The Moralists Will Be Back

An HB Classic

ibaxtei001p1It is an historical fact that moralism (the confusion of justification with sanctification) never dies, it just goes dormant periodically. The Reformation defeated 1000 years of moralism only to see forms of it re-emerge in the Protestant churches even before Luther died. It resurfaced in the Remonstrant theology, in Richard Baxter (and in those orthodox Reformed whom he influenced), in the Scottish neonomians in the 18th century, in the Oxford (Tractarian) movement in the 19th century, in Charles Finney, and has more or less dominated American Protestantism (whether “evangelical” or liberal) for most of American history.

Over the last few years in the NAPARC world and in satellite groups, the orthodox have won several strategic victories in the courts and assemblies of the Reformed churches. The following denominations or federations have rejected the Federal Vision/NPP and related forms of moralism (justification by grace and cooperation with grace) in no particular order (from memory):

The United Reformed Churches
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church
The Presbyterian Church in America
The Bible Presbyterian Church
The Reformed Church in the United States
The Orthodox Christian Reformed Church
The Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America
The Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States

It isn’t over, however. The moralists are mounting a comeback. There is a movement to say that the proper response to the Roman criticism that the Reformation doctrine of justification is not the alien (extrinsic) righteousness of Christ imputed but some form of “union with Christ” whether Osiander’s “Christ in us” model or “We in Christ.” In either case, the move is to say, “Look, we have real, intrinsic righteousness. It’s not infused but it’s actual. You can’t say we don’t believe in Spirit-wrought, intrinsic righteousness.”

Any answer to the critics of the Reformation that attempts to satisfy them on their own grounds is doomed to failure because it has conceded the major premise of the critique. However diligently this lot may formally affirm justification sola fide seek and to preserve some version of justification sola fide alongside a system of acceptance with God partly on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity/righteousness, it is only an act of the will. It is theologically incoherent. it is unstable. It has two competing principles at work with its soteriology. Soteriology cannot serve two masters: acceptance on the basis of intrinsic sanctity/righteousness (however construed and for whatever reason) and acceptance with God on the basis of extrinsic righteousness imputed. It must love the one and hate the other.

Yes, we believe in Spirit-wrought sanctity, or Spirit-wrought righteousness. Anyone who denies that doesn’t know Reformed theology, but we don’t believe, confess, or teach that Spirit-wrought sanctity or righteousness has anything to do with our standing with God. There are two benefits of Christ: justification and sanctification. The latter follows from the former. It is the fruit and evidence of justification. It contributes nothing to our acceptance with God.

The answer to the critics of the Reformation doctrine of justification and the answer to the moralists, whoever they may be, is not to concede the basic doctrine of the Reformation. You cannot preserve a house from fire by setting the basement on fire. You preserve the house from fire by fighting the fire. To turn to some form of acceptance with God based on Spirit-wrought righteousness is not the clever judo move by that some think it is, unless it is good judo to roll over and get pinned.

There is no satisfying the the moralists. They will only be satisfied with total victory. That’s why they’ll never give up. They do not love the gospel of an unequivocal, free, justification because they do not believe that they are wretched sinners utterly hopeless before the face of the all righteous God who is a consuming fire.

The moralists will be back. They will be back because they never really go away. They go dormant for a while. For this reason, let us never say, “We all know what the gospel is, now let us go on to the Christian life.” The minute we say that we’ve lost the foundation of the house and the power of the Christian life. It’s like saying, “We all know how to breathe, so let’s forget about breathing and get to exercising.” People who say that have never exercised! If you want to live a Christian life, start with the declaration of the good news. How do we confront sin in our lives? We reckon with the law. How is sin defeated? By the gospel and only by the gospel. The law has no power to defeat sin. The law only has power to convict and guide. The law is like railroad tracks. To go off the tracks is destruction but the tracks do not move the train. Only God the Spirit empowers the Christian to live Christianly and he does so only through the frequent and faithful declaration of the good news to sinners.

Christian, when you stand here the moralists will call you antinomian. Don’t be intimidated. They’ve redefined “antinomian” to mean, “Any one who denies any form of acceptance with God on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity or righteousness.” Fine. If that’s the definition of “antinomian,” then fine, I’m antinomian. Of course, it’s a bizarre definition. Real antinomianism is denial of the third use of the law. No Reformed Christian (indeed, no confessional Protestant) can deny the third use of the law  and still be faithful to the confessions.

How then to reply to the moralists? The only reply is twofold: First, preach the law. The first thing that every moralist needs to hear is the law. People become moralists because they do not really believe that they are sinners. They need to become sinners. They need to recognize themselves for what they really are. They lack self-knowledge. They lack a true knowledge of the righteousness and holiness and wrath of God. They don’t really fear God, however much they may talk about piety.

When they have heard the thunder of the law in all it’s unmitigated, holy, and just demand for perfect, perpetual, and personal righteousness, only then should we announce to them the sweet gospel message. We can no more satisfy the moralists on their own grounds than Paul could satisfy the pagans at the Areopagus. He preached the (natural) law and the foolish (supernatural) gospel of the resurrection. Some believed, most did not. That’s all we can hope. The moralists will be back. Bank on it. This isn’t over because it can never be over; not until history is over.

[This post first appeared on the HB in 2008]

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Great stuff. Thank you for another inspiring & distinctly ‘Dr. Clark’ words of wisdom that are full of clarity and passion for the defense of the Orthodox Christian faith. Keep up the great work.

  2. Not everyone in the NW Presbytery or their Bible Presbyterian Synod agrees with that report. In addition, one entire Presbytery has already left the BP Synod because of the pass that the Kinnaird doctrine is given by many within the BP Synod.

    Again thank you for being so clear on this matter. It is the hinges upon which the door of the reformation swung. Any tweaking or tinkering with this doctrine produces an annoying squeak that must be addressed.

  3. Dear Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for this excellent post. I am just a layperson and relatively green in the Reformed tradition, but I think you captured very succinctly what distinguishes the true gospel of grace from all the other “gospels” (which are really just different versions of the moralist gospel, whether they take the form of Romanism, Finneyism or whatever else). I’ve been reading your blog for a little while now and appreciate your thoughts. Keep fighting the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12).

  4. Dr. Clark,

    I am very sorry that you have been drawn into a controversy in the synod of the BPC and have chosen to make it public. The report approved by the Northwest Presbytery contained the following preface, which you did not quote (in your defense, perhaps you received the report which was not adopted):

    “Presbytery goes on record as stating that the doctrine of justification is so vital to the faith and its doctrinal clarity and purity so essential that we urge the OPC to guard this doctrine by acting swiftly in matters of unclear or irregular statements of justification within their body.”

    Furthermore, the BPC, General Synod passed a very clear resolution just two years ago condemning the FV. I present the conclusion:

    “The Seventieth General Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church, meeting in Grand Island, New York, August 3-8, 2006 warns God’s people concerning these teachings of the FV as identified by the Presbytery of the Mississippi Valley (PCA). We believe these theological positions are contrary to God’s Word and the Westminster Standards. Especially grievous is the distortion of the doctrine of justification by faith alone that joins works with faith and makes justification a process. This heresy strikes at the heart of the Gospel and should not be tolerated in a Protestant Church. We commend those who are opposing the Federal Vision and all similar theologies and exhort all true believers to “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

    On the whole, the report endorsed the findings of the OPC GA, which you have also done when you have wrote: “in two cases laity have brought cases to the highest/broadest courts/assemblies in the OPC and the URC with (after all) happy results. In the case of the OPC, the Wilkenings did not “win” but the Kinnaird case awakened the OPC to the reality of the FV and related errors and it produced a very good report and a strong consensus on justification.”

    I submit these comments for clarification, not for controversy. I write, not to rebuke you, but to lovingly entreat you as a father in the faith.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that we must always be on guard against moralism, especially in the pulpit, as I trust I myself am, by the grace of God, preaching also to myself, lest I myself be a castaway. And I thank you for your emphasis on a right use of the law. Without the law salvation is meaningless. Within the law salvation is impossible.

  5. John,

    Thanks for your post. I don’t know who are the personalities in the BP controversy but I did receive a PDF of a report submitted to the NW Presbytery of the BPC. I was told that that the report was adopted.

    I’m thankful for the BPC’s rejection of the FV and the report I saw did have the caveat concerning justification but it also substantially endorsed John Kinnaird’s view that there are two stages of justification, initial and final so that initial justification is forensic but final justification is by Spirit-wrought sanctity. Mr Kinnaird’s doctrine is not the gospel. It’s not sufficient merely to affirm justification in this life as forensic and then turn around and contradict it for the judgment in the interests of trying to get Christians to behave themselves out of fear of losing what was given to them in their initial justification. Indeed, the very categories of “initial” and “final” justification are deeply problematic.

    The Reformed faith has a simple solution for this problem: distinguish justification, which is once-for-all and forensic, from vindication which is a recognition of the truth of the declaration by God that believers are justified.

    It’s as simple as the distinction between Paul’s doctrine of justification and James’ doctrine of vindication or evidence of the claim to faith (James 2). Refusal to make these distinctions has caused a great deal of confusion in the last 30+ years.

  6. I’m just not good enough, even with “Spirit-wrought sanctity,” to be any kind of moralist, whether Romanist, evangelical, or any others.

    Praise God for the gospel of free and sovereign grace for wretched sinners!

  7. Dr Clark,
    I was wondering if you clarify something for me. In Fredrick Dale Bruner’s book, “A Theology Of The Holy Spirit,” he challenged the charismatic movement, and implied a challenge to others, regarding their contention that one fully receives the Holy Spirit only when one speaks in tongues. And that can occur one only when the believer yields everything to God so they can receive the Holy Spirit in full. If you are familiar with that book, how related was his challenge to the charismatic movement to the moralists you are referencing here?

  8. Moralism never dies because mankind’s default setting, after the fall, has been legalism of one kind or another.

  9. You wrote

    “Christian, when you stand here the moralists will call you antinomian. Don’t be intimidated. They’ve redefined “antinomian” to mean, “Any one who denies any form of acceptance with God on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity or righteousness……… Real antinomianism is denial of the third use of the law.”

    Hustlers on Oxford Street, here in London, play ‘Spot the Red Queen’, but once they have deftly shuffled the 3 cards in front of you, you have lost all notion of which is the Red Queen. So it is with my understanding of Grace!

    Your post suggests (i) we do obtain a Spirit-wrought sanctity; (ii) it does not affect one jot our standing with God; but (iii) we need the 3rd use of the Law to (?) ‘live out’ the Christian life.

    To ‘live out’ (my phrase) the Christian life – is the 3rd use of the law (i) simply for information, so that we can observe Spirit-wrought sanctity in ourselves and others, or (ii) as a guidebook for us to work towards in cooperation with the Spirit.

    If the latter, then what is the significance of those times, which might be considerable, when we ‘give up’ on following the 3rd use? Are we simply lazy Christians who need more of the gospel to fire us up again? Or does our behaviour suggest that we are/were not Christians in the first place?

    My problem with the latter is that the 3rd use of the law then acts as the 1st use, to drive us again to Christ. We have no assurance other than when we believe we are making spiritual progress, and of course that is works and no gospel at all.

    Please help me spot the Red Queen (Grace)!

    • Heidelberg Catechism 115:

      Q. 115. Why will God then have the ten commandments so strictly preached, since no man in this life can keep them?

      A. First, that all our lifetime we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin, and righteousness in Christ; likewise, that we constantly endeavour and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come.

      • Thanks RSC

        Both parts of Article 115 seem to be related to the first use of the Law

        Is the 3rd use of the Law distinct in any way (especially in a way that does not simply open the door for cooperation with the Holy Spirit)?


        ps- Rightly or not, I’ve always understood the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us, but that this should not be seen as ‘cooperation’ which would suggest that an independent moral autonomy is restored to us

  10. NB – Interesting that Art 115 says ‘conformable’ not ‘conformed’. Is this significant, I wonder?

  11. I think this may have confused the Catholic response to the Reformed position. Take this statement from the Joint Declaration from the Vatican. It explicitly denies that obedience could be taken credit for at all: ‘Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.[11]” and This is the best 19.We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God’s judgment and are incapable of turning by themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God’s grace. Because Catholics and Lutherans confess this together, it is true to say:

    20.When Catholics say that persons “cooperate” in preparing for and accepting justification by consenting to God’s justifying action, they see such personal consent as itself an effect of grace, not as an action arising from innate human abilities.

    21.According to Lutheran teaching, human beings are incapable of cooperating in their salvation, because as sinners they actively oppose God and his saving action. Lutherans do not deny that a person can reject the working of grace. When they emphasize that a person can only receive (mere passive) justification, they mean thereby to exclude any possibility of contributing to one’s own justification, but do not deny that believers are fully involved personally in their faith, which is effected by God’s Word.

  12. and here’s some more from the Join Declaration of the Vatican: ‘We confess together that God forgives sin by grace and at the same time frees human beings from sin’s enslaving power and imparts the gift of new life in Christ. When persons come by faith to share in Christ, God no longer imputes to them their sin and through the Holy Spirit effects in them an active love. These two aspects of God’s gracious action are not to be separated, for persons are by faith united with Christ, who in his person is our righteousness (1 Cor 1:30): both the forgiveness of sin and the saving presence of God himself. Because Catholics and Lutherans confess this together, it is true to say that:

    23.When Lutherans emphasize that the righteousness of Christ is our righteousness, their intention is above all to insist that the sinner is granted righteousness before God in Christ through the declaration of forgiveness and that only in union with Christ is one’s life renewed. When they stress that God’s grace is forgiving love (“the favor of God”[12]), they do not thereby deny the renewal of the Christian’s life. They intend rather to express that justification remains free from human cooperation and is not dependent on the life-renewing effects of grace in human beings.

    24.When Catholics emphasize the renewal of the interior person through the reception of grace imparted as a gift to the believer,[13] they wish to insist that God’s forgiving grace always brings with it a gift of new life, which in the Holy Spirit becomes effective in active love. They do not thereby deny that God’s gift of grace in justification remains independent of human cooperation. ………………………..Thus justifying grace never becomes a human possession to which one could appeal over against God. While Catholic teaching emphasizes the renewal of life by justifying grace, this renewal in faith, hope, and love is always dependent on God’s unfathomable grace and contributes nothing to justification about which one could boast before God (Rom 3:27). [See Sources for section 4.3].’

    • Matthew,

      The Roman view is dogmatically, constitutionally, articulated at the Council of Trent and in the catechism of the Catholic Church (1994).

      The joint declaration does not have the status of conciliar, dogmatic teaching.

      • That may be the case, but I don’t think it’s right to reject the statement as essentially meaningless. It seems that the Catholics are trying to explain/ give further clarification as to how a Tridentine understanding of justification works out. When they are extending an olive branch, it seems unfair to just reject it out right – especially when it appears that their view is not so different from the Protestant one after all.

          • They were interesting articles, thanks for that. One of the Scholars that is quoted is Tony Lane who teaches our Church History module and Sin and grace here at London School of Theology. I found this interesting: ‘The Roman Catholic Church, by contrast, has in the last generation changed more than the great majority of Protestant churches…If we expect the Roman Church to disown Trent we will have a long wait; if we want to see Trent reinterpreted, we need only look around.” – obviously we would ideally like to see some aspects of Trent recanted, but since they are trying to reinterpret and explain what it means today, surely that’s got to count for something for us? Not ideal, but certainly very encouraging and worth taking seriously?

            • Yes, I understand. Rome doesn’t change (Vatican I) but she re-inteprets (Newman). Sigh.

              Ideal? No, essential!

              Documents like “The Joint Declaration” are just bait for naive evangelicals. Seriously. The Catechism is the magisterial teaching of the church. There we find no re-interpretation. Justification sola fide is unequivocally condemned. Justification on the basis of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is unequivocally condemned. Then there is Vatican I. Anyone who does not submit to the papacy, ditto.

              Evangelicals who treat Rome as if she were some evangelical agency for which ad hoc meetings and documents have standing are, as I say, naive. These are just fishing lures, shiny things glimmering in the water.

              Don’t bite. You’ll regret it. The fish always do.

              • Ok it sounds like we’re probably not going to agree on the direction of the Catholic Church. Personally, I don’t agree with some of the paranoid statements: that the joint declaration is simply a way for Catholics to ‘lure’ naive evangelicals. Sure that’s one way of looking at it (though to be honest I don’t know any Protestants who have ‘gone Catholic’ as a result of the declaration). It seems more accurate to say that the statement was a genuine attempt to bring greater unity to the global Church. Of course from our Protestant perspective there are still issues which we will disagree on, but responding to a genuine offer of dialogue and discussion with suspicion etc seems unfair. Why not take the statement as it stands and say ‘yes, ideally we would like to see more change, but since the structure of the Catholic Church is such that they don’t revoke what previous councils have said, but instead reinterpret it (in a way that is very generous to Protestants) – why not accept that as progress and where possible, encourage further changes.

  13. An observation from the perspective of someone who has seen a bit of the different ways that Rome manifests itself around the world. The glass coffin with a life sized statue of Jesus is fairly ubiquitous in Central America, where the faithful light candles and prostrate themselves before it, because it forms a cultural bridge to the area where such Catholic worship takes place. Demon worship takes place in other catholic churches, where only the names of the demons are replaced with those of saints, but they otherwise maintain their evil attributes. In the same way, Rome sometimes accommodates itself to American (or British) evangelicsm with statements that seem like compromises. However, as Rome has defined itself magisterially, it’s naïve to assume that non magisterial statements count for anything or should be taken seriously. Documents like “The Joint Declaration” are Rome’s way of proselytizing evangelicals, just as renaming local pagan deities after saints was a way to proselytize pagan Africans. I recall my wife befriending a gal in the prolife movement who has grown up pcusa and them married a nominal catholic and converted. Interestingly, she would assert that Rome believes in justification by Faith alone and seemed to assume that what Rome means by infused righteousness is similar to what we mean by imputed righteousness. When pressed, she consulted a catholic educator, who, to their credit, explained that she was mistaken and showed her from the catholic catechism what they really believe.

  14. Here is a statement from the Catechism itself. Personally I’m not keen on the word ‘merit’ , but actually if you look at what they are saying, they are still rooting it all in the grace of God. Any reward or merit is not something which can be held against God as though he owed us something: “2007 With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.

    2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. the fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.”

    • Matthew,

      This is precisely the naiveté about which I’ve been warning.

      The issue between Rome and Protestants (i.e., genuine evangelicals defined in the 16th-century sense of the term) has never been whether grace or even whether grace comes first (prevenient). The issue is manifold.

      Rome says that God comes to us preveniently, graciously in baptism, in which our sins are washed away and we are initially justified and given and unformed faith (fides infirma). Should we die immediately after baptism, it’s “all good” as people say. Ordinarily we mature and that unformed faith must become a “formed faith” (fides formata) by grace (received in the sacraments) and cooperation with grace. According to Rome justification is a process not an act, a declaration. We say it is an act whereby God declares that sinners are legally (forensically) righteous on the basis of Jesus’ alien (extrinsic to us) righteousness (condign merit), which righteousness (his active and passive obedience) is imputed (credited) to us and received through faith (knowledge, assent, and trust). Rome says that by grace and cooperation with grace, through the exercise of our free will (which is essential) the disposition (habitus) of righteousness must be formed in us, virtues (faith, hope, and love) must be formed in us, charity must be “poured forth into our hearts”) on which we must capitalize toward eventual sanctification/justification—Rome doesn’t distinguish. Faith, for Rome is not knowledge assent, and trust. Faith is a synecdoche for sanctification; it is faithfulness. For Rome, the basis of our justification is not extrinsic, it is not Christ’s proper (that which belongs to him) righteousness, his condign merit, no it is Spirit-wrought condign merit formed in us and (sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly depending upon who’s on the throne of Peter and which council has spoken) congruent merit (the imputation of perfection to our best efforts; facientibus quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam). Rome recognizes that that the intrinsic sanctity and righteousness being formed in you, putatively to become the basis of God’s recognition of your sanctification/justification isn’t sufficient so they have this legal fiction. Whereas for Protestants, the basis of our justification is God’s recognition of Christ’s condign (worthy) merit credited to us. There is no congruent merit.

      Rome does teach grace but how does she define it? As a medicinal substance with which we are infused by the sacraments. She teaches merit (as do we!) but of what sort and to what end? We have different definitions of merit. Different definitions of grace. We have different analyses of the human condition. Rome says the human condition is inherently flawed from creation. This is why we needed the donut superadditum (superadded gift), even before the fall. The Protestants deny this. We were created “in righteousness and true holiness” with the ability to sin or not to sin. We had no concupiscence (inherent moral corruption, a tendency to corruption) before the fall but Rome says that we do. For Protestants, our great trouble is the mystery of sin, the willful transgression of God’s holy law by perfectly righteous people. For Rome, sin is an understandable manifestation of our concupiscence, revealing our deepest need: divination. For Rome, our great problem is that we are not God.

      We also analyze sin quite differently. Rome is semi-Pelagian. She fuzzes the boundary between the pre- and postlapsarian state. We were a little corrupt before the fall and we’re corrupt after the fall but not so corrupt that we cannot do our part, i.e., cooperate with the infusion of divine grace toward eventual (after purgatory) sanctification/justification. The Protestants teach that the fall did not merely wound but it killed: “the day you eat thereof you shall surely die.” “You were dead in sins and trespasses.” According to confessional Protestants and particularly the Reformed, who’ve most consistently maintained the Augustinian heritage on this point, it is God who raises us from the dead, which work we tend to describe as regeneration. We have no power to cooperate unto eventual sanctification/justification. Sinners can’t cooperate. Baptism doesn’t have the power to regenerate. Humans cannot, as Rome says, propitiate the wrath of God by acts of penance. They cannot propitiate God’s wrath by daily, bloodless memorial sacrifices of Christ (contra Rome).

      In short, Rome has a system of progressive sanctification/justification by grace and cooperation with grace. The confessional Protestants deny that system utterly. Rome has a system of inherent righteousness. We deny inherent righteousness as the ground of justification as a fiction.

      Here is a free PDF surveying Luther’s doctrine of imputation (as distinct from Rome’s doctrine of infusion).

      • It seems to me that certain aspects of the way you present the Catholic view is pretty one sided. Any righteousness we have, according to my understanding of Catholic doctrine, is not earned in any way, and only comes to us by the Spirit on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice. I don’t want to get lost in a long debate. My desire was to simply say that there is ample evidence of Catholics engaging coherently and persuasively with Protestant doctrine, and actually agreeing with it in many places. Grace and peace.

        • Matthew,

          You read the Luther essay and all those posts already?

          The phrase “cooperation with” is dogmatic, conciliar Roman language. That’s their language not my summary. Much of what I wrote is nearly verbatim from Bernard, Thomas, Trent, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I wasn’t being polemical. I don’t have to be polemic to make the case that the differences between Rome and confessional Protestants remain huge.

          Read session 6 of the Council of Trent. Then read the section in the Catechism on justification. Look at the footnotes. Examine their language very closely and you will see that what I wrote was quite accurate.

          “Engaging” is an ambiguous term. Idris Cardinal Cassidy “engaged” evangelicals and got them to sign away the Reformation.

          I’m off to morning services (it’s still the Sabbath here). There’s an article addressing recent papal declarations about the status of Protestant churches, which rolls back Vatican II’s language. I can’t find it now. No time. You might search the archives.

          Here’s more reading:

          • There is a human response to God’s grace though? That seems to be the overwhelming message of the New Testament. I’m studying for various exams at the moment so I don’t have the time to read those articles right now, I will certainly check them out over summer though, thanks. Also, the cooperation itself is said to be initiated by and driven by God’s grace in Catholic doctrine. So when they stress the human cooperation with divine grace, that is always in the context of God taking the first move, and working inwardly so that we will in fact choose Him. The emphasis on human cooperation should not be taken to mean that humans retain some kind of ability to respond to God aside from his intervening grace. Also, you said that Justification is not a declaration in Catholicism, but in my reading of it so far, there absolutely is a declarative judgment. It’s that, they argue, it is both a declaration and a process. You are made right with God the moment you put your trust in Christ. But since this moment also brings you into union with Him, by his grace, you also start to get new desires and dispositions for holiness. These works carried out under the influence of the Holy Spirit are not something that one could hold over God as a payment that he owes. Instead, they are entirely attributable to God’s grace – we cooperate with him, but it is ultimately all from him. ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling – (our cooperation) – for it is God who works in you to will and to work for his good pleasure’ – (but ultimately it is all attributable to God). I think their lack of distinction between Justification and Sanctification is ultimately not helpful and confuses things. However, when pressed, it seems that what I call ‘sanctification’, they would call ‘working out their justification.’ And after all, the Protestant position needs to be careful not to distinguish them so much that Sanctification is an optional extra. Faith with no works = dead faith. We are judged on the basis of our works (personally I think this judgment involves whether our works were done ‘in Christ’ – that is flowing from a living and salvific relation to Him (rather than a strictly ethical assessment of our behaviour).

            • Matthew,

              Westminster Confession of Faith ch 9-10:

              1. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil.

              2. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

              3. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

              4. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.

              5. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone, in the state of glory only.

              Ch. 10:

              1. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.

              2. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.
              3. Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.
              4. Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the laws of that religion they do profess. And, to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested.

              On the moral & logical necessity of good works as the fruit and evidence of sanctity, Belgic Confession 24:

              We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,” causing him to live the “new life” and freeing him from the slavery of sin.

              Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned.

              So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,” which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word.

              These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification– for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.

              So then, we do good works, but nor for merit– for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure” — thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ ”

              Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works– but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts.

              Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

              So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.

              On sanctification:


  15. Thanks, I 100% agree with those statements. I’ve never read the Belgic Confession before but I like it (I’m more familiar with the Westminster stuff). The quote below is particularly good. Despite your hesitancy re the Joint Declaration, I can’t help but see lots of similarities between it and some of the other Protestant statements of faith. I’d be interested to see if any of my Catholic friends would agree with it, I suspect they would… (disclaimer: I’m Anglican Reformed not Catholic!)

    ‘These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification– for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.

    So then, we do good works, but nor for merit– for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure” — thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ ”

    Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works– but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts.

    Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

    So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.’

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