Faith Alone Is The Instrument Of Justification AND Salvation

sola-fide-flagControversy can be ugly and painful and the recent controversy over sanctification has been both at times. It can also be helpful by bringing greater clarity and this controversy has been useful in that respect. Some orthodox Reformed pastors are being charged with antinomianism because they allegedly over emphasize grace—how sinners who face eternal condemnation apart from the free favor merited for them by the perfect, whole obedience of Christ can over emphaize grace I am uncertain but that is the charge. Further, it is charged that some of these advocates of free grace downplay the moral, logical necessity of sanctification and good works as a consequence of Christ’s free justification of sinners. Whether that is so is a necessarily subjective judgment. Must one publish something on sanctification every time one publishes something on justification? Who determines how much emphasis on sanctity is enough? To be sure, it probably is the case that, in their enthusiasm for justification sola gratia, sola fide, some proponents of free acceptance with God have perhaps not been as consistently clear about the implications of grace and the normative role of the moral law for those who’ve been free justified (accepted with God) and who live before the face of God (coram Deo) by grace alone through faith alone, in union with Christ.

With those caveats out of the way, one feature of the response by some to the renewed emphasis on grace is the assertion that though we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone we are saved partly through works. This distinction has emerged more clearly in recent discussions in response to some of the recent posts on the HB and in correspondence. So, is it the case that we are justified sola gratia, sola fide but that our works are part of the instrument through which we are finally delivered from the wrath to come?

I’ve addressed this question in earlier posts (that were not written during a heated controversy and so may have been missed). As part of my regular exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism (which is why this is called the Heidelblog) I wrote 10 posts explaining the Heidelberg Catechism’s definition of faith. In part 10 I contrasted the teaching of the Q/A 21 (“what is true faith?”) with that of Norman Shepherd, one of the godfathers of the self-described Federal Vision movement and the intellectual grandfather of some of the criticisms of the advocates of free grace. In this post I want to borrow from that earlier post and weave that material together with a response to some of the critics.

In the course of this discussion it has been argued to me that our sanctification, that conformity to Christ and obedience wrought in us by the Spirit is part of the instrument, the means, not of our justification—although some seem to be distinguishing between an initial justification sola gratia, sola fide and a final justification that includes sanctity, a distinction that is utterly foreign to Reformed theology—but of our salvation, i.e., our final deliverance from the judgment to come.

I reply: Our obedience is either the ground (the basis), the instrument (the means), or the evidence (the fruit) of our salvation. The Reformed doctrine is the latter. It is the case that believers will be progressively sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit, through the due use of ordinary means, and that progressive sanctity will produce obedience in conformity to God’s holy law. That sanctity and concomitant and consequent obedience, however, is no part of the ground or instrument of our final salvation or acceptance with God.

The difficulty is that some Reformed folk are not satisfied with making Spirit-wrought sanctity, which produces obedience that comes to expression in good works, a logically necessary fruit of justification and the evidence of their regeneration, justification, union with Christ,  adoption etc. They want that sanctification and attendant good works to do more. They want that sanctity, obedience, and fruit to be a part of the means or instrument of our salvation (deliverance from the wrath to come), which includes our justification. As historians are wont to say, this has happened before.

Norman Shepherd, who taught at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia from the 1950s until 1981, and who was dismissed from his post there because of his doctrine, and whose doctrine of justification has been denounced by several confessional Reformed denominations, made good works more than the logically necessary fruit and evidence of our free acceptance with God in Christ. In his notorious 1978 “Thirty Four Theses”  Shepherd wrote:

11. Justifying faith is obedient faith, that is, “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6), and therefore faith that yields obedience to the commands of Scripture.

Shepherd adopted a Romanist definition of faith formed by love. He turned “working” into “makes faith what it is” or “makes faith justifying.” It was against this very error that the Protestants were so adamant in saying that good works are never the ground (with which Shepherd formally agreed in the 34 Theses) or the instrument of salvation. Shepherd rejected the Protestant doctrine on this point. That rejection led him to teach:

18. Faith, repentance, and new obedience are not the cause or ground of salvation or justification, but are, as covenantal response to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the way (Acts 24:14; II Peter 2:2, 21) in which the Lord of the Covenant brings his people into the full
possession of eternal life.

Notice that he mentions the ground (basis) and cause of justification and salvation but he omits the instrument. This is because he has already folded works into his definition of faith as the instrument not only of justification but also of salvation. According to Shepherd, sanctification and works are our “covenantal response” and “the way” by which we “come into possession of eternal life.” I was reminded of this language in our recent discussions. There are critics of Tullian, who in this discussion, have adopted the very language. He continues:

20. The Pauline affirmation in Romans 2:13, “the doers of the Law will be justified,” is not to be understood hypothetically in the sense that there are no persons who fall into that class, but in the sense that faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will be justified (Compare Luke 3:21; James 1:22-25).

Contra Calvin and the Reformed, there are Reformed people today who adopt this view of Romans 2:13 and that should be quite concerning. The Reformed view is that, in Romans 2:13, Paul is preaching the law, he is prosecuting the Jews for thinking that they could, finally, present themselves to God on the basis of their works. In effect, Paul says: Go ahead. See how well you do. Paul says in Romans 2:13

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (Romans 2:13 ESV)

Our Lord Jesus did not merely hear the law. He did it. He performed. He obeyed. He earned his standing before God and he earned, by his condign merit, a right standing before God for all who believe. Paul is not teaching here that believers, in union with Christ, can (if they exert themselves) present themselves to God in part or wholly on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity. On this passage Calvin explained:

…they gloried in the mere knowledge of it: to obviate this mistake, he declares that the hearing of the law or any knowledge of it is of no such consequence, that any one should on that account lay claim to righteousness, but that works must be produced, according to this saying, “He who will do these shall live in them.” The import then of this verse is the following, — “That if righteousness be sought from the law, the law must be fulfilled; for the righteousness of the law consists in the perfection of works.” They who pervert this passage for the purpose of building up justification by works, deserve most fully to be laughed at even by children. It is therefore improper and beyond what is needful, to introduce here a long discussion on the subject, with the view of exposing so futile a sophistry: for the Apostle only urges here on the Jews what he had mentioned, the decision of the law, — That by the law they could not be justified, except they fulfilled the law, that if they transgressed it, a curse was instantly pronounced on them. Now we do not deny but that perfect righteousness is prescribed in the law: but as all are convicted of transgression, we say that another righteousness must be sought. Still more, we can prove from this passage that no one is justified by works; for if they alone are justified by the law who fulfill the law, it follows that no one is justified; for no one can be found who can boast of having fulfilled the law.

Calvin read this passage not to teach the nature of the Christian life, as some Reformed folk do today, but he read it in light of the distinction between law and gospel. For Calvin, Romans 2:13 is not good news, that believers can, if they will, obey unto final acceptance with God. It is bad news: God still demands perfect obedience to the law and we cannot do it.

In response, as I’ve seen in this discussion, some who read Romans 2:13 to refer to Christian obedience “in the way of salvation” turn to the doctrine of congruent merit, that God imputes perfection to our best efforts so that those efforts are able to contribute toward our final acceptance with God. This is a version of the Franciscan covenant theology that the entire Reformation rejected. Again, it was against this background that the Belgic spoke of goods works “fruit” and evidence of our acceptance with God and not any part of the instrument.

We can see Shepherd folding works into faith as part of the instrument of justification and salvation here:

21. The exclusive ground of the justification of the believer in the state of justification is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, but his obedience, which is simply the perseverance of the saints in the way of truth and righteousness, is necessary to his continuing in a state of justification (Heb. 3: 6, 14).

Notice that he says “ground” but omits “instrument.” Notice too that he says that obedience is necessary for continuing in s state of justification. As Cornel Venema noted in his review of Shepherd’s Call of Grace Shepherd dispensed with merit altogether. This, of course, led him not only to deny our merits (which all Protestants should deny) but also the imputation of Christ’s merits. Yet, in this discussion, it seems that some of Tullian’s critics think that they are safe in talking about our good works somehow contributing to our final salvation so long as they deny that they are meritorious.

Speaking of “final salvation” do we really want to fall into the trap of two stages of justification or two stages of salvation? Yes, if salvation includes progressive sanctification, then, of course, it has been inaugurated in the application of redemption and will be consummated at the last day but it is not as if salvation is sola gratia, sola fide in this life and partly on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity and obedience at the last day. There are not two stages of justification. There is only one. “Having therefore been justified…” God’s Word does not say, “justification therefore having been initiated.”

Salvation is a broader term than justification as it includes the outworking of justification in our lives in sanctification. There are not two stages of salvation. It’s not as if we are initially delivered from the wrath to come by grace alone, through faith alone and then later delivered through faith and works or through faithfulness. No, our deliverance from the wrath to come is by grace alone, through faith alone, in union with Christ. On this Calvin is quite clear in Institutes 3.2.

When, contra the Gaffinite view of existential/mystical union with Christ I assert that there is a logical order of justification and sanctification and between faith and its effects, I’m following Calvin (Institutes 3.3.1):

With good reason, the sum of the gospel is held to consist in repentance and forgiveness of sins. Any discussion of faith, therefore, that omitted these two topics would be barren and mutilated and well-nigh useless. Now, both repentance and forgiveness of sins — that is, newness of life and free reconciliation — are conferred on us by Christ, and both are attained by us through faith. As a consequence, reason and the order of teaching demand that I begin to discuss both at this point. However, our immediate transition will be from faith to repentance. For when this topic is rightly understood it will better appear how man is justified by faith alone, and simple pardon; nevertheless actual holiness of life, so to speak, is not separated from free imputation of righteousness. Now it ought to be a fact beyond controversy that repentance not only constantly follows faith, but is also born of faith.

Repentance, the turning away from sin, the learning to hate sin more and more, is born of faith, it follows faith. Was Calvin an antinomian? Did Calvin deny union with Christ? Was Calvin weak on sanctification?

Back to Shepherd. Look what Shepherd does with our obedience. Having assumed a two-stage justification he teaches:

22. The righteousness of Jesus Christ ever remains the exclusive ground of the believer’s justification, but the personal godliness of the believer is also necessary for his justification in the judgment of the last day (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:31-46; Heb. 12:14).

Again, he denies that our obedience is any part of the ground of justification but he teaches that it part of the instrument of our justification on the last two. He’s not only made two stages of justification but he’s included our good works into faith in that justification, which he has now conflated with salvation. So, what began as a distinction between justification and salvation has elided. They are now one.

Please do not ignore what happens when good works become more than fruit, evidence or the way it is. When they become part of the ground (which even Shepherd denies—not to say that he was entirely consistent with his denial) or the instrument (which he affirms) the gospel is lost. The good news is not that we shall be finally accepted by God if we are sufficiently sanctified. The good news is that we have already been accepted by God (!) for Christ’s sake alone and because that it is so the same Holy Spirit who united us to Christ will also gradually, graciously work sanctity in us. Must we struggle to be sanctified? Yes! Amen! Is it hard? Yes! Amen! Must we take up our cross daily, die to self, and actively seek to grow in sanctity, in conformity to Christ? Yes! Amen! Is the judgment a final exam for believers wherein our standing with God is renegotiated on the basis of how well we did in this life? μὴ γένοιτο. May it never be! The standing with God of all believers has already been adjudicated at the cross and our Savior said: It is finished! That is the Word of God. That is the gospel. If an angel tries to tell you differently little one, you tell him “Get behind me Satan.”

Shepherd continues:

23. Because faith which is not obedient faith is dead faith, and because repentance is necessary for the pardon of sin included in justification, and because abiding in Christ by keeping his commandments (John 15:5, 10; I John 3:13, 24) are all necessary for continuing in the state of justification, good works, works done from true faith, according to the law of God, and for his glory, being the new obedience wrought by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer united to Christ, though not the ground of his justification, are nevertheless necessary for salvation
from eternal condemnation and therefore for justification (Rom. 6:16, 22; Gal. 6:7-9).

When Shepherd says “continuing in a state of justification” he not only implied that we can lose our justification, a denial of the biblical and Reformed doctrine of perseverance (see the 5th head of doctrine of the Canons of Dort) but he also teaches that the “good works…done from true faith” i.e., “the new obedience” are necessary to retain what has been given. They are “necessary for salvation” which he rightly defined as deliverance from eternal condemnation. This was the doctrine of George Major in the 1550s, that good works are necessary for “retaining salvation.” This is the Marjorist error that all the Protestants rejected in the 1550s.

Shepherd juxtaposed “works of the law” with “good works:”

24. The “works” (Eph. 2:9), or “works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16), or “righteousness of my own derived from the Law” (Phil. 3:9), or “deeds which we have done in righteousness”(Titus 3:5) which are excluded from justification and salvation, are not “good works” in the Biblical sense of works for which the believer is created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10), or works wrought by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 5:22-26), or works done from true faith (I Thess. 1:3), according to the law of God, and for his glory, but are the works of the flesh (Gal. 3:3) done in unbelief (Gal. 3:12) for the purpose of meriting God’s justifying verdict.

He thinks that by juxtaposing the two and by making good works Spirit-wrought sanctity, that he can fold them into the instrument of justification and salvation without harm. He even says “done from true faith,” which some critics of Tullian seem reluctant to say. Shepherd explains:

25. The Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone does not mean that faith in isolation or abstraction from good works justifies, but that the way of faith (faith working by love), as opposed to the “works of the law” or any other conceivable method of justification, is the only way of justification. (John Calvin, Institutes, III, 11, 20. “Indeed, we confess with Paul that no other faith justifies ‘but faith working through love'{Gal 5:6]. But it does not take its power to justify from that working of love. Indeed, it justifies in no other way but that it leads us into fellowship with the righteousness of Christ.”)

Shepherd’s language of “the way of faith,” is how he teaches the Roman doctrine of faith formed by love. He quotes Calvin, as if Calvin taught Shepherd’s doctrine of justification and salvation through faith and works. He did not:

When you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or of works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle.

That’s from Calvin’s 1548 Commentary on Galatians 5:6. The reason that Calvin wrote those words is the Roman doctrine of justification and salvation through faithfulness or through faith formed by love.  The remarkable thing is that in two theses Shepherd actually mentions the very error that he teaches:

26. The Roman Catholic doctrine that justification is a process in which the unjust man is transformed into a just man by the infusion of sacramental grace confuses justification with sanctification, and contradicts the teaching of Scripture that justification is a forensic verdict of God by which the ungodly are received and accepted as righteous on the ground of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.

More than once in this discussion over the years it has been said to me that as long as we make justification forensic we may, in effect, say what we will about salvation (including sanctification). Well, Shepherd taught that justification is forensic (a legal declaration) but that doesn’t help if we omit sola fide from justification and salvation.

27.The Roman Catholic doctrine that faith merits (congruent merit) the infusion of justifying grace, and that faith formed by love and performing good works merits (condign grace) eternal life contradicts the teaching of Scripture that justification is by grace through faith apart from works of the law.

Shepherd is aware of the Roman doctrine of faith formed by love (fides formata caritate) he just doesn’t understand that is what he teaches. He thinks that by omitting merit and infused grace that he’s saved himself, as it were, from the Roman definition of faith. He hasn’t. He doesn’t understand that his the Roman doctrine of justification and salvation by grace and cooperation with grace. Spirt-wrought sanctity is necessary as a consequence of our justification. Justified and saved people will produce good fruit by grace alone, through faith alone. We may even say they shall do so but that Spirit-wrought sanctity and those consequent good works are not and cannot be the instrument through which we are either justified or saved. God has nowhere promised to impute perfection to our best efforts (facientibus quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam or congruent merit).

Think of all that Shepherd includes in his definition of faith:

  • Spirit-wrought Obedience
  • Repentance
  • Keeping his commandments
  • Perseverance

How much obedience does it take to make faith true? How much repentance and how sincere must it be in order for faith to be considered genuine? How well must one keep the commandments in order to successfully persevere and to be qualified to be finally justified?

Contrast Shepherd’s definition of faith in the act of justification with Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 21:

21. What is true faith?

True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

The Heidelberg never mentions or even hints at Spirit-wrought sanctity and obedience (works) in its definition of faith in the act of justification.

There is one ground of justification: Christ’s whole, perfect obedience credited to believers and received through faith defined as resting, receiving, leaning upon, trusting in Christ and his finished work. The new life wrought in us by the Spirit necessarily produces sanctity and sanctity results in obedience and good works. The putting to death of the old man and the making alive of the new is a struggle. As a consequence of Christ’s gracious salvation of his people they (we) owe him utter thankful obedience, which the Spirit is graciously producing in us, but that obedience never becomes any part of the instrument through which we are accepted with God or finally saved from the wrath to come.

56 comments

  1. Great article. Many accusing Tullian of free grace, like Shepherd, are dabbling in the Roman Catholic teaching of an infused salvation whether they define it this way or not.

    Imputation (and never infusion) of the work of Christ to us is the key. And how is Christ’s work imputed? “By faith alone” “through the hearing of the gospel.” We in no way, shape, or form share in our justification. We can only receive the finished justifying work by faith.

    What those critiquing Tullians stance don’t realize is that the Holy Spirit stirs the fruit of faith via the preaching of that free grace.

    “Justified and saved people will produce good fruit, by grace alone, through faith alone.”

    On the contrary, teaching infusion as Rome does results in bondage and no freedom to obey. Instead, one is pointed inward and distracted from Christ’s finished work. It is scary that much of modern Protestantism looks very close to Rome on some of these teachings

    Thank you so much for your insight Dr. Clark. This articles are very helpful amidst a difficult topic for many.

  2. These Moralists see, if I can put it this way, the Third Use of the Law as not just Normative but also Formative.

  3. You guys are dead on. What is so ironic about these critiques of Tullian is that in an effort to protect a high view of the law they are actually lowering the standard of the law to something achievable. Not that they affirm such a thing (except for the FV view), but that is the emphasis. The disconnect seems to be a matter of practical theology and pastoral wisdom. I pray that it is not more than that. May the the discussion/debate going forward be marked more by light than heat.

  4. I think I agree with you Dr. Clark but I wondered if you could comment on this passage from chapter 8 in The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. It’s confusing how concerned Marshall was to insist on the Spirit’s sanctifying work in someone who comes to faith just before death, and that God will judge according to our works:

    We then conclude that holiness in this life is absolutely necessary to salvation, not only as a means to the end, but by a nobler kind of necessity, as part of the end itself. Though we are not saved by good works, as procuring causes, yet we are saved to good works, as fruits and effects of saving grace, which God has prepared that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). It is, indeed, one part of our salvation to be delivered from the bondage of the covenant of works; but the end of this is, not that we may have liberty to sin (which is the worst of slavery) but that we may fulfil the royal law of liberty, and that we may serve in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Gal. 5:13; Rom. 7: 6). Yea, holiness in this life is such a part of our salvation as is a necessary means to make us suitable to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in heavenly light and glory; without holiness we can never see God (Heb. 12:14), and are as unfit for the glorious presence as swine for the presence chamber of an earthly prince. I confess, some may be converted when they are so near the point of death that they may have little time to practice holiness in this world, but the grace of the Spirit is active like fire (Matt. 3:11), and, as soon as it is given, it will immediately produce good inward working of love to God and Christ and His people. This will be sufficient to manifest the righteous judgement of God in saving them at the great day, when He shall judge every man according to His work; though some possibly may not have so much time to discover their inward grace in any outward works, as the thief upon the cross (Luke 23: 40,43).

  5. Scott, what do you make of this statement by Ursinus, and how do you think it is different from what “some reformed folk” are currently saying :

    “The question whether good works are necessary to salvation belongs properly to this place. There have been some who have maintained simply and positively that good works are necessary to salvation, whilst others, again, have held that they are pernicious and injurious to salvation. Both forms of speech are ambiguous and inappropriate, especially the latter; because it seems not only to condemn confidence, but also the desire of performing good works. It is, therefore, to be rejected. The former expression must be explained in this way; that good works are necessary to salvation, not as a cause to an effect, or as if they merited a reward, but as a part of salvation itself, or as an antecedent to a consequent, or as a means without which we cannot obtain the end….

    “We may, therefore, easily return an answer to the following objection: That is necessary to salvation without which no one can be saved. But no one who is destitute of good works can be saved, as it is said in the 87th question. Therefore, good works are necessary to salvation. We reply to the major proposition by making the following distinction: That without which no one can be saved is necessary to salvation, viz: as a part of salvation, or as a certain antecedent necessary to salvation, in which sense we admit the conclusion, but not as a cause, or as a merit of salvation….

    “We, therefore, grant the conclusion of the major proposition if understood in the sense in which we have just explained it. For good works are necessary to salvation, or to speak more properly in them that are to be saved (for it is better thus to speak for the sake of avoiding ambiguity) as a part of salvation itself; or as an antecedent of salvation, but not as a cause or merit of salvation.” (pp. 484-85 of the P & R commentary)

    • Louis,

      Ursinus was responding to a controversy between George Major and N. Von Amsdorff (I think). Major made good works instrumental to “retaining salvation” and the other side (Flaccius?) said it was injurious to speak about good works relative to salvation.

      I think I agree entirely with Ursinus.

  6. Hi Dr. Clark –

    I hope that all is well, and I am glad that you survived the fires in the San Diego area.

    Anyway, you asked the question in your essay, “How much repentance and how sincere must it be in order for faith to be considered genuine?”

    Repentance is not an option nor is it a work. It is a commandment by God for all Christians.

    On 1-13-14, on the conservative Lutheran website, “Steadfast Lutherans”, Nathan Redman did an essay entitled, “My First Time – An experience of Private Confession and Absolution”, where he gives a huge thumbs up to the practice. (Please google it.)

    In the WELS and LCMS, many Lutherans are now requesting from their pastors a private Confession and Absolution. Many are doing this weekly. You will see in the comments section that these Lutherans are saying that they have never experienced such a grace and a peace with God as they do after confession.

    In fact, many of those conservative Lutherans (not ELCA) are now calling it a Sacrament.

    What is your take on this?

    Peace!

    • What one experiences should never be taken as the arbiter of the rightness of a course of action. I’m sure that many monks (not Luther!) felt very content after a self-lashing.

      Confession to another and the hearing of the word of forgiveness can have more impact (though not more validity) than reminding oneself of these truths.

      But asking one’s pastor for this service is very ‘clericalist’ and runs counter to Luther’s Priesthood of All Believers. It reflects an ‘ex opere operato’ element that has crept into modern Lutheranism over and above what Luther would have IMHO meant by the Real Presence.

  7. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for food for thought. In light of your essay, I would be interested in your comments on Jones’ chapter (I think it’s his) in Puritan Theology on Judgment According to Works, especially the concept of “double justification,” articulated by Thomas Manton and others, which looks very much like, if not identical to, some those Shepherd quotes you provided.

    • David,

      See the last two chapters of Caspar Olevian and The Substance of the Covenant and my essay “The Benefits of Christ: Double Justification in Protestant Theology Before the Westminster Assembly,” Anthony T. Selvaggio, ed., The Faith Once Delivered: Celebrating the Legacy of Reformed Systematic Theology and the Westminster Assembly (Essays in Honor of Dr. Wayne Spear). (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007), 107–34.

    • Dr. Clark,

      Thanks. I have the Selvaggio book so I just read your essay. I don’t think it really answers my question because it doesn’t relate the concept of “double justification” to the final judgment, but rather focuses on how the early Protestants related justification and sanctification. I think you mention that they understood James to teach “justification” before men. But Jones’ chapter highlights how the believer’s works function at the final judgment in a way that sounds very much like Shepherd’s thesis #22.

    • David,

      Thank you for reading the essay. My reading of 17th century writers suggests to me that the trajectory I found in the 16th century continued, that the duplex iustitia, duplex gratia, and duplex beneficium pattern, their way of saying justification and sanctification remained essentially unchanged. The latter grace, sanctification is not made nor does it become instrumental. It is evidence and fruit. That’s why we distinguish between justification and vindication.

      http://heidelblog.net/2013/08/justification-and-vindication/

    • Dr. Clark,

      Thanks. To be sure, the material in that chapter of PT spoke of works as evidence also, but related them, in that capacity, to the final judgment, that is, as the evidence that a Christian’s faith is true. Did you find this in your studies?

      It seems to me that your denial that faith functions either as the ground or instrument of salvation is helpful, but I wonder if the term “evidence” is sufficient to describe their actual role. It strikes me that the point being made in the citations from the Reformed orthodox, Turretin, Davenant, etc. is that sanctification/good works are part of salvation itself (and not merely signifiers), and in that sense they are the means (but not the instrument) to the end (glory). I think you would agree with this? I don’t know if this is helpful….

    • How about this?

      …yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.

    • Oops, that second paragraph should begin, “It seems to me that your denial that works function …”

  8. Thanks for the flashback to 1978 and Norman Shepard. I was bemoaning to the wife that apparently there is a group with a disco sound on the charts again, but I guess that’s not the only thing that should stay in the 70’s.
    I must say, however, that your question: “Must one publish something on sanctification every time one publishes something on justification?” struck me as more than a little ironic, as I had a similar thoughts on some of the internet reaction (including Tullians) to Jen Wilkin’s article on TGC. Must a carefully qualified article on sanctification always be prefaced by a Institutes length treatise on justification?

  9. Scott,

    Thanks. Could you briefly explain how you see certain parties to the current debate differing from Ursinus in that passage? You criticized “some Reformed folk” for wanting “obedience and fruit to be a part of the means or instrument of our salvation,” but Ursinus says that “good works are necessary to salvation… as an antecedent to a consequent, or as a means without which we cannot obtain the end.” Is anyone today saying any more than that?

  10. Great article, Dr. Clark.

    I also love WCF 14.2 on saving faith, and how it relates to sanctification: “…the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, *sanctification*, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.”

  11. It’s hardly the case that the sanctification controversy is about an over emphasis on grace. One of the main problems for TT is a conflation of grace with justification and forgiveness. While our free acceptance in Christ is certainly a wonderful truth, grace, in the Bible and the Reformed Confessions, is never reduced to simply justification. To minimize grace to justification is not to preach too much grace, but too little of it.

    United to Jesus by the Spirit, we receive him and all his gracious benefits (justification, sanctification, adoption), simultaneously and eschatologically.

    • Chuck,

      I don’t disagree with your doctrine but can you make the case for your assertion that Tullian is guilty as charged?

      I keep wondering why his critics don’t understand his audience (not just his congregation)? Why doesn’t that matter?

    • Scott,

      Certainly, you can’t say everything about the grace of God at one time. And, context is always important for understanding a pastor’s emphasis. So, I’ve wanted to give some time and space before drawing conclusions.

      That said, TT has been banging on about this solitary theme for several years. Good critiques have been made, not requesting balance, but calling for more comprehensive accounts of God’s grace. Thus far, we’ve not seen TT absorb those critiques. Rather, he continues to move further and further into Forde’s law / gospel paradigm. This doesn’t help his case.

      End of the day, TT accuses many, who talk about obedience, of not being gospel preachers. He throws in the DO vs. DONE stuff and intonates that calls to obedience are moralstic, self-salvation programs (DO). This doesn’t help either. No one is claiming that we sanctify ourselves by our own efforts.

      Sorry. This is all I can say in this medium.

    • Chuck,

      I think your last comment is perhaps the most important. There is a significant difference of opinion, largely grounded in different experiences and locations, over what the great problem is that faces us. Some people, in some parts of the country (e.g., the southeast of the USA), see antinomianism and immorality as the single greatest problem facing us. Those people, who are orthodox in their theology generally, see Tullian’s teaching as a great threat. They see him as facilitating the very thing they hate the most.

      Others, in different parts of the country, with a different set of experiences, see legalism or nomism as the single greatest threat facing us.

      I am reasonably sure that Tullian is in the latter category. I sympathize with him. I am quite committed to the “double benefit” approach to justification and sanctification (as taught by the classic Reformed writers and as distinct from, for example, Dick Gaffin’s reformulation of the doctrine of union with Christ).

      In my ministry I have tried to teach the double benefit. But I have reason to think that even that approach is unsatisfactory to a lot of Reformed people.

      I have received enough correspondence over the years from those who are in settings where the gospel is rarely preached and where it is frequently assumed or where it is taught that we are accepted because we are sanctified or to the degree we are sanctified that I can understand why Tullian speaks as he does.

      I remember talking about Luther one day in class, at Wheaton College, explaining how he became a Protestant and why. After the lecture a student came up to me with tears in his eyes (this happened more than once) to say that he had been raised in a congregation in which the very same doctrine of justification was taught that Luther rejected. I have a reason to believe that happens in plenty of Reformed congregations too.

      I really believe that many Reformed people simply assume the Gospel. I remember very clearly a well known, well regarded Reformed theologian saying, in public, “we all know what we believe about the Gospel. Now, let’s get on to the Christian life.” That attitude is widespread. The truth is that we do not all know what we believe about the Gospel. That is one of the principal reasons that there is, apparently, so little sanctification in our churches.

      As I keep saying, the goal is sanctification. The question is how do we get there? Before God’s people can be sanctified they must first be justified. Put another way, it is the justified who are sanctified.

      Yes, as I keep saying, Tullian and others could do a better job of more consistently and clearly articulating the third use of the law but the outrage at Tullian’s inconsistency seems selective and thus not terribly persuasive to me.

    • Thanks, Scott. I appreciate your thoughts and share most of your concerns (Ferguson still takes the cake on union with Christ in his book on the Holy Spirit!). Whatever the case, I agree that it is easy to assume the gospel and fail to announce it clearly. I hope to always be sensitive to this in my own ministry.

      I also appreciate your acknowledgement that TT could operate with more consistency. Ultimately, this seems to be a major issue.

      In attempting to correct one error, TT seems to have jerked the wheel too hard the other way. He also made some strange bed fellows in the process. Most of it is probably reconciliable, but TT insists on creating caricatures of those who critique him. Of course, he may not recognize this because he may only be able to see his critics as Pharisees. I don’t know. But, whatever the case, I believe he could clear up a tremendous amount by answering the questions his critics are actually asking and by giving some humble answers.

    • Chuck hi – yours of 12.30pm 26th

      I think the dialogue might go like this (with Tullian giving the answers)

      Q. Do you believe in the Third use of the Law?
      A. Yes

      Q. How does it work?
      A. As the gospel warms our heart, the Law in its Third use clarifies for the believer how he might live out his life.

      Q. We too believe it is Normative in this way
      A. Yes, but you appear to believe that, when the heart grows cold as it will, we should press on with obedience, whereas I would say we must go back to the gospel for our hearts to be warmed again; indeed this is an ongoing process; our obedience is only as ‘good’ as the ‘affection’ driving it?

      Q. Isn’t that too defeatist, too passive?
      A. Not at all – to remember and seek to be reminded of gospel truths takes effort and discipline when the world would have you strive on your own. The fight of faith is the fight to retain faith

      Q. Mmm
      A. So how would you explain your position in a way that will not sound moralistic to the average man on the street, or indeed the average man in the pew?

  12. Scott,
    Are you comfortable with Turretin’s language on the necessity of good works: “…required as the means and way of possessing salvation?” (17.3.3), and as the “means to the end” of glorification (17.3.14)?
    Blessings in Christ,
    kb

    • Kyle,

      That is what I remembered Turretin to say but I was unable to check my copy over the weekend. I went to the office to get it and then came home with the wrong book. I have been thinking about this and expecting someone to say something.

      I have a great respect for Turretin and don’t often disagree with him but, in this case, if by “means” he intends “instrument” then I must disagree with him.

      In the past I have understood him to be saying simply that good works are the ordinary course of things. I believe heartily that good works are the ordinary, necessary course of things in the Christian life. Ordinarily, necessarily, consequently good works are the fruit and evidence of new life, true faith, justification, and union with Christ.

      I do not think, however, that good works put us into possession of anything. Faith alone puts us into possession of Christ and all his benefits, of which sanctity (and ultimately glorification) is one.

    • Might it not be that the word ‘necessary’ is misleading?

      It speaks of a ‘sine qua non’ for salvation

      Might ‘inseparable’ not be better?

      [I also have similar unease about the notion of ‘consequent (or subsequent) conditions of salvation’]

    • If a tree produces no fruit do we ordinarily regard it as living?

      So, you’re troubled by Belgic Arg 24?

      Heidelberg 3.

      Jesus is pretty clear about the moral, logical necessity of sanctity.

    • RSC – yours of 8.13 am

      Surely the existence or absence of fruit is not in fact the definition of the tree being alive or not – it is an (or even the) indication. To stretch the analogy, the definition would be the existence of sap (faith) which is effectively invisible to our eyes

      Statements ‘without holiness shall no man see God’ mean either (i) without Christ’s holiness, which is imputed to all believers; or (ii) without positional holiness, which all believers have, and is almost identical to (i); or (iii) without their ‘own’, developed and maturing but imperfect holiness.

      The trouble with the latter option (and with the concept of ‘necessity’) is that it will always make people focus on something needed in addition to justification

      I know you fight this on all fronts; so I’m sure we stand shoulder to shoulder on doctrine here. I just suspect that wording can be unhelpful. Some people take it and run with moralism, and then we wonder why it always creeps back in

      Don’t be harsh on me on this

    • Richard,

      I think the third option is correct. I believe it is the case that without some degree of moral transformation, wrought by the Holy Spirit through the due use ordinary means (Word and Sacrament) it is not possible to see the Lord.

      This is why our theologians and confessions speak of good trees and good fruit. They were quite aware of the logical necessity and uniqueness of forensic justification. That is why Calvin called it the “axis” of the Christian faith. Nevertheless, ordinarily, the same Holy Spirit who gave to us new life and with it the gift of faith and through that gift of faith union with Christ also works in us a new moral and spiritual life that issues in fruit or good works.

      This is why Luther taught a “double justification.” By that he meant that we are justified sola gratia, sola fide but we are also progressively sanctified and that sanctification is evidence more vindication of our faith and new life. Calvin spoke of a “twofold grace” and Olevianus spoke of a “double benefit.” The first benefit is justification and the second, consequent benefit is progressive sanctification.

      It is a mistake to flatten out the logical relation between the two and it is a mistake to omit either of them.

    • Thank you Scott for helpful words – may mine be likewise

      Unpacking your second para, the second and third sentences there are about justification and of course I agree 100%. And we would both agree that the basis (in fact the instrument) of justification is faith, not works.

      The other sentences there are about sanctification and again I agree with them 100%, noting especially your ‘ordinarily’ since we cannot deduce anything about moral transformation of the thief on the cross beyond his initial statement of faith (which, as an aside, was itself arguably deficient). And we both agree with your third para, that sanctification is benefit received from God, especially Luther’s point that sanctification is evidence of our new life, rather than a vindication or sealing of it.

      So I don’t want to omit either of them, and I’m not sure what ‘flattening’ their linkage would mean. But I am still unhappy with the linkage that I think you do introduce in your first para which could translate as “We can only be saved by faith and transformation, even if the latter need only be partial and is a fruit wrought in us by the Holy Spirit and coexisting alongside faith”.

      The thrust of scripture is that perfection, total not partial, is needed to ‘see God’; the question is who’s. Your rendering would have Christ’s active obedience being imputed to us though there would be no need for that in those areas in which we are subsequently transformed.

      I am not trying to smuggle in antinomianism, which is in any case a wrong attitude to the law, not the absence of obedience to the law. So what am I trying to change, (especially since I certainly agree that good trees produce good fruit)?!

      I’m trying to adjust back our focus as believers, and therefore what we say to unbelievers. If we say that fruit is necessary – even if just as an evidence not as contributing to salvation – then fruit, being relatively visible, is where we focus – and we all know that when hospitals introduce measures of efficiency, it is not long before those ‘measures’ become ‘targets’ and everything can quickly go back to front. (Incidentally it would be revealing if we asked ourselves why we are more focussed on moral transformation as ‘necessary fruit’ than, say, joy which is the Spirit’s fruit wrought in us)

      The problem with the Pharisees was that they were turning ‘measures’ or ‘indicators’ into ‘targets’ (or ‘proofs’ for the more cocksure ones). We must not do likewise, and we must certainly not dilute the ‘measures’ (the Law) into digestible ‘do-able’ chunks

      If however we were to say that only faith is necessary, but faith is not the only benefit, we would focus on faith. From this two problems do indeed emerge. First, faith is much less visible, especially in others, than is moral transformation so we will always be drawn to inspecting the latter, but this tendency does not make it right. Secondly there is also the alternative danger that we will try to find and focus on faith within ourselves but this is ‘faith in faith’ and it is not difficult to see that this is not how biblical faith is envisaged.

      Instead, to see if we, or others, have faith, we examine the One in whom we have faith and if our settled, dependent, heart-located conviction accords with biblical teaching about Jesus, then we have salvific faith (I could define this much better – but that’s not my point). Now of course we may use certain external actions as indicators but these should not be called ‘necessary’, and even less ‘consequent conditions’. Logically, if I never take a ride home with Jo but prefer to walk back in the rain, my faith in him is surely in doubt. But insisting that I take a ride home with him as a necessary condition, or corollary, of trusting him, is not sound logic

      I hope the above contributes in some positive way

  13. Thank-you RSC. I was frustratedly stuck before now. I was convinced by the fruit but didn’t have the words.

  14. I was thinking more about this. The Westminster Confession is quite clear that the covenant of works promised life to Adam “and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience”. So, everyone seems to understand and accept that if Adam were able to pull it off then his offspring would be all good because of “his” obedience. Why then is it any different when the Second Adam, who is greater, does meet the conditions of perfect and personal obedience?

  15. I think some of the debate comes from a notion that once I am saved I am able to do works that are in themselves pleasing to God when in fact at my most pious moment when I’m doing the very best thing I can possibly do, it is still polluted with sin (a little pride, a pinch of un-belief) and therefore offensive to a holy God. If that’s true (and I’m tracking that many will say it’s not) then the only way any of my actions can please God is through the application of Christ’s righteousness. Therefore at the moment of justification I need the application of Christ’s righteousness and at every step of sanctification I need the application of Christ’s righteousness and for all eternity my continued existence depends upon and is sustained by the application of Christ’s righteousness.

  16. Scott,

    Thank you so much for this article! I’ve been perplexed about the whole hullabaloo over TT, and to find clarity among the chaos of articles, I’ve looked to the Heidelblog and have not been disappointed. I also want to thank you for the comment you made on the 26th at 11:47 AM about your experience with various areas of the country and their views of the Gospel. From my experience living in the Midwest, California, and TX, I’d say your observations are spot on! I think, as you said, people that live in those regions are worried about different things in the church. I think that’s one reason why I couldn’t really understand what the TT debate was all about, but then, if I place myself in the Southern context, TT’s views would be worrisome, like you observed. I also agree that we should never assume the Gospel. John and I have found too often that people say, “I get the Gospel, so let’s move on.” ARGH! So do they really get the Gospel? Not so much. But that’s been a mantra in many of the churches we’ve been to in the South, and it’s beyond frustrating. Thanks for putting words to our experiences. I appreciate it!

  17. I was influenced profoundly many years ago by the Sonship course of World Harvest Mission. Not being a trained theologian, I cannot defend all the ideas I absorbed. Perhaps you can clarify where Jack Miller’s teaching fits in this debate.

    One aspect of what I learned seems like it would be very helpful in this conversation, but is absent: the path to transformation. Sonship presented a “sanctification by faith” framework. It taught that as I grow in my understanding of God’s holiness and of my own sin (through the Law), the Spirit drives me back to the Cross in deeper repentance and greater faith in what Christ did for me (Gospel). This experience of being humbled transforms me so that I both want to love more and do.

    The “Nike” sermons (“Just Do It”) that I hear so often offer no answer to the questions of “But where do I get the power to do it?” and “What if I have failed at this miserably?” As you say, the Gospel is assumed, but not preached to those who desperately need it.

    Sonship also used the tree/fruit image to discuss behavior and sanctification. It taught that outward behavior (“surface sins”) are symptoms of heart issues. Behavior is fueled by thoughts which come from emotions which reflect deep attitudes which ultimately are rooted in our fundamental unbelief. (I’m working from memory here, but you can get the idea.) The lesson was that if I repent of the outward behavior (“I am sorry I lied. Forgive me.”), I have a minimal self-knowledge and can expect only a shallow impact. As I understand the “why” behind my behavior, and ultimately see how I am denying the Gospel (“I actually think I’m alone in life and that You can’t protect me! I’m often afraid and living life like an orphan in the streets! Oh, Father, how I need Jesus!”), I am driven to a deep repentance over my unbelief. Such a deep encounter brings a deeper faith and more fundamental heart changes. I become a humble person because I am seeing my deep neediness. I become a loving person because I am so aware of the unmerited love God has for me.

    Is this dynamic for transformation not a Reformed idea?

    Thank you.

    • Tad,

      I don’t have much direct knowledge of the Sonship Movement(s). I’m given to understand that there was an earlier version and a later version. Some folks I know really dislike the Sonship Movement. Some folks I trust aren’t troubled by it. I started to study it years ago and got derailed by something. It doesn’t really exist in my ecclesiastical circles and I’ve not been forced to sort it all out. I remember reading a journal article or two by Jay Adams and someone else several years ago that were quite critical. I think the main criticism is that it (in the earlier version) denied or ignored the 3rd use of the law.

      I agree that we are justified and sanctified by grace alone, through faith alone. I agree that our sins are also symptoms of an underlying problem (more sin and rebellion!). I would not want to describe the root of sin in therapeutic terms. Sin produces psychological/emotional disorders but the underlying cause of our sin is the corruption of the faculties (affections, will, intellect) or of the soul by sin.

      We do need to be driven back to our gracious Father and to his Son, our elder brother, our intercessor/Mediator, by the work of the Spirit and Heidelberg Catechism 115 teaches that one of the purposes of the law, even in its third use is to teach us believers the greatness of our sin and misery and our continuing need for Christ’s righteousness imputed and the ongoing renovating work of the Spirit:

      115. Why then does God so strictly enjoin the ten Commandments upon us, since in this life no one can keep them?

      First, that as long as we live we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and so the more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ; secondly, that without ceasing we diligently ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we be renewed more and more after the image of God, until we attain the goal of perfection after this life.

      Sanctification, however, also entails genuine, honest struggle against sin. HC 88–90 describe the Christian life as mortification and vivification. HC 32 says now that we have been graciously redeemed we can “with a free conscience…fight against sin and the devil in this life….”

      Our new life in Christ is to be normed by God’s holy law. By his marvelous grace we’ve been plunged into a struggle—the outcome of which has already been determined! but which is nonetheless vital. D-Day was determinative for World War II but the remaining battles had to be fought. Men still bled and froze to death in the Battle of the Bulge.

      So my answer is “yes but.” Yes, but there is more. Have the Sonship Movements led to a higher or lower view of the “due use of ordinary means”? Have the Sonship Movements led to a greater or lesser appreciation of the abiding validity of the moral law as the norm for the Christian life? We can answer those questions with others. Have the Sonship Movements led congregations to teach clearly about the Sabbath and to retain the second service (as part of the due use of ordinary means) or have they facilitated a less robust view of the Sabbath and the abandonment of the second service? I don’t have conclusive answers but my impression based on my observations, is that where the Sonship models have predominated there has been less emphasis on the Sabbath and the due use of ordinary means.

      That said, I would criticize (at least some of) the critics for failing to uphold the historic and arguably the confessional doctrine of the 2nd commandment. Their critique of the Sonship Movements would be more credible if they weren’t themselves also revisionists of the historic Reformed view of the 2nd commandment. Why do they get to revise the historic Reformed view of the 2nd commandment but the Sonship people can’t revise the Reformed view of the 4th? Is the latter more sacred than the former? That’s not coherent.

    • Wow, Scott. Thank you for the prompt and long reply! I really appreciate that.

      I’ve been in Africa for a couple decades, so perhaps that’s why I missed the intramural debate about Sonship. It seems a shame that such a powerful tool (it was only a week-long seminar, after all) got a bad rap. My experience was that it helped me see past my own self-satisfied self-righteousness to look deeper and more honestly at my relationships and attitudes. And to repent! And also to live in the joy of God’s grace. Seems like Third Use and Mortification and Vivification to me!

      In any case, my interest is more personal and pastoral than theological. I want to know the “how” of mortification and vivification. Are they not intimately linked to faith and repentance? How do I stop a bad behavior? And why? If I’m a Pharisee and say “Thank God I’m not like that other guy. I keep the Sabbath.”, my Sabbath-keeping is really a sinful act full of pride. (Or not lying. Or tithing. Or whatever.) If a man is faithful to his wife because he wants to be respected by his community, rather than because he loves her or loves the Lord, isn’t that just a “Lord, Lord” thing? Doesn’t he already have his reward?

      When the Spirit (or my enemy!) points out a sin pattern in my life, what do I do exactly? The Sonship approach tried to help me get past the surface to look at my heart. I’m not sure what you mean by “therapeutic terms”. The model I was trying to describe sought to look for these underlying causes of our sinful behaviors, which you identify as the corruption of our affections, will and intellect. I called it unbelief/belief issues, but I see that “what I really hunger for, what I really chose, what I really think” is perhaps a fuller statement. Confessing problems with these is what I would call “deep repentance.”

      In any case, if I am to struggle to mortify my flesh, I think the process is first and foremost an act of weakness, of confession and repentance, and of dependence on our God. Out of that kind of heart of joy in my salvation, I can now seek to obey without fear or self-reliance. Otherwise “the struggle” seems likely to end in another act of “rugged individualism” and a prideful self-righteousness or a lonely defeat. And that’s what I hear preached with the best of intentions.

      Is there some other way of looking at this?

      I guess I’d better get out my copy of the Heidelburg Confession (88-90 and 32) to read and quit bothering you. Feel free to ignore my post!

  18. Scott

    ‘Faith alone is the instrument of justification AND salvation’ but sanctification is also necessary for salvation.

    Justification and sanctification are double benefits of God’s work in or for us.

    Sanctification is also by grace through faith, but involves us in a fight against the flesh.

    The fight we fight is part of our salvation but not a synergistic part

    Once justified our sanctification and glorification are guaranteed

    If we are not fighting the flesh, we do not as such lose our salvation, but it must be questioned whether we were saved in the first place.

    This is not to pressure on us to work for our salvation, but to avoid presumption; our good deeds are the fruit of our salvation not a contributor to it.

    Is this about right?

    • If we are not fighting the flesh, we do not as such lose our salvation, but it must be questioned whether we were saved in the first place.

      The last clause is essential. A good tree produces good fruit. The profession of faith by one who is disinterested in sanctification or the struggle against sin, the putting to death of the old man and being made alive in the new, must be questioned.

      This is not to say that believers ever reach perfection, far from it. They do, however, engage in the struggle against sin and the struggle to grow in conformity to Christ.

      They do so, not in order to be accepted by God, but because they have already been accepted freely, for Christ’s sake alone.

      Salvation encompasses both justification and sanctification but salvation is always and only by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

  19. Dr. Clark, can you respond to Dr. Mark Jones’ article regarding #3?

    http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2014/10/reformed-theological-diversity.php

    In #3 he says that some past Reformed theologians argued the way Shepherd does on the matter of justification. He writes:

    “3. Debates on justification are well known, especially on the matter of imputation. But even the question of whether justification may be ‘reiterated’ or only understood as a one-time act was disputed. Plus, there are the views of many who say something along these lines:

    ‘To this effect, Good works of all sorts are, by some, said to be necessary to our Continuance in the state of justification and to our final absolution: not as Instrumental Causes of our Justification, but only as precedent Qualifications or conditions of final forgiveness and eternal bliss. Such passages had need to be very wisely and warily understood, lest thereby the minds of any be withdrawn from the pure doctrine of justification by Faith in Jesus Christ.'”

    I’m just curious how you would respond to the above post. Just for clarification, I agree with your assessment of Norman Shepherd and the errors of the Federal Vision.

    • Mark,

      Take a look at the volume, Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry. There are several chapters in it that are relevant.

      To the claim that there is “diversity” on justification I reply:

      1. The Reformed confessions, the official statements of the churches on these matters, are not diverse. Yes, one can find less than happy expressions in particular writers. The quote above comes from John Ball, whom some like to take as the standard of orthodoxy. I would not do so. The whole paragraph is below for reference. Taken in context, while there are things that Ball says that I would not, the the whole thing tends toward a more orthodox view than the most problematic clauses.

      2. I agree with my colleagues on the unity of the Reformed confessions on justification.

      3. If someone wants to say, with Shepherd that sinners are justified through faith and works, or through faithfulness—both phrases Shepherd used— let him propose it to the courts of the church(es) and see what happens. The PCA has spoken to this explicitly in their 2007 Ad Interim report and especially in the 9 Declarations.

      4. The Westminster Standards themselves are utterly clear: the sole ground of justification is Christ’s righteousness credited to us. Faith, in justification, resting and receiving. We are NOT justified for anything “wrought in us” or “done by us,” not even in cooperation with grace. There’s no way to square some of Ball’s language or the claim of “diversity” with the Westminster Larger Catechism on justification, which may be the most perfect confessional/creedal articulation of justification ever achieved.

      The stipulation required is, that we take God to be our God, that is, that we repent of our iniquities, believe the promises of mercy and embrace them with the whole heart, and yield love, fear, reverence, worship, and obedience unto him, according to the prescript rule of his word. Repentance is called for in this Covenant,R as it setteth forth the subject capable of Salvation by faith, but is itself only an acknowledgment of sin, no healing of our wound, or cause of our acquittance. The feeling of pain and sickness, causeth a man to desire and seek remedy, but it is no remedy itself. Hunger and thirst make a man to desire and seek for food, but a man is not fed by being hungry. By repentance we know ourselves, we feel our sickness, we hunger and thirst after grace, but the hand which we stretch forth to receive it, is faith alone, without which repentance is nothing but darkness and despair. Repentance is the condition of faith and the qualification of a person capable of Salvation: but faith alone is the cause of Justification and Salvation, on our part required. It is a penitent and petitioning faith, whereby we receive the promises of mercy, but we are not justify partly by prayer, partly (p19) by repentance, and partly by faith, but by that faith, which stirreth up godly sorrow for sin, and enforceth us to pray for pardon and Salvation. Faith is a necessary and lively instrument of Justification, which is amongst the number of true causes, not being a cause without which the thing is not done, but a cause whereby it is done. The cause without which a thing is not done, is only present in the action, and doth nothing therein: But as the eye is an active instrument for seeing, and the ear for hearing, so is faith also for justifying. If it be demanded whose instrument it is? It is the instrument of the Soul, wrought therein by the Holy Ghost, and is the free gift of God. In the Covenant of works, works were required as the cause of life and happiness: but in the Covenant of grace, though repentance be necessary and must accompany faith, yet not repentance, but faith only is the cause of life. The cause not efficient, as works should have been, if man had stood in the former Covenant, but instrumental only: for it is impossible that Christ, the death and blood of Christ, and our faith should be together the efficient or procuring causes of Justification or Salvation. When the Apostle writeth,R that man is not justified by works, or through works, by the Law or through the Law (opposing faith and works in the matter of Justification, but not in respect of their presence: faith, I say, and works, not faith and merits which could never be) without doubt he excludes the efficiency and force of the Law and works in justifying: But the particles By and Of do not in the same sense take Justification from the Law and works, in which they give it to faith. For faith only doth behold and receive the promises of life and mercy, but the Law and works respect the Commandments, not the promises of mere grace. When therefore Justification and life is said to be by faith, it is manifestly signified, that faith receiving the promise, doth receive righteousness and life freely promised. Obedience to all God’s Commandments is covenanted,R not as the cause of life, but as the qualification and effect of faith, and as the way to live. Faith that embraceth life is obediential, and fruitful in all good works: but in one sort faith is the cause of obedience and good works, and in another of Justification and life eternal. These it seeketh in the promises of the Covenant: those it worketh and produceth, as the cause doth the effect. Faith was the efficient (p20) cause R of that precious oblation in Abel, of reverence and preparing the Ark in Noah, of obedience in Abraham: but it was the instrument only of their justification. For it doth not justify as it produceth good works, but as it receiveth Christ, unless it brings forth good works. A disposition to good works is necessary to justification, being the qualification of an active and lively faith. Good works of all sorts are necessary to our continuance in the state of justification, and so to our final absolution, if God give opportunity: but they are not the cause of, but only a precedent qualification or condition to final forgiveness and eternal bliss. If then, when we speak of the conditions of the Covenant of grace, by Condition we understand whatsoever is required on our part, as precedent, concomitant or subsequent to justification, repentance, faith and obedience are all conditions: but if by Condition we understand what is required on our part, as the cause of the good promised though only instrumental, faith or belief in the promises of free mercy is the only Condition. Faith and works are opposed in the matter of Justification and Salvation in the Covenant, not that they cannot stand together in the same subject, for they be inseparably united, but because they cannot concur or meet together in one and the same Court, to the Justification or Absolution of Man. For in the Court of Justice according to the first Covenant either being just he is acquitted, or unjust he is condemned: But in the Court of Mercy, if thou receive the promise of pardon, which is done by a lively faith, thou art acquitted and set free, and accepted as just and righteous: but if thou believe not, thou art sent over to the Court of Justice.

  20. Yet there are so many verses that speak of those who have done good works are rewarded with eternal life because they are righteous and that those who do not do good works are unrighteous. Also it is said in the first epistle of st.John that he who does righteousness is righteous. So how is believing in imputed righteousness at the core any different from infused righteousness? It boils down to the same thing. There must be works to be saved. Actual performed works. It seems pointless to say that if there are no works that faith is not real, because it keeps spinning around to always keep checking if your faith is real. Can someone explain this to me?

    • Ian,

      The question has never been whether Christians must do good works. The question has always been to what end? What role do they play? Are they part of the basis or ground of our salvation or part of the instrument of our salvation? If so, we’re in trouble since none of our works are spotless, all of them are corrupted with sin.

      Yes we must do good works but we do them because we have been saved, we are being saved, and shall be saved by God’s undeserved favor alone, through faith alone in Jesus the Savior alone.

    • This is useful complement to your September response to me. In this latest one you have added the technical, perhaps ‘confessional’, underpinning for your earlier response by contrasting the basis or ground, as opposed to the instrument, of salvation.

      As for justification and faith, I have always understood ‘justification by faith’ to be a shorthand (albeit scriptural) for ‘justification by grace through faith’ where grace is the basis or cause, and faith is the instrument or possibly the result. It therefore follows that grace and faith are both needed for salvation in much the same way that a carpenter and a hammer are needed to drive a nail into wood. We do not, nor does Paul, shrink from saying ‘justification by faith’ or ‘saved by faith’ in the sense that the ‘end’ of faith (and the grace that precedes it) is salvation.

      If we then say that good works also, like faith, are the instrument of salvation (where the basis or cause is still grace), then apparent logic would seem to drive us down the same path whereby we would also say ‘salvation by works’, or that the ‘end’ of works is salvation. These seems to be behind Ian’s interpretation of the biblical call to good works

      Maybe you interpret the call to good works differently, not really as an instrument. The word ‘because’ in your final paragraph is significant; we do good works because of and as a result of being saved. I think I have previously understood you to say that good works do not automatically or unconsciously flow from being saved, but with effort and conscious exertion – the role of them being to please God and to help our neighbor. But maybe at least the desire to do those good works is God-planted, so there is a subtle fusion incorporating our new desire and regenerated will.

      So we have
      1. The grace of God is the cause, basis, ground of our salvation
      2. Strictly speaking, faith is the instrument of our salvation (the carpenter’s hammer)
      3. Our regeneration includes a new heart and restored will; we now desire to please God and help our neighbors
      4. Good works flow from our new heart and their role, ordained by God is to please Him and help our neighbor
      5. When we do not love and obey God, it is because of the sin still residing in our members; our new motivation is sullied and spoilt
      6. We should use our restored will to overcome this concupiscence
      7. So a man without even a mustard seed of faith is not a Christian
      8. And a man with faith but no works (James) is similarly also probably not a Christian
      9. As ever, I remain unclear at what point we might assess a man to have ‘no’ works, as opposed to a ‘mustard’ seed of works (Of course only God judges, but we can assess in deciding whether to treat him as an unbeliever or as a lazy believer)
      10. As ever, I also believe our wording on works too easily leads people to Ian’s conclusions

      Perhaps you can (again?!) explain how the Confessions clearly rule out Ian’s interpretation and offer a distinct differing one

      I know you and I do not share Ian’s views, but I remain unclear how to articulate the cause or the basis of salvation, versus its instrument, versus its result, versus even the role or aim of salvation

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