Who Has the Patent on REFORMED?

The question of what is means to be a Reformed Christian is one that continues find a variety of expressions among those who adhere to the teachings that arose out of the Protestant Reformation. These expressions are often so varied that when one asks about the meaning of Reformed, the diversity of response may leave the questioner more confused. Many define Reformed solely in terms of the five solas of the Reformation, and, more often than not, it has become a polemical term employed against Arminianism. I have found that the term Reformed is often used as a slang word to support the doctrine of predestination and some of the teachings of John Calvin.

One of my close friends tells of his first introduction to the Reformed faith. A week after his father’s funeral he ran into a man who attended a local Reformed church. During the course of the discussion my friend expressed sorrow over the fact that his father was not a believer. Immediately the man responded, “Well he must not have been one of God’s elect.” You can only imagine the anger. This is a sad but real commentary on how Reformed people are often represented or even represent their faith.

The Reformed faith is based on a certain knowledge and conviction that everything that God has revealed in His Word is true (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 21). The catechism connects this knowledge with a deep-rooted assurance in the gospel promises. When these elements are present, this certain knowledge and trust expresses itself visibly as the church unites together in what is confessed. The accuracy of the Reformed faith, therefore, is determined by this certain knowledge; a collective body of truths upon which their derivation is from Scripture and are confessed by those who walk together in unity.

To define the Reformed faith in the worst sort of way, would be to lift-up one doctrine as the grid through which the whole body of truth is defined. Again, this if often done with the doctrine of predestination. To define the Reformed faith in the most irresponsible sort of way, would be to pick and choose what I like, disregard what I don't, and then claim the patent on the label. This is often done today, ironically, by many in the Emergent Church movement or by those who reject infant baptism--among other things. There are, of course, certain doctrines that function as organizing principles of the Reformed faith, (the doctrine of the covenants is often viewed as the fundamental organizing principle of the Reformed faith) but to speak of certain doctrines as central or organizing to the whole is quite a different thing than to pick and choose what I like and still claim Reformed.

Further, the question itself, “What does it mean to be Reformed?", suggests that the Reformed body of doctrine runs contrary to something else. For the Reformers of the 16th and 17th centuries, these contrary systems of doctrine were Roman Catholicism and Arminianism, respectively. While the same is true for Reformed Christians today, movements such as Christian liberalism, the Emergent Church, and the continuing saga of Evangelicalism, have, with new rubric, attacked much of the certain knowledge that has historically defined what it means to be Reformed. The same perennial fight remains.
The difference in our day, however, comes to us in an evangelical climate that has devalued particulars. In other words, there is nothing that really defines Evangelicalism. And if people are searching for substance, the labels seem to no longer matter, or are at the least, depreciated. The outcome has been predictable. People are finding some of the particulars in the Reformed faith appealing. Here they have found stability and content, something "new". Reformed, therefore, seems to have become a house of refuge for those certain evangelicals who are burnt-out and looking for meaning through particulars--albeit, particulars they feel, in good Biblicist fashion, they get to choose for themselves. This has created a melting pot so that much of what passes for Reformed is drastically reductionistic and assimilated to the above named movements. I raise this simply to say that this poses a significant challenge for those historic Reformed Christians who hold to a certain knowledge in what they confess. For one to even begin to accurately define Reformed, there must be an appreciation for the particular historical moment Reformed Protestantism gave birth and, subsequently, the tradition by which it was shaped.

Taking these things into consideration, a Reformed Christian is required to adhere to the infallible, inerrant Word of God and align himself to that whole body of doctrine that has its roots in the Protestant Reformation. The Reformed confessions, preeminently the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Canons of Dordt (1619) and the Westminster Standards (1647), find their roots in historic Protestantism, and provide for us this body of doctrine that define the boundaries by which Reformed is to be defined. Thus a Reformed person is one who is a confessional, Bible-believing Christian who has his feet firmly planted in the historic Protestant tradition. Under this basic definition of Reformed stand a variety of different ethos and motifs that help to define the grandness of the Reformed faith (as Machen called it) living in the twenty-first century.

A Reformed Answer to Paedo-Communion

Cornelius Venema's new book on Paedocommunion is soon available at Reformation Heritage books. You can pre-order. This is timely and exposes the great error of those practicing paedocommunion.

I also addressed this in a sermon a few years back. Here is the link:
1 Cor 11:27-34
"Daddy, May I Take Communion?"
Download MP3

The Short Catechism of Richard Greenham (1542-1594) PART II

When I started this blog, I promised to share gems from some of my rare theological library. One forgotten Elizabethan Purtian is Richard Greenham (c. 1542-1594). As an early Elizabethan puritan, Greenham's influence in the late 16th century was second only to that of William Perkins. What interests me here is his shorter catechism. It is striking how similar many of his Q&As are to the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). Further, his law/gospel understanding permeates the catechism. This is worth further study. Over the next few weeks I plan to provide the entirety of his shorter catechism on this blog. I edit only slightly to modern English while retaining the exact word choice of Greenham. I trust it will be a great blessing to you as we continue to study the trajectory of confessional Reformed Protestanism.

This is Part 2 of Richard Greenham's Shorter Catechism written around the same time as the Heidelberg catechism. Unlike the Ursinus, and like Luther, Greenham places the law proper in the guilt section of the catechism. This is the first table.

Guilt: The Law
Q. How shall we come to the right sight of our sins, and a sound persuasion of the greatness of them?
A. By the Spirit of God leading us into the true understanding of the law, and a due examination of ourselves thereby.

Q. Where is the law set down?
A. It is written in many places of the Scriptures, but the sum thereof us contained in the Ten Commandments.

Rehearse them.
I am the Lord your God, you shall have not other gods but me.

Q. How are they divided?
A. Into two principal heads or tables, as they be called.

Q. What does the first table teach us?
A. It teaches us our duty towards God, and is contained in the four first commandments.

Q. What does the second teach us?
A. Our duty towards our neighbor, and is contained in the six last commandments.

Q. Why are the duties towards God set down before the duties toward our neighbor?
A. Because the love of God is the ground of the love of our neighbor.

Q. What follows hereof?
A. That none can rightly love his neighbor except he first love God.

Q. Why are the duties towards our neighbor joined to our duties toward God?
1. Because the love of our neighbor is the proof of our love towards God.
Q. What ensues hereof?
2. That none can love God aright, except he also love his neighbor.
Q. Why are the commandments set down in ten parts, and not in general?
3. Because God is not pleased with doing our duties in general or in some part, but he will be wholly served in all and every one of his commandments.
Q. Why are they set down singularly or to everyone?
4. Because every one must do his own duty, though none go before him.

Q. What follows of this?
A. That every one must bear his own burden, and none shall have excuse by the example of others.

Q. Are there not some rules which serve for the better understanding of every one of the commandments?
A. Yes, there be four which have special uses:
1. First, in every commandment where evil is forbidden, there the contrary good is commanded.
2. Second, many more evils are forbidden, and many more good things are commanded in every commandment, than in words expressed.
3. Third, because God is a spirit, therefore his commandments are spiritual, and require spiritual obedience.
4. Fourth, in every commandment where evil is forbidden, there the occasions of the evil are forbidden; and where good is commanded, there also the occasions of good are commanded.

The First Table of the Law

Rehearse the first commandment?
You shall have no other gods but me.

Q. What evil is here generally forbidden?
A. Even that which the words do import.

Q. What good is commanded?
A. To have God to be my only God, and to always be in his presence.

Q. What is it to have God to be our only God?
A. To give him all things which be proper and peculiar to his majesty.

Q. Which be those that properly concern God, and therefore be the special things commanded?
A. They are very many.

Rehearse the sum of them, whereby the rest may be understood
I am bound to believe in God, to love God, to fear and obey him, to pray unto him and praise him.

Q. After what sort must you perform these duties of faith, love, fear, obedience, prayer, and thanksgiving?
A. With my whole mind and understanding, with my whole heart and my whole strength.

Q. Which be the peculiar sins herein forbidden?
A. To give any of the forenamed good things to any creature, or any other
thing whatsoever, whereby my heart may be withdrawn from God in any
part, or in any respect.

Q. Which be the occasions for the breach of this commandment?
A. 1. First, the vain desire for pleasures, riches, and glory of this world.
2. Second, a negligent and careless use of the means to serve God his providence.

Q. Are not the contrary good things to these commanded?
A. Yes.

Q. Which are they?
1. First, a heart content with any estate, and using things of this world as though we used them not.
2. Second, a reverent and diligent use of the means to serve God’s providence.

Rehearse the second commandment
You shall not make to yourself any graven image, not the likeness, etc.

Q. What evil is expressly forbidden in this commandment?
A. I am forbidden to make any image either to represent God, or to worship
him by.

Q. What evil is generally forbidden?
A. I must avoid all inventions and devices of men in the outwards
worship of God, which be contrary or besides the written word of God.

Q. Which are the special evils forbidden?
A. Chiefly, all corruption in the substance of doctrine, prayer, sacraments,
and discipline of the church.

Q. What occasions of evil be forbidden?
A. There be some which we must necessarily avoid, unless we will fall into superstition and idolatry; and they be these:
1. First, to join false parts of worship with the true worship of God.
2. Second, to be present in body at idolatrous and superstitious service.
3. Third, the reservation of some special monument of superstition and idolatry.

Q. Which be the lesser occasions forbidden, and yet (so we have the
special grounds of God’s worship) we must, and may tolerate them,
when we cannot help them?
1. First, all vain, idle, and superstitious ceremonies.
2. Second, all keeping company with false worshippers.

Q. Is not the evil in heart also forbidden?
A. Yes, so far forth as I lust in my heart to have any of them prevail or be

Q. What good is generally commanded?
A. All the outward means of God’s worship, which be agreeable to his written word.

Q. Which is specially commanded?
A. I must use such doctrine, prayers, sacraments, and discipline of the church, as agreeable to God’s Word in the substance.

Q. What occasions of good be here commanded?
1. First, to have and use good books of the doctrine and history of
the church written according to God’s Word.
2. Second, erecting and maintaining schools of learning, as
nurseries of the ministry.
3. Third, sufficient provision to be made for the ministers of God’s Word.
4. Fourth, building and maintaining of the churches, and all things belonging thereunto.
5. Fifth, I must use all good ceremonies and orders agreeable to the Word of God.
6. Sixth, all familiar company with the true worshippers of God.

Q. What good in heart is commanded?
A. I am commanded to use the means of God’s worship, not only
outwardly, but also in spirit and truth.

Q. What is meant by these words: “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, etc.?”
A. That God will punish false worship in the false worshippers, and in their posterity unto the fourth generation.

Q. What is meant by these words: “And I will show mercy to thousands,etc.?”
A. That God will bless his true worship in the true worshippers and their
posterity to a thousand descent.

Q. What is the use of these?
A. The use is to make false worship more vile, and his true worship more precious in our eyes.

Rehearse the third commandment.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, etc.

Q. What evils be here forbidden?
1. First, all perjury, banning or cursing, enchanting, or conjuring.
2. Second, all swearing by false gods, or naming them with reverence.
3. Third, all customable swearing, or speaking of GOD without reverence.
4. Fourth, to cause God’s Name to be dishonored by false doctrine of ungodliness, either in myself or in others.

Q. What good is herein commanded?
1. First, in matters concerning God’s glory (justice, judgment, truth), I must swear by God only in.
2. Second, I must endeavor from my heart to grow up in true knowledge, and in godly life, that so God’s Name may be praised in myself, and by mine example in others.

Q. What is meant by these words: “For the Lord will not hold him
guiltless, etc.?”
A. That God will certainly punish the dishonoring of his Name in any

Q. What is the use of this?
A. The use of this is, to make us more fearful to dishonor him, and more
careful to glorify his Name.

Rehearse the fourth commandment.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, etc.

Q. What is here generally commanded?
A. I am commanded to make it my whole delight, to sanctify the holy Sabbath of the Lord from morning to night.

Q. What is particularly commanded?
1. First, to use all the public means of God’s worship in the
congregation of God’s people.
2. Second, to rejoice to use all such private exercises, as may make
the public means profitable to myself, and to others.

Q. Which be those private exercises?
1. First, the examining of my sins and wants, private prayer, reading of the Scriptures, singling of Psalms, conference with others, and applying all things to myself, with a care to profit others.
2. Second, relieving the needy, visiting the sick, and them that be in prison, comforting them that be in any misery, reconciling them that be at variance, admonishing the unruly, and such

Q. Which is especially commanded?
A. The spiritual beholding of the creatures of God, thereby to provoke myself and others to praise him.

Q. What else is?
A. A diligent searching of my heart, with a like care to find out, and to reap some profit of the forenamed means, so that I may be the better for and through them.

Q. What is then particularly forbidden?
1. First, All such labors and pleasures, in thought, word, and deed
are forbidden, as may hinder me and others, for the using of, or
profiting the same means.
2. Second, the leaving unused any of those public means or private

Q. What is here generally forbidden?
A. The using either of those public or private means in ceremony without some good fruit in myself, or care of fruit in others.


The Shorter Catechism of Richard Greenham (1542-1594)

When I started this blog, I promised to share gems from some of my rare theological library. One forgotten Elizabethan Purtian is Richard Greenham (c. 1542-1594). As an early Elizabethan puritan, Greenham's influence in the late 16th century was second only to that of William Perkins. What interests me here is his shorter catechism. It is striking how similar many of his Q&As are to the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). Further, his law/gospel understanding permeates the catechism. This is worth further study. Over the next few weeks I plan to provide the entirety of his shorter catechism on this blog. I edit only slightly to modern English while retaining the exact word choice of Greenham. This is Part I with section headings that I have added. I trust it will be a great blessing to you as we continue to study the trajectory of confessional Reformed Protestanism.

The Shorter Catechism of Richard Greenham
Q. Whereas all men desire to be blessed, and the most men are deceived in seeking blessedness, tell me which is the true way thereunto?
A. To know God to be my father in Jesus Christ, by the revelation of the Spirit according to his word, and therefore to serve him according to his will, and to set forth his glory; believing that I shall want nothing that is good for me in this life, and that I shall enjoy everlasting blessedness in the world to come.

Q. How do you know this?
A. By the working of the Holy Ghost, and by the means of God’s word.

Authority of Scripture:
Q. What call you God’s word?
A. It is the revealed will of God, set forth unto us in the Holy Scriptures.

Q. Which call you the Holy Scriptures?
A. The books of the Old and New Testament, commonly called Canonical.

Q. Are all things that are necessary for us to know contained in them?
A. Yes: for God being full of all wisdom and goodness, would leave out nothing that was requisite for us to know.

Q. Is it lawful for to add or take away anything from God’s word?
A. No: for God has flatly forbidden it, and has pronounced grievous curses upon those that do.

Q. Why is it so grievous a sin?
A. Because it is a very great sin to alter the last will of a mortal man; therefore much more grievous a sin it is to change the last testament of the eternal God.

Q. Why is it requisite that the will of God should be set forth unto us?
A. That we might have pure rules of his worship, and sure grounds of our salvation.

Q. Is it not lawful to repose any part of God’s worship, or of salvation in the doctrine and doings of men?
A. No: for all men by nature are liars, and defiled with sin.

Q. What follows hereof?
A. That all men’s doctrines and doings are mingled with lies and corruption.

Q. How far are we bound to their doctrines and doings?
A. So far forth as they be agreeable to God’s Word.

The Reading of the Scriptures:
Q. May all read the Scriptures?
A. Yes, all that be of age able to discern between good and evil, ought to increase in knowledge, for their furtherance in salvation, as they increase in years.

Q. Why must all read such Scriptures?
A. First, because every one must be able to prove and try himself, whether he be in the faith, or not, 2 Cor 13:5.

Q. Why else?
A. Secondly, because every one must be able to prove and examine men’s doctrines (Acts 17) and doings, by the Scriptures, that they be not in their saluation by them deceived.

A. Thirdly, because every one must be able, as his calling requires, to teach, admonish, exhort, and comfort one another.

A. Fourthly, because every one must be able to make an account for the faith and hope that is in them.

14. Q. What if men cannot read?
A. Then they must use the help of others than can read.

Q. Is it enough to read the Scriptures privately, or with others?
A. No: for God has also commanded to hear them read publicly in the church.

Q. And is it enough to hear then read publicly in the church?
A. No: for he also has ordained preaching to be used.

The Principal Means of Grace
Q. Why must preaching be joined with reading?
A. Because it is the most principal and proper means to beget faith in us.

Q. Why must faith be mixed with the Word read and preached?
A. Because otherwise the word profits us nothing.

Q. How many things are requisite to be in every one that will come to hear the Word read and preached?
A. Among others, four are necessary.

Q. What is the first?
1. First, a reverent fear of the majesty of God.
2. Second, an assured faith in Christ.
3. Third, an earnest endeavor to frame our lives thereafter.
4. Fourth, they must pray for the Holy Ghost to be given them, to enlighten their minds, and to write all these things in their hearts.

The Law and the Gospel:
Q. Which is the principal part of God’s Word?
A. The Law and the Gospel.

Q. What call you the law?
A. It is that part of the Word that commands all good, and forbids all evil.

Q. What if we could keep the law?
A. Then we should be blessed.

Q. What if we break the law?
A. Then we are subject to the curse of God, and so to death and damnation.

Q. What call you the gospel?
A. It is that part of the Word which contains the free promises of God, made unto us in Jesus Christ, without any respect of our deserving.

Q. What does that work in us?
A. It works in us a true and lively faith in Jesus Christ, whereby we lay hold of the free remission of our sins in him, and the true repentance of them.

Q. What must we learn by the whole word of God?
A. Two things:
1. First, to make a right and sound entrance to our salvation.
2. Second, how to increase, and continue in the same unto the end.

Q. What is required for our right and sound entrance to our salvation?
A. Three things are required:
1. First, to know and to be persuaded of the greatness of our sin and the misery due to the same.
2. Second, to know and be persuaded, how we may be delivered from them.
3. Third, to know and be persuaded what thanks we owe to God for our deliverance.


A CHRISTFUL CHRISTIANITY: Lord, Who Has Believed Our Report?

The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 10:16, "But they have not all obeyed the gospel." Here we are told in advance, we are warned. Not all will obey this. Why does this happen? The answer comes to us in the second part of verse 16, "For Isaiah says, Lord who has believed our report?” This is an interesting inclusion. I struggled to understand what the apostle is doing here. Of all the verses to prove the unbelief of those who heard the gospel, there are many better OT verses than this. Then it dawned on me, this comes from Isaiah 53--in fact it’s the very first words of Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 is all about the sufferings of Christ.

Here is the language, "He has no form of comeliness no beauty that we should desire him, he is despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief...and we on our part hid our faces from him, he was despised, and we did not esteem him...he has borne our griefs and carried sorrows...yet we reckoned him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted and wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities...all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before its shearers is silent so he opened not his mouth. "

The report is that of bloody crucified savior who is not beautiful in our estimation. The report comes as a description of Christ's gruesome death when his grave was made with the wicked, God himself delivering over his son. Why would God do this to his beloved son? Isaiah says that it is due to our rebellious hearts since we always go astray and turn to our own. In other words, the Father did this to Son because of our sin.

This is the report.

Now, most pastors would do real well on the health and wealth score card if they didn’t preach a message like this. As a pastor, I could gain a great hearing if I told the my people that they are beautiful people, that Jesus is here to fix their bad self esteem problems. I might even get a big glass crystal cathedral. If preaching were a little bit more upbeat, a little more dynamic, oh what progress we might make! If only we smiled a little more and made the atmosphere more relaxed, and gave quiet talks with a nicer tone to help the people along in their journeys and difficult weeks.

What about the offense? Well, I am certain it would not offend people if we preached the report so long as the people are made to feel worthy to receive the report. In other words, pastors are loved today as long as they will pet the sheep and make them feel that they are good enough for the gospel.

But here is the problem--this is not the report. This is not the message God has sent his messenger with. Isaiah 53 says, an undesirable savior was cruelly murdered, suffered a horrid death, and it was our fault. It was our sin that caused the death of God's son because we have always gone astray in our hearts.

We are reminded of Acts 2:23 "Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death."

Stephen's message was the same, "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. "Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it. When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth (Acts 7:51-55)."

There are generally two sorts of responses to this report. One will either hear this report and "gnash his teeth" since he is in pursuit of his own righteousness (theology of glory), or he will become "cut to the heart" and by faith will cling to the merits of Christ (theology of the cross).

I have come to the conclusion that when Isaiah asks the question, "who has believed our report?", he testifying to the fact that sinners despise grace. The report declares that sinners have no power in themselves to seek, to save, to find, or even to apprehend. In fact, the report says that we offer absolutely nothing by which God accept us, with no claims on his favor. And without the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus, a righteousness which we can never produce on our own, sinners will perish forever in hell. This message of grace, this report, is the most perilous announcement to "righteous". It is offensive to the legalist who wears his badges of accomplishment, and it is offensive to the antinomian who tramples grace underfoot. It is offensive to all.

What then is the answer to the question, "Lord who has believed our report?" In verse 17 Paul states, "So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” True faith is created in heart by the Spirit when the gospel of Christ is preached and heard. Who has beleived our report? We can follow up with this question. Who today is preaching the report? FIND HIM. HEAR HIM. That man has something powerful to say.

Abounding Grace Radio

Today I recorded a new set of programs for our Radio Program Abounding Grace Here they are in MP3 format:

Abounding Grace Daily Broadcasts March 2-6, 2009
Monday March 2, 2009
Romans 15 The Good Servant of Christ
Tuesday March 3, 2009
Romans 15 The Good Servant of Christ
Wednesday March 4, 2009
Romans 15 The Good Servant of Christ
Thursday March 5, 2009
Romans 15 The Good Servant of Christ
Friday March 6, 2009
Pastors Wes Bredenhof & CJ Gordon


John Owen's NINE Ways of Mortification

Owen's Case Study: Suppose a man to be a true believer, and yet finds himself a powerful indwelling sin, leading him captive to the law of it, consuming his heart with trouble, perplexing his thoughts, weakening his soul as to the duties of communion with God, disquieting him as to peace, and perhaps defiling his conscience, and exposing him to hardening through the deceitfulness of sin—what shall he do? what course shall he take and insist on for the mortification of this sin, lust, distemper, or corruption, to such a degree as that, thought it be not utterly destroyed, yet, in his contest with it, he may be enabled to keep up power, strength, and peace in communion with God?

Owen offers nine particulars by which mortification may be accomplished:

(1) He should first consider the accompanying symptoms of the particular lust.[1] If the symptoms of the sin are great, and the sin has resided in the heart for a long period of time, an extraordinary course will be needed.[2] “Old wounds are often mortal, always dangerous.”[3] The heart should always be examined, and the symptoms carefully considered.

(2) He must have a clear and abiding sense upon his mind and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of the sin that is unmortified.[4] Since the objective of lust is to darken the mind, and divert it from a proper apprehension of its condition, a believer must fix himself upon the guilt in his mind.[5] Sin is aggravated and heightened by a neglect of addressing guilt.

(3) The conscience must be loaded with the guilt of the sin.[6] This is accomplished by bringing the holiness of the law into the conscience so that sin might be discovered. The law has a “commission from God to seize upon transgressors wherever it finds them, and so bring them before his throne where they are to plead for themselves.”[7] Mortifying corruption is accomplished by binding the conscience to the law. Furthermore, the lust should be brought to the gospel in order that the believer might look upon his pierced savior and become ashamed “for defiling the heart that Christ died to wash.”[8]

(4) Having become convicted by the law, he should long for deliverance.[10] There should not be a moment in which the heart does not long to be freed from the misery of sin. The desire for deliverance is a grace in itself, and without such a desire, mortification cannot be achieved.

(5) He must consider whether the indwelling lust is a result of his nature and disposition.[11] Some men are prone to certain sins due to a their natural tempers. “David reckons his being shapen in iniquity and conception in sin as an aggravation of his following sin, not a lessening or extenuation of it.”[12] Thus he must bring the body into subjection in order that the natural root of the distemper may be weakened.[13]

(6) He ought to consider and what occasions and advantages have been given to the distemper to extirpate the relentless uprisings of sin. The soul must be carefully watched.

(7) There must be a mighty rising “against the first actings of thy distemper…”[14] The particular lust should not get the least ground, nor be allowed one step in the wrong direction.[15] If sin is given one step, it will always take another.

(8)He must frequently meditate upon his own self-abasement and entertain thoughts of his own vileness.[16] Humiliation is achieved when a sinner ponders his vileness in light of the supreme majesty of God. Meditations that promote self-abasement move the believer to consider the greatness of God, and how little he knows of him.

(9) He must take heed that he does not speak peace to himself unless God has spoken peace to his soul. The provision of peace is a prerogative of God in his sovereignty. God creates peace for whom he pleases, thus to speak peace when God has not spoken is to create something false. Owen appeals to the promises of God. It is Christ’s prerogative to voice it [peace] through his word and spirit.”[17] God has promised that “the meek he will guide in judgment and teach them his way.”[19] ‘When God speaks peace, it guides and keeps the soul that it ‘turn not again to folly.’”[20] When the voice of peace in the promise proceeds from God, there is a sweetness and discovery of love so that the soul will no longer deal perversely.[21] But the man must exercise extreme caution not to presume upon the promises of God. The promise must be mixed with faith.

These nine particulars demonstrate the direction that Owen would provide for the man who is struggling to mortify a particular indwelling lust. Owen viewed these particulars as the “ways and means whereby a soul may proved to the mortification of any particular lust and sin…”[18] Since none of these particulars can be accomplished without the Spirit, Owen viewed them as the means by which the Spirit works upon the heart of the believer to accomplish mortification.
[1] VI.43.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] VI.50.
[5] Ibid.
[6] VI.56.
[7] VI.57.
[8] VI.58.
[9] Ferguson, Owen, 151.
[10] VI.59.
[11] VI.60.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] VI.63
[15] Ibid.
[16] VI.63.
[17] Ferguson, Owen, 152.
[18] VI.33.
[19] VI.75.
[20] Ps. 85:8; VI:76.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid.

John Owen on the Mortification of Sin Part III

As a pastor, Owen was extremely concerned about mere professors of religion who demonstrated little or no victory over sin. As we have observed in Owen's thought, there is a close connection between true mortification and eternal life. There is a certainty to mortification since the Spirit has been procured to perform this duty in the life of the believer.[1] Nevertheless, Owen recognized that even a believer might have seasons in which mortification may be neglected. The “best of saints” can fall into the most cursed sins through the neglect of mortification.[2] Owen described this negligence as a “breaking of the bones of the soul,” a dereliction that makes a man sick and ready to die.[3] A “professor” who is negligent in this duty despises the goodness of God who furnished him with the necessary “principle of doing it.”[4]

Moreover, there are manifold dangers that accompany the neglect of mortification. First, a believer’s neglect results in a hardened heart by the deceitfulness of sin.[5] The consciousness of indwelling sin becomes seared, and the spiritual duties of prayer, hearing, and reading will leave the hearer unaffected.[6] Owen wrote, “Sin will grow a light thing to thee; thou wilt pass it by as a thing of nought; this it will grow.”[7] Lust always works towards the hardening of the heart, and if neglected, the conscience will be seared. Second, a believer who is negligent about mortification subjects himself to some temporal correction, or judgment from God. Owen recognized that this type of chastisement is not to be equated with eternal vengeance; rather God may visit a believer with the rod to correct the believer’s complacency.[8] Third, although a man believe in Jesus Christ, a willful neglect of mortification may result in a loss of peace and strength all his days.[9] The comfort of the spiritual life depends on the mortification of sin, to neglect this is to danger a believer’s well being.

Owen is emphatic that there is a danger of eternal destruction for those who persistently neglect mortifying the sinful deeds of the flesh.[13] Continuance in sin is a sure indicator that one is outside of Christ. It is no surprise that one of Owen’s first general principles of mortification is that one must be a believer.[14] There is no death of sin if one does not have an interest in Christ. Since it is impossible for a man to mortify a sin if he has not been ingrafted into Christ, continuance in sin may indicate that he is being pursued for destruction.[15] Just as there is an inseparable connection between true mortification of sin and eternal life, there is also “such a connection between continuance in sin and eternal destruction.”[16] Although God exercises the prerogative “to deliver some from the continuance of sin so that they may not be destroyed,” he certainly will not deliver any who persistently continue in sin.[17] The threats of everlasting destruction and separation from God are to be set before those who persist in rebellion.[18] Owen is concerned that persistent sin in the life of “professor” may be a sure indicator that he lies under sin’s dominion and is being pursued for destruction.[19] In his comments on Hebrews 10:38 Owen wrote, “If any man “depart” from him, “draw back” through unbelief, “God’s soul hath no pleasure in him;”—that is, his indignation shall pursue him to destruction…”[20] To walk after the ways of the flesh is inconsistent with life in the Spirit. Owen calls those who are entangled to destruction to “give the best evidence for his person that he can.”[21] A man is to evaluate his ways to see whether he is walking after the things of the Spirit. Owen observed, “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, Rom 8:1. True; but who shall have comfort of this assertion? Who may assume it to himself? ‘They that walk after the Spirit, and not after the flesh.’”[22] As sure as there is an intimate connection between the mortification of sin and eternal life, there is also connection between the continuance of sin and eternal destruction.

For Owen, in the end, the issue of the mortification of sin is a pastoral issue. Owen’s “principle intention” in his discourse was to handle practical cases that often arise in the lives of those who are seeking to fulfill their duty to mortify sin.[23] Since the Spirit acts upon the believer so that every act is an act of his own obedience, Owen was concerned to offer biblical direction for believers to help them mortify sin. He provides the following case study:
Suppose a man to be a true believer, and yet finds himself a powerful indwelling sin, leading him captive to the law of it, consuming his heart with trouble, perplexing his thoughts, weakening his souls as to the duties of communion with God, disquieting him as to peace, and perhaps defiling his conscience, and exposing him to hardening through the deceitfulness of sin—what shall he do? what course shall he take and insist on for the mortification of this sin, lust, distemper, or corruption, to such a degree as that, thought it be not utterly destroyed, yet, in his contest with it, he may be enabled to keep up power, strength, and peace in communion with God?[24]

In this scenario, Owen believed that the man: (1) should have a clear understanding of true mortification, (2) should be provided with general directions, and (3) should be provided with particulars for the achievement of the duty.

Owen viewed true mortification as having three dominant characteristics. In order for the man in the above scenario to properly mortify his sin, he must understand what mortification is designed to accomplish. First, mortification is a habitual weakening of a particular sin or what Owen calls lust.[25] Sin gains its ascendancy through temptation.[26] Therefore a believer must attack the principle or root to make any progress in the work of mortification. “A man may beat down the bitter fruit from an evil tree until he is weary; whilst the root abides in strength and vigour; the beating down of the present fruit will not hinder it from bringing forth more.”[27] The indwelling disposition of sin must be weakened if true mortification is to be accomplished. Second, true mortification is exhibited through constant “fighting and contending against sin.”[28] A believer must know his enemy well. Owen wrote, “it is feared that many have little knowledge of the main enemy that they carry about with them in their bosoms…the contest is vigorous and hazardous—it is about the things of eternity.”[29] Furthermore, to properly contend with sin, a man must become familiar with all of the “ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions of its success;” this is the beginning of mortification.[30] The words of David, “My sin is ever before me,” are the words of all of those who are acquainted with ways of sin. Third, true mortification will be accompanied with frequent success against any lust.[31] Not just a disappointment of sin, but a real “victory and pursuit of it to a complete conquest.”[32] True mortification does not begin in a believer until he understands what mortification is designed to accomplish.
[1] VI.6.
[2] VI.12.
[3] VI.13.
[4] Ibid.
[5] VI.52.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] VI.5 3.
[9] Ibid.
[13] VI.54.
[14] VI.33.
[15] VI.54.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid. Owen recognized that it is purely God’s sovereign initiative to rescue his own from sin’s dominion. Yet for those who persist in sin by their willful choice, God will execute his righteous judgment.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid.
[23] VI.24.
[24] Ibid.
[25] VI.28.
[26] VI.29
[27] VI.30.
[28] Ibid.
[29] VI.31.
[30] Ibid.
[31] VI.32
[32] Ibid.

John Owen on the Mortification of Sin Part II

Although Owen provided many practical exhortations to aid Christians in the mortification of sin, he believed that “the principal efficient cause of the performance of this duty is the Spirit.”[1] Owen warned against those who attempt to employ “other remedies” towards the mortification of sin. The greatest part of popish religion, Owen wrote, “consists in mistaken ways and means of mortification…vows, orders, fastings, penances, are all built on this ground; they are all for mortifying sin.”[2] The ways and means employed by the Papists are the “doctrines and commandments of men;” God never ordained any of them for the mortification of sin.[3] True mortification is only accomplished by the means that God has appointed. The “self-vexations” of men not sufficient for such a duty. "That none of these ways are sufficient is evident from the nature of the work itself that is to be done; it is a work that requires so many concurrent actings in it as no self-endeavor can reach unto, and is of that kind that an almighty energy is necessary for its accomplishment…"[4] The Spirit, therefore, is the only appointed means by which true mortification is achieved, all other ways are not only vain, but also render a person helpless.[5]

As stated, Owen viewed Romans 8:13 as foundational for the work of mortification. There is a causal connection between the conditional particle and the agent through whom the duty is to be performed. “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The principle efficient cause by which mortification is effectuated in the life of the believer is “by the Spirit.” The condition cannot be met unless a person has the Spirit; the Spirit is the single appointed means for mortification in the life of the believer. It is the ministration of the Spirit who functions as the certainty of the coherence and connection between true mortification and eternal life. As stated, mortification is a gift that flows from the cross of Christ. But it is through the work of the Spirit that the gift of mortification and all other gifts are communicated to the believer.[6] Owen wrote, “All communications of supplies and relief, in the beginnings, increasings, actings of grace whatever, from him, are by the Spirit, by whom he alone works in and upon believers.”[7] Romans 8:9 is an important text for Owen to demonstrate that mortification is a gift that is communicated only to the believer, “If we have not the Spirit of Christ, we are none of his.” A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.”[8] Sin cannot be killed if a man has no interest in Christ and is without the Spirit.[9]

Owen views the work of the Spirit as the promise and fulfillment of the new covenant. The Spirit is the long awaited promise who, through the life, death, and exaltation of Christ, has been given to do the work of mortification in the life of the believer.[10] Owen refers to Ezek. 36:16, “I will give my Spirit, and take away the stony heart.” The removal of the stony heart is the Spirit’s work of mortification in the life of the believer.[11] We live in the time of fulfillment, the age in which the Holy Spirit has been received and sent forth to the end that we might “have our mortification.”[12] There is an eschatological dimension to the Spirit’s work. As the fulfillment of the new covenant promise, he communicates all the benefits of Christ’s death to the believer, and effectually works mortification so as to make the “new principle” of life a reality.[13] The Spirit who has been procured for the believer to the end that sin may be mortified.

We are crucified with him [Christ] meritoriously, in that he procured the Spirit for us to mortify sin; efficiently, in that he from his death virtue comes forth for our crucifying; in the way a representation and exemplar we shall assuredly be crucified to unto sin, as he was for our sin…Christ by his death destroying the works of he devil, procuring the Spirit for us, hath so killed sin, as to its reign in believers, that it shall not obtain its end and dominion.[14] A Christian will “assuredly be crucified to sin” because the eschatological Spirit has been sent to implant the believer into Christ.

The Spirit mortifies sin in three different ways. First, the Spirit works in the heart of a believer so as to cause him to abound in the fruits that are contrary to the old man.[15] The fruits of the flesh have been crucified in their passions and lusts so that the new man may walk after the things of the Spirit.[16] Owen describes this as the “renewing of us by the Holy Ghost”[17] Second, the Spirit mortifies sin by “a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin for the weakening, destroying, and taking it away.”[18] True mortification occurs when the root of sin is destroyed. The removing of the stony heart is an attack on the root of sin; the Spirit actually consumes and destroys indwelling lusts.[19] Third, the Spirit bridges the gap between Christ and the believer. There is sacramental union so that the believer communes with Christ in his death and fellowships in his sufferings.[20] The cross of Christ is brought near to the believer by faith. Owen viewed these as the three principle workings of the Holy Spirit to effectually work mortification in the life of the believer.

Although the Spirit is the principle cause of mortification, a believer is responsible for his performance of this duty. Owen believed that mortification was the work of the Spirit principally, but functionally, it is the duty of each individual believer. Owen wrote, “He [the Spirit] doth not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience. The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience.”[21] But the Spirit never works against the believer. The workings are always in accord with the corresponding nature of the person. The believer retains all of his individual characteristics and properties so that every act is an act of his own obedience. The Spirit effects, carries on, and accomplishes mortification by his power, but the whole work is retained as the duty of the believer as he acts upon what the Spirit has worked in his heart.

The Spirit, therefore,working upon the heart of the believer will effect and carry on the mortification of sin. A believer must act his faith upon the “death, blood, and cross” of Christ in full expectation that sin will be mortified in the body.[23] It is here that Owen expresses the close connection between mortification and eternal life. A believer should expect deliverance because the nature of Christ’s work was designed to provide such deliverance. The mortification of sin is a supply of grace that belongs to one who is in union with Christ. In Christ, there are innumerable things to engage us towards the expectation of mortification.[24] The Spirit convinces the heart of it's corruption and the need for sin to be mortified, he brings the fullness of Christ and the cross into the heart with its sin-killing power, he establishes the heart to expect relief, and he completes the work of sanctification so that the believer may walk in holiness.[25]
[1] VI.7.
[2] VI.16.
[3] VI.17
[4] VI.18.
[5] VI.7.
[6] VI.19.
[7] VI.19.
[8] VI.35.
[9] VI.40.
[10] VI.18.
[11] Ibid.
[12] VI.19.
[13] Ferguson writes, “The law is written in his heart in regeneration, and for Owen this means he receives a new principle of obedience.” Ferguson, Owen, 53.
[14] VI.85.
[15] VI.19.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid.
[21] VI.20.
[22] VI.85.
[23] VI.80.
[24] VI.81.
[25] VI.86.


Good Ole Lake Goodwin

These aren't like catching Salmon, but they are sone nice trout! Hey, Ben, what is that?

John Owen on the Mortification of Sin

John Owen (1616-83), in his work Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, was pastorally concerned about the many professors of religion who demonstrated little or no victory over sin. Although it is not my purpose here to summarize the content of his work on Mortification, it is my objective to demonstrate Owen’s coherence between mortification and salvation. Owen believed that there is an infallible certain connection between true mortification of sin and eternal life because a Christian, by the power of the Holy Spirit, applies himself to the ways and means that God has appointed for salvation. Owen believed that the mortification of sin was vital for the well being of the Christian.

Owen maintained the Reformation doctrine of the double benefit (duplex beneficium). Salvation consists of the double benefit of justification and sanctification. The benefits that flow from the cross of Christ are inseparably connected. The believer not only receives justifying grace through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness; but through his participation in Christ’s death, the old man is utterly mortified and slain with his passions and lusts.[1] Owen wrote, “The apostle having made a recapitulation of his doctrine of justification by faith, and the blessed estate and condition of them who are made grace partakers thereof…proceeds to improve it to the holiness and consolation of believers.”[2] Owen speaks of holiness and consolation as belonging to those who have already become partakers of the blessed estate. The command to mortify belongs properly to those who are in union with Christ. In speaking to this duty, Owen asked, “Whom speaks he to? Such as were “risen with Christ,”…such as were “dead” with him…such as whose life Christ was, and who should “appear with him in glory.” By virtue of his union with Christ, the believer has been washed, purged, and “cleansed in conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”[3] These categorical distinctions are important in his treatment of mortification. There is an inseparable connection between the status and the walk of a believer--a believer who has been justified, will inevitably be sanctified.

Owen’s treatise is an exposition of Romans 8:13, “If you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body you shall live.” For the believer, there is a certainty to the achievement of this end because mortification belongs to the process of sanctification. The conditional particle, eiv de. (“But if”), indicates the certainty of the event. There is a certain connection between mortifying the deeds of the body and eternal life.[4] Owen provides an analogy of a sick man, “If you [the sick man] will take such a potion, or use such a remedy, you will be well.”[5] There is a certainty to the man’s health if he will take the potion. There is a similar coherence between the mortification of sin and eternal life. If a man mortifies the deeds of the flesh, he will have eternal life. This, of course, is not a cause and effect relationship properly; eternal life properly belongs to the free gift that comes through the work of Jesus Christ. There is, however, an infallible connection between mortification and eternal life because God has appointed this relationship as a way and means by which the end is achieved. Owen writes, “…if you use this means, you shall obtain that end; if you do mortify, you shall live.”

Owen does not suggest that the believer stands alone to fulfill the command to mortify the deeds of the flesh. The mortification of sin as a benefit that accrues from Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Owen wrote, “Mortification of sin is peculiarly from the death of Christ.[6] Christ’s aim through the cross is that the believer might be freed from the power of sin and purified from all defiling lusts. Christ died not only to destroy the works of the devil but also to “redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works…”[7] It is by virtue of Christ’s death that the believer is washed, and “purged in conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”[8] Union with Christ, therefore, is an essential doctrine for understanding mortification. A Christian is “dead to sin by union and interest in Christ…”[9] He not only has been implanted into Christ, but the old man has been crucified with Christ so that sin no longer has dominion.[10] A Christian is called to rest upon the death of Christ with the “expectation of power” because the old man has been crucified.

The death of Christ, however, does not abrogate the responsibility of believers to mortify the deeds of the flesh. “The choicest believer, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.”[11] Owen understood mortification as a Christian duty, an active responsibility on the part of the believer to put to death the deeds of the body. The “condemning” power of sin has been abolished for believers through the cross, but the “indwelling” power of sin remains. This distinction is extremely important in Owen. A Christian has been crucified with Christ and freed from sin’s dominion, and yet the presence of sin still abides in him, and is still acting and “laboring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh.”[12] Thus, as Sinclair Ferguson states, Owen believed that the “Christian should be clear in his mind about the nature of sin’s dominion, and learn to distinguish between the rebellion of sin and the dominion of sin.”[13] Owen observed that this was the whole of Paul’s argument in Rom. 6:14, “That sin which is in you shall not have dominion over you.”[14] The dominion of sin has been broken through the cross and no longer has a reign over the life of the believer.[15] But the presence, influence, and rebellion of sin cannot be abolished in this life.[16] “The nature of sin does not change in sanctification, but its status in us is radically altered.”[17] Sin has a relentless nature, it is “always pressing forward because it has no bounds but utter relinquishment of God and opposition to him…”[18] Since sin is always acting, conceiving, seducing, and tempting, the Christian has a solemn lifelong duty to extirpate the relentless uprisings of sin.
Owen characterized the mortification of sin as a putting to death the deeds of the body. The body is to be understood as the corruption and depravity of our natures, the “seat and instrument” by which indwelling sin is brought to fruition.[19] Although the deeds of the body are manifested by outward actions, the chief intention belongs to the inward causes.[20] Indwelling sin remains in our mortal bodies, and is the mainspring by which the sinful deeds are manifested.[21] If sin is not mortified, the soul will be weakened, darkened, and deprived it of its comfort and peace.[22] Thus every believer has a lifelong solemn duty to mortify the deeds of the body.

[1] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, VI. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2000), 8.
[2] VI.5.
[3] VI. 84.
[4] VI. 6.
[5] Ibid.
[6] VI. 83.
[7] VI. 84.
[8] VI. 84.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] VI. 7.
[12] VI.11.
[13] Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth), 130.
[14] Ibid.
[15] VI. 85.
[16] Owen wrote, “Indwelling sin always abides whilst we are in this world; therefore it is always to be mortified. The vain, foolish, and ignorant disputes of men about perfect keeping the commands of God, of perfection in this life, to being wholly and perfectly dead to sin, I meddle not now with.” VI. 10.
[17] Ibid.
[18] VI.12.
[19] VI.7.
[20] VI. 8.
[21] Ibid.
[22] IV.22.


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

Note: Please see Part I , Part II and Part III

III. Summary and Critique

Faith or Faithfulness—What Is At Stake?

By the end of the seventeenth century the Reformed creeds, preeminently the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Canons of Dordt (1619) and the Westminster Standards (1647), affirmed, as over against Roman Catholicism, that faith, defined as leaning and resting in Christ’s righteousness, is the alone instrument in the justification, and that the fruits of sanctification were a logical and consequential necessity to God’s act of justifying the sinner.[1] This has been the historic Reformed position.

The consequence of defining faith merely as receptive and instrumental is of immense importance. If a sinner’s personal righteousness is as a filthy rag having no inherent value before God, and God demands of the sinner a perfect and replete righteousness to stand in his presence, then the act of God’s free justification must also provide an active righteousness wholly outside of the sinner.[2]

As stated, the Protestant doctrine of justification asserts the need not only for the remission of sins by the merit of Christ’s death, but also the imputation of his active righteousness.[3] This righteousness includes both his passive obedience in the shedding of his blood, and active obedience in fulfilling the requirements of the law for the sinner. The Reformers correctly understood that when faith is defined as having some sort of inherent value in itself, the very thing that becomes lost is the sinner’s need for the active obedience of Christ. This is exactly what has happened in both the formulations of Norman Shepherd and the FV.

Rome sought to answer this need for righteousness through the doctrine of the infusion of virtue in the act of justification by faith. Robert Bellarmine, the great Roman apologist, said that the thing that makes us righteous before God and causes us to be accepted to life everlasting, is remission of sins and the habit of inward righteousness, or charity with the fruits thereof.[4] For Bellarmine, the only real benefit of Christ’s work for the sinner lies in Christ’s passive obedience in laying down his life for the forgiveness of sin to make it possible for the sinner to receive grace and to make it possible for the sinner to do his part by cooperating with grace given in the sacraments toward final justification

As stated, this is logical to Rome’s view; for if the inward habit of righteousness is infused into the sinner, and justifying faith is said to include these habits, the need for a righteousness outside the sinner becomes unnecessary.

It is shocking how similar Bellarmine’s articulation is to that of the FV. Consistently we find in the FV’s formulation of justifying faith the inculcation of virtue that becomes a ground of God’s acceptance of the sinner. The works/merit principle is denied on the premise that the sinner fulfills his side of the covenant with an obedient faith. Thus, faith defined as virtue and obedience de facto becomes the ground for the sinner’s justification. Fundamentally, this is Rome’s view. In fact, Bellarmine’s position has a one to one correspondence to Rich Lusk’s and the FV’s denial of the need for the imputation of Christ’s active obedience.

These works [Christ’s] were not accumulating points that would be credited to Jesus’ people; rather, they were vocation fulfilling acts that prepared the way for the “one Man’s righteous act,” namely his death on the cross…The active obedience itself, then, is not saving in itself. Rather, it’s the prediction of his saving work in his death and resurrection.[5]

From the beginning this was a fundamental difference between the Protestant and the Roman doctrine of justification. When justifying faith becomes anything other than apprehending and receiving Christ and his benefits, the need for the active righteousness of Christ is subverted to our own righteousness, or in Rome’s case, as with Norman Shepherd and the FV, to the habit of the infused or inherent righteousness of hope, charity and other virtues into the nature of justifying faith. Therefore, the consequence to Rome’s doctrine of infusion was that it removed all need for the imputation of what Martin Luther and the Reformed called “an alien righteousness”, making justification only an issue of the remission of sins. We find the very same position and consequence in the teachings of Norman Shepherd and the FV.

For the Reformers, Rome’s denial of the need for the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to the sinners account, while substituting an infused or inherent righteousness into the sinner for justification, was none other than a denial of the gospel itself. Should we see it any differently?

The Double Grace of Justification and Sanctification

Rome’s great charge against the Reformed doctrine of justification was that it would lead to antinomianism. This is the very same concern articulated above that drives the covenant theology of Norman Shepherd and the FV. The Reformed answer to this charge is a simple one. For the Reformers, the question of the necessity of virtue (good works) in the life of the believer was without dispute.[6] The crucial difference was in understanding the place where it is appropriate to speak of the necessity of works. In response to Trent’s anathematizing of those who hold to the Protestant doctrine of justification, Calvin wrote in response to Canon XI:

I wish the reader to understand that as often as we mention Faith alone in this question, we are not thinking of a dead faith, which worketh not by love, but holding faith to be the only cause of justification (Gal. 5:6; Rom. 3:22). It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone…we do not separate the whole grace of regeneration from faith, but claim the power and faculty of justifying entirely for faith, as we ought.[7]

Again, in response to Canon IX Calvin wrote:

They imagine that a man is justified by faith without any movement of his own will, as if it were not with the heart that a man believeth unto righteousness. Between them and us there is a difference, that they persuade themselves that the movement comes from man himself, whereas we maintain that faith is voluntary, because God draws our wills to himself. And, that when we say that a man is justified by faith alone, we do not fancy a faith devoid of charity, but we mean that faith alone is the cause of justification."[8] -

When Calvin here speaks of the faith that justifies as not being alone, he is simply asserting that the faith which apprehends and receives Christ and his benefits is alone sufficient to justify the sinner, apart from all works. The distinction is crucial. Faith alone in the merits of Christ is sufficient to justify, and a faith that has genuinely received Christ will, consequently, bear fruit. Good works are a necessary and logical consequence of a receptive faith that has laid hold of Christ and his benefits, but they in no way contribute to God’s act of justifying the sinner. In this way, as the Reformed confessions declare, Christ remains not half a savior, but a complete savior who satisfies all the demands of divine justice in the sinner’s stead.[9]

The charge that the doctrine of justification will lead to antinomianism is premised upon a false dichotomy between justification and sanctification. Ursinus asked the question as to whether good works are necessary for salvation.

Good works are not required, that by them we may apprehend Christ’s merit, and much less that for them we should be justified; but that by them we may show our faith, which without good works is dead, and it not know by them, that is, good works are required as effects of faith, and, as it were a testimony of our thankfulness towards God.[10]

Ursinus speaks later of good works as a logical and consequential priority of having been justified.[11] The justified sinner now desires to live a holy and obedient life, not to produce his own righteousness, but as a testimony of gratitude for having received, by imputation, the perfect and complete righteousness of Christ. Thus, the act of God justifying the sinner is not something separated from the life of sanctification. There is an inseparable connection between justification and sanctification, yet there are not to be mingled or confused. [12] Both justification and sanctification, respectively, become a double-grace of God in the life of the Christian.

Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.[13]

This two-fold benefit of God’s grace not only gives to the believer the forensic declaration that he stands acquitted before God’s throne, but that he also receives as a gift, consequently, the grace of sanctification.[14]

Therefore, when the apostle Paul spoke of “faith working together with love” in Galatians 5:6, he was simply affirming the necessity of the believer’s sanctification.[15] The same is true of James chapter 2. Shepherd, and many FV advocates view James 2 as a statement of Abraham’s forensic justification and apply his obedience to the very faith that was credited to him as righteousness. In context, however, James is dealing with the classic problem of those who say they are Christians, but their lives don’t correspond with any fruit. James is actually dealing with the FV concern of antinomianism!

Essentially, this is the same question that Paul raises in Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then shall we go on sinning that grace may abound? Certainly not, how shall we who have died to sin live any longer in it.” In the preceding chapters of Romans, Paul explains how a sinner is forensically justified by faith alone in Christ. Paul then explains in chapters 6-8 that the consequence of forensic justification is a life of being no longer under sin’s bondage.

James is working from this same paradigm and is juxtaposing two very different kinds of faith—true faith with false faith. In James 2:19, James speaks of the faith of demons, and is warning of the danger of having this kind of false faith. This faith is useless, dead, and does not save. Thus, James is not addressing true faith, fiducia; he is saying that the faith that is without works does not justify. Therefore when we come to verse 24, “you see that by works a man is justified and not by faith alone,” James is warning against this kind of dead faith that is without works.

This dead faith is juxtaposed with the kind of faith that Abraham had, namely a faith that believed God. This is the kind of faith that justifies, the kind that ”believed God and it was accounted as righteousness (Gen.15:6, cf Rom. 4).” In verse 21, however, James presents the Isaac incident as a fulfillment of what had already been declared decades earlier when Abraham believed God. The word justify in this context is purely demonstrative as verse 24 states, “you see then…” Just as in Matthew 11:19 where we read, “wisdom is justified by her children,” justification is not used in a declarative but demonstrative sense; so too, James is saying, “Abraham, as he was showing himself to be Abraham, was the man of true faith.” This is a much different position than saying, as Shepherd and the FV do, that the instrument of forensic, soteric justification includes faith and works.

The Belgic Confession Article 24 “On the Sanctification of Sinners”, summarizes the Biblical position beautifully,

We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God's Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a "new man," causing him to live the "new life" and freeing him from the slavery of sin. Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned. So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls "faith working through love," which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word. These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification-- for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place. So then, we do good works, but nor for merit-- for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who "works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure"-- thus keeping in mind what is written: "When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.' " Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works-- but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work. So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.[16]

In response to Rome, Shepherd and the FV, we confess that our works flow from the good root of faith as a fruit and inseparable companion. Faith is not devoid of love or charity, but these virtues are to be recognized not in the act of God’s justification of the sinner, but rather as the fruits of sanctification, logically and consequential to justifying faith. William Perkins made a statement some four hundred years ago that so eloquently answers our present-day 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.[17]

After careful historical, theological, and biblical study of Norman Shepherd and the FV’s views concerning justifying faith and the role of good works in the believers salvation, we maintain confidently that we are again (re)introduced to another gospel, which, as Paul said, “is no gospel at all, but one that seeks to pervert the true gospel by seeking perfection through the flesh (Gal. 3:1-3).” Biblical and confessional Reformed Christianity has spoken clearly over the last four hundred years regarding justification and its relationship to sanctification. Faith alone in the merits of Christ is sufficient to justify, and a faith that has genuinely received Christ will, consequently, bear fruit. Good works are a necessary and logical consequence of a receptive faith that has laid hold of Christ and his benefits, but they in no way contribute to God’s act of justifying the sinner. Many FV proponents deny the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, redefine faith in God’s act of justifying the sinner so as to include obedience as an instrument—thereby mingling justification and sanctification, and call into question the once for all forensic declarative act of justification.

At this time, more than ever, we are called to engage in warfare for the truth of the gospel we confess as Reformed Christians. The heart of everything we believe concerning our gospel has been called into question. When J. Gresham Machen was on his deathbed he cried in thanksgiving for the active obedience of Christ, confessing that there is no hope without it. This is the only ground by which sinners will be able to stand before a holy and just God. Let us be content to receive Jesus Christ’s active and passive obedience in no other way than by the outstretched hand of faith—and with Martin Luther and the entire Reformed tradition, here we stand!

[1]See Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 21: “What is true faith?: It is not only a certain knowledge whereby I surely assent to all things which God has revealed unto us in his word, but also an assured trust kindled in my heart by the holy ghost through the gospel, whereby I make my repose in God, being assuredly resolved that remission of sin, everlasting righteousness, and life is given, not to others only, but to me also, and that freely, through the mercy of God, for the merit of Christ alone (ed. mine).” Ursinus, Christian Religion, 133. Belgic Confession, Art. 22, “ … we are justified by faith alone, or by faith apart from works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all His merits, and so many holy works which He has done for us and in our stead, is our righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with Him in all His benefits, which, when they become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.” HC Q. A. 62: “But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God? Because the righteousness which can stand before the tribunal of God must be absolutely perfect and wholly conformable to the divine law ….” Canons of Dordt, Second Head of Doctrine: Rejection of Errors IV: Having set forth the orthodox teaching, the Synod rejects the errors of those…Who teach that what is involved in the new covenant of grace which God the Father made with men through the intervening of Christ's death is not that we are justified before God and saved through faith, insofar as it accepts Christ's merit, but rather that God, having withdrawn his demand for perfect obedience to the law, counts faith itself, and the imperfect obedience of faith, as perfect obedience to the law, and graciously looks upon this as worthy of the reward of eternal life.For they contradict Scripture: They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ, whom God presented as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood (Rom. 3:24-25). And along with the ungodly Socinus, they introduce a new and foreign justification of man before God, against the consensus of the whole church.
[2] Isaiah 64:6.
[3]Calvin, Institutes, 726.7. Calvin writes, 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.
[4] Joseph Bellarmine. de justif.1.2.chap. 7
[5] Lusk, Federal Vision, 77.
[6] CF Belgic Confession Article 24.
[7] John Calvin, “Acts of the Council of Trent” 3:152'
[8] John Calvin, “Acts of the Council of Trent” 3:151'
[9] Cf. Belgic Confession, Article 22.
[10]Ursinus, Christian Religion, 390.
[11] Ibid., 513-14.
[12] Calvin writes, “For we dream neither of a faith devoid of good works nor of a justification that stands without them. This alone is of importance: having admitted that faith and good works must cleave together, we still lodge justification in faith, not in works. We have a ready explanation for doing this, provided we turn to Christ to whom our faith is directed and from whom it receives its full strength'. (Inst. III.16.1)
[13] Calvin, Institutes, III.xi.1.
[14] See R.S. Clark. Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant: The Double Benefit of Christ. Rurtherford Studies in Historical Theology (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2005).
[15] John Calvin, “Acts of the Council of Trent” 3:151.

[16] Belgic Confession Article 24 (emphasis mine).
[17] Perkins, Reformed Catholik, 572.