Maybe They Really Don’t Get It

Over the years of battling the moralists (Federal Visionists, Norman Shepherd et al) I’ve not always been certain whether the moralists understand the orthodox doctrine of justification and reject it or if they think they are really teaching it.  Here’s a post from one of them that gives evidence that they really don’t understand what the Westminster Divines and the Protestant Reformers before them were trying to do.

For a 1000 years the medieval church taught that we are justified progressively, gradually through Spirit-wrought sanctity AND our cooperation with the same. The medievals believed in grace, even prevenient grace (i.e., grace comes first), as does the Roman church. What they did not understand, however, was the nature of grace. In the medieval and Roman system grace is a sort of stuff that makes it possible for us to do our part.

The focus of the medieval (and Roman) doctrine of justification is the Spirit’s work in us, by which he creates condign merit, i.e., merit that meets the terms of justice, which God must recognize. In the medieval and Roman system the ground of acceptance with God is Spirit-wrought sanctity within us by grace and cooperation with grace.

So, when the Westminster assembly confessed that the ground of justification is outside of us (iustitia aliena) they was standing with Luther and Calvin and the Protestants over against the medieval church and Trent. This is exactly what is meant by the words of WCF 11.1

by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone….

Where the medieval and Roman churches had taught that righteousness is inherent (iustitia inhaerens) in us, the Protestants confessed that the ground of justification (acceptance with God) is extrinsic to us. Faith looks outside of one’s self to Christ and his righteousness for us. This is why they repeatedly spoke of Christ pro nobis (for us). This was a deliberate contrast with the medieval and Roman doctrine of Christ being formed in us for justification. For more on this see chapter 6 of Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant. See also Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry where these topics are addressed in detail.

When the divines said “anything wrought in them” they were rejecting the medieval consensus and the Council of Trent and standing with the Protestants. That’s why the confession contrasts “wrought in us” with “for Christ’s sake alone.” They were rejecting the notion that it is Christ formed in us or sanctity wrought in us that is the ground (basis) of acceptance with God. They were confessing that the ground, Christ, and his righteousness for us, is outside of us. They knew the teaching of the Protestants they knew how central to their theology was the notion of propter Christum (“for Christ’s sake”).

Notice too the forensic or accounting or legal language: “account and accepting their persons as righteous.” In the medieval and Roman system God is recognizing what is happening in us. There is no accounting or imputing. In the Protestant view, Christ’s perfect righteousness is accounted or reckoned or imputed to us. The ground of acceptance is Christ’s work, his obedient suffering (i.e., all his life, his whole, perfect obedience) for us. It is not what is done in us, even that wrought by the Spirit, that is accounted or imputed to us. Only what is done for us is imputed.

That is Reformation 101 stuff. That is the principal reason we’re not Romanists and it seems that the Federal Visionists still don’t get basic Protestant doctrine. It is good to go over the basics again and I am glad for the opportunity but it is sad that it was provided not by a Roman priest but by an ostensible Protestant. Surely we can all see from this how dangerous the FV movement is. It seeks to shift the ground of our acceptance with God  away from Christ and his finished work for us. It also seeks to corrupt the the sole instrument of justification so that it is no longer faith alone resting in and receiving Christ and his finished work for justification but, as Norman Shepherd said in 1974 and 1975 that we are accepted by God through faith and works or, as they like to say, “faithfulness.”

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