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