Justification in James

One of the most important questions we can ask about the relationship of Paul to James when it comes to justification is this: what does δικαιοῦται (“justified”) mean in James? This is a very old question, but a very important question. Here is what Calvin says on the matter:

We have already said that James does not speak here of the cause of justification, or of the manner how men obtain righteousness, and this is plain to every one; but that his object was only to shew that good works are always connected with faith; and, therefore, since he declares that Abraham was justified by works, he is speaking of the proof he gave of his justification.

When, therefore, the Sophists set up James against Paul, they go astray through the ambiguous meaning of a term. When Paul says that we are justified by faith, he means no other thing than that by faith we are counted righteous before God. But James has quite another thing in view, even to shew that he who professes that he has faith, must prove the reality of his faith by his works…we must take notice of the two-fold meaning of the word justified. Paul means by it the gratuitous imputation of righteousness before the tribunal of god; and James, the manifestation of righteousness by the confuct, and that before men, as we may gather from the preceding works, “Shew to me they faith,” etc. In this sense we fully allow that man is justified by works, as when anyone says that a man is enriched by the purchase of a large and valuable estate, because his riches, before hid, shut up in a chest, were thus made known (pp. 314-315).

So that is Calvin’s view. Let’s look a bit closer at the exegesis of the passage. Here are some reasons why Calvin is right and all the naysayers are wrong. 1. The word itself can mean either to declare righteous (this is the normal meaning in Paul), or to show someone to be righteous (as it says “Wisdom is justified by her children”). The second sense is not always in our minds, but wisdom hardly needs the imputed righteousness of Christ. Rather, wisdom is shown to be right by the results in her children. We must not automatically assume one meaning or the other in James. Rather, we must look for contextual clues, and also the analogy of faith. 2. Prima facie evidence is given in verse 18 (as Calvin notes) that the second meaning of “justify” is the meaning that James uses here. In verse 18, it is clear that the point is whether a particular faith is true or not, and how a person might be able to show the true state of his faith. James answers that a true faith is shown by its works. 3. Further evidence is given for this view in verse 21. This is a simple matter of timing. Genesis 22 (Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac) comes after Genesis 15:6. Abraham was justified first by faith in Genesis 15:6, and then his faith showed itself to be genuine in Genesis 22. We will come back to the quotation of Genesis 15:6 in James 2:23 in a moment.

Now, we must deal with the objections to this position. They are stated fairly clearly in Norman Shepherd’s new book The Way of Righteousness: Justification Beginning With James. The first line of reasoning goes like this: “justify” in verse 24 is parallel to “save” in verse 14. The word “save” in verse 14 means “salvation from condemnation when we stand before the Lord God to be judged” (p. 21). Therefore, the justification of verse 24 answers the question of salvation in verse 14 (ibid).  The answer to this is that it is not so clear what “save” means in verse 14. Salvation in the Bible is used in more than one way. Salvation can be used of the initial time-point of faith, but it can also be used of the entire Christian life, which would include everything from election to glorification. It is evident that the question at the end of verse 14 expects a negative answer: “Surely it is impossible, isn’t it, that such a works-devoid faith could save him?” In effect, this asks the question: can there be a kind of faith that believes but does not do? And can such a faith be the kind of faith that salvation as a whole is talking about? The scope of the passage cannot be limited to the initial time-point of faith, because James himself says that his faith (implied as already existing) is going to be shown by his works (verse 18).  This is parallel to the question of Abraham, whose already existing faith was shown to be genuine by his offering up of Isaac.

The second objection raised to our position is this: 2. James does not talk about faith being justified, but persons being justified (p. 24). It is important to note that Shepherd does not deny that verse 18 has to do with faith being shown to be genuine. Rather, his point is that justification language is not present in verse 18. To this I answer this way: the two meanings correspond to two aspects of a person’s justification. A person is justified forensically (in the Pauline sense of judicial declaration), but then a person is also justified evidentially when his faith is shown to be genuine. Manton put it well when he said that the Jamesian sense of evidentiary justification shows a person to be unhypocritical. You can say a person is unhypocritical or that his faith is unhypocritical, it all comes to the same thing. In other words, Shepherd is mincing words here.

The third objection to our position is stated this way: the word “justify” cannot ever be said to mean “show to be justified” even if it can mean “show to be righteous” (p. 24). However, this objection is closely tied to the previous objection: if a person can be shown to be genuine and unhypocritical, then his justification is also shown to be genuine. The latter idea may be an implication of the former, but a firm implication it is. As a man thinks, so he is. We cannot drive such a large wedge between a person and his faith.

Thirdly, he objects that arguing for the demonstrative sense in James as a way of reconciling James and Paul “is a theological argument rather than an exegetical argument” (p. 24). I must ask why this would be a problem. Are we not required to compare Scripture with Scripture? Is exegesis limited to the immediate context, or does it ultimately extend to the entire Bible? I would strongly argue for the latter. Therefore we MUST seek to reconcile James and Paul.

His fourth main argument is that the broader context of James favors the view that James has in mind the final judgment and a soteric justification on that day (p. 25). But there are two things at work here. First of all, there is a strong strand of Reformed teaching that argues that the final fulfillment of evidentiary proof of justification will happen on the Final Day: believers will be shown before the whole world to have had genuine justifying faith. And the works of believers will be trotted out as the evidence for this claim. This is not soteric. Chapter 5:9 does not prove his point. His point is that we need to be bearing fruit in keeping with a genuine faith. Grumbling is not in keeping with said faith. Therefore, if we are grumbling, we need to be awakened to the fact that we might not have a genuine faith. Besides, the word is not “condemned” in that verse, but “judged.” All our works will in fact be judged, but they might be burned up, as it says in 1 Corinthians 3, if they be hay, straw, or stubble. The fact that it says “you be judged” does not affect this exegesis in the slightest, since it is a metonymy, with the person standing in for the works. He has not proven his point, therefore. I conclude that since all the arguments against the position have an answer, that therefore we should follow Calvin, and argue that “justify” has a demonstrative sense in James, and not a declaritive.

Exceptions Required to be Taken by Paedo-Communion Adherents

Some friends have asked me what places in the Westminster Standards I feel are necessary for PC advocates to take an exception to. It is quite a long list, actually, because it is not merely the age of the participant that is important, but also how the people have to partake of the Lord’s Supper. So, here are the places I feel it is necessary for a PC advocate to take an exception (although almost none of them take an exception to these places).

WCF 27.3 tells us that the grace is not conferred by any power in the sacrament itself (even rightly used!). Rather, it depends on the work of the Spirit that brings with it the promise of benefit to worthy receivers. The definition of worthy receivers is plain elsewhere in the standards.

WCF 29.7 also says “worthy receivers.” Worthy receivers cannot be ignorant or in flagrant sin, according to other parts of the WS. In the same section, it also says “(Christ as) really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance.” This implies that He is not present to those who have no faith. Now, I think it is possible for an infant to have a seed faith and be regenerated from the womb. But I do not think we can assume that. The PC position argues that Christ is present even to the ignorant.

WCF 29.8 says that ignorant and wicked men do NOT receive the thing signified. Paedo-communion requires the exact opposite with regard to the ignorant, because infants are presumably ignorant of what the Sacrament means. In the same section, it also says that all ignorant persons are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, and they are not to be admitted to the Table.

WLC 168: basically, this entire question and almost every part of it is set against the PC position. 1. Again, the language of “worthily communicate” rules out infants here. 2. “have their union and communion with him confirmed” means that their union and communion have to have at least some visible signs exhibited previously to their participation, or else the elders cannot fence the table. 3. “testify and renew their thankfulness” implies an active thanksgiving, impossible for an infant. 4. “mutual love and fellowship” also has to do with an active (in the context everything is active, not passive) expression, not an ignorant expression of love.

WLC 169: the confession obviously interprets 1 Corinthians 11:24 in an active remembering sense when it says “in thankful remembrance.” This cuts quite against the normal PC interpretation of the passage which says that the Supper itself is a memorial, and there is no need of active remembrance for infants. Given the context of the fact that it is given “to the communicants” (therefore to all of them), it seems to me more than reasonable that this is what it means for all the congregation who participate, and this is how all are to participate.

WLC 170: This question states that the body and blood of Christ are “spiritually present to the faith of the receiver.” Given also the key phrase “worthily participate” again in this question and answer, it is apparent that the body and blood of Christ are not present to those with no faith. Again, I do not deny the possibility of some kind of seed faith (although I certainly do not presume regeneration), a more mature faith is definitely in view here. Also in this question it says “while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.” Can one really receive all these benefits without knowing that they are receiving them?

WLC 171: This entire question has to be ditched by the PC advocate, since absolutely none of this kind of preparation is possible for an infant. There are about 13 distinct acts required in this question, none of which an infant has the ability to perform. The question itself is worded in such a way “they that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper” to exclude the interpretation that says that only adults have to do this. No, it is all who receive the Lord’s Supper that have to do these actions.

WLC 173: Again, this passage tells us that the ignorant are to be kept from the sacrament. It is important to note that ignorance is quite a separate category from “scandalous.” I say this because many PC advocates argue that it is a hendiadys: “ignorant scandalousness.” But a hendiadys is usually connected by the word “and,” not the word “or.” Therefore, it is unlikely that that is the case here.

WLC 174: This entire question has to be ditched by the advocates of PC as well. I count 15 distinct actions (again required of ALL those who participate), none of which an infant is able to perform.

WLC 175: Same as 174, with 12 distinct actions required of the participant afterwards, none of which can be performed by an infant.

WLC 177: Now at last we finally get the one place where most PC advocates actually do take an exception, and this is certainly the most obvious place they have to take an exception. “only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves” certainly rules out the PC position.

WSC 91: this plainly says that the sacraments are only of benefit to those who by faith receive them. Otherwise, they are judgment. This is true both of baptism and of the Lord’s Supper.

WSC 96-97: again we have the “worthy participation” language. See the WLC questions above for more detailed argumentation. I believe that all these places are against paedo-communion, because it details exactly how ALL participants are to behave and what they are to do so that they will be participating worthily. In short, it is not just the age of the participants to the Lord’s Supper that is at issue. It is also how the Supper is to be taken. In fact, this issue is almost more fundamental, because it actually gets at the very substance of the sacrament itself.

I only want to add one more comment here about ordination of PC advocates, and trust me when I say that I mean no offense to my Baptist brethren here. In the PCA, since we have a different administration of baptism than the Baptists do, it is right and fitting that a Baptist minister should not be ordained in the PCA (or OPC, or any other denomination that practices paedobaptism). This is also true vice versa. Paedobaptists should not be ordained in a Baptist denomination. This is because our honest differences about the Sacrament of baptism are mutually exclusive and would lead to much friction if in the same denomination. We both believe that the other denomination is wrongly administering the Sacraments (although it is primarily an issue of degree, not of the mode itself). This does not mean that we should “unchurch” the other opinion. It does mean, however, that we must (normally) worship apart for the very sake of unity.

My point is this: if advocates of the WCF will not ordain a Baptist minister in their denomination, then why should we ordain PC advocates in our denomination? PC, according to advocates of the WCF, is an equal and opposite error (sort of a mirror-image error, actually, if you think about it) to credo-baptism. If we would not ordain credo-baptists in the PCA, then why should we ordain PC advocates? Both positions are equally against the Westminster Standards. Why, therefore, does the PCA and OPC somehow view PC as somehow more confessional, or at least less anti-confessional than credo-baptism is? It cannot be covenantalism, since there are plenty of non-dispensational Baptists out there who love covenant theology (even if we believe they do not apply it consistently). This is why I will never vote to ordain a PC advocate in my Presbytery.