One of the gravest problems raised by Rev. Shepherd’s book, The Call of Grace is its refusal to honor the Biblical, confessional and Reformed theological distinction between Law and Gospel as expressed in the two covenants in the historia salutis. The covenant of works contracted with Adam *before the fall* was Law: “Do this and live.” The covenant of grace as promised to Adam was gospel: I shall do and you shall live. To deny, as Shepherd does, this distinction is to ruin Reformed soteriology. There are father implications for our doctrine of God. Many of our theologians have spoken of God’s graciousness in making the covenant of works, but until late in the Modern period, few have dared actually to deny that there was a covenant of works or to teach that it was gracious in its nature.
There has been a minor difference of opinion among our theologians over the question whether God has made two or three covenants. Some, like Thomas Boston, taught (reflected in WLC 31) an identity of the pre-temporal covenant of redemption (pactum salutis) with the covenant of grace saying that the covenant of grace is made with the Son. The majority, however, have taught a three-covenant view, that God the Father made a covenant of redemption with the Son, which is reflected in the legal relations between God and Adam in the covenant of works and which is the legal basis for the covenant of grace with sinners. Boston himself recognized that the difference between the two-covenant and three-covenant view was mainly terminological.
On either view, there is a pre-temporal covenant between the trinitarian persons and the historical covenants of works (Law) and grace (Gospel) are the product, the historical outworking, of a pre-temporal, intratrinitarian pact/counsel among the persons of the Deity. This pact was fundamentally a legal arrangement, considering the trinitarian persons, though gracious when considering the beneficiaries (elect sinners).
The Father required that the Son should obey in the place of the elect, that he should be their surety, i.e., he would meet the legal obligations of the elect, to atone for their sins, to bear the punishment for their sins and to meet the demands of the covenant of works (Law) and to merit the forgiveness of sins and positive righteousness (imputed) to his people. The Son, as the 2nd party to this covenant, graciously, freely, willingly accepted the terms of this covenant. The Father promised several things, among them a sinless humanity, the Holy Spirit without measure, cooperation in the Son’s work, the authority to dispense the Holy Spirit and all authority on heaven and earth, numerous rewards for completing the probation as the 2nd Adam (See Berkhof, 267-71). Should the Son meet the terms of this covenant, he would merit the justification of his people and be vindicated by his resurrection. He is risen indeed!
Please remember that, pace R. Letham’s criticisms, this is not tritheism nor is it subordinationist. We have always distinguished between the economic and ontological (immanent) trinity. The pactum salutis works with economic not ontological categories.
Our theologians have described the prelapsarian covenant (please note this distinction) as a covenant of works (relative to the conditions), of life (relative to the eschaton) and of nature (relative to the setting). Ursinus defines covenant first of all, as a “mutual pact.” …Adam’s responsibility under the covenant of works, for which he needed no grace — though God was under no obligation to make a covenant of works with Adam and thus it was an act of voluntary condescension on his part as the WCF says, and therefore a free act on his part — was to fulfill the terms of the covenant, to sustain the probation under the penalty of death (“the day you eat thereof you shall surely die”). Should Adam have fulfilled the terms of the covenant of works, which had the ability to do (he was created in righteousness and true holiness, he was without sin) he would have merited eternal blessedness for himself and all his posterity. He would have done so, however, as son and servant. As it was, he failed and plunged
himself and us into death and total depravity.
The covenant of works was a legal arrangement. After the Fall, the Law (covenant of works) continues to function by prosecuting sinners: “cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the Law.” God’s righteous demands are continually pressed upon sinners, despite the fact that, as Adam’s children, they are utterly unable to meet the terms of the covenant. Nevertheless God continues to press the terms of the covenant upon Adam’s children. …One way of thinking about this sort of biblical language is to think about the difference between the secret will of God (the decree) and the revealed will of God (scripture). God’s revealed will is that sinners should meet the terms of the covenant of works. The function of the Law, as the catechism teaches us, is to drive sinners to Christ.
The triune God decreed from all eternity to justify and save the elect. The covenant of grace is the second part of the historical outworking of the pactum salutis. The nature of the covenant of grace is the same as the gospel. Whereas the Law says, “Do this and live,” the Gospel says, “I have done this that you might live.” The differences between the covenants of works and grace are that sharp. Any monocovenantal formulation tends to blur these lines (see below) and to confuse Law and Gospel which is a fundamental theological mistake tending toward Pelagianism. The consensus of Reformed theology since the 1560’s has been that the covenant of grace is monopleuric in origin and dipleuric in administration. That is, God elects sinners, he
grants them faith, through that faith (to be considered in more detail below) they apprehend the justice of Christ imputed to them, but he does so in the sphere of the covenant using established means of grace: the preaching of the Gospel (notice the Law/Gospel distinction implicit in HC 65) and the administration of the sacraments.
The covenant of grace can be considered broadly and narrowly. Too many folk miss this distinction. Just as the covenant can be considered monopleuric and dipleuric, it can also be considered relative to all the baptized or relative to the elect. Relative to the hidden divine decree, the Father gave a certain elect number to the Son to redeem by his active and passive obedience. The Son did that work, which he consented to do in the pactum salutis, hence his cry, “It is finished.” Praise God.
In this narrow (proper) sense, then, the covenant of grace is with the elect. Considered broadly, relative to the administration of the covenant of grace, it must be said or thought to be with all the baptized, since we do not have archetypal (God’s) knowledge. Therefore, our theologians (e.g., Olevian to name but one) said that there some in the visible covenant community, baptized (on the basis of the divine command and promise, not on the basis of presumed regeneration) who are actually reprobate, because they are not elect. Only those who are elect actually appropriate for themselves the “double benefit” of the covenant, or the “substance of the covenant,” i.e., justification and sanctification.
Thus, practically, we treat all the baptized, in good standing, as regenerate — we are not Baptists! — but we do not presume on God’s grace. We expect our children to come to faith, we do not treat them as little reprobates, but we also call them to make a credible profession of faith and to attend faithfully to the means of grace. Everyone who is baptized and, who being of age, makes a credible profession of faith, should be considered “in the covenant.”
Nevertheless, it is true that not all of them have received or will received the “substance of the covenant” (Olevian) but that is a matter to addressed as it develops in the providence of God. If a covenant child shows himself unbelieving by being unrepentant, then he should be disciplined according to the Scriptures and the C.O. In any case, we are shut up to the revealed will of God and not allowed to play “guess the reprobate.”
What then of faith? Traditionally, Reformed theology has spoken of faith as the sole condition of the covenant of works relative to receiving Christ’s double benefit: justification and sanctification. They have typically spoken of conditions or stipulations or obligations regarding the administration of the covenant, but these are of a different order. God the Holy Spirit regenerates the dead sinner, working ordinarily through the preaching of the Holy Gospel (HC 65).
In grateful response to the unmerited (indeed demerited!) and sovereign grace of God, the redeemed and justified sinner observes the (note the plural) obligations of the covenant out of gratitude, since they are the ordinary means by which God sanctifies sinners (i.e., they die to themselves and live to Christ; HC 65, 86, 87).
…On the basis of my reading of his book and other published and unpublished documents from Rev Shepherd, I conclude that he will not distinguish between simple faith (see below), a first-order condition and faithfulness which is a second-order condition, i.e., he does not distinguish between justification and sanctification. This is a fatal error.
He refuses to make this distinction because he holds a different definition of “faith” than our standards and theologians. When he says “faith” he does not mean the “certain knowledge and hearty trust” or the “true faith” as defined by Belgic Confession 22, i.e., that this “faith embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, makes Him our own, and does not seek anything besides Him.” The Confession continues:
For by faith apart from works of law (Rom 3:28). Meanwhile, strictly speaking, we do not mean that faith as such justifies us, for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ our righteousness; He imputes to us all His merits and as many holy works as He has done for us and in our place. Therefore Jesus Christ is our righteousness, and faith is the instrument that keeps us with Him in the communion of all His benefits. When those benefits have become ours, they are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.
The quotation of Rom 3.28. This is crucial. The Protestant definition of faith, over against that of Shepherd in his book is that faith is the divinely ordained, simple, passive, extraspective instrument of justification. Remember what Rom 3.28 says: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” The reason that the BC quotes this is to refute the classic Roman definition of faith as a complex instrument (i.e., faith and works, or faith as works).
What I should have said in my essay in the Christian Renewal (now on my website — to be revised and included in the book) is that (quoting again from April 18):
What Rev Shepherd and his followers are teaching is justification by grace alone, through “faithfulness” alone — it is a complex active extra and introspective instrument. That, in their definition, faith is not a merely passive, apprehensive instrument, but is composed of both our trust in Christ *and* our obedience. As a shorthand I called this “two instruments,” which is the effect of their teaching, but not the form.
Therefore, it is clear that they are not satisfied with making obedience merely necessary in the way that HC 62ff and 86 do, they must have it as a part of the instrument of justification.
*Extraspective* is a key term here. Extraspective means, “looks away from one’s self” and “toward Christ and his righteousness.” Introspective, necessarily looks at one’s own sanctification. This was the Roman teaching, but it is the introspective doctrine of faith which our standards reject. A complex instrument makes a complex object, Christ and me. I, as a rotten sinner, am a miserable object of faith. By folding obedience into the definition of faith — this is the entire project behind the expression “obedient faith” — they have corrupted the genuine Biblical and Protestant doctrine of faith. Whoever holds to “obedient faith” cannot agree with the Apostle Paul in Rom 3.28 or with HC 21 or BC 22 & 24 *as they were
There is no question that true faith produces good fruit. This is the teaching of BC 24. “We believe that this true faith, worked in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the operation of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a new man.” Nevertheless, BC 24 continues by saying, “These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, since they are all sanctified by His grace. Nevertheless, they do not count toward our justification. For through faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do any good works. Otherwise they could not be good any more than the fruit of a tree can be good unless the tree itself is good.” As important as good works are, they are neither instrumental in nor the ground of nor constitutive of our justification.
Its not, however, as if we’ve never faced this problem. …[T]he delegates to the Synod of Dort had something to say about these issues. In the Rejection of Errors, 2nd Head of Doctrine, Para. 3, we confess that we reject those:
itself for any one, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated; but that He merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as He might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions. For these adjudge too contemptuously the death of Christ, in no way acknowledge that most important fruit or benefit thereby gained, and bring again out of hell the Pelagian error
Now this is a fascinating quotation. Following Rev. Shepherd, several men …have called into question whether “merit” is a useful category. In response, several of the orthodox have cited several confessional passages which teach clearly that Jesus merited (the verb) our justification and that his merits (the noun) are imputed to us. Any such questioning, however, runs quite afoul of the RE and must therefore be condemned.
Notice how the RE continues. Faith is that which appropriates Christ’s satisfaction. It is a simple, extraspective instrument, not a complex instrument. Notice how the RE condemns the multiplication of conditions in the covenant as respects justification. Shepherd has 6 in his book. He makes them all equal. He confuses the classic Reformed distinction between a monopleuric origin, in which we say there is but one condition, faith, itself the gift of God, and dipleuric administration, in which we might speak of attendance to the means of grace as “stipulations” as Olevian did. The one condition, faith, is for justification. The many stipulations (e.g., means of grace) are the objective tests by which we judge a person’s profession of faith. If they claim to have faith, but do not attend to the means of grace, then we judge them to be in sin and perhaps, if they are impenitent, reprobate. These stipulations, however, are not on the same order as the one condition, faith.
By confusing these two categories, Shepherd, conflates justification and sanctification. Remember, the covenant is monopleuric in origin, but dipleuric in administration. When we say “origin” we mean “justification” and when we say “administration” we mean sanctification. Human cooperation is essential to sanctification, but sanctification (which includes cooperation) is neither a part of the grounds nor a part of the instrument of justification. It is the *fruit* of justification.
The RE is not finished with us, however. It continues under Para. 4 We reject those
the mediation of the death of Christ, made with man, does not herein consist that we by faith, in as much as it accepts the merits of Christ, are justified before God and saved, but in the fact that God, having revoked the demand of perfect obedience of faith, regards faith itself and the obedience of faith, although imperfect, as the perfect obedience of the law, and does esteem it worthy of the reward of eternal life through grace. For these contradict the Scriptures, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith” (Rom 3:24-25). And these proclaim, as did the wicked Socinius, a new and strange justification of man before God, against the consensus of the whole church.
Notice that the Canons reject the same sort of definition of faith as being tendered by Rev Shepherd and his followers. The Remonstrants/Socinians too rejected the category of merit as too legal and unloving.
Notice too how, like Rome, the Remonstrants suggested that now, in Christ, there is a slightly less rigorous demand for obedience, which makes it possible to think about a complex instrument — i.e., now, under Christ, we are justified by “faith and the obedience of faith” whereby God graciously imputes perfect obedience to us, despite the fact that we obey imperfectly — rather than the strictly simple instrument of the Protestants.
This is not new, this is something which the Medieval and Roman theologians were teaching at the time of the Reformation and after. Some have claimed that Calvin taught a version of congruent merit, whereby God graciously accepts our obedience as part of a double-justice scheme. This argument is dubious on historical grounds — Bucer and others taught a version of double justice (imputed followed consequently and subsequently by infused sanctification but they learned it from Luther. Calvin and Olevian revised this into a “Double Benefit”), but as a dogmatic question, we reject any sort of congruent merit either in the ground or instrument of justification. The only merits in question are Jesus’ condign merits earned for and graciously imputed to us, but make no mistake, there are merits.
According to the RE, any such complex instrument whereby faith becomes really faith and works (under one head), is a Socinian error. We are justified “freely,” not “by grace and if we obey.” We ought to obey and we must obey and if we do not obey or refuse to obey, then we give up the right to have our profession of faith regarded as credible, but we cannot confuse the instrument with the result of justification.
Notice too how the RE connects the problem of the Remonstrant/Socinian doctrine of faith with their errors in the doctrine of the covenant. This connection suggests that there is not the sort of liberty to formulate the doctrine of the covenant which some claim. I realize that in the 20th
century a variety of new formulations of the covenant developed. I guess that most all of them are wrong. I’m sure that offends some. I’m sorry. When I’m exegeting a passage or weighing a theological construction, the men who worked out the Reformed faith get priority. If I have to choose between Ursinus, Polanus, Wollebius, Witsius, Turretin, on the right hand and Schilder, or Barth or Hoeksema on my left, its not much of a choice. This does not mean that we cannot learn from the later divines. Of course we can, but they (i.e., their exegesis of Scripture) simply do not carry as much weight as the exegesis offered by the classic Reformed theologians and the standards.
Under the heading “Antinomianism and Legalism,” Shepherd says,
Children of the Reformation insist that salvation is by grace alone. There is nothing that you can do or should try to do to save yourself. For some, salvation by grace means that you make a decision for Christ. You believe in him and are saved. Of course, the commandments are important and Christians should be concerned about holy living. After all, Jesus said that “if you love me, you will obey what I command (John 14:15). But all of that has nothing to do with your salvation or your eternal security….
Antinomianism “against law.” The term brings out the fact that law keeping plays no role in the way of salvation.
His account of the nature of antinomianism is vague and misleading and a classic “nomist” move going back to the Marrow Controversy of the 18th c. By definition, “antinomianism” is opposition to the Law of God. Shepherd has it, however, that antinomianism is refusing the make law-keeping an instrument of justification.
It is true that Zane Hodges and others deny the Third Use of the Law, and make sanctification a second blessing, but that is because he is a genuine antinomian, higher life, revivalist fundamentalist.
Hodges’ view is not an option for those who heartily affirm the threefold structure of the HC (see my earlier post). This is a distinction which Shepherd ignores. Rather he lumps together those who hold the third use of the law, that is, those who hold with the HC that gratitude is the *response* to grace, rather than an instrument of justification, with antinomians such as Hodges.
By saying “plays no role in salvation” rather than “justification” Shepherd buys himself some wiggle room. Yes, the law plays a role in “salvation” which is a broader concept than “justification,” but it plays *no* positive role in justification.
In Reformed theology, when we say “salvation” we encompass both justification and sanctification. This is what the Apostle Paul means when he says, “work out your *salvation* with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12) because “it is God who is at work in you to will and to do.” Anyone who says that this passage is describing justification per se, has subscribed the classic *Roman* doctrine of justification (see below). Rome says that God graciously works in sanctification in you, and you must cooperate (this is the original “obedient faith”) in order to be justified. We distinguish justification and salvation, precisely to avoid the problem created by the papists.
If anyone says that obedience is a part of justification then I ask, is it the ground or the instrument? If he says, “ground” then I say he has denied sola gratia. If he says “instrument” then I say he has denied sola fide. Anyone who denies sola gratia or sola fide — I care not whether he thinks he has Scripture on his side, all heretics quote Scripture — is no preacher
of the gospel but a false teacher who comes under the condemnation of Galatians 1:9.
It is precisely because of these dangers that the HC makes law-keeping the *response* to grace (HC 86) but no part of justification. Anyone who construes law-keeping such that it has the same necessity as faith (“certain knowledge and hearty trust” HC 21) has slid into legalism.
Shepherd continues (p.8) by drawing a false and sharp dichotomy between Lutherans and Reformed on the question of Law and Gospel. It was against this attempt to divide the Reformation on this basic point that I gave the quotations from those “Lutherans” Beza, Machen et al. On this see my essay, published in the Outlook and reprinted on my website, http://public.csusm.edu/public/guests/rsclark/Sola_Fide.htm There is no such cleavage between Classical Lutheranism and Reformed theology. Shepherd *knows* this because it was shown to him in the controversy over twenty years ago. That he continues his propaganda only shows that his interest is *not* in upholding the Reformation sola’s but it warping them.
It is true that, on p. 5, Shepherd affirms grace alone through faith alone. Though one notes that he finishes the paragraph by omitting the “alone” in the formulae. That omission is a foreshadowing of things to come. I contend that this is a formal, not substantial affirmation. In other words, he says it, but the substance of his argument goes on to deny the very thing he has just affirmed. I am aware that this is a serious charge and I intend to substantiate it below.
One begins to see the way in which Shepherd is going to deny the sola’s, in substance, by the way he defines covenant. By making the Abrahamic covenant (p.12) normative, i.e., the standard by which all other covenants are defined, he has begun with “grace” and not with Law. Remember what a’ Brakel warned. If one begins with grace, on the pretense of avoiding “legalism” then one will not rightly understand grace. Grace makes sense only against the background of the Law. This is why we talk about “Law” and “Gospel” and “covenant of works” and “covenant of grace.” By flattening out the differences between the covenant of works (Law) and the covenant of grace (gospel -remember Ursinus’ theology) he makes the covenant of grace to have more “law” (hence his definition of antinomianism) than the covenant of works and the covenant of works to have more grace than the covenant of grace. By his definition of the covenant, he has set the stage for confusing Law and Gospel, faith and works.
On p. 13 Shepherd challenges the notion that the Abrahamic covenant (the covenant of grace) was unconditional. He goes on to list 6 conditions. This is part of his program of revising traditional, classic, Protestant, Reformed covenant theology and soteriology. Classic Reformed theology knows one for receiving the benefits of the covenant, apprehensive faith. I say apprehensive faith to distinguish Calvin, Ursinus, Olevian and the tradition from the definition of faith which D. Fuller, J. Armstrong, and N. Shepherd (p.16) are offering, “obedient faith.”
The classic Roman definition of faith is “obedient faith.” Notice that in Ursinus’ definition which I quoted from his Summa, is identical to that of the HC.
21. What is true faith?
It is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through 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, for the sake of Christ’s merits.
Where is this definition in Shepherd’s account? Further, where is the language of WLC Q.’s 70-73? The WLC Q. 70 is unambiguous that sanctification plays no instrumental role in justification. Q. 73 nails the coffin on the Daniel Fuller-Norman Shepherd (et al) definition of faith when it says,
sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.
Yes, “other graces” accompany saving faith, but they are *fruit* and not even the grace of faith itself is imputed to the sinner, but only Christ and his righteousness. I doubt its possible to be any clearer on this matter.
One must ask, why is this sort of language conspicuously absent from Shepherd’s teaching? The answer is that he has a different agenda than the HC and WLC. Notice that the HC has the three parts of faith, knowledge, assent and trust. Notice that the HC does not say, “certain knowledge, hearty trust and obedience.” According to Shepherd’s definition of the covenant of grace and of faith, the HC and WLC *must be judged antinomian.*
Of course the neither the HC nor the WLC is any such thing. The HC has a third section which is wholly and rightly given over to a gracious doctrine of sanctification. This is why the *order* of the catechism is so terribly important.
Notice also how the HC speaks of Christ’s *merits*. Why? Because the authors of the catechism (chiefly Ursinus and Olevian) *knew* that Christ did not make salvation available for those who will “trust and obey” but rather Jesus *earned* justification and salvation for his elect by his perfect law-keeping. He will give saving, apprehensive faith to all his elect, and those same will manifest grateful obedience which itself is the product of grace. This gratitude however, is no part (ground or instrument) of their justification.
He does this also by making Jesus the first Christian. In Shepherd’s covenant theology, Jesus is not just the 2nd Adam who came to fulfill the terms of the covenant of works for the elect, but rather he is the model for Christians who must, like Jesus trust and obey. This is Rev Shepherd’s point on p.19.
Christ. His was a living, active, and obedient faith that took him all theway to the cross. This faith was credited to him as righteousness.
Brothers, I say this in all seriousness, this is heresy against the Reformed faith. Our doctrines of sola gratia and sola fide and solo Christo teach that God graciously gives faith to his elect. Faith, it its essence is that adequate sole instrument of justification because it is *extraspective* and looks to Christ as its sole object and to Christ’s obedience as the ground of justification. Through that sole instrument (faith), Christ’s justice is imputed to the sinner and our sins are imputed to Christ. This is the “wonderful exchange” of which Luther spoke.
Shepherd, however, has wonderfully exchanged the Protestant scheme of imputation for a softened version of the Roman scheme of moral improvement through graciously infused obedient faith. He has stumbled over the offense of the gospel, called it antinomian and softened it by making Jesus the first obedient, faithful, Christian. Faith is for sinners, not the sinless. Faith trusts in another for righteousness. To whom did our immaculate, sinless, wholly righteous high priest look for his justification?
Rather Jesus obeyed the Law, yes and Amen. He fulfilled every commandment joyfully and perfectly, but where was his faith? What was lacking in his obedience? Abraham, that sinner, was trusting in Jesus’ obedience (John 8:56) and to impute Abraham’s faith to Christ is to commit the Roman error of confusing faith (certain knowledge and hearty trust) with law-keeping.
This is what is disturbing about Shepherd’s account of James 2. He denies the classic Reformed view (recently ably defended by Prof. Venema in the pages of the Outlook) that James is concerned not to juxtapose faith and works per se, but rather a dead faith v. a living faith. Shepherd’s exegesis of James 2 (explaining Abraham’s obedience) is much closer to the classic Roman view than it is to the Reformed. Here, p. 16 he clearly makes faith and works two instruments of justification. One sees the same approach on p. 17 where Shepherd does not interpret Abraham’s obedience as “demonstrative” of his justification by grace alone, through faith alone, but rather as constitutive or instrumental in Abraham’s justification. This is a serious error in theology.
This is no imaginative interpretation on my part. He alerted the reader to his agenda in the opening pages (p.3ff) where he takes the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals to task for the way they criticized the 1994 document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” On this see my “Regensburg and Regensburg II,” Modern Reformation (September/October, 1998) at
http://www.alliancenet.org/pub/mr/mr98/1998.05.SepOct/mr9805.rsc.regensburg.html It is also striking that while criticizing ACE (the radio program of which, The White Horse Inn, many of our churches support) he *nowhere* criticizes ECT!
Then, look at pp. 59ff where Shepherd begins to offer his own solution to the crisis of the Reformation. He thinks that (p. 60-1) Rome has a point! They attack us because we misunderstand James 2.24 and Gal 5.6 (which Rome quotes for her doctrine of “obedient faith”). Shepherd (p.60) thinks the problem is twofold: that Rome attributes merit to human obedience. Shepherd’s response is, as it has been for more than 20 years, to reject merit as a working category in our theology. This is the thesis which underlies the unease some have expressed on this list with the category merit. Fortunately, as we’ve seen, our doctrinal standards are not so squeamish.
Shepherd believes that his reconstruction of covenant theology is the tonic which ails Rome. Rather than calling Rome to repent and believe in the justice of Christ received solely through the imputation of Christ’s merits, through apprehensive faith, Shepherd (p.61) calls Rome to reject the works/merit paradigm.
What is amazing is that, in this case, Rome has understood the Protestant doctrine of justification more clearly than Shepherd. In the Canons of the 6th Session of the Council of Trent (1547), Trent stated more clearly and honestly rejected the classic Protestant view. The controversy between us and Rome was never *whether* we are justified by merit, but whose merit. We say that it is by Jesus’ works and merit, imputed graciously by God and received through faith.
In classic Protestant theology, embodied by the Three-Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards, good works are not constitutive of justification, they are *demonstrative*. This is the argument of James 2 and Gal 5.6. Clearly Rev Shepherd and his followers think the Reformed tradition needs to be adjusted.
They believe that they have made biblical discoveries which the tradition missed. They are entitled to their view, but they are not entitled to make that claim under the umbrella of the Three Forms and the Westminster Standards (or classic Reformed theology), which is the context in which the confessions were written and in which they must be interpreted.
There is indeed a deep chasm between the gospel and Shepherd, between
confessional Reformed Christianity and the moralism offered in The Call of
Rev. Shepherd and his followers err in:
1) their definition of understanding of the covenants;
2) their relation of Law to Gospel;
3) their definition of faith;
4) their proposed relation of justification to sanctification
Anyone who denies the merits of Christ imputed to sinners is denying the
Gospel and should be disciplined by his consistory (URC CO Art. 61-62).