Spectacular History of the Doctrine of the Covenant of Works


Excited About This Reference Tool

Slated to come out in June, this volume will be sure to be a helpful volume in many ways. I have benefitted much from the earlier volumes in the series here and here.

Justification By Faith Alone, part 2

Continuing on in chapter 21 of RINE (first part here).

Wilson has a rather interesting suggestion on page 173. He argues that good works and justification are definitionally inter-related, much like husband and wife. In other words, if you don’t have one, then you don’t have the other. He is not saying that good works are part of justification itself, any more than the wife is part of the body of the husband. They are two people, however much they may be one flesh. He is saying that we can distinguish sanctification, but we cannot separate them. He says, “We should be able to tell at a glance who is the husband and who is the wife- but we cannot remove one without removing the other.”

Now, at first glance, this proposal is attractive. We certainly do want to say that justification and sanctification are distinct, yet inseparable. You cannot have the one without the other. Justification without sanctification is antinomianism, and sanctification without justification is legalism. However, this definition will still make Reformed folk a bit skittery. Reformed folk are so used to excluding works categorically from justification, that any language such as “definitionally related” is going to cause angst. Certainly, works are related to justification. But how are they related? I would argue that they are related as the effect to the cause. There is no time lapse between justification and good works. But the former is the cause of the latter, logically speaking. Good works are an always-accompanying effect of justification; collateral results, if you will. Ultimately, I think we are saying the same thing. I just want to guard more especially against any idea of works entering into justification itself. The difficulty with the marriage metaphor is that husband and wife do become one flesh, which creates ambiguity in the analogy: do good works become one flesh with justification in the definitional sense? This would leave the door open for works to be part of justification itself. Husband and wife become part of something bigger. Wilson has put some guards against this interpretation by saying “distinct, yet inseparable” and “we should be able to tell at a glance.” However,  a qualification such as I have outline above seems to me to guard better against works entering into justification.