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Polanus on Solus Christus

The Reformation was in many ways a struggle between two Latin words: et (and) and sola (alone). The Roman Catholic Church affirmed the authority of Scripture et tradition, salvation by grace et effort, and justification by faith et works; moreover, it pointed people to Christ et saints, masses, pilgrimages, penances, and indulgences, as the way to obtain peace with God. In marked contrast, the Reformers affirmed solus Christus—Christ is the only Saviour. Amandus Polanus (1561–1610) spoke well for the Reformed position when he penned: “The only mediator is our Lord Jesus Christ, who only doth reconcile us to his Father by his satisfaction and merit.”

Who Is Polanus?

Polanus is a name unfamiliar to most of us, yet he was widely known in his day for his “true piety and solid learning.” He was born in the city of Opava (in modern-day Czech Republic). After completing his schooling in the liberal arts, he proceeded in 1577 to Wroclaw (in modern-day Poland), where he studied for six years. He furthered his education at Tubingen, Germany, before departing in 1583 for Basel, Switzerland, where he studied divinity. Upon graduation, he tutored in several cities including Geneva and Heidelberg. In 1590, he returned to Basel to complete the Doctor of Divinity and, six years later, he was appointed Professor of Divinity, responsible for interpreting the Old Testament. He served in this capacity for fourteen years, and was instrumental in training the next generation of Reformed theologians. The year before his death in 1610, he published Syntagma Theologiae Christianae (A System of Christian Theology)—one of the most influential theological works of the early seventeenth century.

Christ, the only Mediator

When affirming Christ’s role as “the only mediator,” Polanus had three specific “offices” in mind: as Prophet, Christ delivers “the whole Word of God to men” by way of “revelation” and “interpretation”; as Priest, Christ makes “expiation of sin” on the cross and “intercession to God” in heaven; and as King, Christ governs his people “by his Word and Spirit” while defending them against all their enemies. In performing these three offices as mediator, Christ secures all of “the benefits which God promiseth freely … unto all those who believe in Christ.” When we receive Christ through faith, we become one with him.

Polanus described this “joining union” as “our knitting together with Christ, our engrafting into Christ, the eating of Christ’s flesh, the drinking of Christ’s blood, our joining into one body, our washing in the blood of Christ, the quickening of us, the raising of us from death, the placing of us in heaven together with Christ.” Because of this “joining union,” we have “communion with Christ,” meaning we are “partakers” of him and “all his benefits.”

For Polanus, the first benefit is justification “by which we being received by [God] into favour are accounted just.” The second is sanctification “by which our corrupted nature is renewed to the image of God by the Holy Spirit.” The third is adoption “by which [God] receiveth us for Christ’s sake, to be his sons, and maketh us heirs of heaven and eternal life with him.” The last benefit is preservation “whereby [God] doth preserve the elect even to the end, that they should not perish, but that they should remain in the fellowship of Christ.”

Solus Christus

Polanus’ emphasis on solus Christus is a needed tonic in today’s church. Regrettably, an increasing number of evangelicals question the belief that salvation is found in Christ alone. A recent survey reveals that two-thirds of evangelicals are comfortable with the following statement: “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and others all pray to the same God, even though they use different names for that God.”

Yet this notion of a “Christ-less” approach to God stands in clear opposition to the testimony of Scripture. As the apostle Paul affirms, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5, ESV). Because of our sin, we are cut off from God. Yet Christ—fully God and fully man—bridged the expanse.

He who made all things was carried in the womb of a woman, and He who upholds all things was held in the arms of a woman. He clothed himself with our humanity—body and soul. He came so close as to experience life in a fallen world, bear our sin and shame, and taste death for us. He did all of this as mediator. Having become one with him through faith, we have communion with him in his names and titles; we have communion with him in his righteousness; we have communion with him in his holiness; we have communion with him in his death; we have communion with him in his life and resurrection from the dead; and we have communion with him in his glory.

This makes solus Christus the sweetest truth known to man. It is the difference between feast and famine; fullness and emptiness; a refreshing oasis and a crippling desert; an eternity of joy and an eternity of sorrow. And this is the reason we heartily confess with Polanus: “[There is] but one mediator, Christ, but one sacrifice for sins, but one righteousness and redemption of the world, but one manner for all the ages of the world to obtain salvation, namely by faith in Christ.”