John Preston on Faith, Works, and Double Justification

Continuing with the series on future justification(s), I would like to now give a slightly different perspective. I don’t think it is wholly at odds with Diodati or Pictet (later writers could combine the perspectives without much trouble), but it certainly reads James differently. Rather than appealing to two different types of justification, an initial and a final, this perspective understands justification to always be by faith alone, but it insists that the faith is itself a working faith. Later types of justification are opportunities to justify the first justification, or to prove that the faith was true faith.

One representative of this type of reading would be John Preston. There have been some critics of Preston lately who would say that he’s out of the mainstream of the Reformed tradition, but I think this is false. The work which I had access to of his was a posthumous publication put out by Richard Sibbes and John Davenport. Thomas Goodwin also printed Preston’s work. So however one may choose to criticize Preston, it is historically the case that Puritan mainstays looked up to him with respect and admiration. Regarding English Reformed and Westminsterian theology, Preston is a legitimate father in the faith.

Now to the subject at hand. To understand Preston’s view of justification, it will help us to first look at his understanding of faith and works in general. The first thing to note is that Preston understands true faith to be a living, energetic, working faith, and this is how good works can be called “necessary for salvation.” They are necessary for faith itself:

And last of all, good workes are required of necessity, as the way to salvation: Ephes. 2.10. We are Gods workmanship, created in Jesus Christ unto good workes, which he hath ordained that we should walke in them. Good workes are required of necessity; God judgeth us according to our workes, Rom. 2. and at the last day the reward is pronounced according to that which men have done; When I was in prison you visited me, when I was naked you clahted me, & c. Mat. 26.35, 36. And if they be required for necessity, then it is not a dead, liveless, workless faith, but a powefull, energeticall faith, a faith that is stirring and active, a faith that is effectuall which God requires, without which we cannot be saved. We come now to make some use of what hath been said.


He also says:

It is true (saith hee) if you have a right faith, you shall bee saved by it; but yet know this, that unlesse your faith be such a faith as enableth you to doe what I say, it is a faith that will doe you no good, it will not save you: for though faith saveth you, yet it must be such a faith as worketh. And that he proveth by many arguments; (it is a place worth the considering, and fit for this purpose) I say hee useth some arguments to prove, that that faith which is not effectuall, will not save us.


Preston is not afraid to apply this to discussions on justification either. In relation to Rahab, Preston even calls faith itself a work:

Fourthly, if any man could bee justified by faith without workes, Abraham might have beene so justified; but Abraham was justified by his workes, that is, by such a faith as had workes joined with it. And not Abraham onely, but Rahab (that is another example) for it might be objected, Abraham indeed believed, and was justified by workes, but Rahab had no workes, she was a wicked woman, and therefore was justified by faith.

To this therefore he answereth, that she had workes, or else she could not have been saved, unlesse she had such a worke as that in sending away the Messengers, her faith could not have justified her. Indeed that was a great worke, for she adventured her life in it.


At his boldest, Preston can say:

Therefore look to your faith, doe not think that a faith that merely taketh Christ, and beleeveth in him, that it is a faith that shall justifie you.  Let all these arguments perswade you, that if it be not a working faith, it shal do you no good.


So we see Preston’s basic understanding of the intimate relationship between faith and works. Neither can be truly present without the other. When it comes to more complex inquiries about justification, particularly the best way to understand James’ use of “justified by works” and the concept of the final judgment, Preston can use his notion of working faith:

Ob. If they object that place of S. James, Wee are not justified by faith, but by workes.

Ans. I answer, that there is a double justification; there is a justification of the person: so was Abraham justified by faith, as Saint Paul expresseth it, Rom. 4. But then there is a second justification, a justification of the faith that Abraham had, he justified his faith by his workes, he shewed that hee had not a dead faith, a livelesse faith, a faith without workes, but that he had a lively effectuall faith: for hee added workes to his faith, his workes wrought together with his faith. So that if the question be, Whether Abraham was an hyprocrite? His workes justified him that hee was none. If the question be, Whether Abraham was a sinner? His faith justified him, and shewes that he was made righteous through faith. So there is a justification of the person, and a justification of the faith of the person: as when a man is said to justifie such an action, or such a cause, the meaning is not, that he will make that just which was unjust before, but he will make it appear to be just: so Abraham was declared to have a justifying faith, by that power and efficacie it wrought in him, in offering up his son.

The Breast-Plate of Faith and Love. 5th ed. 1630, reprinted by (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979) p. 176-177

Thus Preston has a double justification, though it is different from that espoused by the Continental thinkers Diodati and Pictet. Preston will be followed in his interpretation by his fellow English divines Gataker, Gouge, and Downame, of whom we shall examine in the next installment.

This entry was posted in church history, justification by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s