Further, salvation includes three aspects: justification (i.e., God’s judicial declaration that believers are righteous), sanctification (i.e., God’s progressive and gracious work in conforming believers to the likeness of Christ), and glorification. If any aspect of salvation is said to be through good works, then salvation is necessarily through good works. When the Reformers asserted justification sola gratia, sola fide, they were not carving out an exception within salvation.
The authors don’t shy away from addressing one of the more controversial issues of evangelical theology in recent years: the idea of “final” or “future justification.” Biblical scholars and theologians have observed that justification, like many other aspects of salvation, has an “already but not yet” tension. In one sense, if we have placed our faith in Christ, we are already declared right before God. But there is another, “not yet” sense in which we await the Day of Judgment, when we “will be declared righteous” (Rom. 2:13). We have been justified, but we also look forward to the future when we will be justified. This event, the authors argue, is completely consistent with what the Bible says about being judged according to our works (Matt. 16:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:12).
The very idea that one aspect, justification, is sola gratia, sola fide but that the whole could said to be through works rests on a distinction that the Reformed generally and the churches particularly never entertained: that there are two stages in salvation, initial justification sola gratia, sola fide and final salvation through good works. There is good reason for the Reformed rejection of a doctrine of a two-stage justification. This was the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church in the sixth session of the Council of Trent. Chris Gordon explains:
Before justification the sinner enters into a state of preparation whereby he, by his own free-will and in co-operation with the Holy Spirit, is prepared for future justification. During this preparation the sinner comes to accept a general knowledge of God and his word. After this preparation is completed, God justifies the sinner in a two-staged process. In the first part of justification, God pardons sin and infuses the inward righteousness of hope and charity into the sinner’s heart so that faith is now formed by virtue. In the second part of justification the sinner is now made more holy and just by his own merit having been infused with the quality of inward righteousness
Since the authors (and the reviewer) invoke Turretin, let us consider what he had to say about a two-stage doctrine of justification (or salvation for that matter):
VIII. Although our justification will be fully declared on the last day (our good works also being brought forward as the sign and proof of its truth, Mt. 25:34–40), still falsely would anyone maintain from this a twofold gospel justification—one from faith in this life (which is the first); the other (and second) from works on the day of judgment (as some hold, agreeing too much with Romanists on this point). The sentence to be pronounced by the supreme Judge will not be so much a new justification, as the solemn and public declaration of a sentence once passed and its execution by the assignment of the life promised with respect to an innocent person from the preceding justification. Thus it is nothing else than an adjudicatory sentence of the possession of the kingdom of heaven from the right given before through justification. And if works are then brought forward, they are not adduced as the foundation of a new justification to be obtained then, but as signs, marks and effects of our true faith and of our justification solely by it.4
This is the Reformed doctrine of vindication, which is to say that what was declared by God to be true of the sinner legally will be declared to be true at the judgment. When Turretin speaks of some who agreed too much with the Romanists, he was probably referring to Richard Baxter’s Axioms on justification, which were indistinguishable from Rome on justification and an utter repudiation of the Reformation. Unlike Turretin and the orthodox Reformed, he taught final justification through faith and works. There was a reason why John Owen devoted an entire volume to refuting Baxter on justification.
At the judgment there is not a second, new justification. Our good works are not the “foundation of a new justification,” but only as evidence. Turretin is not the man to support a two-stage doctrine of justification nor final justification (or salvation) through works.
Turretin was not alone in repudiating a two-stage doctrine of justification (or salvation). William Perkins wrote of that “popish device of a second justification is a satanical delusion for the Word of God does acknowledge no more but one justification at all, and that absolute and complete of itself. There is but one justice, but one satisfaction of God being offended. Therefore, there cannot be a manifold justification.”5
As mentioned above, the question for the Reformation traditions has never been whether the justified and saved must do good works. After all, Luther battled the Antinomians over this very question in the 1530s. The principal questions have been: 1) to what end and 2) what function do good works play? In the 1550s there were a series of related controversies over this question. The most famous of which occurred when Georg Major (1502–1574) defended the proposition that one cannot be saved without good works.1 In 1553 Major revised his language to say that good works are necessary “for retaining salvation” (ad retinendam salutem). Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560) sided with Major by arguing “new obedience is necessary for salvation.” Melanchthon died in 1560 and Major recanted his formulations in 1570. The Lutheran confessions and the Reformed confessions, which are the product not merely of individual writers but are the formal doctrines of the churches, teach the necessity of good works as fruit and evidence of justification. None of them adopted Major’s language or doctrine.
The Remonstrants, and later the Wesleyan, and Holiness traditions, were always uncomfortable with the Reformation at this point. Though most think of the Canons of Dort (1619) as being concerned only with “the five points,” one of the chief concerns of the Synod of Dort was the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone. They saw the Remonstrants (i.e., the Arminians) as fundamentally subverting the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide). Arminius and his followers put Christians back on a works footing for salvation. The so-called “evangelical Arminians,” (e.g., the Wesleyans) did not fundamentally fix this problem. Speaking personally, one of the more spiritually distressing weeks of my life was the week I spent reading the works of John Wesley. I find more grace in the Canons and Decrees of session 6 of the Council of Trent (1547) than I found in the works of Wesley. So, it does not surprise me that writers from the Wesleyan and Holiness traditions would like to revise the Reformation consensus on salvation.
As Putman notes, there has been the obvious fruit of moral flabbiness as a result of revivalism, but the Higher Life movement and the Holiness Movement did not address it adequately and neither will the doctrine of final salvation through works address the problem. It will only make it worse. Rome’s doctrine of final salvation through works (cooperation with grace) did not produce the sanctity she desired, and final salvation through works is just more of the same failed remedy. What will move Christians to greater sanctity and thus to good works is not confusing the law and the gospel, but rather the clear, unequivocal preaching of the law in its pedagogical use, so that sinners will learn the greatness of their sin and misery, and an equally clear and sweet preaching of what the Reformed churches call “the pure gospel” (Belgic Confession, article 29) of free justification and salvation sola gratia, sola fide. These must be followed by the gracious, patient preaching and teaching of the third or normative use of God’s moral law as the norm of our new life in Christ. The answer to modern Dispensational antinomianism is not neonomianism but genuine Reformation preaching and teaching and the recognition that sanctification is, as Walter Marshall wrote, a “gospel mystery.”
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
4. Turretin, Institutes, 16.10.8 (2.687).
5. William Perkins, The Works of William Perkins, 6:234
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