New Resource on Matthew

This new resource on Matthew looks to be one of the seven or eight best commentaries on Matthew (the others being Davies/Allison, France, Keener, Luz, Morris, Nolland, and Wilkins).


Norman Shepherd’s First Article, part 5

Now we come to the phrase “living and active faith.” The argument occurs over whether or not this phrase should be used with regard to the doctrine of justification. All sides agree (contra what some might say) that we are not justified by a dead faith. The question arises over whether faith’s livingness and aliveness is integral in justification.

Norman Shepherd takes issue with the OPC report’s handling of this phrase in his writings (pg. 63, referring to the OPC report, pp. 55-56, footnote 89). First of all, one needs to notice how Shepherd subtlely alters the Bavinck quotation. What Bavinck actually said was this: “Just as in the justification the forgiveness of sins, completely prepared in Christ, can on our part only be received and enjoyed through a living and active faith, so God effects the sanctification in us only by means of ourselves” (pg. 479 of Our Reasonable Faith, a summary of Reformed Dogmatics). What Bavinck means by this is surely laid oout more clearly on page 461 of the same volume:

All the same, though it is of the greatest importance to see clearly the distinction between justification and sanctification and to maintain it purely, these two benefits are never, of course, separated from each other, not even for a moment. In the counsel of God they are not separated, for justification is but one link in the chain of salvation. Whom God foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son; and whom He predestinated, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified (Rom 8:29-30). They are not separated either in the person and work of Christ; for righteousness is not something that lies outside of Christ and can be accepted apart from His person. Christ Himself is our righteousness, and He is at the same time our wisdom, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor 1:30). One cannot accept the one benefit of Christ without the other, for they all together lie contained in His person. Whoever accepts Christ as his righteousness by faith, at the same time receives Him as his sanctification. Christ His entirety, and he who lacks His benefits lacks His person also. Finally, in faith also the justification and sanctification are inseparably bound up with each other. True, so far as the justification goes, this faith comes into consideration solely and exclusively in its religious character as a confidence in the grace of God, as an acceptance of Christ and of the righteousness granted in Him by God; but if faith actually is and does this, then it is a living and saving faith, such as is pre-eminently the work of God (John 6:29), and such as manifests its reality and power in good works (Gal 5:6 and James 2:20ff). To justify is not the same thing as it is to make alive; but just as sin and death are intimately bound up with each other, so are righteousness and life.

In other words, faith does not take its power to justify from being alive. Nevertheless, justifying faith is always alive. Faith takes its power to justify from its object, Jesus Christ. It is the aliveness of justifying faith, however, that is ambiguous in Shepherd’s formulations. It is not as if no one could say “I am justified by a faith that is alive.” That statement is not necessarily wrong, in and of itself. It is the context that will determine whether that statement means that the aliveness of faith is what makes faith justifying, or whether the aliveness of faith is the necessary, always accompanying character of a faith that justifies. Are we ever justified by a faith that is dead? No. Faith is always alive, if it is true faith. But what is faith’s aliveness in relation to justification? Distinct from, yet inseparable. Faith’s aliveness comes from regeneration, and goes towards sanctification. It is faith’s extraspective aspect (looking to Christ, the ground of our justification) that justifies as an instrument, not faith’s intraspective aliveness. The ambiguity of Shepherd’s formulation here is noted by the OPC report. Note that Shepherd basically accuses the OPC report of rejecting the formula entirely. But that is not what the OPC report did. The OPC report merely noted the ambiguity of Shepherd’s formulation. At this point, one can note that the FV’s case for being misrepresented and misunderstood rings hollow, when they cannot understand and properly assess their critics’ arguments.