For because Paul had taught, that a man is justified by faith without works, hence some inferred, that in whatever manner a man live, it, equally suffices, that he persuade himself that Christ is his Saviour. Which they could have inferred with no plausibility, if that had been evident which the very learned man will have to be so, viz. That Paul, by faith understood evangelical godliness. But because Paul’s words evidently bore that sense, that faith was a thing distinct from all the works of holiness, as in reality it is, hence arose the pretext of calumny. I say, of calumny: for though Paul taught, that works contribute nothing to justification, or to procure a man’s title to salvation; yet he always taught, that they were not only useful, but also necessary to salvation, and that it is impossible, that sanctification should be separated from justification. James treads in the same path, and teaches that it is necessary that he who is justified by faith, should also be justified by works: that is, perform these works which are the evidences and effects of righteousness, and by which it is demonstrated not only before men, but also before God, that he is righteous: according to that of John, “He who doeth righteousness is righteous,” 1 John 3:7. Indeed there is a double justification: one of a man sinful in himself, whereby he is absolved from sin, and declared to have a title to eternal life, on account of Christ’s righteousness apprehended by faith, which Paul inculcated: another of a man, righteous already, sanctified by the Spirit of Christ, and who is declared to be such, by his words and actions. James teaches, that this is so necessary, and so connected with the former, that he is deceived who boasts of that and is destitue of this.
—Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 97–99.
We maintain that Christ’s blood is effectual, not vacuous or inane. Christ’s blood is not ineffectual like Onan’s wasted seed, it saves and has fruits. “There is now no condemnation” is as “let there be light” and pours forth good works.
Scott Clark— Herman Witsius taught that, in a real sense, we are united to Christ through regeneration. Here is the passage:
III. By a true and a real union, (but which is only passive on their part,) they are united to Christ when his Spirit first takes possession of them, and infuses into them a principle of new life: the beginning of which life can be from nothing else but from union with the Spirit of Christ; who is to the soul, but in a far more excellent manner, in respect of spiritual life, what the soul is to the body in respect of animal and human life…. The union of the Spirit of Christ and the soul is prior to the life of a Christian. Further, since faith is an act flowing from the principle of spiritual life, it is plain, that in a sound sense, it may be said, an elect person is truly and really united to Christ before actual faith.
IV. But the mutual union, (which, on the part of an elect person, is likewise active and operative), whereby the soul draws near to Christ, joins itself to him, applies, and in a becoming and proper manner closes with him without any distraction, is made by faith only. And this is followed in order by the other benefits of the covenant of grace, justification, peace, adoption, sealing, perseverance, &c. Which if they be arranged in that manner p 69 and order, I know not whether any controversy concerning this affair can remain among the brethren.
Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 68–69.
Comments: by Scott Clark 1. As much as his theology is to be admired, the Reformed Churches do not confess the writings of Herman Witsius (or anyone else’s writings). We confess God’s Word. Our confessions do not speak as Witsius did.
2. Witsius was an irenicist, which is a good thing. Sometimes, however, peacemakers resort to equivocation as Witsius did in this passage. In §III he used the word union in a way that neither the Heidelberg nor the Westminster Shorter Catechism did and in §IV he used it in the way the catechisms did.
3. What changed was the move in the late 17th century to posit that a person might be regenerate and yet not yet believing. The catechism does not know anything about that way of thinking.