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.