Turretin: We Do Good Works Because We Live By The Gospel

XV. Although we acknowledge the necessity of good works against the Epicureans, we do not on this account confound the law and the gospel and interfere with gratuitous justification by faith alone. Good works are required not for living according to the law, but because we live by the gospel; not as the causes on account of which life is given to us, but as effects which testify that life has been given to us.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–97), 705. (17.3.15)

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  • 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. Excellent!

    Why do some Reformed theologians say we keep good works because of the Law, it’s sure is scary.

  2. Doc, I’ve followed all your recent posts on judgment and works – thank you. I wonder, is there any stream of thinking within the Reformed tradition wherein we emphasize the garnering of a greater reward in our glorification, and whereby the provocation unto good works and holiness is properly set by a desire to have a greater capacity for joy in the life everlasting? In other words, do we have room within our confessional standards to entice one another to good works for the sake of earning/meriting more of a treasure in heaven, especially if we understand the treasure to be a more profound depth of the soul in knowing and perceiving the wonder of our God?

    • Adam,

      There are about 30 posts from all across the Reformed tradition (diachronically), from Europe and the British Isles, and this has not been a major theme. The Heidelberg 63 is fairly typical:

      63. Do our good works merit nothing, even though it is God’s will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come?

      The reward comes not of merit, but of grace.

      Since that is the case the notion of proportional rewards would be unexpected.

      • Indeed. I suspect the Reformed have shied from talk of reward and merit because of the Roman abuses of these terms in their twisting of the gospel.

        It seems Aquinas was at least close to the mark when he spoke of merit as a principle of earning by grace and in grace. As soon as Aquinas/Rome shifted the grounds of justification to include our progress in merit, the gospel was lost; but in our tradition, can’t we recover the proper place of meriting a greater reward rooted in grace? (e.g. Eph 2:10).

        Certainly Dr. Sproul is not shy of echoing these things, as his mentor Dr. Gerstner drew from Edwards on degrees of felicity commensurate with our works after justification sola fide.

        If so, these things ought to have immense practical outworking from the pulpit. There is a potential 9.9 earthquake under the feet of Christian ethics and third use of the law, if indeed our Bibles are telling us–even enticing us–to work for a greater reward from Christ at His coming.

        • Adam,

          I’m happier with the Heidelberg. What you propose seems to me to be speculative in the strict sense in that it begins with a premise and then reasons to a conclusion that is neither taught explicitly nor clearly implied by Scripture. Second, neither Thomas nor Edwards are sure guides on this. Both are Platonists and that, in my view, ruined their soteriology. I wish we could simply be satisfied with what we confess: guilt, grace, and gratitude. The Spirit is sanctifying his people and that will manifest itself. Putting people even under a soft covenant of works has never produced sanctity. Where the law and the gospel are preached purely and clearly God the Spirit will sanctify his people.

          • I really do agree for the most part. My angle is that there just hasn’t been enough work on this in the Reformation churches. I am writing my MA thesis on it, and your posts lately have been gold for my research. If you have any other specific sources, please email me rainmanjustin at gmail dot c o m

            Thanks brother.

            • On Edwards please be sure to see Thomas A. Schafer, “Jonathan Edwards and Justification By Faith” Church History 20 (1951): 55-67. See also George Hunsinger, “Dispositional Soteriology: Jonathan Edwards on Justification By Faith Alone,” WTJ 66 (2004): 107-20. See footnote 258 in RRC for the bibliographic references. In the recent volume on Edwards’ doctrine of justification I did not find a single reference to the Schafer essay so perhaps it is being overlooked in contemporary discussion.

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