A Westminster Divine and Extra
Ecclesiam Nulla Salus
The Way to Heaven
by John Philips (1585-1663)
edited by C. Matthew McMahon & Therese McMahon
Puritan Publications, USA, 2013
Some in our
day claim that it is Roman Catholic or "extremist" to teach
that outside the church there is no salvation (Latin:
extra ecclesiam nulla salus), even though this is
teaching of the historic Christian church, from the church
fathers onwards, including the Reformers, their successors
and the Reformation creeds: Luther's Larger Catechism,
the Catechism of the Church of Geneva,
Belgic Confession 28, Second Helvetic Confession
17 and Westminster Confession
25:2. Despite the provenance of the last-mentioned creed,
some reckon that this doctrine is not really "British," but
rather continental, foreign to "this sceptred isle."
John Philips' recently
republished work should dispel all such erroneous notions.
This book of 120 pages is a sustained argument that eternal
life is only found in Christ's church, for it is, as its
title proclaims, The Way to Heaven
for those eternally elected by God, redeemed by Jesus
Christ, irresistibly drawn by the Spirit and justified by
John Philips or Phillips
(1585-1663) was as British and, specifically, English, as
one could be. Educated at Cambridge (B.A. and M.A.), he
served pastorates in Suffolk and Kent. He ministered not
only in England but also in Massachusetts in New England,
then a British colony, before returning to (old) England.
His wife, Elizabeth, was the sister of William Ames
(1576-1633), a Congregationalist theologian, who laboured
both in England and the Netherlands, where he observed the
great Synod of Dordt (1618-1619). Philips began his ministry
an Anglican or episcopalian, was a member of the largely
Presbyterian Westminster Assembly and became congregational
in his ecclesiology.
Ecclesiam Nulla Salus
his publisher, Felix Kingston of London) advertises and
accurately summarizes the argument and content of
The Way to Heaven
in its original (1625) title page. The following six points
are listed beneath the book's title, to which I have added
comments in square brackets which further elucidate our
- That salvation is only in the Church
[the main thesis of the book]
- What the Church is
[in which alone salvation is found]
- By what means men are added to the
Church [in which alone salvation is found]
- The Author, or Efficient of this
addition [to the Church in which
alone salvation is found]
- The time and continuance of that work
[of adding men to the Church in
which alone salvation is found]
- The happiness of those that are added
to the Church [and so enjoy
salvation which is found only there] (6)
To this is appended the following pertinent
biblical text: "This is the way, walk in it" (Isa. 30:21).
The point is that the church is the way to heaven (as
Philips' title puts it) for those justified by faith alone
in Christ alone and so God's people must "walk in it" (6).
After his "Introductory Letter" (7-20), the English Puritan
introduces his subject and makes some remarks on the (highly
significant) text for his work: "And the Lord added to the
Church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47) (21-22),
from which he draws "four remarkable observations:"
The first is the way to salvation; and that is, by being
added to the Church.
The second is the Efficient Author of this addition, and that is the
The third is the time and continuance of this
work; and that is καθ᾽ ἡμέραν, daily, or from day to day.
The fourth is the happy end of such as are
added to the Church, and that is salvation.
They all, and they only, are such as shall be saved (22).
Turning to his "first observation," the
English theologian presents his thesis: "it must be known
and believed of all that desire salvation that the Regia
via, the King of kings’
highway to heaven is the Church, without which
Church, there is no salvation" (23).
To "demonstrate this truth," Philips turns
first of all to the typology of "the ark of Noah, in which
was most lively figured the Church of God. A type, twice
alleged by Saint Peter, to this very purpose:
to show that salvation is
and only is in the Church" (23). This imagery has
been judged by a few as popish when used by Prof. Engelsma
in his Bound to Join,
but it is cited as the first proof by a Westminster divine
and referred to continually by him (e.g., 23, 46-48, 93,
104, 118-119). It is also found in Heinrich Bullinger's 1566
Second Helvetic Confession
17. Second, Philips explains the head-body union between
Jesus Christ and His church (24).
Next, our author appeals to four other
oft-recurring biblical pictures of the church: "This
position, that salvation is to be had only in the Church, is
not obscurely noted by those sacred families, so frequent in
scripture, where the Church is resembled  to a house; 
to a city,  to a mother,  to a vine" (24).
treating each of these four in turn (25-30), the Westminster
Assembly member identifies extra ecclesia nulla
salus as a "divine truth" (46) or "doctrine" taught in the perspicuous
Scriptures: "This doctrine of salvation in the Church only
is not only thus illustrated by the bright-shining light of
so many divine similitudes and parables, but is also
warranted by evident and invincible reason, grounded on the
word of God" (31).
states two "undeniable" principles: first,
"there is only one saving truth" which "truth is nowhere to
be found but in the Church of God" (Isa. 16:2; I Tim. 3:15;
John 16:13) and, second, "there are certain graces that
accompany salvation (Heb. 6:9) which are the peculiar of the
Church of God," namely, "The grace of election, the grace of vocation,
the grace of justification, and the grace of sanctification;
all of which jointly and independently have their period and end in
glorification ... (Rom. 8:30)"
section of The Way to Heaven is remarkable in that at
least once, and sometimes twice or three times, it is
explicitly stated on each of its twelve pages (22-33), in
varying formulations, that "salvation and freedom from
eternal and utter ruin belongs only to the Church, the House
of God, built firmly on the rock Jesus Christ" (25).
treats individually four steps in the ordo salutis
or order of salvation: election, calling, justification and
sanctification (33-42), showing how each is "such a property
of the Church that it cannot possibly be separated from it"
(34). "To conclude then, if there is no salvation without election,
calling, justification, and sanctification; and none of
these to be found, but only in the Church of God, it follows
necessarily that there is no salvation out of the Church"
So far we
have considered the Westminster divine's arguments for
extra ecclesiam nulla salus
under two major heads: arguments from biblical images of the
church (23-31) and arguments from the ordo salutis
(32-42). Now we consider his third major head: arguments
from the means of salvation, which are placed by God in
Christ's church (42-45).
The Englishman explains the idea of the means
of salvation and notes their ecclesiastical provenance:
There are certain means appointed of God to work and
increase saving grace, which if they shall be found to be
the prerogative of the Church, it cannot be denied, but that
only there salvation is to be had; for in reason, the end
cannot ordinarily be attained without the means leading unto
Philips enumerates four "means
to effect and perfect man’s salvation:" "the written Word of
God, called the Scriptures, the ministry of preaching the
Word, the two sacraments of the New Testament, and prayer"
(43). Quoting many apposite texts of God's Word, he proves
that "these are the prerogatives of the Church" (43) and
concludes, "Then we see that the means of salvation being
only in the Church, salvation itself is only there, and not
to be found elsewhere" (45).
On the basis of the foregoing (21-45), our
Westminster divine makes four applicatory "remarks" (46).
The first three expose errorists: people who think that
those who lead "an outward civil life" may be saved in any
religion, worldlings with no regard to the true religion and
schismatics who "separate themselves from the society of the
Church" over matters "merely adiaphorous or indifferent"
The English Puritan's last and longest
application is a forceful exhortation to join a true church:
This calls all men with a most forcible
invitation, even as ever they desire to be saved, to enter
timely into this straight gate that leads to life (Matt.
7:14). Many of the Egyptians and other strangers, when they
saw the great works God did for his Church, and in what safe
and happy condition the people were in, they were over; they
left their own country alliance and friends, and joined
themselves to the Jews (Exod. 12:38). This we should
do—forsake all, and follow Christ (Mark 10:28); leave all
societies for the communion of the saints; for the dove
found no rest for the sole of her foot, but was fain to
return into the ark again (Gen 8:9): so let a man compass
the whole world, yet shall he never be able to find rest to
his soul, until by entering into the Church, he take
Christ’s yoke on him (Matt. 11:29) (48).
someone might object that Philips is teaching that there is
no salvation outside the invisible church, the company of the
predestinate. But even our consideration of The
Way to Heaven so far
excludes this, especially its treatment of the preaching and
sacraments (43-45) which are found in the church institute,
for "the roadway [to heaven] is to be joined with some
visible orthodox congregation" (47).
"branch to be considered" in Philips' treatise, "what the
Church is, where salvation is to be had" (49), is especially
clear in answering this objection. The Westminster divine is
careful "to distinguish the Orthodox and true Church from
heretical assemblies" (56), sects or factions (49). The key
issue for Philips is the marks or identifying
characteristics of a true church. Our English theologian
identifies two marks, faithful preaching and sacramental
administration (55-58, 87-90), as do article 19 of
The Thirty-Nine Articles
(55) and John Calvin, though the latter also puts a high
premium on proper church discipline.
Our Puritan also recalls the context of the
theme text (Acts 2:47) for his book, for Peter's sermon on
the day of Pentecost issued a call to repent and receive the
sacrament of water baptism (Acts 2:37-38). The Westminster
divine concludes, "The visible Church then, where whosoever
will be saved must be reconciled, is the Congregation of the
faithful" (59; cf. Acts 2:41-47).
distinguishing two major uses of the word "church" in
Scripture—the invisible church of all the elect and the
visible church of particular, instituted congregations
(52-56)—Philips concludes, "from
hence we may derive the true definition of the Church, where
they must be united that ever looked to be saved" (54).
Then our theologian of old England and New England clearly declares
that those who are saved are truly part of the church
invisible and the church visible, and he helpfully
repeats the key relationship between means and end:
It is out
of all controversy that such [as are saved] must be the
number of the elect (according to the first notion of
the Church) as hath been shown before, upon the point of
election, being the first grace, and fountain of all
other graces accompanying salvation. But yet, because
the elect are not subject to the eyes of men, but are
only known to God, the sacred Scriptures direct us
everywhere to the visible Church, according to the
second notion: for whomsoever God does elect to the end,
those he appoints to the means tending to that end. Such
therefore as desire salvation, must join themselves to
the visible Church ...
the call to church membership: "the sacred Scriptures direct
us everywhere to the visible Church ... Such therefore as
desire salvation, must join themselves to the visible
reader who is more familiar with fundamentalism or
revivalism or modern evangelicalism (which are largely
Anabaptist) than with the Reformed creeds and theology might
think that Philips' ship is sailing near Rome. Far from it!
in a lively polemic with the "Romish church" and its
"Antichristian religion" (16), including its councils,
publications and theologians, such as Cassander, Baronius,
Bellarmine (especially), the Douay-Rheims Bible and Trent.
This is evident throughout The Way to Heaven
(e.g., 114-117) and especially in its lengthy second
"branch" (49-105) which builds on the first "branch" which
explained "that salvation is only to be found in the Church"
by showing "what the Church is, where salvation is to be
shows himself a skilful controversialist particularly in his
treatment of "a few" of "the manifold errors of the Romish
church" (65). The English theologian ably refutes "a short
catalogue" of thirteen of them (65-87), such as Rome's
doctrines of papal authority, images, transubstantiation,
private Masses, invocation of saints, etc., in order to give
"a taste of the rest" which are also "palpably gross" (65).
Third, a reader with some grasp of Reformed soteriology with its
sola fide but little knowledge of Reformed ecclesiology with its
extra ecclesiam nulla salus
might think that Philips is denying or compromising
justification by faith alone. Not at all! Our Westminster
divine is rock solid on this article of a standing or a
falling church and especially deals with it in two different
connections in The Way to Heaven (35-40, 108-111).
Philips gives this
definition: "Justification, then, is an action of God, by
which he, pardoning all sins, imputes righteousness to every
true believer, out of his free grace and mercy, only on the
merit of Jesus Christ" (36), which he then develops under six heads (36-39).
unfolds the phrase "every true believer" as follows:
righteousness is imputed to every true believer: for it is
faith only by which we apprehend Christ with all his
benefits ... It is here that faith only is said to justify,
because it is the only instrumental cause of our
justification, in that it alone doth apprehend Christ, by
whom we are justified. Scriptures for this are plentiful,
"from all things," says St. Paul in his sermon at Antioch,
"from which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses,
by Christ, everyone that believeth, is justified" (Acts
13:39). And disputing the question of justification, he so
determines it, "Therefore we conclude, that a man is
justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law" (Rom.
In various ways, The Way to Heaven
presents a model of theological method. First, John Philips
copiously quotes pertinent Scriptures. Second, he frequently
appeals to the church's historic creeds: the
Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed,
the Athanasian Creed and
The Thirty-Nine Articles,
as well as the Book of Common Prayer. Third, he cites
fitting instances in church history and felicitous passages
from ecclesiastical authors, such as Cyprian, Hilary,
Athanasius, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine (especially), Leo,
Gregory, Bede, Theophylact, Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter
Lombard, Duns Scotus, Luther, Calvin, Chemnitz, William
Fulke and others, as well as "secular" authors, such as
Scipio, Seneca, Laurentius Valla, Erasmus and Polydore
divine has a strong doctrine of God's sovereign grace (e.g.,
32-42) over against man's alleged free will (116). He does
not read into I Timothy 2:4 a frustrated divine desire to
convert all men head for head; instead, he writes that "all
men whom God will have saved, he will have 'to come to the
knowledge of the truth' (I Tim. 2:4)" (31). Nor does Philips
write of any futile wish in God to deliver absolutely
everybody in II Peter 3:9, as if that explained why Christ
has not returned. Rather, the Lord is adding to His church
"daily, or from day to day … to the last day." Indeed, this
divine work shall not fail until "the number of the elect is
once complete." "This consideration of the time is of
excellent use. It shows the patience of God, in waiting so
long from day to day for conversion (II Pet. 3:9)" (117).
As befits one
with a solid soteriology and ecclesiology, Puritan Philips
explains that often elect believers are a "remnant," a
minority even in the visible church (95-101). All
"promises," "privileges," "prerogatives" and "benefits" of
the church belong to those "effectually called," "the Israel
of God, the Children of the Promise," says our Westminster
divine, explicitly appealing to Romans 9 and citing Paul,
Peter and Augustine in support:
That where many excellent privileges and comfortable
promises belong to the Church, we must know that the sound
and good heart only, and not the corrupt, is capable of
those benefits. "I dare not," St. Augustine says, speaking
of the prerogatives of the Church, "understand this, but of
just and holy men." Therefore, St. Paul ties privileges to
the true Israel of God, the Children of Promise (Rom. 9:4,
6, 8). And St. Peter, the promises, to them that are
effectually called (Acts 2:39). By this we may see, both
that the chief and most eminent, yes and the greatest number
in the Church, if they lack true saving grace, have no right
to the privileges and promises of the Church, though they
live in the midst of it (99).
Note too that that these
"comfortable promises belong to … the sound and good heart
only, and not the corrupt … [who] have
no right to the privileges and promises of the Church, though they
live in the midst of it." Sounds very like Herman Hoeksema
on the covenant!
As regards the sacraments,
our English theologian agrees with Calvin's teaching on
Christ's real, spiritual presence in the Lord's Supper (74)
and on baptism as an "effectual seal" of the "covenant"
111-113). Philips opposes the Anabaptists' rejection of
infant baptism (113) and warns against "neglecting so
weighty a duty," arguing, "If
the Jew, for the neglect of Circumcision was to be cut off,
how shall the Christian be excusable (Gen. 17:14)? How shall
he escape for the omitting of so great a Sacrament (Heb.
Our author also has some
powerful applications to preachers and hearers (106-108),
concluding with these words, "Set down then this
resolution in your heart, with the faithful in the Psalm; 'I
will hear what God the Lord shall speak: for he will speak
peace unto his people, and to his Saints: but let not them
turn again to folly' (Ps. 85:8)" (108).
Matthew McMahon and his
wife, Therese, are to be commended for editing, updating and
publishing this "very famous work" (5), John Philips'
The Way to Heaven. Well
If this reprinting of the book is important, the occasion
for its first printing is unusual and intriguing: the
misconstrual of one of his funeral sermons, which report was
seized upon by a censor, as Philips explains in part of his
"Introductory letter" (10-18).
If misconstruals and one
censor occasioned the publication of John Philips' The Way to Heaven
by Felix Kingston in London in 1625, many misconstruals by
many censors arose before and after the publication of Prof.
Engelsma's Bound to Join
by the RFPA in Jenison in 2010. Moreover, if the Westminster
divine had lived in the twenty-first century and members of
the British Reformed Fellowship in 2004 had asked him for
instruction on joining a true church, he would have given
essentially the same answer as Prof. Engelsma, except that
the Puritan would have been more detailed on
extra ecclesiam nulla salus than the Professor!
For more on extra ecclesiam nulla salus in the
Christian and Reformation tradition, see Angus Stewart, "Bound to Join:
Review and Defence."