Imputation and Merit in Wilkins

This post will deal with his responses to declarations 3 and 4. Declaration 3 has to do with the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience as Christ is our representative Head. Wilkins really tries to soft-pedal the active obedience theology. One wonders why he said “I agree completely,” and then says in effect that he doesn’t agree completely. As I have said before, the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience is clearly taught in the Confession and LC. All of this hoopla about Chad Van Dixhoorn’s work doesn’t change that one iota. Besides, most people who have looked at his work do not realize that his position is that the WS do teach the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience. They stop at his research involving chapter 11, and the “pulling the punch” of the word “whole.” But the divines, when they voted, overwhelmingly voted in favor of the word. Why it was not included in the final version is a mystery, but as Jeff Jue notes in his excellent chapter in Justified In Christ, we cannot conclude with Daniel Kirk that the reason the word “whole” was struck from the Confession was that the document was a compromise document. There is simply not enough evidence to conclude that. Furthermore, question 70 of the LC informs our understanding of WCF 11. Those who deny the imputation of Christ’s active obedience have split Christ’s obedience, and Christ is no longer whole. Besides, as Hodge notes in his ST, Christ’s passive and active obedience is not separable. Even His passive obedience is active (“He lays down His life”), and His active obedience is also passive (He deliberately went to Jerusalem to suffer). The truth that is preserved in the active’passive distinction is that Christ satisfied all the demands of the law for us. He both took on the guilt of our sin to Himself, and He earned eternal life for us.

This brings us to his response to number 4, where Wilkins has gone off the deep end. Wilkins’s theology here has an enormous problem: why did Jesus have to live 33 years on earth? If He already had His Father’s favor as a Mediator, then there would be absolutely no reason for Him to endure one second of humiliation beyond the cross and tomb. Why the rest of His life? The emphasized phrase in the previous section indicates where Wilkins went astray. Wilkins asserts that Jesus already had the favor of His Father. That’s true, as Jesus is God’s Son. But in coming to earth, Jesus took on Himself the role of Mediator. As Mediator, He did not already have the favor of God as regards the people of God. If He did, then there would be no reason for the cross and resurrection, since Jesus would already have had what He came for: the salvation of His people. But in order to obtain for His people the remission of sins, and the right to eternal life, Jesus had to earn it by His perfect obedience to the law in every respect, as well as His suffering of the law’s just demands against sinners. Jesus was not justified by faith. He was justified by works. His vindication was the resurrection. The way the committee understands the term “merit” is plainly about Christ’s obedience to the law, and its implications for the believer. 

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