A Fisher of Men and of Salmon

It's always enjoyable to pull these dog salmon out of the Nooksack River. As for eating, they smoke well; but I would rather have a king, and a silver is even better. As for success, fishing for salmon is a lot like a covenant of works, if the knots aren't tied perfectly, I am in trouble.

Justifying Faith and the Role of Good Works in Salvation Part II

Note: This is the second part of a paper I recently wrote on the nature of justifying faith. IN this section I outline the particular views of Norman Shepherd to show how his definition of faith has driven much of the controversy. Please see first PART I

II. The Present Controversy

Norman Shepherd

Beginning in 1974, Norman Shepherd, professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, said something that troubled the faculty: the instrument in justification, Shepherd insisted, includes both faith and works.[1]
On May 27, 1977 formal charges were filed against Shepherd in the Philadelphia Presbytery of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Shepherd submitted his “Thirty-four Theses on Justification in Relation to Faith, Repentance, and Good works.” Four theses in particular called into question Shepherd’s view of justifying faith.

Thesis 20: The Pauline affirmation in Romans 2:13, “the doers of the Law will be justified,” is not to be understood hypothetically in the sense that there are no persons who fall into that class, but in the sense that faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will be justified (Compare Luke 8:21; James 1:22-25).

Thesis 21: The exclusive ground of the justification of the believer in the state of justification is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, but his obedience, which is simply the perseverance of the saints in the way of truth and righteousness, is necessary to his continuing in a state of justification (Heb 3:6, 14).

Thesis 22: The righteousness of Jesus Christ ever remains the exclusive ground of the believer’s justification, but the personal godliness of the believer is also necessary for his justification in the judgment of the last day (Matt 7:21-23; 25:31-46; Heb. 12:14).

Thesis 23: Because faith which is not obedient faith is dead faith, and because repentance is necessary for the pardon of sin included in justification, and because abiding in Christ by keeping his commandments (John 15:5; 10; 1 John 3:13; 24) are all necessary for continuing in the state of justification, good works, works done from true faith, according to the law of God, and for his glory, being the new obedience wrought by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer united to Christ, though not the ground of his justification, are nevertheless necessary for salvation from eternal condemnation and therefore for justification (Rom. 6:16, 22; Gal. 6:7-9).[2]

Concerns were immediately raised that Shepherd had improperly joined works to faith in God’s act of justifying the sinner.[3]
Without rehearsing all the details of the controversy, and before we evaluate Shepherd’s position, it is important to understand what motivated his re-formulation of the Protestant doctrine of justification.
In his article “Justification by Faith Alone”, Shepherd explores what Protestants mean by the doctrinal formula, “justification by faith alone.”[4] In the introduction Shepherd expresses concern over the problem of antinomianism.[5] To suggest that the “alone” of justification means a simple act of faith by which Jesus accepts the sinner will lead people to think there is no need “to escape from sin or its consequences.”[6] The answer for Shepherd lies in how we should understand the “alone” of this faith that justifies. According to Shepherd, there is one kind of saving faith that the Scriptures, a “living, active and obedient faith.”[7]

Defined this way, there is no need for a logical distinction between justification and sanctification. Shepherd accuses evangelicals of typically “dodging” the verses that Rome employs to refute the Reformation. When Paul speaks of “faith working through love,” or James speaks of Abraham as “justified by works,” all of this dodging becomes unnecessary when we understand that Paul is always speaking in a soteric sense. Faith is never alone because the virtues (what Shepherd calls “gifts and graces”) belong inherently to the nature of faith. This is a Roman definition of faith, since the faith that justifies always includes these gifts. Subsequently, Shepherd is able to say that repentance is necessary for justification, both are intertwined and cannot be separated, and “there is no justification without a penitent faith.”[8] The faith that is the alone instrument of justification is a living faith, “ever accompanied with all other saving graces and is no dead faith, but worketh through love.”[9]

Shepherd clothes his revision of historic Reformed theology in terms of the covenant. Shepherd defines covenant as a “relationship of union and communion between God and his people in the bonds of mutual love and faithfulness.”[10] According to Shepherd, “all the same principles are operative in all covenants,” so the covenants are all covenants of works and grace.[11] Whether we are speaking of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, or the New Covenant, all require the condition of righteousness to be met.[12] The question of what meets this condition of righteousness is germane to understanding Shepherd’s concern of both legalism and antinomianism.

It is important to note that classic Reformed theology distinguished between covenants that operated upon the fundamentally different principles of law and grace. In Shepherd’s mono-convenantal schema, the law and the gospel, faith and works, are meshed together in such a way that “faith and works are inclusive of one another.”[13] In flattening out all covenants without distinguishing whether the given covenant is operating on the principle of law or grace, faith and obedience are joined together and form the believer’s obligation to fulfill the blessings of the covenant.

In classic covenant theology, when a covenant was determined to operate on the principle of grace, even the conditions of the covenant (as all covenants included promises, stipulations, blessings, and curses), were understood to be provided from the gracious hand of God. For instance, Perkins wrote,

In the covenant of grace two things must be considered the substance thereof, and the condition. The substance of the covenant is, that righteousness and life everlasting is given to God’s church and people by Christ. The condition is, that we for our part, are by faith to receive the aforesaid benefits: and this condition is by grace as well as the substance.[14]

Historically, the Abrahamic covenant has been understood to be a gracious covenant because God provides a mediator for the sinner, and because the condition of the covenant of works is considered, either by anticipation or in fact, to have been fulfilled. This gracious covenant is a response to what had been lost by Adam and his posterity in a previous covenant arrangement that operated on the principle of law. In the Abrahamic covenant God makes a provision for sinners to apply the merits and righteousness of the mediator by the instrument of faith.
Thus, when God required faith on the part of Abraham, it was an instrument that was also met by grace.[15] Understood in this way, there is no condition in the administration of the covenant of grace that a sinner in his own strength can do to merit God’s blessing. The entirety of this covenant operates under the principle of grace. It is for this reason that even conditionality, strictly speaking, becomes unconditional for the elect as God gives his own requirement of faith to the sinner.

The difference in Shepherd’s covenant theology is that he collapses the different words of law and gospel into one mono-covenantal system.[16] This collapsing of two fundamentally different principles has a direct bearing on how Shepherd explains conditionality in covenant relationship.

Adam’s covenantal obedience in the garden did not merit any reward; neither does our covenantal obedience. But both are required by the covenant demand. The threat for disobedience is eternal death. This threat is as real for us as it was for Adam in the garden. The warning of the New Covenant must not be blunted or made hypothetical in any way. God’s threat to Adam or to Israel was not idle, and the same sanction of the covenant is directed against us in the new Covenant.[17]

Shepherd’s covenant theology clearly implies that there is only one covenant, and it is, in effect, a covenant of works. Shepherd’s position is strikingly similar to Rome’s as the need for the active righteousness of a mediator, namely, Christ’s righteousness, becomes unnecessary. Shepherd writes, “the blessings of the covenant are the gifts of God’s free grace, and they are received by way of a living and active faith.”[18] Since all covenants operate upon the same principles, like Adam and Israel, if the new covenant believer does not fulfill his side of the covenant with what Shepherd calls an “obedient faith”, he too will be cut off.

When Shepherd states that faith fulfills the condition of righteousness in all covenants, since he understands all covenants as operating together upon the principles of law and grace, he has no option but to define faith as something other than apprehending and receiving the righteousness of Christ, and by so doing inculcates into justifying faith the sinner’s obedience. Shepherd writes,

The works to be distinguished from faith in the Pauline passages are not good works, but works of the flesh, works that are done to provide a meritorious ground of justification…Since faith, repentance, and good works are intertwined as covenantal response, and since good works are necessary to justification, the ordo salutis would better be: regeneration, faith/repentance/new obedience, justification.[19]

Shepherd calls into question what Paul meant in Rom. 3:28 when he wrote “that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Shepherd defines the works of the law as “adherence to the provisions of the Mosaic covenant,” and sharply criticizes Luther for inserting the word alone into his translation.[20] This distinction is very important in Shepherd’s view. Historically, Protestants have excluded all works from faith as it functions in the act of justification, without distinction. But Shepherd makes a categorical separation between the works of the law and the works of faith. Theses 24 and 25 capture this distinction.

Thesis 24: The “works” (Eph. 2:9), or “works of the law” (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16), or “righteousness of my own derived from the law” (Phil. 3:9), or “deeds which we have done in righteousness” (Titus 3:5) which are excluded from justification and salvation, are not “good works” in the Biblical sense of works for which the believer is created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10), or works wrought by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 5:22-26), or works done from true faith (I Thes. 1:3), according to the law of God, and for his glory, but are works of the flesh (Gal. 3:3) done in unbelief (Gal. 3:12) for the purpose of meriting God’s justifying verdict.

Thesis 25: The Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone does not mean that faith in isolation or abstraction from good works justifies, but that the way of faith (faith working by love), as opposed to the “works of the law” or any other conceivable method or justification, is the only way of justification. (John Calvin, Institutes, III, 11. 20. “Indeed, we confess with Paul that no other faith justifies ‘but faith working through love’ [Gal. 5:6]. But it does not take its power to justify from that working of love. Indeed, it justifies in no other way but in that it leads us into fellowship with the righteousness of Christ.”).[21]

Putting these statements together, the way of justification is by the way of an obedient, active, living faith which includes the good works of the law and not the works of the flesh.
In Shepherd’s discussion of Genesis 15:6 he writes that the faith that justified Abraham was a living and obedient faith. Shepherd correlates James chapter 2 to Abraham’s forensic justification and applies his obedience as part and parcel to the very faith that was credited to him as righteousness. Shepherd writes,

Verse 21 [of James 2] says that Abraham was considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. His faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did…James goes on to say that faith without deeds is dead. For that reason, he can also say in verse 24 that a “person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” The faith credited to Abraham as righteousness was a living and active faith.[22]

In the Mosaic covenant Shepherd again states, “without a living, active, penitent, and obedient faith, Israel could not remain in the Promise land.”[23]
Even more striking is the way Shepherd applies covenant conditionality in the new covenant to the work of Jesus Christ. Shepherd writes, “His [Christ’s] was a living, active, and obedient faith that took him all the way to the cross. This faith was credited to him as righteousness.”[24] Drawing a conclusion for the new covenant believer, Shepherd writes, “A living, active, and abiding faith is the way in which the believer enters into eternal life.”[25] Like Adam, if the new covenant believer does not fulfill his side of the covenant with an obedient faith, he too will be cut off and face eternal condemnation.

Shepherd’s view can be summarized this way: God graciously establishes the covenantal relationship with believers and their children. But in this mutual covenantal bond of love, the believer maintains this relationship and fulfills the condition of righteousness by a faith that is living, active, abiding, and obedient, by which the believer enters eternal life. Justification as a narrower concept and salvation as a broader concept that includes sanctification, an important distinction in Reformed theology, is an absent distinction in Shepherd. Therefore, the justification of the sinner is by the way of faith and good works.[26]

Having overviewed Norman Shepherd’s view of justification and good works, we now transition to demonstrate how Shepherd’s views have impacted the present-day Reformed community.

[1]“Reasons and Specifications Supporting the Action of the Board of Trustees in Removing Professor Shepherd,” in A Companion to the Current Justification Controversy, ed. by John W Robbins (Unicoi, Tenessee: The Trinity Foundation, 2003), 135. See also Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, ed., by R. Scott. Clark (Philippsburg: P&R, 2007), 3-24.
[2]O Palmer Robertson. A Companion to the Current Justification Controversy, ed. John W. Robbins (Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 2003), 34-35.
[3] For an evaluation of other documents, see the 258th Synod of the RUCS Report of the Special Committee to Study Justification In Light of the Current Justification Controversy.
[4] “Justification By Faith Alone,” Reformation and Revival 11 No. 2 (Spring 2002): 75-90.
[5] Ibid., 76. Shepherd asks elsewhere, “How do you preach grace without suggesting that it makes no difference what your lifestyle is like? In other words, how do you preach grace without being antinomian? On the other hand, how do you preach repentance without calling into questions salvation by grace apart from works? How do you insist on obedience without being legalistic?” Norman Shepherd, The Call of Grace,(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2000), 8-9.
[6] Shepherd, Justification by Faith Alone, 75.
[7] Ibid., 81.
[8] Ibid., 85.
[9] Ibid., 79.
[10] Shepherd, Call of Grace, 12.
[11] Ibid., 51.
[12] For instance, the Reformed confessions clearly present the covenant in the garden with Adam as a covenant of works, upon which the law principle of “do this and live” was operative. See Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 6, 9; But in the covenant God made with Abraham and his seed, the operative principle was grace. By the instrument of faith, the sinner, as a recipient of the gracious covenant made through Abraham, is called to renounce his own works and look in true faith to the promised Christ who, as the second Adam was sent to merit all the demands of righteousness that the first Adam had lost in the garden. This righteousness received by faith is the ground of the sinner’s justification before God.
[13] Richard Philips, “Covenant Confusion,” Seminar Address for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformation Theology Phoenix/Indianapolis/Philadelphia (March-April, 2004). See also, “Which Covenant Theology” by Michael S. Horton in CJPM, 197-228.
[14]Perkins, Reformed Catholik, 571.
[15] Instrument is probably a much safer word to employ in light of the current controversy. CF. “Faith Formed by Love of Faith Alone? The Instrument of Justification” W Robert Godfrey in CJPM, 267-284.
[16] Cf. “Letter and Spirit: Law and Gospel in Reformed Preaching” R.S. Clark in CJPM, 331-363.
[17] Robertson, Companion, 151-152.
[18] Shepherd, Call of Grace, 22.
[19] Reasons and Specifications Supporting the Action of the Board of Trustees in Removing Professor Shepherd,” in A Companion to the Current Justification Controversy, 150.
[20] Calvin’s commentary on Gal. 3:28 is helpful in this context, “The meaning is, that there is no distinction of persons here, and therefore it is of no consequence to what nation or condition any one may belong: nor is circumcision any more regarded than sex or civil rank. And why? Because Christ makes them all one. Whatever may have been their former differences, Christ alone is able to unite them all. Ye are one: the distinction is now removed. The apostle’s object is to shew that the grace of adoption, and the hope of salvation, do not depend on the law, but are contained in Christ alone, who therefore is all. Greek is here put, as usual, for Gentile, and one department for the whole class. John Calvin Calvin’s Commentaries Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 112.

[21]Robertson, Companion, 34-35. Again Calvin is worth citing, “There would be no difficulty in this passage, were it not for the dishonest manner in which it has been tortured by the Papists to uphold the righteousness of works. When they attempt to refute our doctrine, that we are justified by faith alone, they take this line of argument. If the faith which justifies us be that “which worketh by love,” then faith alone does not justify. I answer, they do not comprehend their own silly talk; still less do they comprehend our statements. It is not our doctrine that the faith which justifies is alone; we maintain that it is invariably accompanied by good works; only we contend that faith alone is sufficient for justification. The Papists themselves are accustomed to tear faith after a murderous fashion, sometimes presenting it out of all shape and unaccompanied by love, and at other times, in its true character. We, again, refuse to admit that, in any case, faith can be separated from the Spirit of regeneration; but when the question comes to be in what manner we are justified, we then set aside all works. With respect to the present passage, Paul enters into no dispute whether love cooperates with faith in justification; but, in order to avoid the appearance of representing Christians as idle and as resembling blocks of wood, he points out what are the true exercises of believers. When you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or of works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle. Paul does not here treat of justification, or assign any part of the praise of it to love. Had he done so, the same argument would prove that circumcision and ceremonies, at a former period, had some share in justifying a sinner. As in Christ Jesus he commends faith accompanied by love, so before the coming of Christ ceremonies were required. But this has nothing to do with obtaining righteousness, as the Papists themselves allow; and neither must it be supposed that love possesses any such influence. John Calvin Calvin’s Commentaries Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 152-3.
[22] Shepherd, Call of Grace,16.
[23] Ibid., 30.
[24] Ibid., 19.
[25] Ibid., 51. This summarizes Shepherds view of faith, but the same definition is dispersed throughout his writings. In his paper the “Grace of Justification”, the same joining of obedience as an element of faith. Shepherd speaks of “faith as entailing obedience”, and is “invariably intertwined with repentance.” Further, the forsaking of sin and rebellion is itself an “act of faith.” This is thoroughly Pelagian
[26] Morton Smith similarly states, “In the Call of Grace the author’s primary thesis can be summarized as follows: The way of salvation, that is justification, is the way of faith and good works. The faith that saves, the faith that justifies is active, living, and abiding. It perseveres to the end. The way or instrument of justification (though Shepherd does not employ the term “instrument”) is faith and works. Morton Smith, The Biblical Plan of Salvation, With Reference to the Covenant of Works, Imputation, and Justification by Faith, (The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision), ed. E. Calvin Beisner (Knox Theological Seminary: Fort Lauderdale, 2004), 103.


Meet My Good Friend Perkins

My favorite Puritan to read is William Perkins (1558-1602). I am very blessed to own a set of his works from the 17th century. Perkins was known as the father of the Elizabethan Puritan movement and his works far outsold Calvin's. Unfortunately, Perkins works have not been reprinted in over 350 years--and I have no idea as to why. I know Joel Beeke is working on remedying this, but the project is years in the making. Periodically, I will write on Perkins and share some of the gems I come across.

For now, here is something Perkins said that answers quite well our present-day justification controversy .

The doctrine which we teach on the contrary is that a sinner is justified before God by faith, yes, by faith alone. The meaning is, that nothing within man, and nothing that man can do, either by nature, or by grace, concurs to the act of justification before God, as an cause thereof, either efficient, material, formal, or final, but faith alone. All other gifts and graces, as hope, love, the fear of God, are necessary to salvation, as signs thereof and consequents of faith. Nothing in any man concurs as any cause to this work but faith alone. And faith itself is no principal, but only an instrumental cause whereby we receive apprehend, and apply Christ and his righteousness for our justification.


Justifying Faith and the Role of Good Works in Salvation Part 1

Note: I wrote this piece a few months back but haven't done anything with it. It is a bit academic for a blog, but I am hoping to help those who are still wrestling through the recent controversy.

Justifying Faith and the Role of Good Works in Salvation
Christopher J. Gordon, Lynden WA

The present controversy over the doctrine of justification by faith has introduced to the Reformed world a whole new theological system that intersects and overlaps at so many points, it is difficult to critique one particular area of the movement. Nevertheless, the central issue remains the doctrine of justification. In question is the very nature of justifying faith, and the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to the sinner in the act of justification. For the Reformed Christian, these issues strike at the heart of the gospel he confesses and therefore, is a matter that deserves utmost attention.
This paper outlines the particular formulations of Norman Shepherd and the so-called “Federal Vision” concerning the nature of justifying faith and the place of good works in the believer’s salvation. In order to demonstrate where the error originates, we will first provide an historical analysis of the fundamental difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants on the nature of justifying faith. Next, we will overview the positions of Norman Shepherd and the FV on the nature of justifying faith and good works, demonstrating how these formulations vary little from historic Roman Catholicism. Finally, we will provide a Biblical and confessional analysis of these aberrant views in defense of the Protestant position that faith is merely receptive in the act of justification, and good works are a logical and consequential necessity to this act.

I. Historical Analysis: The Nature of Justifying Faith

The Roman Catholic Position
In 1547, the Council of Trent made an official declaration concerning what Protestants viewed as a central issue of the Reformation: the nature of justifying faith. In Canon XI Trent declared,

If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema. [1]

Trent was capitalizing upon a long medieval tradition that taught that the act of justification occurred by co-operation with grace. Though one cannot strictly merit the prevenient grace of God in justification, his cooperation with congruent merit enables the sinner, with God’s assisting grace, to co-operate with the grace of justification.[2]
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.[3]
It is important to understand the place that Rome gave to the inward qualities of hope and charity. The kind of faith that justifies includes infused sanctification. Based on an interpretation of Galatians 5:6 which speaks of faith working through love, Rome built into the nature of justifying faith the cooperation and obedience of the sinner in the act of justification. Trent declared that faith, “unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body.”[4]
It was upon this premise that Trent decreed a separate canon anathematizing any formulation of justifying faith that did not include obedience. Canon XII states, “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.”[5] For Rome in the act of justification, faith consists not merely of trusting in Jesus Christ to save, but the faith that justifies includes the inward habit of righteousness of hope, charity, and other virtues.
For Rome, there is no distinction between justification and sanctification. The sinner is justified insofar as he is sanctified, through the infusion of virtue, and in cooperation with grace, with the result that, ordinarily, no one is finally justified in this life.

The Protestant Position
The Reformers understood that properly defining the nature of justifying faith was an issue of either upholding or denying the gospel of Jesus Christ. Over against Rome’s doctrine of justification by grace through cooperation with grace, John Calvin affirmed that faith was the sole instrument in justification. The difference for Calvin was precisely in how one defined the nature of this faith that alone saves. In Calvin’s response to Osiander, he excludes from faith anything of inherent value.

For did faith justify of itself, or (as it is expressed) by its own intrinsic virtue, as it is always weak and imperfect, its efficacy would be partial, and thus our righteousness being maimed would give us only a portion of salvation. We indeed imagine nothing of the kind, but say, that, properly speaking, God alone justifies. The same thing we likewise transfer to Christ, because he was given to us for righteousness; while we compare faith to a kind of vessel, because we are incapable of receiving Christ, unless we are emptied and come with open mouth to receive his grace. [6]

When Calvin spoke of faith alone as the cause of justification, he was asserting the Protestant conviction that God’s act of justifying the sinner comes only by resting upon the merits and righteousness of Christ alone. There is nothing inherent or virtuous in faith itself by which is sinner is justified; faith is merely the open mouth or empty hand to receive Christ’s righteousness.[7] As the sinner looks away from himself by faith and lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, “God receives the sinner into his favor granting the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.”[8]
William Perkins, the father of Elizabethan Puritanism, spoke to the difference between Rome and Protestantism on the nature of saving faith. Perkins wrote,

The difference concerning faith is this: the Papist says that a man is justified by faith: yet not by faith alone, but also by other virtues, as hope, and love, the fear of God…we say otherwise, that faith justifies, because it is a supernatural instrument created by God in the heart of man at his conversion whereby he apprehends and receives Christ’s righteousness for his justification.[9]

Here Perkins reiterates the same language of Calvin and defines faith in the act of justification only as apprehending and receiving Christ’s righteousness. Perkins wrote,

The hand always has a property to reach out itself, to lay hold of any thing, and to receive a gift, but the hand has no property to cut a piece of wood itself, without a saw or knife, or some like instrument…even so it is the nature of faith, to go out of itself and receive Christ into the heart, as for the duties of the first and second table, faith cannot of itself bring them forth no more than the hand can divide or cut…[10]

Zacharias Ursinus, primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), produced an entire question an answer concerning the meaning of justification by faith alone. Q. 61 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “Why do you affirm, that you are made righteous by faith only?” The answer states,

Not for that I please God through the worthiness of mere faith but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God, and I cannot take hold of it, or apply it unto myself any other way than by faith.[11]

Ursinus makes clear that there is no inherent value in faith by which a sinner is justified; the ground for a sinner’s justification is the merits of Christ. Faith, understood only as instrumental, apprehends and applies to the sinner, not only the satisfaction that Christ effected on the cross, but also the merits of his righteous and holy life. In his commentary on question and answer 61, Ursinus wrote,

We say that we are justified by faith alone: 1) because we are justified by the object of faith only, to wit, by the merit of Christ alone, besides which, there is no justice of ours, nor any other part thereof…All works are excluded, yea, faith itself as it is a virtue or work. 2) Because the proper act and operation of faith is, for a man to apprehend and apply unto himself Christ’s righteousness, yea, faith is nothing else than the acceptation itself, or apprehension of another’s justice, or of the merit of Christ. 3) Because faith only is the instrument, which apprehends Christ’s satisfaction.[12]

While Rome included certain infused qualities or virtues of righteousness into the nature of justifying faith, the Refomers were careful to define justifying faith only as receptive and without inherent value.[13]
The issues outlined above are very important for a proper understanding of the present controversies that have arisen over the doctrine of justification by faith alone and it’s relationship to sanctification.
Part 2 shortly...

[1] The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Canon XI (Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 2:89-118). Canon IX states, “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema. Ibid., 2:112.
[2]The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Canon III (Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 2:99). Canon III states, “If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

[3] The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Sixth Session, (Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 2:89-118).
[4]Ibid., Session 6: Ch. 7 (2:96). For Rome, faith is not simply “a certain knowledge and a hearty trust” or resting in Christ’s finished work. Rather it is a virtue, it is a power, it is obedience, it is sanctity. Rome teaches that faith is “formed by love,” i.e. it becomes a reality as we cooperate with grace.
[5] Ibid., Session 6: Canon XII (2:113).
[6] John Calvin, John T McNeil, Institutes of the Christian Religion ed., (Philadelphia: the Westminster Press, 1960) III.10.i.
[7] Ibid. III.10.i.
[8] Calvin writes, Justified by faith is he who, excluded from the righteousness of works, grasps the righteousness of Christ through faith, and clothed in it, appears in God’s sight not as a sinner but as a righteous man. Therefore we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Ibid., III.10.i. (emphasis mine).
[9]William Perkins, The Workes: A Reformed Catholik Vol. I (John Legatt: London, 1635) I:570-71.
[10] Ibid., I:571.
[11] Zacharias Ursinus, Summe of Christian Religion (James Young: London, 1645), 385. ed. mine
Ibid., 385-6. Ursinus states, “For faith, as the Papists say, who will admit both these matters of speaking, as if faith were not indeed the application, whereby we apply unto ourselves Christ’s justice, but were also besides a certain work or merit, whereby we deserve to be just, which is quite repugnant to the nature of faith. For if for faith we were just and righteous, then faith were now no longer an acceptation of another’s righteousness, but were a merit and cause of our won justice; neither should it receive another’s satisfaction; which now it should have need of.” Ibid., 386.
[13] Cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 60: “How are you righteous before God? Only by faith in Christ Jesus; so that although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously trespassed against all the commandments of God, and have not kept one of them, and further am as yet prone to all evil, yet notwithstanding, if I embrace these benefits of Christ with a true confidence and persuasion of mind, the full and perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, without any merit of mine, of the mere mercy of God, is imputed and given unto me, and that so, as if I neither had committed any sin, neither any corruption did stick unto me; yea, as if I myself had perfectly accomplished that obedience, which Christ accomplished for me.” Ibid., 379.

My Love for the FOLIOS

My hobby is collecting antiquarian Puritan and Reformed theology. It has always been a joy for me to find these gems, read them, sell them, and buy others. Occassionally I stumble on some very rare volumes that are of immense interest to me. I thought I would periodically share with you some of my finds, most of which are out-of-print today. If you are a fellow collector, I would be happy to offer you some of my expertise, limited as it may be, in locating, collecting, buying, and even selling these wonderful volumes. If you are ever in need of something specific, let me know. I come into contact with a lot of sellers who have almost anything I have ever been looking for--though my budget doesn't always allow me to purchase.

For a start, the handsdown best seller of antiquarian Puritan and Reformed theology is Dr. David C. Lachman. I have been buying volumes from David for over four years now. The service is tremendous and the condition of the books is always described in scrupulous detail. You can look over some of his listed volumes here. This is only a small portion of what he actually has. As David says, "Contact the man with the books!"


My Little Piece of Geneva

Welcome to Lynden, Washington! To get an idea of the city, click here.
Regarding the churches, within city limits we have Christian Reformed--five of them, Protestant Reformed, United Reformed, Reformed Church in America, Netherlands Reformed, Orthodox Christian Reformed-formerly, American Reformed, Faith Reformed, First Reformed, Roman Catholic, Calvary Chapel, United Methodist, Baptist-I can think of at least three, Christ the King, Hope in Christ, Word of Life (Pentecostal), Hope Lutheran, Church of Nazarene, and a bunch of other independents. It's no wonder we are the most churched city in the world.

Eschatology Lectures

We had this conference back in 2006. I converted these excellent lectures into MP3 format and they are yours to enjoy free at your convenience. If you would like copies, please send me an email cjgordon7@aol.com

---Pacific Northwest Reformation Conference---The Last Days: What Does the Bible Teach?
The First Lecture:
Dr. W. Robert Godfrey
Start Listening
When Will These Things Be? Christian Views of the End Times

The Second Lecture:
Dr. W. Robert Godfrey
Start Listening
Jesus Our Prophet: Matthew 24

The Third Lecture:
Dr. Michael S. Horton
Start Listening
Holy Land, Holy War

The Fourth Lecture:
Dr. W. Robert Godfrey
Start Listening
Israel and the Church: Romans 11

American Evangelicalism and Schleiermacher's God Consciousness Part 2


German Romanticism found reality in feeling, immediate experience, and spiritual illumination; a certain subjectivism and emphasis on the self-conscious of the ego. Schleiermacher lived amongst many who refused to believe in anything beyond the autonomous self. He believed that many of his Romantic friends had abandoned religion because the rationalists had wrongly reduced the essence of knowledge to propositions and dogmas.[1] As Olson observes,
Schleiermacher believed that religious experience is primary; theology is secondary and must constantly be reformed in relation to the changing aspects of Christian communities. For him, ‘Every doctrinal form is bound to a particular time and no claim can be made for its permanent validity. It is the task of theology in every present age, by critical reflection, to express anew the implications of the living religious consciousness.

For Schleiermacher, “religious forms should not in themselves hinder any man from developing a religion suitable to his own nature and his own religious sense.”[2] Creeds and confessions, dogmas, propositional statements, belong to the religious experience of the community at the time of their origination. In this scenario, revelation doesn't just take a back-seat to feeling, but is, in fact, entirely derived from what is experienced when one achieves what Schleiermacher calls the feeling of absolute dependence. According to Schleiermacher, the Bible is not the inspired and infallible word of God, it is simply the religious experience of the early church.[3] Schleiermacher wrote, “In our exposition, all doctrines properly so called must be extracted from the Christian religious self-consciousness, the inward experience of Christian people.”[4] Religion then is the “feeling of absolute dependence.”[5]

Schleiermacher's use of feeling, however, has not always found uniformity in his writings.[6] What does Schleiermacher mean by feeling? Niebuhr views Schleiermacher’s feeling as a unity of the self. Niebuhr states, "Feeling of this order indicates more than the sheer “happened-ness” of the self; it symbolizes the life unity within which the reciprocal moments of suffering and doing transpire. It is not a mystical or a-cosmic state of mind but the consciousness of the unity of the self that is given within experience rather than derived from it."[7] Schleiermacher believed, therefore, that feeling is the immediate consciousness of life, and results from an interaction between the individual and the immediate environment.[8]
Schleiermacher spoke generally of three forms or grades of the self-consciousness.[9] The first is the confused animal grade, a lower grade that when animal life predominates and the spiritual life is in the background. Schleiermacher viewed this as a form when the antithesis cannot arise, it is a state of unresolved confusion and likened to children before they speak.[10] The second grade is sensible self-consciousness. There is a “gradual accumulation of perception” a developing of the self-consciousness from relations to nature and to man.[11] This is the realm of the sensible, a setting up as individuals, a self-regarding perception of social and moral feelings as self-regarding, and a movement towards dependence. The third grade is absolute dependence. Schleiermacher describes the feeling of absolute dependence as clear self-consciousness. He wrote,
In this sense it can indeed be said that God is given to us in feeling in an original way; and if we speak of an original revelation of God to man or in man, the meaning will always be just this, that along with the absolute dependence which characterizes not only man but all temporal existence, there is given to man also the immediate self consciousness of it, which becomes a consciousness of God. In whatever measure this actually takes place during the course of a personality through time, in just that measure do we see ascribe piety to the individual.

The self-consciousness of God is determined upon the piety [feeling] of man. Here we notice the essence of Christianity, as a “modification of universal human piety, the consciousness of being absolutely dependent, of being in relation to God”[12] This is known as the “God-consciousness.”[13] As mentioned above, the ego is now in relation, the sentiment (self-consciousness) enables the revelation of God in man; complete immanence through sentiment. The Christian, therefore, having a feeling of absolute dependence is in a consciousness of God.
The greatest state of blessedness is to strengthen the God-consciousness. Since Christian doctrines are said to be “accounts of the Christian religious affections set forth in speech, “ every doctrine must be a correlate to the God-consciousness of the Christian community.[15] Thus, the self-conscious feeling of absolute dependence is in relation to the surrounding community.
Although Schleiermacher is often characterized as wholly subjectivizing every experience, and in a certain sense this characterization is true, however, it must be remembered that for Schleiermacher the self is in relationship.

Schleiermacher emphasized that religious self-consciousness is developed through fellowship or communion.The function of the church was to be a “self-renewing circulation of the religious self-consciousness.” [16] Thus, for Schleiermacher the self-consciousness in relation to the world acts as a medium by which God is in man strengthening the God-consciousness.

All this sounding familiar? Let me refresh you with Osteen at his best, "I'm hoping to help you look inside yourself and discover the priceless seeds of greatness that God has placed within you."
More to come...

[1] Elwell, Dictionary, 1064.
[2] In his diary, Schleiermacher wrote, “Dogmas arise only when religious sense is amputated, and there usually remains behind only the cat mortuum [of religion].” Cited from Brandt, Schleiermacher, 112.
[4] Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Religion (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1928), 265.
[5] His response to the Romantics was his On Religion: Speeches to Cultured Despisers. (New York: Harper Brothers, 1958), 71
[6] Some have noticed the differences between the first and second editions of his Discourses. The former seemed to purport that religion is primarily feeling, the latter including both feeling and intuition as the essence of religion.
[7] Richard Niebur, Schleiermacher on Christ and Religion (New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1964), 122-3.
[8] Brandt, Schleiermacher, 179.
[9] His Platonic influence is evidenced sharply in his breakdown of the grades of being.
[10] Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, 19.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Grenz, Theology, 45.
[13] The inward unity of the God-consciousness is developed the highest in Christianity, but also has a place in many developed religion.
[14] Schleiermacher, Christian Religion, 76.
[15] Keith Clements, Fiedrich Scheleirmacher: Pioneer of Modern Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 37.
[16] Schleiermacher, Christian Religion, 27.

Recovering the Reformed Confession

Currently Reading...more to follow

American Evangelicalism and Schleiermacher’s God Consciousness Part 1

American evangelicals have always maintained a certain amount of pride in trying to be unique and cutting edge in their approach to Christianity. In his best selling book, Become a Better You, Joel Osteen offers what many American evangelicals believe to be the new found key to living a victorious Christian life. Osteen writes, "I'm hoping to help you look inside yourself and discover the priceless seeds of greatness that God has placed within you." While much of American evangelicalism is caught up with, as Michael Horton has labeled, moralistic therapeutic deism, the fact is that none of this is new. What many evangelical Christians do not realize is that their quest for meaning by finding inward seeds of greatness is only the regurgitated ideals of a man whom history has labeled the father of modern theology--Friedrich Schleiermacher.

All of us carry the banner of some historical tradition. The question is, of course, which one? Though most do not care anymore at all about their historical roots, it has generally been assumed, I suppose, that American evangelicals are simply carrying forward the banner of classic Protestantism; at least something vaguely connected to what Martin Luther did when he posted the ninety-five thesis. I suggest that American evangelicalism, has adopted a far different stream that is running its course, along with all of its painful consequences, from the ideals of Schleiermacher's notion of absolute dependence in religious feeling. I will interact with the views of Schleiermacher to the end of exposing this connection.

On August 6, 1791 Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) wrote to his father explaining his conversion. He wrote, “Here my heart is properly nurtured and need not wither under the weeds of cold erudition and my religious feelings do not die under theological speculation.”[1] Interestingly, this came at a time when Romanticism was spreading across Europe. The church was thought to have exhausted its influence and the sentiment toward rationalism grew more hostile as each day passed. In the midst of the new enlightenment culture stood Schleiermacher and his desire to change the face of religion. With a new found zeal and youthful enthusiasm his attempt to restore religion would place him as one of the most influential theologians of the nineteenth century.

Friedrich Schleiermacher was born on 1768 in Breslau, Lower Silesia. At age 10, he studied under the Moravian Brethren and was said to have gone through a “deeply emotional renewal of the Christian faith.”[2] Although raised by a Reformed military chaplain, Schleiermacher expressed skepticism over some of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, and was said to have become a Morovian both outwardly and inwardly. [3] In 1787, Schleiermacher entered the University of Halle and began to read Plato, Kant’s ethics, and some of Spinoza.[4] In 1794, after graduating from Halle, and sustaining two theological examinations, he was called to a Reformed pulpit in Berlin. During this time, he taught at Halle, began a translation of the works of Plato, and actively engaged many of the German Romantic philosophers. He remained in Berlin until his death in 1834.

[1] Martin Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973), 19.
[2] Speaking of his conversion with the Moravian Brethren in a letter to Georg Reimer, Schleiermacher wrote, “Here my awareness of our relation to a higher world began…Here first developed that basic mystical tendency that saved me and supported me during all the storms of doubt. Then it germinated, now it is fully grown and I have become a Morovian, only of a higher order.” Cited Martin Redeker, Schlieremacher:Life and Thought (Phildelphia: Fortress Press, 1973), 9.
[3] Grenz/Olson express that Schleiermacher was skeptical about the substitutionary doctrine of the atonement.
[4]Walter Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 1064.

Christless Christianity Radio Review

This week on Abounding Grace I am interacting with Michael Horton's new book Christless Christianity. I am posting a few MP3 links for you--this Friday is in discussion format with Wes Bredenhof.
Wednesday January 28, 2008
Christless Christianity
Thursday January 29, 2008
Christless Christianity
Friday January 30, 2008
Pastors Wes Bredenhof & CJ Gordon


Abounding Grace Radio

For well over two years now I have been producing daily radio broadcasts for our program Abounding Grace We broadcast five days a week on KARI 550 AM which has daytime power of 5000 watts. This allows us to broadcast into the greater Vancouver, B.C. area. Most of our listeners come from over the border, and we have frequent visitors from B.C. who join us for worship. The opportunity has been very exciting for us, especially as we see an increasing interest in Reformed theology among those tuning in.

On Fridays, Pastor Wes Bredenhof of the Langley CanRC joins me and we produce programs in discussion format, similar to the White Horse Inn. This has worked very well and provides a forum for us to interact with the current trends of American and Canadian evangelicalism. A Confessional Reformed voice is a cry in the wilderness, but we have already seen great fruit from our labors. You can listen to Wes' program Gospel Talk here.

All of our Abounding Grace programs are catalogued on our church website for you to listen at your convenience.

Intro to My New Blog

Greetings! Welcome to my new blog, the Gordian Knot. By definition the title means "an exceedingly complicated problem." It rhymes a bit with my last name, so it satisfies the creative bug within me. But in all seriousness, I am speaking to a very sad problem that has infiltrated the American church. In Michael Horton's new book Christless Christianity he opens with a scenario the late Rev. Donald Grey Barnhouse posed to his radio audience years ago. Horton writes, "Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, "Yes, sir" and "No, Ma'am," and the churches would be full every Sunday...where Christ is not preached."

I am a pastor in the United Reformed Churches of North America, and have been preaching at the Lynden United Reformed Church http://www.lyndenurc.com/ for over four years. Lynden is a beautiful city in the Pacific Northwest. But it is also a unique city. Lynden, WA is in the Guinness World Book of Records for the most churches in any city. There really is no other place like this on earth--wonderful is so many respects. Within city limits there are over 13 Reformed churches! If there is any place, however, that the above scenario could be true, the most churched city in the US would be a good candidate. I take the above scenario to be a warning first and foremost to me as a minister and steward of the gospel.

It is out of this great burden to preach Christ faithfully that I have decided to enter the blog world. Blogging is a fascinating phenomenon to me. Some blogs are downright destructive. Others have been of real help in promoting the truth. Still others have made me wonder if this whole practice is an attack on good scholarship. Nevertheless, it is how people are communicating. My goal is to write about my convictions, burdens, and responsibilities as a minister of the Word and Sacrament. Hopefully it will encourage some, shake-up others, and ultimately convict all that we need a recovery of the preaching of the cross.