Alliance Editorial Director Jonathan Master joins William Castro and G. Vijay Raju on the Presbycast podcast recorded at this year’s Reformation Worship Conference. From Peru to Greenville, from India to… the Alliance – three interesting guests that demonstrate the range of Reformed witness. Jonathan discusses his work here at the Alliance, including discussing his podcast Theology on the Go. Listen here: Presbycast…
Martin Luther was an outsized personality, with great faith and some great flaws. Living with this great person has a good effect on you. Let me commend his little book, The Freedom of a Christian. When he challenged the practice of indulgences in 1517, and when he debated Johann Eck a year later, Luther’s concern was pastoral, what Robert Kolb calls the “consolation of sin ridden consciences.”1 Luther was becoming convinced that Christ alone is the savior, he alone is the Lord of the Church and His authority is found in the Scripture alone. But between 1517 and 1520, the leadership of the Church was not buying it. What the Church heard was Luther undercutting the Pope’s authority and upsetting church order.
In July 1520 Pope Leo warned Luther of 41 doctrinal errors, and threatened him with excommunication. He had 60 days to recant. In November Luther published his statement of the Christian life, The Freedom of a Christian. He dedicated it to the Pope with an open letter, asking for peace. This is his statement of justification by faith alone.
The book has two theses, or propositions. “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.” This is true in the inner man. “A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”2 This is true in the outer man.
Perfect freedom is the definition of the believer’s relationship to God. That freedom is his in his soul, and nothing can overcome it. Why not? [Because] nothing external can either produce righteousness and freedom, or bring unrighteousness and servitude. Luther defines freedom as being in a right relation to God. The only thing that can make a person free is trusting in the Word of the gracious God. If he has this faith, nothing can hurt him. If he lacks it, nothing can help him.
What did Luther have in mind by external good works? He was thinking of two popular religious lifestyles, the practice of penance, required for all Christians, and rigorous monastic practice. Penance kept up your relationship with God; it had three parts: contrition, confession, and works of satisfaction. Luther complained that contrition for sin had become a human effort that prepared the heart for approaching God, a human merit. “If you do your very best, God will not deny his grace.”3 But this left the conscience in doubt. How could anyone be certain he had done his best? Confession of sins to priest had become the occasion for tyranny, rather than the pronouncement of free forgiveness for Christ’s sake. And making satisfaction through good deeds assigned by the priest in confession turned people’s faith toward human works, rather than to God’s free promise.4 There was no freedom there.
How then can righteousness be found? It is found in the message of the Word of God, received by faith.
Luther said faith has three powers. Its first power is in receiving the treasures of grace that God freely offers in Christ.
…the moment you begin to have faith, you learn that all things in you are altogether blameworthy, sinful and damnable. When you have learned this, you will know that you need Christ, who suffered and rose again for you, so that if you believe in him, you may, through faith become a new man, in so far as your sins are forgiven, and you are justified by the merits of another, namely of Christ alone.5
No human work can accomplish this, neither can an outward work, but only unbelief of heart, make one guilty of sin.
Luther answers an objection: then why does Scripture command so many ceremonies and laws if faith alone “justifies, frees and saves”? Martin’s answer is to draw a line between the law and the gospel. The commandments show us what we ought to do, but give no power to fulfill. God intends them to teach us our inability to do good, and lead us to despair of it. But the second part of Scripture, the promises, are “holy, true, free, peaceful words, full of goodness.” Luther is saying that when we entrust ourselves to the promises of God, the power and grace of the Word of God are communicated to the soul. No good work can rely upon God. Thus there is no need for good works to justify, and the Christian is free from the law. Good works are not necessary for righteousness and salvation.
Faith’s second power is that it gives God his proper glory by trusting him as truthful, righteous and good. The highest honor we can pay anyone is to trust him. Conversely, if we do not trust him, we do him the greatest disservice. “Is not such a soul most obedient to God in all things by this faith? What greater wickedness, what greater contempt of God can there be, than not believing his promise? For what is this but to make God a liar?”6 If a person does not trust God’s promise, he sets up himself as an idol in his heart. Then his unbelieving doing of good works is actually sinning.
Till now he had thought of God as a harsh judge who rewards individuals according to their merits. He does not deny God’s wrath against sin. But now he says that God’s basic disposition toward his sinful creatures is love and mercy, his personal favor, based on nothing but his own desire to show compassion.7 “What a kind, fine God he is, nothing but sweetness and goodness, that he feeds us, preserves us, nourishes us.” He also has a new understanding of grace. He no longer defines grace as an internally located gift from God; it became instead his favor, his merciful disposition toward sinners.8
Faith’s third power is that it unites us to Christ as our bridegroom. Here Luther becomes lyrical.
…Christ and the soul become one flesh [Eph. 5:31-32]. And if they are one flesh, and if between them there is a true marriage… it follows that everything they have they hold in common, the good as well as the evil. Accordingly, the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own, and whatever the soul has, Christ claims as his own. … Let us compare these, and we shall see inestimable benefits. Christ is full of grace, life and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death and damnation. Now let faith come between them, and sins, death and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life and salvation will be the soul’s… By the wedding ring of faith he shares in the sins, death and pains of hell, which are his bride’s…. Her sins cannot now destroy her… and she has that righteousness of Christ, her husband, … and [can] say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and mine is his…”9
Luther calls this the glorious exchange, the royal marriage. By faith, then, the person can ascribe all glory to God and have no other gods. By faith he can keep all the commandments.
Finally, Luther says that by faith this perfect freedom means that we are kings and priests to God. Because Christ is king, so we are kings, (in the inner man) lords over all things. Nothing can hurt us. All things are made subject to the believer, to further his salvation. Nothing can subject him to harm, even if God ordains that he suffers and dies. The Christian is also a priest, because he can come before God, to pray to him acceptably.
How then is the Christian different from the church’s priests, popes, bishops, and other “ecclesiastics”? There is no distinction, except that certain Christians are set apart to be public teachers and servants.10 But the church has turned these servants into lords.
The church should preach, not just facts about Christ, but what Christ is to be to us. “…that he might not only be Christ, but be Christ for you and me… faith is built up when we preach why Christ came, what he brought and bestowed, and what benefit it is to us to accept him.”
What man is there whose heart, upon hearing these things, will not rejoice to its depth, and in receiving this comfort, will not grow tender, so that he will love Christ as he never could by means of laws or works?”11
Faith is trust in God, not a virtue. It is the rejection of all possible virtue. Faith is not an inward good work that takes the place of outward good works. Rather, it looks to Christ. It knows Christ and rests in him and his righteousness for us.
“A Christian is a totally responsible servant of all, subject to all.” This defines the believer’s relationship to other people. We must continue to do good works, because we are still subject to sin, and we are bound to others.
Good works are valuable to the believer, but not as an alternative righteousness. If that “Leviathan” burdens them, they are actually not good at all. This notion destroys faith.12 All teaching about good works must be grounded in faith.
Faith is active through love.
That is, it finds expression through works of freest service, cheerfully and lovingly done, with which a man willfully serves another without hope of reward; and for himself, he is satisfied with the fullness and wealth of his faith.13
His sum of the joyful service of the Christian:
Although I am an unworthy and condemned man, my God has given me in Christ all the riches of righteousness and salvation without any merit on my part, out of pure, free mercy, so that from now on I need nothing except faith which believes that this is true. Why should I not therefore, freely, joyfully, with my whole heart and with an eager will do all things which I know are pleasing and acceptable to such a Father who has overwhelmed me with his inestimable riches? I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, since through faith I have an abundance of all good things in Christ’14
Luther concludes “By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor.”15
Luther brings us back to the Gospel. If we would follow Luther, our ministries must, above all things, seek to lead people to believe, to trust God’s Word. We are to set forth Christ for us. God is good and trustworthy and he freely offers us all things, in Christ. Therefore the trustworthiness of the Word, and the necessity of faith is everything. What we want to do for everyone is to help them to believe in Christ as he is offered in the Word.
Second, Luther is not antinomian. He is clear that faith works through love (Gal. 5:3). But why do we need the moral law? Because we are still sinners, subject to temptation and to continuing unbelief. However, even as it instructs us as believers, the law has a largely negative function. Luther does not make a sound theological place for God’s law as the believer’s delight. But it is just the gospel that overcomes the problem of law. “If I am outside of Christ, the law is my enemy, because God is my enemy. But once I am in Christ, the law is my friend, because God is my friend.”16 It is the deepest desire of my heart to obey God’s law, and to do this in faith. Faith works through love.
Last, Luther’s doctrine of sola fide in 1520 is closer to “union with Christ by faith alone,” than to “justification by faith alone.” His major metaphor is the union of the believer and the Bridegroom, the wonderful exchange between Christ and us. Luther clearly includes justification in this, an “alien righteousness,” Christ’s righteousness, by faith alone. But the more precise idea of his perfect, finished and final righteousness, counted ours once for all, is not here yet, because Luther speaks about our righteousness growing over our lifetime.
Later biblical reflection would clarify this, and Luther would be clearer about it too. God in free grace, reckons the righteousness of Christ to us, when we simply entrust ourselves to him. It is not faith, considered in itself, that grounds God’s pronouncement. Christ’s sacrifice for us, alone, is the basis of our being forgiven, fully and perfectly and once for all. In 1520 the brownies were still a little chewy. It took some time for this fully biblical idea of justification to bake completely. However, having said this, I think Luther’s idea of the glorious exchange by union with Christ is sound and biblical. Union with Christ by faith alone truly is the “freedom of a Christian.” When we receive Christ by faith alone, we receive both his righteousness as a completed gift, and are thus accounted righteous by God, once for all. And it is also true that our hearts are cleansed, what we term “sanctification,” by this union. What Luther calls the good works of a good man, notice, a changed man, are the fruit of this union. John Calvin would later put it like this:
We do not contemplate him outside ourselves from afar, in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us, but because we put on Christ, and are engrafted into his body–in short, because he deigns to make us one with him. For this reason, we glory that we have fellowship of righteousness with him.17
I close with these beautiful words of Luther:
Who then, can appreciate what this royal marriage means? Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him…as the bride in the Song of Solomon says [2:16], “My beloved is mine, and I am his.”18
1. Robert Kolb, Martin Luther, Confessor of the Faith (Oxford University Press, 2009), 72.
2. J. Dillenberger, ed., Martin Luther, selections from his writings (New York: Anchor, 1962), 53.
3. See Heiko A. Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000).
4. Kolb, 86.
5. Dillenberger, 55f.
6. Dillenberger, 59.
7. Kolb, 60.
8. Kolb, 34.
9. Dillenberger, 60f.
10. Dillenberger, 65.
11. Dillenberger, 66.
12. Dillenberger, 72.
13. Dillenberger, 74.
14. Dillenberger, 75f.
15. Dillenberger, 80.
16. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.
17. Institutes 3.11.10. 18. Dillenberger, 80f.
Francis Turretin was the grandson of a Protestant Italian merchant who had emigrated to Beza’s Geneva. When Turretin died in Geneva in September 1687, nearly 170 years had passed since Martin Luther had sparked the Protestant Reformation by posting the Ninety-Five Theses. During that period of time, Lutheran and Reformed churches emerged, while the Council of Trent birthed what we now know as the Roman Catholic Church. Luther’s hope of reforming the church had been dashed against the rocks of papal intransigence. The doctrine of justification by faith alone in particular fell under Trent’s “anathemas” or curses.
The Protestant churches understood justification to be a biblical doctrine. They could not, therefore, conscientiously repudiate it. As Rome applied increasing intellectual pressure against the Lutheran and the Reformed in the sixteenth and sevenqteenth centuries, it became clear that the Protestants were going to have to mount a formidable, biblical defense of justification.
In God’s providence, a succession of faithful men did just that. In that succession was Francis Turretin, who arguably represents the high water mark of the post-Reformational Reformed response to Rome. Described by a biographer as “the last of the great Reformed epigones of Calvin’s city.” Turretin taught theology in Geneva from 1653 to 1687.1 He is best known for his massive Institutes of Elenctic Theology, published between 1679-1685, and recently translated in its entirety into English. This work has had deserved influence within both the Scottish and American Presbyterian churches. It stands as a monument to the intellectual achievements and biblical fidelity of the Reformed wing of the Protestant Reformation.
In his preface to the Institutes, Turretin clarifies for the reader his intentions. He did not propose to draft “a full and accurate system of theology” but to “explain the importance of the principal controversies which lie between us and our adversaries (ancient and modern) and supply to the young the thread of Ariadne, by the help of which they may more easily extricate themselves from their labyrinth.”2 To anyone familiar with the Institutes, Turretin’s comparison of his labors with those of the Greek mythical figure, Ariadne rings true. According to legend, Ariadne provided the string that allowed her beloved Theseus to find his way out of King Minos’ Labyrinth after Theseus had slain the Minotaur in the heart of the Labyrinth. Turretin understood that these theological controversies were intricate and sometimes labyrinthine, but he also knew that their biblical resolution was necessary to the vitality and integrity of the Protestant churches.
Turretin’s abilities particularly shine in his discussion of justification. This discussion follows the pattern that he employs throughout the Institutes. Turretin first states the question, clarifying where the true differences between Reformed and non-Reformed theologies lie. He then answers the question, providing biblical and theological support for that answer. Then follow the “sources of explanation,” in which Turretin offers further elaboration of, handles objections to, and resolves difficulties that arise from the Reformed doctrine under consideration.
Turretin’s prose is elaborate and ponderous, studded with technical philosophical and theological terminology. What reward is held out to the modern reader who perseveres through the Institutes, and especially his discussion of justification? We may look briefly at his defense of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer for justification. From this defense surface at least two benefits that Turretin offers his twenty-first century readership.
The first benefit is a robust biblical and theological exposition and defense of the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone. Turretin’s discussion of imputed righteousness consists of thirty-one paragraphs. The first ten paragraphs are all preparatory to setting up the question. In these paragraphs, Turretin rehearses elements of the doctrine of justification crucial to this question – that justification is a strictly legal or forensic grace; that God requires perfect righteousness in order to justify a person; that only the God-man, Christ, can supply this righteousness; that we must be united to Christ if we are to have any share in this righteousness; that Christ imputes righteousness to us for justification, and that he infuses righteousness to us for sanctification; that “imputation” denotes accounting to someone a reward or punishment either for something that they have done or for what another has done for them (the latter is in view in justification); that imputed righteousness is not a legal fiction; that the active and passive obedience of Christ constitute a sufficient righteousness for a person’s justification; that, while justification and sanctification must never be confused, they may never be separated.
Turretin then proposes the question – “is the righteousness and obedience of Christ imputed to us the meritorious cause and foundation of our justification with God?” In four paragraphs, he answers in the affirmative against two parties, Rome and the Socinians (a rationalistic movement that emerged within the Reformation churches). In the next seven paragraphs, he proves the question by advancing a detailed exegesis of Rom 5:18,19; Rom 4:3; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 8:3; and Rom 4:5; by reflecting on the nature of Christ’s suretyship; and by offering corroborative testimony from the early Church Fathers.
Turretin then turns to “sources of explanation” in the final ten paragraphs. In this section, Turretin points out that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness does not mean that “we are no less righteous than Christ and are thus considered like Christ, saviors and redeemers of the world.” He also shows how it is that God’s declaration in justification is not fictive but “according to truth.”3
Turretin’s treatment of imputed righteousness demonstrates how concerned he is to ground the doctrine in the testimony of Scripture. Much of the explanation of the doctrine is taken up with biblical exegesis. Many of the objections raised against imputed righteousness in the seventeenth century remain in circulation in the twenty-first century. Turretin’s exegetical responses to these objections deftly and effectively serve us today in defending the doctrine against its detractors.
The second benefit that Turretin’s discussion offers is a model of theological moderation. He does not run to extremes in formulating Christian doctrine. He vigorously opposes Rome’s opposition to imputed righteousness. But Turretin is well aware that there are errors that lie in the other direction. For this reason, he will not allow himself to be identified with the antinomian error that justification may be separated from sanctification. He will not countenance the view that the sinner’s righteousness in Christ for justification renders him righteous in precisely the same sense that Christ is righteous. The truth, Turretin argues here (and frequently elsewhere), does not lie at the fringes but in the center. In this respect, Turretin is a theologian of the middle way.
Turretin is valuable, then, for what he says about justification – his a robust biblical and theological defense and explanation of the doctrine. But he is equally valuable for how he says what he says. His method promotes both precision and balance. In our day, we need both at least as much as Turretin’s readers did in the seventeenth century. Reformed Christians in the generations following Turretin saw him not as an antiquated relic but a reliable guide to biblical truth. Sadly, justification by faith alone still lies under Rome’s anathema. Thankfully, Turretin’s magisterial work remains with us today. Will we take the “thread of Ariadne” from his hand?
1. James T. Dennison, Jr., “The Life and Career of Francis Turretin,” in Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., trans. George M. Giger (3 vols.; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1992-1997), 3.645.
2. Turretin, Institutes, 1.xl.
3. Ibid., 2.655.
I have often taken comfort in the fact that the Apostle Peter said that Apostle Paul wrote “some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). I don’t take comfort in this as a license for misinterpreting Scripture; rather, I take comfort in the fact that an Apostle did not find everything in Scripture easy to interpret or understand. The Westminster Confession of Faith, picking up on Peter’s statement, suggests: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all…” (WCF 1.7). It may just as rightly be said that James, the brother of our Lord, wrote some things that are hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction. Not the least of these is the “less clear” passage found in James 2:14-26–with a specific focus on verse 21. What does James mean when he says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” How do we understand this in light of what the Apostle Paul says about justification in Romans 4:2-5, where we read:
“For if Abraham was justified by works he has something to boast about–but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness (Rom. 4:2-5).”
There are essentially four ways interpreters have sought to interpret James 2:14-26. Either (1) James and Paul are contradicting one another, or (2) James and Paul are teaching that our faith in Christ together with our Spirit-wrought good works form the basis of a final justification (i.e. the Roman Catholic position) or (3) James is speaking about an eschatological dimension of justification–in so much as believers are openly vindicated in accord with their good works, or (4) Paul is talking about our justification before God and James is talking about our justification before men. It is this fourth view that seems to fit in the exegetical context the best. According to this interpretation, Paul is talking about justifying faith in the Divine court and James is talking about saving faith as being evidenced in the human court. The following considerations serve to defend this position as the biblical position.
As with everything in the Bible, context is king. Just as the three laws of realty are “location, location, location,” the three laws of biblical interpretation are “context, context, context.” Related to this principles is the Reformation principle of scriptura sui ipsius interpres (i.e. Scripture is its own interpreter). We will only and ever come to a right understanding of James 2:21 when we have first carefully considered it’s immediate context and then the OT context from which James is drawing.
At the beginning of his epistle, James introduces the subject of testing in the life of believers. In chapter 2, the sincerity of faith is in view. Chapter 1 ends with James saying, “Whoever thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, this one’s religion is useless.” As chapter 2 develops, the idea of evidencing whether or not one has saving faith comes to the forefront. In order for someone to show whether or not they have saving faith, he or she must be tested.
Related to the idea of testing, the context of James 2:21 also carries with it the idea of sincerity with regard to saving faith. This is the flip side of the coin. The pastoral question that James is dealing with is whether or not someone has saving faith vs. a mere intellectual profession of faith (which he essentially calls a demon-faith and a dead-faith). James Gidley helps us better understand the context of James’ use of the word “justified” in 2:21 when he writes:
Some of James’ hearers were using the doctrine of justification by faith alone as a pretext for being complacent about ungodly living. What better way to awaken them than by using words that at first glance seem to be a shocking departure from what they have been taught? James 2 is a bombshell that explodes carnal confidence at its foundation. The complacent can scarcely be moved by anything less.1
All of this leads naturally into the testing and faith-demonstrating of Abraham and Rahab. When we give consideration to James’ statements about Abraham and Rahab, we must first understand something of his rationale for singling out these two figures. Both Abraham and Rahab are singled out to serve as examples of diverse individuals who possessed saving faith. Abraham was a man and Rahab was a woman. In Christ Jesus, there is neither male nor female. Abraham was a Jew and Rahab was a Gentile. There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile in Christ.
In the second place, both Abraham and Rahab were tested before a watching world–their test is revealed in Scripture to serve as an example to us who are seeking to walk in their steps. For Abraham, the test to which he was put came 25-30 years after he first believed the promises of God. He believed the promises of God about Christ and was therefore justified once-and-for-ever in Gen. 12:1-3 and 15:6; then he offered Isaac (i.e. the one through whom the seed promises were to be initially fulfilled) in Genesis 22:1-19. This was the one-time test upon which James fixates our attention. There is nothing in the context that would suggest that James is speaking of an entire life of law-keeping (as some have mistakenly suggested). The law was not even given to God’s people until 400 years after Abraham lived. The Scriptures are clear that “Abraham believed God,” and–in one, definitive moment–“it was accounted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). James is telling us that the declaration made in Genesis 15:6 was demonstrated to be true of Abraham in that he endured the test by faith (James 2:21-23). Abraham evidenced his saving and justifying faith by his act of obedience.
Rahab also heard the word of the Gospel. She heard about the exodus (i.e. the typical redemption that pointed to the spiritual redemption that God would provide in Christ), and she believed in the Covenant God of promise (Joshua 2:9-11). She, like Abraham, believed the Gospel (John 8:58; Gal. 3:8). She then acted in obedience because of the faith that she had in the Redeeming God of Israel. She demonstrated that she had saving faith by her reception and defense of the Lord’s spies. It was her confidence and faith in the coming Christ that enabled her to receive and hide the spies. James nowhere intimates that Rahab had an entire life of law-keeping for her justification before God.
James alluded to a single event in Abraham’s life, as well as to a single event in Rahab’s life, in order to show that they both had a sincere and living (i.e. saving) faith. Abraham and Rahab were both justified before God solely because they believed on Him who was to come; they were justified before men by their acting in accord with that faith in obedience. In this way, James is saying that they were justified before the watching world on account of the works that their saving faith produced. They had a saving faith that was demonstrated by their subsequent acts of obedience.
When we consider James’ use of the word ‘justified’ in 2:21, one massively important interpretive principle must be understood:
The word ‘justify’ (δικαιω) and it’s various forms is used several different ways in Scripture. Context always determines how it is used. It is true that the majority of Pauline uses of ‘justify’ have to do with the legal (forensic) standing that men have before God. Jesus, however, uses the word in Luke 7:35 to denote evidence, when he said of His own works bearing evidence to who He was, “wisdom is justified by her children.” In other words, Jesus said, “I am shown to be who I am and who I say I am by the works that I do.” This seems to be the exact same usage as that found in James 2. In fact, in the context, James says, “You show me your faith without your works…” and “I will show you my faith by my works…” It is clear that the human court is in view in James 2. In Romans 4, however, where the Apostle Paul says, “For if Abraham was justified by works he has something to boast about–but not before God,” the Divine court is clearly in view.
The 19th Century Scottish theologian, James Buchanan, differentiated between justified in Paul and justified in James by the use of the terms actual justification and declarative justification (see Buchanan Justification pp. 223ff.). Accordingly, Paul speaks of actual justification before God and James speaks of declarative justification before men. The late professor John Murray–perhaps even more helpfully–employed the term declarative and demonstrative.3 Murray put declarative in the place where Buchanan had used the term actual and demonstrative where Buchanan had used declarative. Murray suggested that Paul refers to declarative justification and that James speaks of demonstrative justification. Under this explanation, God declares one righteous by faith alone in Christ alone, and the one who has been declared to be righteous then demonstrates that he or she is so by observable good works. J. Gresham Machen summed up the difference between the two justifications being spoken of when he wrote:
The faith which James is condemning is a mere intellectual ascent which has no effect upon conduct. The demons also he says, have that sort of faith, and yet evidently they are not saved (James 2:19). What Paul means by faith is something entirely different; it is not a mere intellectual ascent to propositions, but an attitude of the entire man by which the whole life is entrusted to Christ. In other words, the faith that James is condemning is not the same as the faith that Paul is commending.2
As we navigate through the pages of Scripture, we must be ever careful in our efforts to come to an understanding about the “less clear” portions of Scripture. We must gives ourselves to a prayerful consideration of the context. We must study the details of the Old Testament examples picked up in New Testament exposition. We must labor to understand the way that words are used. We must always try to find a resolution based on the more clear passages of Scripture. In this short study, Romans 4:2-5 is the “more clear” passage by which the “less clear” passage (James 2:14-26) must be understood. The explanation above is a brief attempt at resolving for us any seeming contradiction. Though not all passages are equally important to our salvation, to err in our understanding of James 2 is to jeopardize the Gospel itself. May God graciously keep us from ever doing so.
1. Gidley, James S. James and Justification by Faith. New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Feb. 2005.
2. J. Grecham Machen Notes on Galatians (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1977) p.. 146
3. John Murray Romans pp. 350ff.
*This post is a modified version of a post that originally appeared over at the Christward Collective.
In the years 1518–1519, the Leipzig Debates were called and conducted between Johann Eck and Martin Luther, among others, in Pleissenburg Castle in Leipzig Germany. At the time, Luther would have presented the latest instance of the annoying humanists and reformers who seemed to be popping up across the theological landscape over the previous century.
Inspired by the classicalism of the Renaissance, and a general humanistic desire to original sources, innovative scholars had made headway into the study and interpretation of the biblical texts. New grammars of Hebrew, like the one published by Johann Reuchlin in 1506, modeled on the great Rabbi David Kimchi’s grammatical work, opened up the Hebrew text to interpreters who previously had to go to great lengths to learn the ancient language for themselves.
In the midst of the renewal of interest in the original texts, Europe experiences a vast democratization of knowledge happening at every level of society, inspired further by the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century. The significance of the printing press matched that of other leaps in informational technology like the alphabet in the late second millennium B.C., the codex around the time of Christ, and the internet in recent years. This new access to printed material fundamentally shifted intellectual discourse across the disciplines.
Interest and access to primary sources, including those of Scripture, fueled a theological awakening that questioned some of the most entrenched political and ecclesiastical power structures of its day.
This ideological revolution loomed in the background of the Leipzig Debates, particularly as it pertained to the authority of the Pope as head of the church and arbiter of Christian doctrine. It is a grand confrontation; think William Jennings Bryant vs. Clarence Darrow, but with habit and cowl. The two met on July 4 to commence debate. One attendee, the humanist Peter Mosellanus, described the two opponents in vivid detail. For Luther: “Martin is of medium height; his body is slender, emaciated by cares and study; one can count almost all the bones; he stands in the prime of his age; his voice sounds clear and distinct.” How did Eck appear? “He has a huge square body, a full strong voice coming from his chest, fit for a tragic actor or a town crier, and more harsh than distinct; his mouth, eyes, and whole aspect give one the idea of a butcher or a rude soldier rather than of a theologian.”1
For Eck, the debates substantivized the charge of heresy against Luther, because Luther admitted that he sympathized with the opinions of the followers of John Hus who had already been condemned by the church as a heretic. For Luther, the debates helped him clarify the raison d’etre of his early and fervent opposition to certain Roman doctrines. He was not merely dissatisfied with ecclesiastical corruption or errors made by the church authorities. Rather, his was a difference on the issue of authority itself, where it lay and what that meant for the world.
In the next year later, Luther would write, “But that we fight not with our own words, let us bring forth the Scriptures.” His doctrine of biblical authority had developed further. Everyone, including the church leadership, should be held accountable by the teaching of scripture. To illustrate the point, Luther proposed a hypothetical situation of ecclesiastical corruption, and drew counsel from two biblical passages in which the authority of God’s word trumps other hierarchies. He writes,
“If it were to happen that the pope and his cohorts were wicked and not true Christians, were not taught by God and were without understanding, and at the same time some obscure person had a right understanding, why should the people not follow the obscure man? Has not the pope erred many times? Who would help Christendom when the pope erred if we did not have somebody we could trust more than him, somebody who had the Scriptures on his side.”
Never one to let a vivid illustration pass by without utilization, he goes on:
“Long ago Abraham had to listen to Sarah, although she was in more complete subjection to him than we are to anyone on earth. And Balaam’s ass was wiser than the prophet himself. If God spoke then through an ass against a prophet, why should he not be able even now to speak through a righteous man against the pope?”2
The authority is not in the person (or ass) who teaches but in the divine word that undergirds and authorizes the teaching–so that no one may boast.
Even more, if Scripture is authoritative for all, from least to greatest, then it must be accessible to all. What value is the word of God to those who worship him, if its teaching is not made available to them? The technological innovations and spirit of the age coincided with this theological commitment of the Reformation.
For Luther, translation was the next logical step. He set about this work immediately if a bit begrudgingly. As he reflected on his translation of the Bible into German, he realized that the task was much greater than he had previously imagined.
“We are now sweating over the translation of the Prophets into German. O God, what a great and hard toil it requires to compel the writers against their will to speak German! They do not want to give up their Hebrew and imitate the barbaric German. Just as though a nightingale should be compelled to imitate a cuckoo and give up her glorious melody, even though she hates a song in monotone.”3
For all of the literary and aesthetic offense he endured, he understood it was a necessary suffering so that the word of God could be communicated to the German rank and file.
The profound insight that Luther and the Reformers stumbled upon was the basic need to remove the wall of separation between the Word of God and the individual soul, to put the Scriptures’ clarity on display for all to see, through translation, yes, but also through preaching that explained the Biblical text on its own terms, in light of the whole counsel of God, and testified to by the Spirit.
On this side of the Leipzig Debates, such an insight seems hardly profound, but it should be. In its day, the authority of Scriptures represented a radical change in direction for the community of faith, and the church has not been the same since.
The Reformed tradition offers a constellation of doctrines and insights drawn from the teaching of Scripture, but only insofar as they are clearly articulated and accessible to the those with ears to hear. As Reformed believers, we should be sure to steward well the rich biblical theology with which we have been entrusted. We must offer it to the world with clarity and generosity, even when it is painful to our sensibilities, preferences, and tastes. Just like Luther.
1. T. M. Lindsay, Luther and the German Reformation (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1900), 84.
2. Martin Luther, “Address to The German Nobility,” in Three Treatises (2nd. ed.; trans. By C.M. Jacobs; rev. by J. Atkinson; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970), 20; 21-22.
3. Martin Luther, correspondence with Wenceslas Link, June 14, 1528.
As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, let us not forget that there were reforming efforts in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ long before Martin Luther played the carpenter and nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517. These forerunners of the Reformation did not live in what we now know as Germany, yet the influence of at least two upon Luther – and so on the Protestant church as we know it today – was not insignificant.
Indeed, if Luther is the father of the Reformation, then it would be appropriate to say that a Czechoslovakian (John Hus) was its grandfather, and an Englishman (John Wycliffe) was its great-grandfather. We do well to remember briefly the story of Wycliffe’s influence, through Hus, upon Luther’s work of reformation.
John Wycliffe is called the “Morningstar of the Reformation” for good reason. Born sometime around the year 1330 in northern England, he studied at Oxford University, becoming a fellow of Merton College in 1356 and a Master of Balliol College in 1360. In 1361 he was ordained as a parish priest, but he spent most of the next twenty years studying for his doctorate and teaching at Oxford. In 1381, due to the controversial nature of his writings (especially his books On Civil Dominion, On the Church, On the Eucharist, and On the Truth of Sacred Scripture), he was forced to leave Oxford and retire to his parish of Lutterworth, where he preached until he died on December 31, 1384. Wycliffe’s teachings were harbingers of the fuller Reformation to come. He viewed the Scriptures as the final authority for the Christian: “Forasmuch as the Bible contains Christ, that is all that is necessary for salvation; it is necessary for all men, not for priests alone. It alone is the supreme law that is to rule Church, State, and Christian life, without human traditions and statutes.” He believed in preaching the Bible to the people of God in language they could understand, and in translating the Bible into the language of the people. He objected to the Church hierarchy, believing that Jesus Christ alone was the head of the Church. He attacked indulgences, and called out the lax morals of the monks and priests of his day. He challenged the Roman view of the Lord’s Supper.
So how did a man who lived only some fifty-four years in 14th century England affect the course of human history through a 16th century monk from Germany? In God’s providence, ecclesiastical and civil politics combined to catapult Wycliffe’s ideas onto the European continent. Like many good stories, this one involves international drama and a relationship between a man and a woman. When the Great Papal Schism of 1378 divided France from Rome, and the Avignon papacy vied with the Roman papacy, England (of course) stood against its longstanding enemy France, and sided with Rome. Rome sought to persuade Bohemia to sever ties with France and to form an allegiance with England. The occasion of this alliance was a marriage in 1382 between Princess Anne of Bohemia with King Richard II of England.
When Anne arrived in England, she brought her scholars to study at Oxford. There they were exposed to the teachings and writings of Wycliffe, both of which they carried back to the burgeoning reformation movement amongst their own countrymen. Wycliffe’s doctrine, sermons, and reformist spirit spurred on these native Bohemian reformers, including one John Hus. Johann Loserth, an editor of Wycliffe’s sermons, argues that a comparison of Hus’ sermons with Wycliffe’s sermons shows that in some cases the former took from the latter almost word for word. Although modern scholars disagree with this plagiarizing notion on the whole, yet Wycliffe’s influence on Hus, especially on his doctrine of the church, is undeniable. Translating Wycliffe’s sermons into Czechoslovakian contributed to Hus being burned at the stake. Indeed, the same council that condemned Hus to death anathematized Wycliffe.
Finally we have made our way back to Luther. At and after his Disputation at Leipzig in July 1519 with Johann Eck, Luther acknowledged that he was a Hussite, and so by genetic derivation to a degree a Wycliffite. He saw himself as the fulfillment of Hus’ prophecy from prison: “Jan Hus has prophesied about me when he wrote from his prison in Bohemia: ‘Now they roast a goose, but in a hundred years they shall hear a swan singing, which they will not be able to do away with.'” At the Leipzig debate, Luther answered Eck’s claim of “No Pope, no Church!” with an argument that Nick Needham states was first used by Wycliffe: “The Greek Church has existed without a Pope, and you are the first to call it no Church.” Luther did not teach every doctrine of these forerunners, yet when Eck accused Luther as being “as bad as Wycliffe and Hus,” Luther answered, “Every opinion of Hus was not wrong.” And he was unmoved at the prospect of his book The Babylonian Captivity of the Church being labeled as “Wycliffite.”
This short survey is hopefully sufficient to show that Wycliffe, through Hus, tilled the soil for the blooming of Martin Luther. John Milton, in his Aeropagitica, commented on Wycliffe’s significance to Britain and to the European continent: “Why else was this Nation chosen before any other, that out of her, as out of Sion, should be proclaimed and sounded forth the first tidings and trumpet of Reformation to all Europe? And had it not been the obstinate perverseness of our prelates against the divine and admirable spirit of Wickliff, to suppress him as a schismatic and innovator, perhaps neither the Bohemian Huss and Jerome, no nor the name of Luther or Calvin, had been ever known: the glory of reforming all our neighbors had been completely ours.” Milton’s overly-patriotic zeal notwithstanding, his remark reminds us not to stop at 1517 as we look backward for the roots of the Reformation.
The English Reformer, Hugh Latimer (c.1485-1555) is probably best remembered today for his stirring statement at the time of his Oxford martyrdom in the autumn of 1555 when he urged his co-martyr Nicholas Ridley, “Be of good comfort Master Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” But in previous generations Latimer was equally remembered for his preaching. The twentieth-century historian Patrick Collinson, for instance, once described him as one of the greatest English-speaking preachers of the sixteenth century.1 And according to Augustine Bernher, a Francophone pastor who was mentored by Latimer and later pastored during the reign of Elizabeth I, “if England ever had a prophet, he was one.”2
Latimer preached hundreds of sermons, but there are only forty-one extant. These sermons were copied down as Latimer preached, which proved to be quite difficult, as the copyists struggled to keep up with what Allan G. Chester has called “the torrent of the preacher’s eloquence” and fluency.3 The sermons especially reveal a preacher who was able to adapt himself to his audience: he explicates a biblical text in its context, explains points of doctrine, emphasizes moral lessons, warns against the errors of the Roman Catholic Church, and all the while the sermons are suffused with what Allan Chester has called a “heartfelt earnestness.”
Here, for example, is Latimer speaking about salvation being by faith alone in Christ in a sermon that he preached on December 27, 1552:
“… by [Christ’s] passion, which he hath suffered, he merited that as many as believe in him shall be as well justified by him, as though they themselves had never done any sin, and as though they themselves had fulfilled the law to the uttermost. For we, without him, are under the curse of the law; the law condemneth us; the law is not able to help us; and yet the imperfection is not in the law, but in us: for the law itself is holy and good, but we are not able to keep it, and so the law condemneth us; but Christ with his death hath delivered us from the curse of the law. He hath set us at liberty, and promiseth that when we believe in him, we shall not perish; the law shall not condemn us. Therefore let us study to believe in Christ. Let us put all our hope, trust, and confidence only in him; let us patch him with nothing: for, as I told you before, our merits are not able to deserve everlasting life: it is too precious a thing to be merited by man. It is his doing only. God hath given him unto us to be our deliverer, and to give us everlasting life. O what a joyful thing was this!”
Latimer was thus critical of Roman Catholic theologians for arguing that salvation could be attained by our merits–“patching Christ,” to use his words, with our flawed good deeds to merit eternal life. In another sermon, preached around the same time, he bluntly stated that Roman Catholics who argue for salvation on the basis of faith and works are “the very enemies of Christ,” for they reckon that “their good works have deserved heaven and everlasting life.” In essence, Latimer declared, “this opinion is most detestable, abominable, and filthy in the sight of God. For it diminisheth the passion of Christ; it taketh away the power and strength of the same passion; it defileth the honor and glory of Christ; it forsaketh and denieth Christ, and all his benefits. For if we shall be judged after our own deservings, we shall be damned everlastingly.6
Elsewhere, in his famous sermon The Sermon on the Plough, Latimer positively and in succinct Reformation fashion, described saving faith as “a faith that embraceth Christ, and trusteth to his merits; a lively faith, a justifying faith; a faith that maketh a man righteous, without respect of works.”7 Little wonder that Latimer affectively described this faith in the finished work of Christ in the first sermonic extract cited above: “O what a joyful thing was this!”
1. Patrick Collinson, Archbishop Grindal 1519-1583: The Struggle for A Reformed Church (London: Jonathan Cape, 1979), 48.
2. Cited John T. McNeill, “Book Reviews: Hugh Latimer, Apostle to the English. By Allan G. Chester,” Church History, 24 (1955): 78.
3. Allan G. Chester, “Introduction” to his ed., Selected Sermons of Hugh Latimer (Charlottesville, VA: The University Press of Virginia for The Folger Shakespeare Library, 1968), xxviii.
4. Chester, “Introduction” to his ed., Selected Sermons of Hugh Latimer, xxvii.
5. Hugh Latimer, Sermon on St. John Evangelist’s Day in The Works of Hugh Latimer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1845), II, 125-126.
6. Hugh Latimer, Sermon preached on the First Sunday after Epiphany in Works of Hugh Latimer, II, 146-147.
7. Hugh Latimer, The Sermon on the Plough in The Works of Hugh Latimer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844), I, 61.
Biblical studies have undergone something of a seismic shift over the past three decades. Noted scholars such as James D.G. Dunn, E.P. Sander and N.T. Wright have questioned whether the theologians of the Reformation have properly understood the theological arguments of the Apostle Paul. This is especially so with regard to Paul’s teaching on the meaning of justification in the letters to the Romans and Galatians. Their resounding conclusion is that Reformed and Protestant theologians have largely misunderstood Paul’s argumentation concerning the nature of justification and the eschatological role of the Law in the life of believers. According to proponents of the New Perspective(s) on Paul, justification does not–as the Reformed have always maintained–involve the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by faith alone. The crux of the argument has to do with how one defines the phrase “works of the Law” (and its various related forms in Pauline literature). Without wishing to do injustice to the nuanced differences that exist in the writings of these men, I want to point out what I believe to be an important historical theological fact that has often been overlooked in recent debates: the New Perspective’s supposedly new understanding of the meaning of the phrase works of the Law is nothing other than the Old Roman Catholic perspective on the phrase.
Proponents of the New Perspective(s) have insisted that the phrase “works of the Law” does not, as the Reformers and Puritans held, refer to “a man’s attempt to work for his standing before God based on his own law keeping.” They contend that the phrase refers to Jewish boundary markers. In redefining it in this way, they reduce the meaning of the phrase down to nothing other than the ceremonial laws of Israel. In doing so, they radically redefine Paul’s argument concerning justification–rejecting the Reformed idea that Paul was teaching that “justification is the receiving of the forgiveness of sin and a legal standing of righteous by faith alone, based on the death of Christ and the imputation of His righteousness.” Instead, they assert that justification is inclusion of Jew and Gentile into the one corporate body of God’s Covenant people under the Lordship of Christ. In turn, N.T. Wright teaches that there is an eschatological (i.e. future) justification based on the Spirit wrought good-works of believers.
The Apostle Paul’s argument that a man is justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16; 3:11; 3:24) strikes a decisive blow to the thesis of the New Perspective, if Paul is, in fact, teaching that justification is what the Reformed taught it to be, namely, a once-for-all legal act of God. The Reformers understanding of Paul’s argument radically impacted later Protestant formulations on the doctrine of justification. There is arguably no better formulation than that which we find in the Westminster Short Catechism:
“Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (WSC Q. 33).
The essence of this definition is found in Calvin’s Institutes, where we read:
“We simply interpret justification, as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ” (Institutes 3.11.2).
Here we discover that the argument of the theologians of the New Perspective(s) on the meaning of the phrase works of the Law is merely the Old Perspective of Early and Medieval Romans Catholic theologians. Calvin continued:
“As if Paul were not reasoning about the free justification which is bestowed on us by Christ. For they see no absurdity in maintaining that no man is justified by the works of the law, and yet that, by the merit of works, we are accounted righteous in the sight of God. In short, they hold that no mention is here made of the works of the moral law. But the context clearly proves that the moral law is also comprehended in these words; for almost everything which Paul afterwards advances belongs more properly to the moral than to the ceremonial law; and he is continually employed in contrasting the righteousness of the law with the free acceptance which God is pleased to bestow.”
As we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, it would do us a world of good to turn our attention to the labors of those upon whose shoulders we stand. This includes our need to focus on their exegesis in light of the polemics in which they were engaged. As we do, we will find that many of the recent supposed advances in biblical studies are merely retorgrades back to the isogesis of Roman Catholicism from which the Reformers helped set us free.
This year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation when the German Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed a long series of academic debating points about the medieval Roman Catholic penitential system (the 95 theses) to the door of the Wittenberg church. One of the central questions of the Reformation revolved around the nature or essence of saving faith. Is faith in relation especially to the blessing or benefit of justification passive and receptive or is it an active or working faith? Does faith have its own integrity or does it have to be supplemented or completed by another grace?
The Reformation concluded that saving faith, as it is related to justification (i.e. the saving benefit of a sinner being found acceptable in the sight of a holy and righteous God by virtue of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ) is merely receptive. That is, one is justified by placing one’s faith in Jesus and that results in the complete forgiveness of one’s sins and the obtaining of a right(eous) standing before God. The Reformers determined that the Scriptures taught that faith was the alone instrument or means whereby the sinner unites to and apprehends Christ. While a true and living faith was understood to always be accompanied by all the other saving graces, none of these other graces were taken into consideration by God for his or her justification. It was sola fide or faith alone that was the instrument of justification.
The medieval Roman Catholic church held that saving faith was formed faith. That is, in order for faith to save, it must be formed or perfected by love. In practical terms, one was saved by faith and good works. Luther and the other Reformers recognized that a true and living faith always produced good works but that good works had no part in a proper and biblical understanding of the nature or essence of faith. Faith for Luther and the other Reformers, while accompanied by other graces such as love, was not defective and in need of some corrective such as love.
Over two hundred years later–and across the Atlantic Ocean–New England pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards addressed the question of the relation of faith and love in relation to each other in the thirteenth sermon in the preaching series later published as Charity and its Fruits entitled “Christian Graces Concatenated Together.” Edwards has been at the center of a scholarly debate regarding whether or not his concern for sanctification in the Christian life, and specifically his concern with nominalism caused him to compromise his Protestant and Reformed principles about the integrity of justifying faith.
In the 1950s preeminent Edwards scholar Thomas Schafer argued that Edwards had in fact undermined, or called into question, his commitment to a biblical and confessionally Reformed understanding of faith and love in justification. Schafer did not suggest that Edwards intentionally departed from the faith once for all delivered to the saints, but that given his concerns with the new birth and growth in sanctification in the Christian life, he had perhaps accidentally moved away from the gold standard of Reformed orthodoxy. Schafer argued that Edwards embraced a quasi-Roman Catholic understanding of saving faith as formed faith, that is, faith formed by love. It is agreed that Edwards defended the traditional Reformed doctrine of justification in his graduation oration at Yale and in his lecture series on justification delivered at Northampton in 1734. No doubt we will not be able to settle this dispute here and now. However, we can look at how Edwards discusses the relation of faith and love in this sermon to open up for a window into how Edwards thought about this.
Before delving into the specifics of the sermon, we should note the context of this particular sermon. The sermon “Christian Graces Concatenated Together” is the thirteenth of a sixteen sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13, famously known as the “love chapter.” I note this in order to point out the direct subject matter is not the doctrine of justification per se, or the nature of justifying faith. Having said this, any confessionally Reformed theologian worth his salt would always have a concern to be as clear and careful as possible when talking about faith (even in a context such as this sermon where the doctrine of justification is not directly in view)–to clearly define faith in such a way as to maintain its integrity as a discrete Christian grace. Faith is a broad biblical category of which justifying faith is one element or facet. What we say about faith more broadly, however, must not undermine what we say more narrowly about justifying faith.
Additionally, I should mention Edwards’ emphasis on the integrated nature of the human soul. Edwards moved away from the faculty psychology of his day in which the powers of the human soul (intellect and will) worked concurrently with each other rather than in a reified, hierarchical manner. This means that faith for Edwards was a “whole soul” endeavor. It was not just a matter or the intellect or will alone, but both working together.
Now we can turn to the sermon “Christian Graces Concatenated Together.” The main point of the sermon is that whatever Christian graces the Holy Spirit dispenses to Christians, they are chained (this is what concatenation means) together or they occur together or they are interlocked or linked. This is a thoroughly sound and biblical insight. Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 and not fruits. Wherever one fruit such as love, joy, or peace occur, so do others. The Westminster Assembly divines concurred in this (which is a good thing since they were aiming to be biblical!) when they noted that while justification was by faith alone, it was not a faith that was alone. True faith would always be accompanied by every other saving grace. In the case of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is arguing for the supremacy of agape love. In the end, only three graces remain and survive into the eschaton: faith, hope, and love. And, as Paul tells us, the greatest of these is love. Note that this is said by the Apostle of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Edwards tells us three things about the Christian graces: they always appear together, they depend on one another, and they are implied in one another. For our purposes, it is the second and third points that may be most problematic. To say that faith depends upon hope and love in order to be faith or vice versa does seem to suggest that faith does not maintain its own integrity or independence. The further point that faith implies hope and love or implicates them also casts into doubt Edwards’ understanding of faith. Edwards goes further and says that love is of the essence of faith or is essential to faith or is an essential ingredient of faith.
One basic Pauline thought at this point is that the fruit of the Spirit, while multifaceted, is singular. We can even recognize a sort of synergy at work in the concatenated graces in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We can go further and say that each grace brings out the best in the others. But, to many, Edwards’ language of faith depending upon hope and love to be what it is and to function properly seems to undermine the discrete integrity of faith. Some have suggested that it comes too close to the Roman Catholic notion of formed faith. It is one thing to say that hope and love enrich faith but it is another to say faith depends upon hope and love. This dependency relation suggests that faith cannot function in its own right. That is, faith qua faith, is insufficient. The same thing can be said about implication. Implication suggests that no grace is sufficient as God created them and gives them to his people. Is it logomachy to suggest that impinge might be a better word than imply?
Edwards’ concern to stress that Christian graces come together like a floral bouquet is altogether legitimate. But dependency appears to undermine the proper functionality of each grace. Love is not faith–neither is it hope. Implication appears to undermine the discrete integrity of faith, hope, and love. Is Edwards’ suggesting in so many words, that the Christian graces interpenetrate one another in a manner analogous to the perichoretic nature of the triune Godhead? He does not say as much in this sermon; but, one is left wonder.
We are left to conclude that while Edwards nowhere affirms in this sermon the medieval Roman Catholic doctrine of formed faith, the logical implication of what he says seems to suggest something similar. Be that as it may, this does not square with what Edwards has written elsewhere about justification by faith alone. I suggest that we have a consistency breakdown in the teaching in this particular sermon.
In conclusion, what we learn from this experiment is that no fallen, sinful Christian theologian can be accepted in everything he teaches or advocates. This is in no way to undermine Edwards’ proper due influence. However, with regard to the dependency and implication ideas, Edwards appears to accidentally undermine the biblical and confessionally Reformed notion of justifying faith as passive and receptive and complete in and of itself with its own proper functionality and discrete integrity. The Protestant Reformation recovered a biblical jewel when justification and justifying faith were clarified. Edwards’ muddies the waters at this point. So brethren, let’s go back behind Edwards to the crystal clear fount of Scripture and the Reformers!
Dr. Jeff Waddington is the interim pastor at Knox OPC in Landsdowne, PA. He is the author is The Unified Operations of the Human Soul: Jonathan Edwards Theological Anthropology and Apologetic. Jeff is a contributor on the podcast, “East of Eden: The Biblical and Systematic Theology of Jonathan Edwards.”
This is a personal invitation to come to beautiful Greenville, SC in order to enjoy a new conference joyfully set in the Reformed tradition October 13-15, 2017. Joining me will be Rev. Dr. Harry L. Reeder III of Briarwood Presbyterian Church and Rev Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III of Reformed Theological Seminary. The theme of the Conference is Here We Stand: Justification by Faith.
Make this conference a holiday weekend occasion, bring your spouse and enjoy our award winning downtown and the fabulous “Fall for Greenville” food & music festival. Registration includes a banquet and special music on Friday night. A luncheon for pastors is also planned.
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