In this post, I am summarizing the findings of Wes White in another article of his entitled “Does the Concept of Merit Merit Abandonment?” FV proponents loudly proclaim that the idea of merit should be abandoned. For instance, Norman Shepherd says that the problem of evangelical Protestantism is that they have not always rejected the concept of merit itself, and thus are unable to challenge Romanist concepts of salvation at its very roots (see Call of Grace, pp. 61-62). Is this the case? Absolutely not. Everyone was talking about merit in the days of the Reformation, even about Adam. Merit was neither distinctive to Roman Catholicism, nor repugnant to Reformation theology.

There are three kinds of merit that everyone was talking about: condign merit means something that intrinsically deserves a reward that is in proportion to that something; congruent merit means something that deserves a reward, but is rewarded to a greater degree than it deserves; covenant merit, or merit by pact, is something that has no intrinsic value, but is rewarded because of a promise.

Here is the ultimate problem with Shepherd’s position on merit: if we chuck merit entirely, then sin does not merit hell. The view of the law given in the WS is that obedience and disobedience are the flip sides of the law (see LC 99). A command has the corresponding opposite negative prohibition, and, furthermore, the threat has the corresponding opposite positive promise. This is absolutely vital to understanding the Covenant of Works. Now, Wes’s position is that sin condignly merits hell. Sin is intrinsically meritorious of hell. I agree with this. However, I also think that sin merits hell by pact in addition to condignly meriting hell, since it was part of the covenant that God made with Adam. The question, then, is this: how can a negative prohibition in Genesis 2 coupled with a threat of punishment for disobedience amount to a positive promise, as well as a positive command? Or, to put the question in Shepherd’s own terms, “How does a command not to do something demonstrate that by a lifetime of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience Adam will earn or merit the right to eternal life?” (see response 3, pg. 1). This is answered for us in LC 99: how do we interpret the moral law? The moral law was certainly given to Adam (see WCF 19.1-3). Therefore, the way in which the WS interpret the Ten Commandments applies also to the moral law as given to Adam. The nature of Adam’s sin was fundamentally idolatrous. That was the nature of the temptation, explicit in Genesis 3:5. Therefore, the nature of the corresponding, opposite obedience, would have been of a God-honoring pactum merit nature. As the WCF itself says, Adam’s could never have merited anything condignly. Adam owed obedience to God as his liege-Lord. However, God had promised (by the law of interpretation given in LC 99) eternal life based on the pactum merit of Adam’s perfect and personal obedience. This is why the WS interpret the CoW the way they do. It is because they see fundamental continuity between the stipulations of the CoW as given to Adam, and the Ten Commandments as given to Israel. That continuity justifies the interpretation of the Ten Commandments being valid also for the CoW. So, contrary to Norman Shepherd, the Reformers have **never** said that Adam’s merit to eternal life would be a matter of “simple justice” (Call of Grace, pg. 26). This is simply irresponsible historiography. It is not a matter of condign merit, but of pactum merit. I see that Norman Shepherd makes the same historiographical errors in his response to the OPC study committee report (see his inexplicable citing of Thornwell as indicative of a representative treatment of the CoW in response 3, pg. 2: I have never seen Thornwell’s ideas anywhere else). I have not read Horton’s work (which Norman Shepherd blasts for using ANE background as helpful in understanding the CoW). However, I would be willing to bet that Horton has considerably more exegesis than Shepherd is willing to allow. There seemed to be very little in the way of contextual quotation of Horton.

One final issue needs to be addressed, and it is the perennial issue of whether such a reading as the above reads into the text something that isn’t there. Shepherd raises this issue ad nauseum in his response to the OPC report (section 3). The issue here is whether or not later texts of Scripture will be allowed into the exegetical discussion. I believe that every “Do this and live” passage has a bearing on the question, since that phrase captures the essence of the pactum merit Covenant of Works. He makes the claim that the Covenant of Works is a later Reformed development (section 3, pg. 3), and that it is not present in the HC or the BC. This is the basis on which he says that the OPC should dump the WS, and hold to the BC and the HC. So much for theological development. Even if Shepherd is right in this claim, the watchword of the FV has been onward and upward progress in theology. If the CoW is a progression in Reformed thought, then why reject it? It certainly has exegetical basis, both in Genesis 2 (as I have pointed out above) and in the “Do this and live” passages. However, I do not agree with Shepherd’s claim that this is a later development. What he is doing is making the word/concept fallacy. “The term ‘covenant of works’ is not present, therefore, the idea is not present.” As Richard Muller points out, the first Reformed theologian to use the term was probably Dudley Fenner, who used the term foedus operum in his Sacra Theologia of 1585 (see MAJT ‘2006, pg. 21). However, as Wes White has proved rather conclusively, John Calvin, in his exegesis of the “Do this and live” passages, exposits the substance of the CoW.

On Leviticus 18:5. It is a remarkable [verse], and contains general instruction, from whence Paul derives his definition of the righteousness of the Law (Rom. 10:5) it seems to me to come in very appropriately here, inasmuch as it sanctions and confirms the Law by the promise of reward. The hope of eternal life is, therefore, given to all who keep the Law; for those who expound the passage as referring to this earthly and transitory life are mistaken… But Scripture does not therefore deny that men are justified by works, because the Law itself is imperfect, or does not give instructions for perfect righteousness; but because the promise is made of none effect by our corruption and sin…The law requires works for the attainment of salvation, whilst faith directs us to Christ, that we may be delivered from the curse of the law. Foolishly, then, do some reject as an absurdity the statement, that if a man fulfils the Law he attains to righteousness; for the defect does not arise from the doctrine of the Law, but from the infirmity of men, as is plain from another testimony given by Paul (Romans 8:3). We must observe, however, that salvation is not to be expected from the law unless its precepts be in every respect complied with; for life is not promised to one who shall have done this thing, or that thing, but, by the plural word, full obedience is required of us. The pratings of the Popish theologians about partial righteousness are frivolous and silly, since God embraces at once all the commandments; and who is there that can boast of having thoroughly fulfilled them? See Calvin’s commentaries, volume 3.1, pp. 204-5.

On Ezekiel 20:11. [Ezekiel] took this testimony from Moses, and we shall see immediately that he cites it in a different sense. Moses there pronounces that th life of man rests on the observance of the law; that is,- life was surely to be expected through satisfying the law. Some think this absurd, and so restrict what is said to the present life, taking “he shall live in them” politically or civilly: but this is a cold and trifling comment…Since, then, it pleased God to descend so far as to promise life to men if they kept his law, they ought to accept this offer as springing from his liberality. there is no absurdity, then, if men do live, that is, if they deserve eternal life according to agreement. See Calvin’s Commentaries, volume 12.1, pp. 297-298.

On Matthew 19:17. This passage was erroneously interpreted by some of the ancients, whom the Papists have followed, as if Christ taught that, by keeping the law, we may merit eternal life. [N.B. Calvin is referring to sinful humanity (“we”) as the Papists view humanity, not to the hypothetical reality of eternal life by law-keeping, as will become clear later in the quotation: emphasis original] On the contrary, Christ did not take into consideration what men can do, but replied to the question, ‘What is the righteousness of works?’ or, ‘What does the Law require?’ And certainly we ought to believe that God comprehended in his law the way of living holily and righteously, in which righteousness is included; for not without reason did Moses make this statement, ‘He that doeth these things shall live in them,’ and again, ‘I call heaven and earth to witness that I have this day showed you life.’ We have no right, therefore, to deny that the keeping of the law is righteousness, by which any man who kept the law perfectly-if there were such a man- would obtain life for himself…I acknowledge, therefore, that, as God has promised the reward of eternal life to those who keep his law, we ought to hold by this way, if the weakness of our flesh did not prevent; but Scripture teaches us, that it is through our own fault that it becomes necessary for us to receive as a gift what we cannot obtain by works. See Calvin’s Commentaries, volume 16.2, pp. 394-395. I will also refer folk to Calvin’s commentaries on Romans 10:5 (volume 19.2, pp. 385ff) and Galatians 3:12 (volume 21.1, pp. 90-91).

An Exegesis of James 2 in Relation to Paul

One of the major points of contention between the Reformed and the Romanists was the exegesis of Romans 2. There are three terms that must be examined by means of questions: Do Paul and James use the term “justify” in the same sense? Do they use “faith” in the same sense? Do they use the term “works” in the same sense? We will get at this question in the course of the exegesis.

The passage begins in verse 14 with a control statement: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” This controls the entirety of the following passage all th way up through verse 26. Right away, we see that the question for James is about the genuineness of faith. In other words, if one were reading this passage aloud, one should emphasize the word “says” in the first sentence. Someone says he has faith. The idea then is to test the genuineness of the claim. Where is the evidence of the genuine faith? So, right from the get-go, we are looking for evidence. This makes the case for an evidentiary use of the term “justify” strong already. It will get stronger as we go along.

James then uses two test cases of real life. A person saying “go in peace, be warmed and filled,” but not doing anything about the brother or sister’s needs, is like a person saying “I have justifying faith,” but no works are forthcoming. The parallel is exact.

Verse 17 is then crucial, especially as we compare James to Paul. Set these two statements against each other: 1. We are justified by faith alone apart from works; 2. We are not justified by faith alone apart from works. If each term in these two sentences means the same thing (justified, faith, works), then we have a contradiction. So, some term has to mean something different, if we hold to the idea that God ultimately wrote the Bible, and that God is not irrational. Luther’s solution was a bit drastic: deny the authority of James in the Bible. We as Reformed folk have come to the conclusion that there is a better way. John Owen says that the term “works” means the same thing in Paul and James, but that “faith” and “justify” do not mean the same thing (volume 5, pg. 387). (Side note: John Owen’s treatment of the passage in volume 5, pp. 384-400 is not only masterful, but extremely representative of Reformed thought on the relationship of James and Paul).  The kind of faith that James here condemns is that “dead faith” (verse 17), not the faith that is without works in the Pauline sense of justifying. As Owen says repeatedly, James is not answering the question of how someone becomes right with God. He is answering the question, “how do we tell if our faith is genuine or not?” Again, this is based on verse 14. Evidence, evidence, evidence.

Verse 18 is quite a puzzle, really, since we would think that the first part of the verse ought to be reversed thusly: “But someone will say, “I have faith, you have works.” But, of course, that is not what the passage says. I think that Davids (following Dibelius and others) is correct when he says that the point here is not someone being an adversary, but rather someone claiming that faith can exist apart from works, separately. So James’ answer obviously holds faith and works together in the Christian life.

The real crux of the passage occurs in verses 20-24. Is Abraham made right before God because of his works? By no means. The justification of Genesis 15:6 happened about thirty years before the Aqedah, as Jews call Genesis 22, the binding of Isaac. He was justified by faith alone in Genesis 15:6, as Paul uses this very verse in Romans 4:3. Well, that’s just peachy. Paul uses the verse to prove that Abraham was not justified by works, and James uses it to prove that he was justified by works! Or does he? What is going on here is often missed by commentators. I believe that the correct explanation is that the Aqedah demonstrated that Genesis 15:6 was true. James does not quote Genesis 15:6 to prove that Abraham was justified by works in the Pauline sense. He uses it to prove that Abraham was both said to have faith (Genesis 15:6), and demonstrated to have true faith (Genesis 22). Genesis 22 fulfilled the sense of Genesis 15:6. That is, Genesis 22 proved that Genesis 15:6 was true. Just as gold is tested by going through trial, so also Abraham’s faith was tested going through the Aqedah. The reality is that Paul talks about justification by faith, and James is talking about justification of faith. Justification is something different in Paul and James. With Paul, it means our standing before God. With James, it means the testing of our faith’s genuineness (again, remember the all-controlling verse 14). They do not contradict. And they do not mean the same thing by the term “justify.”

Ego, Repentance, and the Federal Vision

Richard Baxter and John Owen once had a long drawn-out written debate. I don’t remember what the issue was. Owen was by far the better scholar, of course, and there was no way that Baxter would win. He didn’t win. Instead, after receiving a monstrously huge reply from John Owen that simply answered everything Baxter had rejected, Baxter’s response was remarkable. He said something to the effect of, “I should never have taken on John Owen in debate.” Baxter changed his view on the issue in question.

It seems fairly clear (and I think all sides would agree on this) that the FV is under attack. There is extensive written argumentation now on both sides of the debate. It is a parallel situation in many ways with Baxter/Owen. Of course, I personally would put FV in the position of Baxter, and the critics in the place of Owen.

What is the major obstacle to the FV repenting of their views? What is it that is the stumbling block? I believe it is the fact that so much emotional (and other) capital has been invested in the position, that to change one’s position would be seen as weakness on the part of any of the advocates. Almost every minister I know has an ego. I am certainly no exception. And I know that I myself have invested rather a lot of emotional capital in my critical position. And I know that I would personally feel weak if I changed into a FV advocate. I feel like I would lose the respect of many people whom I greatly respect. Probably FV advocates feel the same way.

What I am getting at, though, is that ego should not (though it often is) be the issue. The issue should be the truth. Is it possible to separate these issues? Baxter did it. Wes White did it:

Yes. Indeed, by the grace of God I have changed. Here’s what happened. I was very much into the Federal Vision and Norman Shepherd for several years. I even met with Shepherd and other pastors to discuss all these issues over the course of that time.

Coming out of Wesleyanism (my full name’s John Wesley White), I thought Shepherd’s theology (along with others) was the way to bring Arminianism and Calvinism together. I thought we could all come together in Canterbury with a moderate Calvinism and a strong institutional Church with bishops, high Church liturgy, and sacramentalism.

Then, the Lord hit me over the head with the idolatry of high Church Anglicanism. I was ready to join the Reformed Episcopal Church in seminary. I visited one of their affiliate Churches, and they had incense burning to crucifixes, prayers to and for the dead, idols of Mary, the mass, etc. It sickened my soul. In that moment, I understood the whole point of the Reformation. They were contending that the Gospel itself and hence Christ had priority over the institutional Church. In the over-exaltation of sacraments, the liturgy, the robes, the purportedly apostolically-descended bishops, something was lost, and what was lost was Christ and the Gospel.

After that rude awakening, I began to think that these old reformers had a point. So, I thought I might actually read them instead of looking in them for snippets to prove my point. I read Francis Turretin, Heinrich Heppe, Wollebius, Francis Pieper (to understand the Lutherans), and others. I found that these people actually understood both the errors of modern evangelicalism and the papacy and steared a Biblical course right down the middle (with Lutheranism slightly veering in the wrong direction!).

In regards to Shepherd, from that moment on my opposition obviously began. I studied him again over the past year as well as the justification controversies of the 16th and 17th century. I’ve come to the conclusion that Shepherd’s view track not primarily with Rome but with the Sociniano-Remonstrant viewpoint. I argued this at length in the recent Mid-America Journal of Theology.

Finally, the main point of all this is that whatever I counted gain before I know count as loss for the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ and to be found in Him not having a righteousness of my own from the law but a righteousness that is from God and by faith. When I hear the law, I do run in terror from it because on the basis of the law I have no righteousness before God and am damned eternally, and I do run to the Gospel because in Christ I have all that I need for an eternal and everlasting salvation.

Shepherd turns us away from Christ and unto ourselves, and this is what the FV, following him, also tends to do. I pray, John, that you will come to see that. And, of course, I still see it yet imperfectly, and what I need to learn each day more and more is that I have no righteousness of my own and a perfect one in Christ and so truly live as one who boasts only in the cross of Christ.

So, this is a call for repentance for FV advocates. I believe that the truth of the matter lies with the critics, who are rightly interpreting the Word of God, and the WS. It is no shame to change one’s position to the truth. (I am presupposing the truth of the critic’s position, of course. I have argued for this rather extensively on my blog.) In fact, one would gain the respect of the majority of the Reformed world, not lose it.

The Denial of the Imputation of Christ’s Active Obedience: Piscator on Justification

This post (I deem) is a bombshell dropped on the playground of Reformed theologians. It is a paper intended to shift the entire debate about Shepherdism away from the (still important) point of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, and toward the place of works in the ordo salutis. It is also intended to prove that Shepherdism is out of accord with the Westminster Standards. This paper was written by TE Rev. Wes White.


The recent controversy over the so-called Federal Vision and the views of Rev. Norman Shepherd has focused our attention on many issues, including the denial of the active obedience of Christ. On the one side, Norman Shepherd claims that the classic Reformed theologians such as Calvin and Ursinus did not hold to the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.1 On the other side, Shepherd’s opponents have countered that Calvin and Ursinus did hold to the active obedience and that the denial of the active obedience of Christ must be soundly condemned, pointing particularly to the French synods of Privatensian (1612) and Tonneinsian (1614).2 What are we to make of this issue? Should a denial of the active obedience of Christ be tolerated in the Reformed Church? Was it tolerated historically? If Shepherd or the proponents of the so-called federal vision do deny it, should they be driven from the ministry?

Historical Orientation

To begin with, even though this denial was condemned by the French Reformed Churches (though this view was later tolerated even there), a great part of the Reformed Churches did not reject as ministers those who denied active obedience, let alone count them as heretics. For example, clearly Gataker, Twisse, and Vines denied the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, but they and their views were tolerated by the Westminster Assembly. Second, there were various ministers throughout the Reformed Churches who held this viewpoint, such as John Jacob Alting who taught at Groningen in the Netherlands.3 Third, the theologians of Saumur also denied the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Of course, the Swiss Reformed Churches condemned this viewpoint and other Salmurian views in the Formula Consensus Helvetica, but other Churches did not. Fourth, this denial was extremely common amongst the German Reformed Churches including theologians such as Piscator, Ursinus, Pareus, Crocius, Marinius, Wendelin, and Scultetus (among others!). Consequently, we can see that a significant minority did deny the imputation of the active obedience of Christ often with toleration.

Some have particularly objected to the view that Ursinus denied the active obedience of Christ because his views have implications for the Heidelberg Catechism, which the continental Reformed Churches hold as a secondary authority. We believe that Shepherd is probably right (though we do not believe that he himself has offered convincing evidence of this) that Ursinus did deny the active obedience of Christ. There are three prominent authorities that say that he did. First, Heinrich Heppe, the great historian of German Reformed history, claims this in his Reformed Dogmatics.4 Second, Johann Gerhard, the great Lutheran scholastic, placed him alongside Piscator as one who denied the active obedience of Christ. He simply lists him along with several other German Reformed theologians.5 The great theologian of the 18th century, Bernhardin de Moor in his Commentarius Perpetuus, dealt at length with this issue, citing rare (to us!) sources shedding light on this issue. De Moor was an ardent opponent of this view, but he admitted that Ursinus held to it. De Moor cited John Jacob Schultens who demonstrated at length that Ursinus held to this position;6 however, Schultens also added that Ursinus did not hold to this position before 1566. Ursinus wrote the Heidelberg Catechism in 1562/3.7 This seems likely from the fact the Heidelberg says that three things were imputed to us: his satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness.8 This follows Beza’s viewpoint, and Ursinus had studied in Switzerland in 1558 under Calvin and in 1660-1 in Zürich. What happened after 1566? Ursinus was in Germany and probably came under the influence of Piscator.9 His denial of the active obedience is further confirmed from the fact that Ursinus’ great pupil, David Pareus, also denied the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. So, we agree that Ursinus held to the imputation of the passive obedience only, but we deny that this is found in the Heidelberg, as Shepherd suggests.

Shepherd’s implicit claim that Calvin held to this opinion is dubious at best and for the same reasons listed above. Whether it is Heppe, De Moor, or Gerhard, none of them speak of Calvin as holding to this position, even though Heppe and Gerhard had no reason to refrain from mentioning it, had such been the case. Moreover, this is true of other works as well. When this issue is brought up, writers refer to Piscator, not Calvin, following the Lutheran George Cargius. Finally, Turretin provided quotations demonstrating that Calvin held to the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.10

In order to understand this better, we would like to look briefly at Piscator’s view. He is the patriarch of this view among the Reformed, and he sets forth his views in his A Learned and Profitable Treatise on Man’s Justification.11 It is a polemical work against the famous Papist apologist, Robert Bellarmine.

Piscator’s View

First, in the matter of the justification of a sinner, Piscator says “Man by himself and his own nature unjust is accounted for just.”12 Piscator emphasizes that man is accounted just or righteous not because of anything in man, even faith. “For to speak properly, that which is in a man, is not said to be imputed to him, but that which is without a man. And faith is in a man, but Christ’s satisfaction which faith apprehends is outside a man.”13 Furthermore, even the works that we do by faith and grace are not the ground of our justification, as Piscator says that Paul excludes all of our works from justification “whether they be done by the strength of free will or by grace.”14 Consequently, Piscator could readily agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith XI.1 that says that God does not justify sinners “for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness.”

What, then, is the source of man’s righteousness? It is Christ’s satisfaction imputed to the believer. “[God] accepts Christ’s satisfaction for the elect…imputes the same unto them; and thereupon receives them into favor, and adopts them for sons and heirs of eternal life.”15 Many objected to Piscator’s view that to have forgiveness of sins is not the same as being accounted righteous. If Christ’s active obedience is not accounted as our righteousness, then how can Christ be our righteousness? Piscator responds that when sins are forgiven, someone is counted not only as not having done any sins but also as having done all things required. In other words, as he says, “The reason of which thing is this, that remission of sins, wherein man’s justification consists is remission of all sins: and therefore not only of sins of committing, but also of sins of omitting.”16 Thus, Christ is our righteousness “by a metonymy of the effect,” that is, once Christ’s satisfaction is imputed to us, we are counted as being righteous, even though we ourselves remain inherently unrighteous. Piscator would not agree that if only Christ’s passive obedience is imputed to us, then we ourselves must supply positive righteousness. Rather, once Christ’s satisfaction is imputed to us, we are in a state of having done everything required because our sins of omission are forgiven. Thus, for Piscator, the source of our righteousness in justification is only Christ’s satisfaction imputed to us.

This becomes even clearer when we examine Piscator’s view of faith. Faith is simply the instrument by which a sinner applies to himself Christ’s righteousness. He writes:

And therefore that man is justified by faith only because he is counted just, and by consequence pronounced just, for Christ’s satisfaction only which is imputed to him by faith only: for that He does not apprehend and apply it to himself but by faith.17

He emphasizes that even faith itself is excluded as a part of our righteousness before God.18 Moreover, “There is no other instrumental cause whereby Christ’s satisfaction is apprehended.”19 Piscator clearly teaches that faith is the alone instrument of justification and insists upon it over and over again throughout this work. This is, of course, one of the central disputes between Bellarmine and himself.

The consequence is that all of our works are excluded from our justification. While Christ’s satisfaction imputed to us is the sole source of our righteousness, we are by nature unrighteous. Further, even the righteous acts that we do after grace and faith are excluded from our justification, which, according to Piscator, continues to rest solely in the satisfaction of Christ imputed to us. He argues against Bellarmine that all of our works are excluded from our justification before God. He argues from the fact that Paul “speaks of works in general, whether they be done by the strength of free will or by grace, [because] he entreats [in Romans 4] of Abraham’s works, those which he had done of grace and faith, as that he was obedient to God’s commandment.”20 Piscator holds strongly to the sola in sola fidei. He does not say that we are forgiven of our sins and then become righteous people who are justified. Even those works that flow out of faith are clearly excluded from our justification. Even our final justification at the judgment day will simply be a repetition of the same justification that occurred in time in our consciences by the Holy Spirit, as Piscator says,

And in that day of judgment, Christ being appointed of the Father Judge of all, will with His mouth openly before all angels and men, pronounce just, and crown with life eternal the reward of justice, all those that before were justified in this life, both by imputation of justice, and by that secret testimony of the Holy Ghost.21

The same pronunciation that gave us comfort in this life that we have a righteous standing before God will then be pronounced openly by the Lord Jesus Christ: “You are righteous on the basis of My satisfaction imputed to you.”

Finally, what are the results of this justification? For Piscator, we are not only forgiven of our sins, but when we receive Christ, we also have a right to eternal life, for when someone is justified, God “receives them into favor, and adopts them for sons and heirs of eternal life.”22 The reason why this can occur, according to Pisactor, is because God has said, “Do this, and you will live” (Lev. 18:5, Mt. 19:17, Gal. 3:12).23 Once our sins are forgiven, “it comes [about] that he to whom God forgives sins, is so accounted, as if he had not only committed nothing which God has forbidden in his law, but also omitted nothing of that which he has commanded: and therefore, as if he had perfectly fulfilled the law of God.”24 Consequently, Piscator goes on to say, “God gives eternal life as a reward to those unto whom He has promised it, to wit, unto those that keep His law, such as He accounts all those whose sins He has forgiven.”25

In Piscator’s view, we are not righteous because God sees us as having done all that Christ did. Rather, we are considered righteous because our sins of commission and omission are forgiven on the basis of Christ’s satisfaction. Thus, we are still dealing with a view that causes men to look wholly outside of themselves and to Christ for their righteousness. We agree with the conclusion of De Moor who said, “However much these learned men may be deceived on this point, it must be confessed that they place our right to eternal life in Christ alone without any of our works.”26

Norman Shepherd and Piscator

Does this mean that Shepherd’s viewpoint should be tolerated in Reformed Churches? We should not draw this conclusion because Shepherd’s viewpoint deviates radically not only from the majority position but also from Piscator’s. We shall illustrate this from a few comparisons.

First, they have a very different exegesis of the key passages on justification. Romans 4:5 says that for the one who believes his faith is credited as righteousness, following Gen. 15:6. Piscator interprets this as teaching “that man is justified by faith inasmuch as he lays hold on, and applies to himself Christ’s satisfaction.”27 On the contrary, Norman Shepherd does not believe that these and other texts refer to the justification of a sinner alone. Norman Shepherd believes that this text refers to the way that any creature would be justified by God. Thus, Shepherd says that Jesus Christ’s “faith was credited to him as righteousness.”28 When Shepherd writes of Adam he says, “The method of justification for Adam before the fall is exactly what it is for Paul after the fall: ‘The righteous will live by faith’ (Rom. 1:17).”29 Piscator would say that these texts refer only to the justification of a sinner. Shepherd says that they refer to the only justification possible whether for sinners or Christ or Adam before the fall.

There is also a difference in the texts that refer to the law. Piscator takes the “Do this and live” passages as referring to the perfect obedience to which God promises eternal life. Piscator says that when God forgives our sins on the basis of Christ’s satisfaction, this includes our sins of omission and so we are reckoned as having obeyed the law perfectly. Shepherd says that this statement in Leviticus was meant not to show that perfect obedience was necessary for eternal life but rather that it “was designed to nurture the righteousness of faith,” which means, for Shepherd, that “Israel’s welfare depended upon her faithfulness to the Lord.”30 According to Shepherd, if this verse is taken out of context, it might mean that there is salvation by works. However, rightly understood, this passage teaches that salvation is by faith and grace. In other words, Shepherd is saying that in their proper context, “Do this and live,” means the same thing as “The just shall live by faith.” This is something with which Piscator would have certainly disagreed.

We also see the difference between Piscator and Shepherd in their exegesis of James 2.31 Shepherd describes the attempts to say that James and Paul are speaking of justification in different senses are “various exegetical and dogmatic devices of dubious validity…used to defuse and tame these texts so that they…fit.”32 On the other hand, Piscator concurs with the classic Protestant exegetical tradition in affirming that Paul and James are speaking of faith and justification in different senses. He comments on James 2:

But it is to be diligently noted before all things that the question of this place is not over how a man is justified, which Paul treats in Romans and Galatians. Rather, after it is established that a man is justified by faith alone, he inquires what sort of faith it is or with what sort of faith man is justified.33

Piscator emphatically distinguishes the questions treated in James and Romans. Shepherd says they are the same.

The second difference is in their definition of justification. First, for Piscator, the righteousness of faith is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, that is, His satisfaction credited to our account by faith. For Shepherd, the righteousness of faith is the result of obedience to the law. “The righteousness of those who obey the law is not the righteousness of meritorious achievement, but the righteousness of faith.”34 For Shepherd, faith itself is the righteousness by which we are justified, and this is why he can say that Jesus’ “faith was credited to Him as righteousness.” On the contrary, Piscator says that faith is credited as righteousness because of what is connected to faith, namely, Christ. He then goes on to say, “For to speak properly, that which is in a man is not said to be imputed to him, but that which is without a man. And faith is in a man, but Christ’s satisfaction which faith apprehends is without a man.”35 Thus, the difference between Piscator and Shepherd is that Piscator says that Christ’s satisfaction is our righteousness before God, whereas Shepherd says that faith itself is our righteousness before God.

It hardly needs to be said here that Piscator and Shepherd disagree on the instrumentality of faith. Piscator believes that faith is an instrument taking hold of the righteousness of another. Shepherd does not. Shepherd believes that faith itself is our righteousness. He says that for pre-fall Adam and for us, the method of justification is the same, “The just shall live by faith.”36 Since faith in pre-fall Adam cannot be understood as an instrument, the faith that justifies sinners cannot be understood as an instrument either. For Shepherd, faith is our righteousness, not an instrument taking hold of the righteousness of another. For Piscator, faith is not our righteousness before God.

Finally, they differ significantly on what works are excluded from our justification. Shepherd rightly says, “We have to ask what are the works of the law that Paul sets over against this faith and excludes from justification.”37 But Shepherd wrongly answers, “By works of the law Paul means obedience to a limited selection of laws found in the Scripture.”38 In contrast, Piscator says, “He speaks of works in general, whether they be done by the strength of free will or by grace.”39 Shepherd says, “These works of the law were not good works; they were not the obedience of faith wrought by the power of God (emphasis mine).”40 Piscator says otherwise, “He entreats there of Abraham’s works, those which he had done of grace and faith,” and “Moreover, it is false that the Apostle understands those works only which are done according to God’s law by the strength of free will.”41 Here is the major difference. Piscator excludes all of our works from our justification, and Shepherd only excludes some. In other words, Piscator says we are justified by faith alone, and Shepherd says that we are justified by faith and works.


There were certainly theologians amongst the Reformed who denied the active obedience of Christ, and they were tolerated in many places. The reason for this is, as De Moor says, “However much these learned men may be deceived on this point, it must be confessed that they place our right to eternal life in Christ alone without any of our works.”42 But neither De Moor nor we can say the same about Shepherd. Shepherd views the righteousness of a sinner as his own righteousness by the help of Jesus Christ. Piscator says that we have everything for justification in Christ. Piscator’s view still points people to Christ alone. Shepherd points people to Christ and then back to themselves. This is a radical difference. Perhaps we can tolerate Piscator’s views, but we cannot tolerate Shepherd’s or any other view that mingles faith and works in our justification.

1. See Norman Shepherd, “Justification by Works in Reformed Theology” in Backbone of the Bible, ed. by Andrew Sandlin (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2004), pp. 103-120.

2. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 2, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994), XIV.xiii.33.

3. Bernhardinus De Moor, Commentarius perpetuus in Joh. Marckii compendium theologiae christianae didactico-elencticum, vol. 3 (Ludgdunum Batavia, 1765), p. 968.

4. Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, trans. G.T. Thomson, rev. & ed. Ernst Bizer (London: Wakeman Great Reprints), p. 460.

5. See Johann Gerhard, Loci Theologici, Vol. 3 (Berlin: Gust. Schlawitz), XVI.57.

6. De Moor, Commentarius, p. 969. The work is called Omstandigen Brief aan den hr. Nic. Holtius over de zaak van A.v.d. Os, pp. 117-360.

7. Ibid. De Moor refers his reader to pp. 158 and 213-219.

8. Note in Heidelberg.

9. Q/A 60.

10. Turretin, Institutes, XIV.xiii.32.

11. London, 1599.

12. Ibid., p. 5.

13. Ibid., p. 30.

14. Ibid., p. 32.

15. Ibid., pp. 5-6.

16. Ibid. p. 106.

17. Ibid. p. 5.

18. See fn. 3 above.

19. Ibid., p. 91.

20. Ibid., p. 32.

21. Ibid., p. 4.

22. Ibid., p. 6.

23. He says this on p. 107.

24. Ibid., p. 106.

25. Ibid., p. 108.

26. De Moor, Commentarius Perpetuus, p. 968.

27. Piscator, p. 29.

28. Norman Shepherd, The Call of Grace (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2000), p. 19. “All of this is made possible through the covenantal righteousness of Jesus Christ. His was a living, active, and obedient faith that took him all the way to the cross. This faith was credited to him as righteousness.”

29. Norman Shepherd, “Law and Gospel in Covenantal Perspective,” Reformation and Revival Journal 14/1 (2005): 76.

30. Shepherd, The Call of Grace, p. 33.

31. Norman Shepherd, “The Grace of Justification.”

32. Shepherd, The Call of Grace, p. 62.

33. John Piscator, Analysis logica Septarum Epistolarum Apostolurm que Catholicae appellari solent (London: John Wolf, 1593), p. 15.

34. Norman Shepherd, “Justification by Faith in Pauline Theology” in Backbone of the Bible, p. 94.

35. Piscator, On Justification, pp. 29-30.

36. Shepherd, “Law and Gospel in Covenant Perspective,” p. 76.

37. Shepherd, “Justification by Faith in Pauline Theology,” p. 95.

38. Ibid., p. 97.

39. Piscator, p. 32.

40. Shepherd, Ibid., p. 99.

41. Piscator, p. 34.

42. De Moor, Commentarius, p. 968.

On Abortion

Try to guess who said this:

She who first began the practice of tearing out her tender progeny deserved to die in her own warfare. Can it be that, to be free of the flaws of stretchmarks, you have to scatter the tragic sands of carnage? Why will you subject your womb to the weapons of abortion and give dread poisons to the unborn? The tigress lurking in Armenia does no such thing, nor does the lioness dare destroy her young. Yet tender girls do so- though not with impunity; often she who kills what is in her womb dies herself.

No fair using Google Search or any other search.

Around the Web

Here are a couple of items of interest:

Most of D.A. Carson’s lectures are available nicely indexed here. Carson is one of the most well-respected of conservative Reformed biblical scholars.

Check out Iain Campbell’s blog.

What’s Your Problem?

Ephesians 2:1-3

Have you ever noticed that you don’t have to train your children to do something wrong? That first time they disobey you, you didn’t tell them to do that. They just did it. We didn’t have to tell our daughter that she should be jealous of the attention that James was getting. We didn’t have to tell her to start hitting James, either. Why is this? Why didn’t we have to tell her about these things? For that matter, let’s broaden the question: “Why don’t people want Jesus Christ? Why don’t they come to faith in Christ?” What’s their problem? What’s our problem? For that matter, what is the world’s problem? In a word, sin. That is the problem. But we must be careful to define our terms. Sin means breaking God’s law, yes. However, sin also means our sin nature, inherited from Adam. Just as a child inherits blue eyes from his parents, so also he inherits sin from his parents, who inherited sin from their parents, and so on all the way back to Adam. This is Adam’s legacy, and this is what Paul is telling us here in the first part of chapter 2.

In chapter 1, Paul told us about the salvation that has been accomplished by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul then gave thanks for the faith of the Ephesian believers, and prayed that they might know God better, especially Jesus Christ, who has gone before us into heaven, and to whom all things are now subject.

Now, in chapter 2, Paul wants to remind us what we were before we became Christians. And before we get into the details of what Paul says, we must note that there are three views about the state of human beings. The first view is that there is nothing wrong with mankind. Maybe he needs a little education, but by and large, man is okay. There is a name for this belief: it is called Pelagianism, and was condemned by the entire church during the time of Augustine, who fought Pelagius tooth and nail. Pelagianism is utter heresy. I remember my pastor went to another church and the minister said that all was right with the world. My pastor wanted to go up to the minister, shake him by his black robe, and yell at him, “What are you wearing that robe for?” Everything is most certainly not all right with the world.

The second main view (and probably the most common) is that mankind is sick. With all due respect, (since I disagree with this view) Billy Graham holds to this view. You are sick, and the doctor comes along, and holds out to you the medicine. All you have to do is raise your hand and take it. Now, I do believe that God can convert someone to the true faith, despite this unfortunate way of putting things. Another way of putting this view is that your are drowning, and God throws to you a life-raft, and all you have to do is grab hold of the life-raft.

Then, there is the third view, which is the biblical view. It is the most pessimistic view of mankind, and therefore, the most realistic, and this view states that we are not sick, and certainly not well, but rather dead. We are not sick and merely need to reach out and grasp the medicine. Rather, we are already dead. We are not drowning, but rather lying at the bottom of the ocean as fish food. This is what Paul says here, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” He doesn’t say, “You were sick,” and he certainly doesn’t say, “You were fine.” No, he says that we were all dead. Of course, he does not mean physical death. We were walking around, breathing, and committing sin. One has to be physically alive to do that. But in terms of our spiritual relationship to God, we were dead. We were the living dead, more like zombies and corpses than like living humans. Does the picture of a zombie make you uncomfortable? Then so must the picture of our spiritual state before God worked in our lives.

Like many good, fine preachers, Paul speaks of our spiritual state in three points. We were dead because of the world, because of the devil, and because of the flesh. Firstly, we were dead in sin because of the world. It says that “we followed the ways of this world.” Again, as we have seen before, the word is “age.” We saw how the two ages are overlapping in Paul’s thought. We saw that the former age, or “this age” is the evil age. The world belongs to it. They want their heaven now. Of course, the result is that they have momentary pleasures, but nothing lasting, except eternal condemnation.

Secondly, Paul says that we were dead in sin because of the devil. Now, here we must be careful. The old excuse, “the devil made me do it” will not work with God. And we recognize this ourselves, if we come to think about it. To illustrate, a little girl was disciplined for kicking her brother in the shins and then pulling his hair. When her mother asked her why she let the devil make her kick her brother and pull his hair, she replied, “The devil made me kick him, but pulling his hair was my idea!” We know that the devil cannot force anyone to commit sin. No, his method is temptation. He presents the possibility. This is certainly evil. It is what he did in the Garden of Eden. He tempted Adam and Eve. That is what he does today as well. He puts ideas before your mind. Notice here that Satan is described as the ruler of the kingdom of the air. Scholars are not united on what this means, but I think that Calvin is closest to the mark when he says, “He speaks purposely of the air to make us understand that they are above our heads.” That is, the spirits are above us in power. We should not underestimate them. C.S. Lewis once said that the two great dangers regarding demons are that we either deny their existence or ascribe to them power belonging only to God. Either way, demons are happy. But if they inhabit the air (and not heaven or the earth: nor are they non-existent), then we will place them properly. This is important. Satan is not the equal of God, much as he would like us to think. But we must also say that he exists, along with all the demons. Many people today do not believe in anything that they cannot see. That is a very dangerous error which will find them out eventually.

The third reason that we are dead in sin is our flesh, our own sin nature. Paul says that we used to walk in sin. That is, sin used to be our way of life. Then, in verse 3, Paul says that we used to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. We have a sinful nature that is ours because we are descended from Adam. This doctrine of a sin nature is known as original sin. Original sin is not canceled out at baptism. We were born with it. As David says in Psalm 51, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” That does not refer to the act of conception, but to the fact that David has always been sinful, sinful from the time his mother conceived him. So, if one asks the question of how many sins it takes to make one liable to the punishment of hell, the answer is zero. We deserve it already in the womb, because of our sin nature, which is itself sinful. If a person were to say that their child was born free from that sin nature, and that children are born with a blank slate, that person would not be speaking the truth. The Bible says that in this fallen world, we are born with a sin nature, and that we had that sin nature even from conception.

As if this picture of mankind was not bad enough, Paul describes it as being even worse. Not only are we dead in our transgressions, not only were we sinful by nature, but furthermore, we are objects of God’s wrath. Literally, we are children of wrath. The idea of children is that there is a close relationship between parent and child. So, rather than saying that we are by nature the children of God, having a good close relationship with God, Paul says that we have a good, close relationship with God’s wrath. God’s wrath is not a popular subject these days. However, it is essential that we talk and preach about the wrath of God. Without knowing the wrath of God, which is bad news for us, we would never know God’s love, the good news. Otherwise, why do we evangelize? If everything is fine with the world, then the world doesn’t need Jesus. If people are even sick, there is less need for a miracle than if the person is dead, and about to suffer God’s just wrath. How do we know about God’s love? How do we know how wide, deep, broad, and high is the love of God? Only by knowing just how angry God is with sinners. Even though our sermon text is the first three verses, Paul does not stop here. Verse 4 gives us the glorious good news. We have had plenty of bad news about ourselves. But Paul does not leave us there, wallowing in our sins, but he tells us of the love of God. God’s wrath is the reason He sent Jesus to earth. It was so that Jesus would bear that wrath for us. It was so that we could get a new nature implanted in us by the Holy Spirit. It was so that Satan would no longer be able to deceive us. It was so that we would have an alternative to the world’s way of doing things. So the three great problems with our sin, namely, the world, the flesh, and the devil, would have an answer in Jesus Christ. Jesus deals with the world by creating His church. He deals with the flesh by implanting in us the Holy Spirit. He deals with Satan and the demons by conquering them in His resurrection from the dead. Is Jesus your answer? Has He done these things for you? If Christ has not resurrected your soul from spiritual death, then you must realize your utter peril here this morning. Realize that your life totters on the brink of utter ruin, and that only Jesus can save you from the coming wrath of God. Of course, the wrath of God is not some fly-off-the-handle, kind of rage. Rather it is the flip side of His love. How else would God respond to someone who spurns the love of God? We must not attribute human rage and anger to the wrath of God. The wrath of God is holy, just and good. It is a measure of God’s holiness and justice, when God’s law has been broken. Therefore, you cannot put the blame on God for your predicament. God’s wrath has not over-reacted at all. And you do not know if you will be alive tomorrow. Flee to Jesus, and discover the love of God!

The best application of this passage besides the Gospel call comes in the relationship of God’s wrath to evangelism. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Why is it that people are not Christians and not members of the Christian Church? Why does the Lord Jesus Christ not come into their calculations at all? In the last analysis there is only one answer to that question: they do not believe in Him because they have never seen any need of Him. And they have never seen any need of Him because they have never realized that they are sinners. And they have never realized that they are sinners because they have never realized the truth about the holiness of God and the justice and the righteousness of God; they have never known anything about God as the Judge eternal and about the wrath of God against the sin of man. So you see this doctrine is essential in evangelism.” Are we telling people to flee from the wrath to come? People might say, “Oh, what an unloving thing to say.” Actually, it is the most loving thing to say, since it is the truth. You wouldn’t think that doctor was doing his job, if you had an aggressive, dangerous cancer that needed treatment, but he said, “Oh, nothing’s wrong with you, you’re just fine.” You would think that that was a very unloving thing to say. In the same way, millions are perishing because they do not have the truth. We must reclaim the doctrine of God’s wrath against sinful humanity, if we are to be able also to give people the good news of Jesus Christ.

Who is Satan?

I ran across this great quotation from Calvin’s commentaries in preparation for my sermon tomorrow. I just had to share it. The reasoning is amazing.

What is Satan but God’s executioner to punish man’s ingratitude? This is implied in Paul’s language, when he represents the success of Satan as confined to unbelievers; for the children of God are thus exempted from his power. If this be true, it follows that Satan does nothing but under the control of a superior: and that he is not (αὐτoκράτωρ) an unlimited monarch.

The Wrath of God and Evangelism

Lloyd-Jones has some excellent comments also (continuing from the last post) on the relationship of the doctrine of the wrath of God to the practical ins and outs of evangelism:

Why is it that people are not Christians and not members of the Christian Church? Why does the Lord Jesus Christ not come into their calculations at all? In the last analysis there is only one answer to that question: they do not believe in Him because they have never seen any need of Him.And they have never seen any need of Him because they have never realised that they are sinners. And they have never realised that they are sinners because they have never realised the truth about the holiness of God and the justice and the righteousness of God; they have never known anything about God as the Judge eternal and about the wrath of God against the sin of man. So you see this doctrine is essential in evangelism.

This quotation is from Lloyd-Jones on Ephesians, volume 2, pg. 50, and the previous post is from pg. 49 of the same volume.

Lloyd-Jones on the Wrath of God

The wrath of God is never a very popular idea. It seems to me that the more biblical a doctrine is, the less the world likes it. The wrath of God against sinners (not just against sin!) is one such doctrine. Here is what Martyn Lloyd-Jones has to say about it:

The apostle’s whole argument is that we can never understand the love of God until we understand this doctrine. It is the way in which we measure the love of God…I suggest that we can never truly understand why it is that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, had to come into this world unless we understand this doctrine of the wrath of God and the judgment of God…Why was it (Christ’s work, LK) essential to our salvation? Why did all that have to take place before we could be saved? I defy anyone to answer that question adequately without bringing in this doctrine of the judgment of God and of the wrath of God.

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