. Salvation is "by grace" only in the sense that man's performance of the conditions is assisted by God, and even that assistance is partially predicated upon human effort.

Third, the Reformers insist that faith alone is sufficient for salvation. Johnson, however, makes salvation contingent not only upon faith but upon obedience and repentance. For Luther and Calvin, faith means essentially the reception of justification. Faith has no moral value, and what value it does have derives from its object -- Christ. For Johnson, on the other hand, faith clearly has some moral worth, and its object is not so much the person of Christ as it is revealed truths.

Fourth, while the doctrine of justification by faith alone denies all salvific importance to good works, Johnson unashamedly asserts that the final acceptance with God is contingent upon moral effort. Not only is obedience the most important condition, but faith and repentance can be understood as forms of obedience.

Furthermore, and despite Greene's assertions to the contrary, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was decidedly not the "foundation" of eighteenth-century Anglicanism. And Johnson would have been far more remarkable for believing than for disbelieving it. Though Greene is correct in stating that the doctrine was preached by the English Reformers and that it remains enshrined in the Book of Homilies and in the Thirty-Nine Articles, a tradition of ignoring it or explaining it away was thoroughly established in the English Church well before Johnson's era.(54) In his exposition of Article 12 (Of the Justification of Man), for instance, Gilbert Burnet explains that the faith which justifies "is not a bare believing, such as devils are capable of, but such a believing as exerted itself in good works."(55) Robert South also takes obedience to be an intrinsic part of justifying faith: But because the poison of this opinion [that justification is by faith alone] does so easily enter, and so strangely intoxicate, I shall presume to give an antidote against it in this one observation, namely, that all along the scripture, where justification is ascribed to faith alone, there the word faith is still used by a metonymy of the antecedent for the consequent, and does not signify abstractedly a mere persuasion, but the obedience of an holy life performed in the strength and virtue of such a persuasion.(56) And Samuel Clarke, one of Johnson's favorite divines, makes a similar point: "When St. Paul says we are justified by faith without the deeds of the law, he must be understood to mean by faith, not a bare speculative belief, but such belief and moral obedience to the commands of the gospel, as are opposed to the ceremonial works of the Mosaic law."(57)

Again, for the typical eighteenth-century Anglican, it is not faith but the moral quality of a person's life that determines one's relationship to God. "As to our acceptance with God," writes Tillotson, "... that which maketh the difference, is obeying the truth, or obeying unrighteousness; working good, or doing evil; these are the things which will avail to our justification or condemnation, at the great day."(58) Most orthodox divines would have agreed wholeheartedly with this statement of Bishop Burnet: "[I]ndeed a greater disparagement to the Christian religion cannot be imagined, than to propose the hopes of God's mercy and pardon barely upon believing, without a life suitable to the rules it gives us."(59)

The only Anglicans that appear to have maintained the doctrine were the much-abused "Methodists," who viewed the good news of salvation by faith alone as their primary message. According to John Wesley, "'[W]hosoever believeth on him shall be saved,' is, and must be, the foundation of all our preaching; that is, must be preached first."(60) Thus the title placed first in Wesley's collected sermons is "Salvation by Faith." In this sermon, an exposition of Ephesians 2:8-9, he sets forth the Pauline doctrine in true evangelical fashion (which clearly bears little resemblance to Johnson's typical discourse on faith and works): "For, by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves." Of yourselves cometh neither your faith nor your salvation: "It is the gift of God;" the free, undeserved gift; the faith through which ye are saved, as well as the salvation, which he of his own good pleasure, his mere favour, annexes thereto.... "Not of works, lest any man should boast." For all our works, all our righteousness, which were before our believing, merited nothing of God but condemnation: So far were they from deserving faith, which therefore, whenever given is not of works. Neither is salvation of the works we do when we believe: For it is then God that worketh in us.(61) But as far as I know, no one has ever claimed that Johnson was a disciple of Wesley or Whitefield.(62)

Finally, one is compelled to ask how Donald Greene has reached conclusions so contradictory to the apparent facts of Johnsonian and eighteenth-century Anglican belief. Without speculating about more remote causes, I suggest that one reason may be that his conclusions are founded upon a misconception of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. For example, in his "Dr. Johnson's 'Late Conversion': A Reconsideration," Greene defends Johnson's orthodoxy against the claims of Maurice Quinlan, who has written -- correctly of course -- that "there is no indication that [Johnson] ever adopted the belief that man is saved by faith alone." In the beginning of his argument, Greene defines the doctrine accurately. However, when he applies the definition to Johnson's religious beliefs, it soon becomes apparent that his interpretation of the doctrine does not harmonize with his definition. This passage is especially revealing: [I]t was because he fervently believed that doctrine [justification by faith alone! that Johnson, throughout his life, suffered from the same agonies as did Luther. He knew that he had amply bestowed his intellectual and artistic gifts to the greater glory of God; he had made his life an example of piety; he had fasted and given of his substance to the poor; he was not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers. So had the Pharisee done, and it had profited him nothing. Was his proud and skeptical mind completely humbled (through the divine Grace) to perfect love of God and faith in Christ? Was the element of self--self-will, self-display, self-congratulation--completely eradicated from those "good works?"(63) It is clear that Greene errs by equating the passive faith which receives justification with faith as a moral act, a "good work" in itself. According to Greene, Johnson "suffered agonies" when he realized that he had not yet completely purified his intentions and eradicated the self from his good works. Hence, we have returned once again to salvation based on human effort. As I have explained, justifying faith is not considered an act of man that causes justification, but simply the acceptance of Christ's forgiveness and righteousness. As the Anglican Homily "Of the Salvation of Mankind" declares, to be justified by faith does not mean "that this our own act, to believe in Christ, or this our own faith in Christ, which is within us, doth justify us, and deserve our justification unto us, for that were to count ourselves to be justified by some act or virtue that is within ourselves."(64) So even if Johnson's "agonies" did result from his fear that his faith, not his works, was insufficient for salvation, his faith, in the view of the Reformers, would still have been a "good work," useless for justification.

Furthermore, it is misleading to suggest that a belief in the doctrine of justification by faith alone causes the kind of anguish that Johnson experienced in his religious life. True, Martin Luther did also suffer from frustration, guilt, anger, and fear in his religious life. But this suffering occurred before, not after, he came to his belief in the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He suffered because he believed, as Johnson always believed, that his salvation depended upon his own efforts, which inevitably fell short of the standard of divine righteousness. But afterwards, when he came to his realization that righteousness comes not through human effort but through faith, he was far from suffering "agonies." As Luther himself testified, "I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates."(65)

It is clear, finally, that Johnson's theology of salvation is not one that stresses the utter inability of man to contribute to his own salvation or the gracious nature of God's gift of eternal life. Instead, in typical eighteenth-century fashion, it emphasizes moral endeavor as the chief requirement of salvation. Though Johnson apparently considers repentance and faith necessary as well, obedience is paramount. His understanding of faith and repentance, moreover, is so moralistic that there does not seem to be much difference between his asserting that salvation requires faith, obedience, and repentance and his saying that salvation depends on obedience. For in Johnson's theology, repentance essentially means renewed obedience, and faith's value for salvation seems to derive chiefly from its being the cause of obedience. Indeed, nothing could be more evident in Johnson's religious writings than his conviction that the ethical quality of a man's life determines his eternal destiny.

This is not to say, however, that Johnson believes that men can be saved by good works alone. As I have shown, not only does he recognize the insufficiency of human obedience, which God mercifully accepts instead of true righteousness, but he insists upon the necessity of grace for all worthy human actions. Man cannot save himself; he must rely on divine assistance for every good work. Anyone who doubts that Johnson believed in the necessity of grace need only refer to Johnson's prayers, almost all of which contain requests for the grace needed to obey and repent. For it is Johnson's belief that the Christian co-operates with the grace of God in attaining salvation.(66)

Nevertheless, Johnson's theology of Christian salvation is a theology which elevates man--not to the level assigned him by the benevolists certainly, for man remains weak and imperfect--but at least to a level where he can exercise some moral freedom and thus bear the responsibility of his actions. As I have tried to show, man is not perceived by Johnson (or his Anglican contemporaries) as merely the passive object of divine favor, but as the co-agent of his own salvation. He has the ability and the freedom to co-operate or not to co-operate with divine grace, and he will be rewarded or punished accordingly. So, despite his innate tendency toward evil and his need of divine leniency and assistance, man, in the Johnsonian theology of salvation, still retains some measure of prelapsarian freedom and dignity. And therefore he must, if he wishes to be eternally happy, heed St. Paul's admonition to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2.12).

Wartburg College


(1)See, for example, Donald J. Greene, "How 'Degraded' Was Eighteenth-Century Anglicanism?" ECS 24 (1990): 93-111; Greene, "Latitudinarianism and Sensibility: The Genealogy of the 'Man of Feeling' Reconsidered," MP 75 (1977): 159-83; Greene, "Augustinianism, Authoritarianism, Anthropolatry," ECS 5 (1972): 456-63; Greene, "The Via Media in an Age of Revolution: Anglicanism in the Eighteenth Century," in The Varied Pattern: Studies in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Peter Hughes and David Williams (Toronto: Hakkert, 1971), pp. 297-320; Greene, Samuel Johnson (New York: Twayne, 1970), especially pp. 119-24; Greene, "Reply to Vivian de Sola Pinto," ECS 2 (1969): 286-300; Greene, "Augustinianism and Empiricism: A Note on Eighteenth-Century English Intellectual History," ECS 1 (1967): 33-68; Greene, "Theology and the Literary Scholar: A Review Article," Canadian Journal of Theology 11 (1965): 207-16; and Greene, "Dr. Johnson's 'Late Conversion': A Reconsideration," in Johnsonian Studies, ed. Magdi Wahba (Cairo: privately printed, 1962), pp. 61-92. Perhaps most noteworthy among these essays is "Latitudinarianism and Sensibility," a response to R. S. Crane's well-known "Suggestions toward a Genealogy of the 'Man of Feeling'" (ELH 1 [1934]: 205-30), and "Dr. Johnson's 'Late Conversion,'" a response to Maurice Quinlan's "The Rumor of Dr. Johnson's Conversion" (Review of Religion 12 [1948]: 243-61).

(2)Greene, "How 'Degraded' Was Eighteenth-Century Anglicanism?" p. 94.

(3)In the OED Augustinianism is defined as "pertaining to St. Augustine or his doctrines, the prominent tenets of which were immediate efficacy of grace and absolute predestination." Greene usually cites W. Norman Pittinger, who gives a fuller explanation: "Augustinianism denotes the interpretation of Christian faith, especially with regard to the doctrine of sin and redemption, which has its origin in the teachign of Augustine (345-430), Bishop of Hippo.... While the Catholic Church never accepted Augustine's views as a whole ... they were vigorously revived at the time of the Reformation and in one way or another have influenced the thought of all the Protestant Churches. In essence, Augustinianism affirms strongly the fact of original sin--that is, the state in which man finds himself because of the Fall of Adam. In Adam ... the manhood which we all share is thought to have lost its relationship of communion and fellowship with God. The resulting alienation is passed on to all his descendents, whose situation is thus one of deprivation of the grace of God and, in consequence, one of chaotic disordering of the will. To be alienated from God results in the human tendency toward self-assertion in contradiction to the will and plan of God. Man is therefore helpless to 'save' himself, since his will is perverted at the very root. In Christ ... God acts to give His 'fallen' creatures a new beginning. This is accomplished by Christ ... in whom God establishes the principle of grace. To this we can only respond in faith, by surrender of our wills to His. And yet this surrender is itself made possible only because God elects those who shall respond and Himself creates both the conditions for that response and the possibility of the response itself.... Once man has thus been caught up into this new relationship his will is freed. No longer possessed by original sin, he is in a state of grace. The drive to evil which yet abides in him is conquered only by God's active love, which is both irresistible and indefectible and will accomplish that which God purposes" (A Handbook of Christian Theology [Cleveland: World, 1958], pp. 22-23).

(4)Greene, "Latitudinarianism and Sensibility," p. 169; Greene, "Dr. Johnson's 'Late Conversion': A Reconsideration," p. 87; Greene, "The Via Media in an Age of Revolution," p. 308.

(5)Greene, Samuel Johnson, pp. 121-22.

(6)See my "Anglicanism in the Age of Johnson: The Doctrine of Conditional Salvation," ECS 22 (Winter 1988-89): 182-207. See also Greene's reply: "How 'Degraded' Was Eighteenth-Century Anglicanism?" ECS 24 (Fall 1990): 93-108. My reply to Greene follows in the same issue, pp. 109-11.

(7)Jean Hagstrum, "On Dr. Johnson's Fear of Death," ELH 14 (1947): 314.

(8)Samuel Johnson, Sermon 28, Sermons, ed. Jean H. Hagstrum and James Gray, vol. 14 of The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson (Yale U. Press, 1978), p. 304. All references to Johnson's sermons cited parenthetically in the text will be to this edition.

(9)For what in my view is still the best account of the intellectual sources of Johnson's fear of death, see Hagstrum.

(10)James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, ed. George Birkbeck Hill, rev. L. F. Powell, 6 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934-64), 4: 278.

(11)Boswell, Life 4:299.

(12)The use of all three designations was perhaps not as common as simply "repentance and faith" or "faith and obedience," though the meaning seems to have been the same no matter what combination was used. However, Archbishop Thomas Secker (1693-1768) employs the same categories in his popular Lectures on the Catechism of the Church of England (1769): "Now these Conditions, or Obligations, on our Part are three: that we renounce what God forbids: that we believe what he teaches, and do what he commands; or, in other words, Repentance, Faith, and Obedience" (7th ed., [London, 1791], pp. 17-18).

(13)Samuel Johnson, Diaries, Prayers, and Annals, ed. E. L. McAdam, Jr., with Donald and Mary Hyde, vol. 1 of Yale Works, ed. Allen T. Hazen and John H. Middendorf (Yale U. Press, 1958), p. 289.

(14)Boswell, Life, 3:188.

(15)Boswell, Life, 4:123. See also Johnson, Sermon 10, Yale Works 14:110, where Johnson contends that "[t]o live religiously, is to walk, not by sight, but by faith; to act in confidence of things unseen, in hope of future recompense, and in fear of future punishment." Cf. Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

(16)According to the Grotian or governmental theory of the Atonement, which Johnson seems to have held, the inspiration of fear is a major effect of Christ's death. For Johnson's view of the Atonement, see Gregory F. Scholtz, "Samuel Johnson's Way of Salvation and the Anglican Context," (Ph.D. diss., U. of Chicago, 1983), pp. 65-96, and Nicholas Hudson, "Johnson, Socinianism, and the Meaning of Christ's Sacrifice," N&Q n.s. 32 (1985): 238-40.

(17)Boswell, Life, 3:294.

(18)Johnson, Yale Works 1:64, 66, 76, 79, 106, 124, 130, 140, 144, 162, 262, 293, 302, 363, 369, 378.

(19)Samuel Johnson, Idler no. 43, in Samuel Johnson: The Idler and The Adventurer, ed. W. J. Bate, John M. Bullitt, and L. F. Powell, vol. 2 of the Yale Works, p. 135.

(20)Samuel Johnson, Rambler no. 7, in Samuel Johnson: The Rambler, ed. W. J. Bate and Albrecht B. Strauss, vols. 3-5 of the Yale Works, 3:40.

(21)Most of Johnson's pronouncements on human nature affirm its natural depravity. According to the sister of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Johnson's "general and common" assertion was "that Man was by nature much more inclined to evil than to good" (Johnsonian Miscellanies, ed. George Birkbeck Hill [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897!, 2:256). Mrs. Chapone records how she "wondered to hear [Johnson] ... maintain that the human heart is naturally malevolent, and that all the benevolence we see in the few who are good, is acquired by reason and religion" (The Posthumous Works of Mrs. Chapone [London, 1807], 1:73). Readers of Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides may recall Johnson's sharp response to Lady Macleod, who asked whether man was naturally good: "No, madam, no more than a wolf" (Life, 5:211). The sermons and essays contain similar, though less pungent, statements: "[W]hat can any man see, either within or without himself, that does not afford him some reason to remark his own ignorance, imbecillity, and meanness?" (Sermon 8, Yale Works, 14:94); "The depravity of mankind is so easily discoverable, that nothing but the desert or the cell can exclude it from notice" (Rambler no. 175, Yale Works, 5:160); See also Sermon 7, Yale Works, 14:80; Sermon 16, Yale Works, 14:171; Sermon 3, Yale Works, 14:32; and Sermon 24, Yale Works, 14:259.

For Greene's claims about eighteenth-century views of human nature, see especially "Latitudinarianism and Sensibility," pp. 164-69. Although I agree with Greene's point that the eighteenth-century view of human nature is more pessimistic than Crane, Battestin, and others have implied, I do not agree that the eighteenth-century view of man as inherently inclined toward evil rather than toward good can be characterized as Augustinian. On the contrary, it is the view that had prevailed in the church, as A. C. McGiffert has pointed out, "before Augustine came upon the scene" and it is a view that remains prevalent in all branches of Christianity (Protestant Thought Before Kant [1911; reprint, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1961], p. 2). The Augustinian view of human nature, as expressed in the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity, is much more pessimistic.

(22)Robert South, for example, writes that the new covenant, unlike the old, "promises life upon condition of such obedience as is sincere, though legally imperfect: that is, such an one as is not absolutely exclusive of all sin, but only of the reign, and power, and dominion of sin" (Sermon 5 [on Titus 1:1], in Sermons Preached upon Several Occasions [Oxford, 1823], 5:88). For a brief discussion of the eighteenth-century notion of the "covenant of leniency," see Scholtz, "Anglicanism in the Age of Johnson," pp. 195-98.

(23)Similar statements can be found in Yale Works, 14:304; and in Boswell, Life, 4:124.

(24)Johnson, Rambler no. 110, Yale Works, 4:221.

(25)Johnson, Rambler no. 110, Yale Works, 4:223. For fuller discussions of the role of fear (or attrition) in Johnson's notion of repentance, see Maurice Quinlan, Samuel Johnson: A Layman's Religion (U. of Wisconsin Press, 1964), pp. 66-84, and Nicholas Hudson, Samuel Johnson and Eighteenth-Century Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 212-15.

(26)Boswell, Life, 4:212.

(27)Johnson, Rambler no. 71, Yale Works, 4:11.

(28)Johnson, Yale Works, 1:65.

(29)Johnson, Yale Works, 1:55.

(30)Johnson, Yale Works, 1:66.

(31)Johnson, Life, 3:294.

(32)For example, Johnson, Sermon 2, Yale Works, 14:26: "The great duty, to the performance of which these benefits are promised, is repentance; a duty, which it is of the utmost importance to every man to understand and practise."

(33)Johnson's writings, especially his prayers, contain many references to his belief in the efficacy of Christ's death on the cross. There is also the testimony of Johnson's friends, several of whom recorded his affirmations of the atoning work of Christ. See, for example, Sir John Hawkins, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (London, 1787), p. 580.

Maurice Quinlan's Samuel Johnson: A Layman's Religion contains an entire chapter on Johnson's view of the atonement, a chapter in which he claims, I think erroneously, that "until late in life," Johnson did not believe that Christ's death on the cross really took away man's sin and that he was "inclined to the view that man must alone atone for his sins" (p. 75). Greene responds (vehemently) in "Theology and the Literary Scholar."

A discussion of Johnson's views on the Atonement is contained in Scholtz, "Samuel Johnson's Way of Salvation," pp. 65-96. See also Hudson, "Johnson, Socinianism, and the Meaning of Christ's Sacrifice," pp. 238-40.

(34)Boswell, Life, 4:124.

(35)Johnson, Sermon 28, Yale Works, 14:304.

(36)Though "grace" is the word Johnson commonly uses to refer to divine help and influence, it should be noted that "Holy Spirit" is employed almost as often.

(37)Johnson, Yale Works, 1:63.

(38)Johnson, Yale Works, 1:42. See also pp. 70, 96, 118; and Yale Works, 6:279.

(39)Johnson, Yale Works, 14:24. For Johnson's own prayers for assistance in repenting, see Yale Works, 1: 46, 69, 92.

(40)Johnson, Sermon 9, Yale Works, 14:99.

(41)For a description of the eighteenth-century Anglican doctrine of salvation, see Scholtz, "Anglicanism in the Age of Johnson." For more general appraisals of eighteenth-century Anglicanism, see Charles J. Abbey and John H. Overton, The English Church in the Eighteenth Century, 2 vols. (London, 1878); Christopher F. Allison, The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter (London: S.P.C.K., 1966); Owen Chadwick, "Arminianism in England," Religion in Life 29 (1960): 548-55; Gerald R. Cragg, From Puritanism to the Age of Reason: A Study of the Changes in Religious Thought within the Church of England, 1660-1700 (Cambridge U. Press, 1950); Gerald R. Cragg, Reason and Authority in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge U. Press, 1964); Horton Davies, Worship and Theology in England: From Watts and Wesley to Maurice, 1690-1850 (Princeton U. Press, 1961); Roland Stromberg, Religious Liberalism in Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford U. Press, 1954); and Norman Sykes, Church and State in England in the Eighteenth Century (1935; reprint New York: Octagon Books, 1975).

(42)For the chief differences between the eighteenth-century Anglican doctrine of salvation and the Reformers' doctrine of salvation, see Scholtz, "Anglicanism in the Age of Johnson," pp. 203-7.

(43)See note 1.

(44)See especially Vivian de Sola Pinto, "Augustan or Augustinian? More Demythologizing Needed?" ECS 2 (1969): 286-93; Frans De Bruyn, "Latitudinarianism and Its Importance as a Precursor of Sensibility," JEGP 80 (1981): 349-68; Scholtz, "Anglicanism in the Age of Johnson"; and Richard Nash, "Benevolent Readers: Burnet's Exposition and Eighteenth-Century Interpretation of the Thirty-Nine Articles," ECS 25 (1992): 353-60.

(45)Made in "Dr. Johnson's 'Late Conversion': A Reconsideration," p. 87, this assertion counters Maurice Quinlan's statement that "there is no indication that [Johnson] adopted the belief that man is saved by faith alone" ("The Rumor of Dr. Johnson's Conversion," Review of Religion 12 [1948]: 261). Quinlan's only response to Greene occurs in Samuel Johnson: A Layman's Religion where he quotes the passage from Henry Hammond cited under "justification" in the Dictionary and makes this argument: "Because Johnson nowhere, so far as I know, supports a belief in justifying faith, his citation of Hammond's positive denial of the doctrine is important evidence of where he stood. It should be sufficient, in my mind, to refute a recent, unsupported statement that "the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the foundation to [sic] the whole edifice of Johnson's religion'" (pp. 192-93).

More recent studies of Johnson's religion pay scant attention to his views on salvation, a fact which may explain why none of them contains responses to Greene's claims about Johnson's alleged Augustinianism. When their authors do mention Johnson's beliefs about salvation, they reveal their concurrence with Quinlan's conclusion that Johnson did not believe that one could be saved by faith alone. E.g., Hudson, Samuel Johnson and Eighteenth-Century Thought, p. 23: "Did Johnson's theology make faith, as opposed to all acts of moral goodness, a condition of salvation? Most of his statements suggest that he placed very little importance on faith itself, as distinguished from the far more crucial objective of works"; Chester Chapin, The Religious Thought of Samuel Johnson (U. of Michigan Press, 1968), p. 62: "Johnson believes ... that most men, by an effort of will or "reasoning,' may become, if not virtuous, at least more virtuous than they are.... Through his own efforts, with the help of God, [man] is able to work out his salvation"; Charles E. Pierce, Jr., The Religious Life of Samuel Johnson (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1983), p. 55: "Johnson knew full well what he must do to be redeemed. He knew that he must obey God's laws, must repent when he had sinned, and must at all times pray for divine guidance and grace." See also James Gray, Johnson's Sermons (Oxford U. Press, 1972), pp. 132-33.

(46)John Dillenberger, ed., Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings (New York: Anchor Books, 1961), p. xxv.

(47)For the doctrine of the English Reformers, see Philip E. Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980).

(48)Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought: From Its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism, ed. Carl E. Braaten (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), p. 236.

(49)Tillich, pp. 308-09.

(50)Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to Be Read in Churches in the Time of the Late Queen Elizabeth of Famous Memory (Oxford, 1840), p. 23.

(51)Greene, "Dr. Johnson's 'Late Conversion,'" p. 81.

(52)Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, in Martin Luther: Selections, ed. Dillenberger, p. 70.

(53)For the centrality of this doctrine in eighteenth-century divinity, see Scholtz, "Anglicanism in the Age of Johnson," pp. 200-3.

(54)E.g., F. J. Taylor, "Justification by Faith Alone: The Reformation Doctrine and the Present Situation," in The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, ed. Geoffrey W. H. Lampe (London, 1954), pp. 14-15: "[D]espite the importance it seemed to possess ... as in itself the vivifying principle of Christian belief and practice, justification by faith, the material principle of the reformation, seems to occupy a singularly small place in the modern theological debate. From the later part of the seventeenth century, probably as a consequence of the theological anarchy which accompanied the Puritan revolution, there has been an Anglican tradition of exposition of its meaning and importance which has revealed no inconsiderable embarrassment at the terms of the official Anglican formularies." Owen Chadwick explains how the Articles of Religion containing the doctrine were re-interpreted in the seventeenth century: "Article XIII (of works before justification) in the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England had declared that works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of his spirit are not pleasant to God--the classical Augustinian doctrine. The rational theologian of the seventeenth century found this the least intelligible of the Articles; and [George] Bull [1634-1710] was forced to circumvent it by an open subterfuge, which became traditional among his followers. He separated the title of the article from its contents, and argued that the article did not assert 'works done before justification' to be not pleasant to God, but only 'works done before the grace of Christ'--and that these two were not at all the same thing. The result was to remove all effective meaning from Article XIII" ("Arminianism in England," Religion in Life 29 [Autumn 1960]: 554).

(55)Gilbert Burnet, Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (London, 1827), p. 126. For an analysis of Burnet's position on the interpretation of the Thirty-Nine Articles, see Nash.

(56)South, Sermon 28, "False Foundaticns Removed, and True Ones Laid," in Sermons, 2:332-33.

(57)Samuel Clarke, Sermon 53, "Of That Belief Which is Necessary to Baptism," in Sermons on Several Subjects (London, 1820), 2: 266. For an extended defense of the necessity of good works for salvation, see William Law, Of Justification by Faith and Works, vol. 8 of Works (Setley: privately printed, 1893). Daniel Waterland also wrote a treatise on justification, "A Summary View of the Doctrine of Justification," in Sermons on Several Important Subjects (London, 1742), 2:3-71. Waterland takes a slightly different tack, allowing that men are justified in Baptism by faith only, but he adds that "if a good Life does not ensue afterwards, ... They forfeit the Privilege received, till They repent" (pp. 60-61). And he insists that good works are "necessary Conditions or Qualifications for Justification" (p. 69).

(58)John Tillotson, Sermon 109, "Of the Nature of Regeneration, and Its Necessity, in Order to Justification and Salvation," in Works, ed. Thomas Birch (London, 1820), 5:421.

(59)Burnet, p. 131.

(60)John Wesley, Sermon 1: "Salvation by Faith," in Works (1872; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), 5: 15.

(61)Wesley, Works, 5:13.

(62)Though Greene implies a basic affinity (see "Late Conversion," p. 84).

(63)Greene, "Late Conversion," p. 87. See also Greene, "How 'Degraded' Was Eighteenth-Century Anglicanism?" especially pp. 105-6, where the same misunderstanding of justifying faith is evident.

(64)Homilies, p. 23.

(65)Martin Luther, Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther's Latin Writings, 1545, vol. 34 of Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut Lehman (St. Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia Publishing House and Fortress Press, 1955-), p. 337.

(66)Though Johnson would have denied the Roman Catholic notion that divinely inspired good works have "merit," his conception of the relationship between obedience and grace nevertheless bears a remarkable resemblance to the doctrine of justification promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church since the Council of Trent, in opposition to Protestant teaching. See, for example, Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler, Theological Dictionary, trans. Richard Strachan, ed. Cornelius Ernst (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965), s.v. "justification," and New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), s.v. "justification."
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Author:Scholtz, Gregory
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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