Turretin on Justifying Faith

Thirteenth Question

Whether the form of justifying faith is love or obedience to God’s commands. We deny against the Romanists and Socians.

V. The Socians, the more easily to overthrow the fiducial apprehension of Christ’s satisfaction (in which the orthodox constitute the essence of faith) and thus retain the righteousness of works (as so expressly distinguished from the righteousness of faith in Scripture), hold that faith is nothing else than obedience to God’s commands. Thus good works are not so much the fruit of faith as its form…

VI. But on the other hand, faith cannot be obedience to the commands because thus two virtues would be confounded which are mutually distinct-”faith and love” (1 Cor. 13:13). The former is concerned with the promises of the gospel; the latter with the precepts of the law (which on this account is said to be the end or “fulfilling of the law,” Rom. 13:10). The former is the cause, the latter the effect: “For the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Tim. 1:5). That is the instrument of justification, while this is its consequent fruit. Hence in the matter of justification, faith and works are opposed as opposites and contraries (Rom. 3:28).

VII. Nor can it be replied that works (not of any kind, but perfect and in every respect agreeing with the law) can be opposed to faith in justification. It is clear from Paul that all works entirely, whether perfect or not, are opposed to faith in justification and that faith does not justify as a work (which is the fundamental error of our opponents, who thus confound the law with the gospel and the condition of the covenant of grace with a legal condition…)

VIII. Although to believe is to obey the command to believe prescribed in the gospel (1 J. 3:23), faith is not on this account rightly said to be obedience to God’s commands in the sense of our opponents (who here understand by commands the precepts of the law which are to be done and fulfilled on our part by good works; not the commands of the gospel which enjoin point us faith in the promises of grace). And if faith is called the “work of God” (Jn. 6:29), this was rather done imitatively, regard being had to the petition of the crowd, who had asked “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” Faith was able to give them what they had vainly sought in the works of the law…

Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 2, pgs. 580-582, 1994 P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ

As much as FV wants to make obedience to (partly) constitute faith, following the poor example of Norman Shepherd, Turretin spends a good part of the latter half of the second volume (or, properly, the 15th and 16th Topics) emphasizing the contrary, that obedience is a fruit of faith and that faith is, indeed, characterized by its passive and receptive nature (resting and receiving Christ) in justification, specifically. I have quoted only a small portion here, but elsewhere, for example, Turretin rejects that repentance serves as an instrumental means of justification (p. 681) alongside of faith. He also says that “in the effect of justification, [faith] is the principle and cause of new obedience; but in the act of justification, it can be nothing else than an instrument apprehending and applying to man that which justifies” (p.673). Furthermore, under the 15th Topic, 8th Question, he says that the acts of justifying faith in its “formal conception” include knowledge, theoretical assent, practical assent, refuge (seeking pardon in Christ), reception & union, and a reflexive act (seeing that Christ is *his* Savior). These elements are all receptive, not obedient.

Two things are worth noting as we continue to wade through Turretin’s expositions. First, that there is scarcely any issue that FV raises that he hasn’t already considered. Second, that Turretin is far more precise and clear-thinking than the FV’s blurring of these various categories and concepts. The contrast is so incredibly stark, as I read Turretin in contrast to my readings of FV literature. On these grounds alone, I feel compelled to weigh more heavily in favor of the “old ways” as opposed to the relatively amateur tinkerings that the Federal Vision offers us today.

Turretin, of course, might be wrong about everything. But FV will never be able to convince learned people of such a thing unless they deal with the substance of his expositions (and those “TR’s” who hold to the same opinion).

Posted by David Gadbois

Highly Controversial Book

This book will undoubtedly spark a great deal of controversy. Already, the differences between WSC and WTS are coming to the fore. This book will propel those differences into the limelight, I hope, such that fruitful discussion will result.

Books on the Lord’s Supper

I have linked to some helpful books on baptism. It seems only fitting that I should do so also with books on the Lord’s Supper. For a book on the four views of Christ’s presence, you will best go here. Three small but helpful books are here, here, and here. However, the best treatment of the Lord’s Supper is undoubtedly Vermigli. It is a pity that WTS does not sell it. They used to sell Vermigli’s works, but now they do not, seemingly. At least, they are not on the website.

The General Evangelical Nature of the PCA

This post is in response to a suggestion from my good friend, Wes, whose blog you should definitely read, if you don’t now.

One thing that greatly concerns me (and him) is the sloppy nature of the PCA’s evangelical middle. I asked myself this question: why did 95% of the PCA vote in favor of the PCA’s study committee report? Was it because everyone thought that justification by faith alone needed to be protected? Undoubtedly, many in the PCA thought that. However, I’m not sure that this is the general case with the evangelical middle. I’m sure there are exceptions even here. However, what strikes me about the FV and the NPP is its neonomian tendencies. No one would ever accuse an FV’er or a NPP’er of being an antinomian. It has never happened yet, to my knowledge.

I think a lot of what drove the PCA’s decision is the genuinely antinomian character of much of the evangelical middle. They were reacting to the neonomian tendencies of the FV and the NPP, and therefore they voted against it. Be assured that I am glad they voted the way they did. However, it raises the question in my mind about their true theological stance. It has been a commonplace in critics’ evaluations of the FV that there is general agreement about the problem. The problems of rampant Endarkenment individualism (surely Enlightenment is too strong a word!), antinomianism, and general evangelical mush are evident to the FV’ers, as to many critics of the FV. What are we going to do about this? How will this victory over the FV in the PCA translate when it comes to evangelical feminism, which I realize is a contradiction in terms? What about the Arminianism rampant in the PCA today? Will we be confessional, or won’t we?

The FV – Multiplying by Dividing

Posted by Andrew Webb

On 11/28/2007 Pastor Doug Wilson of the CREC, speculating on the possible outcomes of the SJC’s deliberations over the matter of Louisiana Presbytery’s failure to indict Steve Wilkins, opined on his blog that what the FV men were actually looking for was a trial, where they could finally hash everything out in public. Wilson wrote:

“Wilkins would then be tried in some venue, and he would have the full presumption of innocence in that trial. The prosecution would have to prove that he was not in conformity with the Confession, instead of doing it the Internet way, which is to baldly assert that someone is out of conformity with the Confession, leaving him to try to prove his way back into conformity.

So this would be a real debate, a real confrontation, requiring real arguments. The accused would have the advantage, instead the current slander system, where the prosecution has the advantage. At the same time, genuine theological experts from both sides would be called to testify. It would be the trial of the century. Finally we would have a setting in which we all could define our terms and settle the matter. It would be fantastic. Throw us into that briar patch.”

As most of you already know, on Saturday January 19th the Louisiana Presbytery gave Doug Wilson what he said they wanted when they voted to plead guilty to the SJC’s second indictment to whit that they: “failed to find a strong presumption of guilt that some of the views of TE Wilkins were out of conformity with the Constitution, and thus was derelict in its duty under BCO 13-9, 40-4, and 40-5, and has thereby caused much unresolved pastoral confusion and harm.

TE Wilkins’ views, as articulated in the Record of the Case in 2007-8 and in the following examples, clearly constitute a strong presumption of guilt that his views are out of accord with the Constitution and require a fair and impartial court to proceed to trial.”

They also voted to refer the matter of trying Steve Wilkins to the SJC. Thus they threw Brer Wilkins into the very briar patch Wilson had maintained the FV men wanted to be in all along.

This Monday, however, Doug Wilson reported the following on his blog:

“Yesterday the congregation of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church voted (without dissent) to leave the PCA. They also voted to have Steve Wilkins continue as their pastor, and to approach the CREC for membership. They have been adopted as a mission church of Grace Covenant Church in Nacogdoches, Texas, pastored by Randy Booth. Steve was a member in good standing of the Louisiana Presbytery and consequently may transfer his membership according to the PCA BCO (38-3a), with the presbytery simply recording the action. The Louisiana Presbytery has been formally notified of all this. We welcome Auburn Avenue into our fellowship of churches with an odd mixture of grief and joy.”

The Stated Clerk of the PCA was also informed of the decision and that AAPC was no longer part of the PCA on the day after the AAPC congregation voted. To say that these moves occurred at light-speed compared to the slow and deliberate pace of normal Presbyterian deliberation would be an understatement to say the least.

Within nine days of being informed that the very trial they said they wanted would take place, Wilkins and company decamped from the PCA claiming that he was leaving as a member in good standing, despite his Presbytery admitting that there was a strong presumption of guilt regarding his teachings and referring the matter for trial to the SJC (which indicates that proceedings were about to be initiated and charges drawn up against Wilkins himself.) Clearly, we would be extremely naive if we were to believe that plans for leaving in the eventuality of a trial being announced had not already been at least thought out.

The fact is that the FV has indicated once again that the last thing they want is for their theology to go to trial – at least not in any venue they don’t control.

Now they will no doubt protest that the SJC was somehow “stacked” against them, but such protests should be seen for the sham they are. The SJC was not “appointed” by a moderator, nor was it a commission created to deal with the FV problem. It is a body of elders drawn from all the Presbyteries of the PCA elected on the floor of the GA over many years. As almost every observer of the SJC has noted, this body is made up almost entirely of the moderates or broadly evangelical wing of the PCA, many of its members either supported or were also active in the PPLN movement which created “Good Faith Subscription” and struck down the “Full Subscription” that TRs favored. Additionally, the men on the SJC tend to be the “big names” in the history of the denomination rather than “small minded,” unpopular, non-mainstream, theological wonks. In fact a quick review of the actions of the men of the SJC will show that they were overwhelmingly in favor of the “non-TR” position in almost every PCA debate during the 90s and early 2000s.

What we are in fact seeing, is the growth of the CREC as a specifically FV denomination via the division of existing Reformed denominations. Via conferences, books, blogs, and unfortunately in at least two of our seminaries, they mold future CREC pastors who then enter existing non-FV denominations and end up “crash-landing” the particular congregations they go on to Pastor in the CREC. Few, if any, denominations in history have had such a high percentage of pastors who have been deposed from such a wide variety of other orthodox denominations, or who left their original denomination under threat of trial. At this point, their church growth model seems to be almost entirely based on splitting or engulfing existing congregations via FV theology. (As such it might be interesting to compute how much money other denominations have spent to create congregations for the CREC!)

The only way orthodox denominations are going to be able to put an end to this multiplication by division process is by effectively shutting off the stream of FV leaning pastors into their denominations. This will only be accomplished by:

  • Removing FV candidates from coming under care of Presbytery and not taking on new ones
  • Removing existing FV pastors as quickly as possible, before they can affect new candidates for ministry in their denomination (this is especially critical in the churches around our seminaries) – call it filling in the poisoned wells.
  • Removing FV leaning seminary Profs from the Seminaries that feed our denominations

This may sound like strong medicine, but the illness it is designed to treat is extremely serious, if not fatal. If we don’t do these things, I can virtually guarantee you that both the high rate of Tiber swimming (moving to the Roman Catholic Church) by FV infected families and the CREC church growth plan will continue.

Some Recent Books on Baptism

This book has a great presentation of paedobaptism by Pratt; this book is a fantastic collection of essays on paedobaptism; this book is quite simply a classic; and this book is quite simply the best ever.

Justification By Faith Alone, part 1

This is part 1 of a review of chapter 21 of RINE. I do not feel that I can do this in one post, like most of the other chapters. Furthermore, since this touches on what is the single most important doctrine of the Christian faith, we will proceed slowly and cautiously.

Wilson starts the chapter by saying that the Reformers were right, as far as they went. This is not just saying that the Reformers were necessarily limited by their time, since Wilson also says that Rome was wrong on justification (a declaration I certainly appreciate). Wilson wants to say more about justification.

First, he quotes Randy Booth. This quotation leaves me with a question. In the middle of the quotation, Booth says “in another sense we are justified by works…This second sense of justification is a demonstration of the reality, or fact, of the first sense of forensic justification” (pp. 171-172). Then Wilson says “We maintain that we are not justified by our good works, but that we are justified to good works” (pg. 172). My question is this: did Wilson quote Booth to disagree with him or to agree with him? Let me be clear: if by “demonstration” Booth means that the future judgment means that the evidence of our judicial justification by faith alone is our works, then I heartily agree. The demonstrative sense of dikaioun is what James is talking about, whereas the judicial declaration definition is what Paul is referencing. As it is, I agree with Wilson’s statement that we are justified to good works, if by that Wilson means that our justification always results in good works, which I think he does mean.

I further agree with Wilson when he says that good works are the fruit of the tree, not the cause of the tree (pg. 172). However, I am not sure that I would say that good works are the ground of assurance of salvation.  I believe that election, the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the inward evidence of grace, the means of grace, and the promises of God are the grounds of our assurance (see WCF 18.2). However, the confession states explicitly that the duties of obedience are the proper fruits of this assurance (18.3). As Wilson has clearly pointed out, fruit cannot be ground. I do not believe that our good works are the ground of our assurance, but are rather the fruit of our assurance. After all, all my good works are inevitably tainted with sin (of course, an unbeliever cannot ever have anything like good works). Even our works need to be justified by Christ’s atoning work.  

This Looks Good

Good commentaries on Samuel are hard to find. I always rejoice when new ones come along. This one looks very good indeed. It is long enough to do justice to the text, and obviously takes a redemptive-historical hermeneutic.

My Resignation

Due to current circumstances, and the exit of AAPC from the PCA, my services as an assistant prosecutor are no longer needed. I have tendered my resignation to Sam Duncan, and so I am free to take up blogging about the FV again. Many, many thanks to those who have helped carry the load during my absence. I am not going to kick them off. They may post anytime they wish. However, I would like to resume my debate with Douglas Wilson (maybe not today, but soon). We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

It Is True

I have just received confirmation in an email message from Douglas Wilson (and I have his permission to post this), that Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church has voted simultaneously to leave the PCA and to join the CREC. I understand that Doug will have a post on this in just a few minutes. Update.

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