A quick note on our previous post, Part 1. It seems that many take exception to Ursinus’ use of the word “regeneration.” I am not suggesting we change our current use, but rather just pointing out that when we read what he has written on the subject, Regeneration is used simply to denote all that is the second benefit in the duplex gratia. It represents all that answers to our corruption received from Adam in distinction to our guilt derived from the same. And this was the common usage of the word prior to the tidier ordering and parsing of benefits that came later.  For example, Witsius writes,

For really, sanctification differs no other ways from the first regeneration and renovation, than as the continuance of an act differs from the beginning of it. (Bk. 3.8.10)

And as to the concern that Ursinus is saying faith precedes Regeneration in time, that is not at all what he is saying. Rather, the Holy Spirit is working Regeneration when He works faith in the heart. As the Catechism says,

Q.65. Since, then, we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, where does this faith come from?

The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

Introduction to Part 2

IN OUR LAST POST, I promised to deal with three classes of responses to Rachel Miller’s critique of John Piper’s, “Does God Really Save us by Faith Alone?” They are,

  1. Works are necessary to salvation due to a proper understanding of the doctrine of Union with Christ.
  2. “Salvation” is a broader concept that includes more than just Justification, and works are necessary and instrumental to Sanctification and Glorification, therefore they are necessary and instrumental to the broader concept of Salvation.
  3. Piper’s teaching is in accord with the mass of 16thand 17thcentury Reformed scholarship; that is, Piper is in good company, and if we want to call him to the carpet, we must also call many other thoroughly orthodox Reformed authors to the same carpet.

Having responded to the first, we now move on to the second.  But before we do, I would like to reiterate yet again what is the manifest purpose and substance of Piper’s post. The question of the post is clear: does God really save us by faith alone? His answer is that the Five Solas do not apply to the whole of Salvation, but rather in their entirety only to Justification.  This is what he sees the Reformers to have been saying. That is, we cannot properly apply Sola Fide to “salvation” as broadly understood, for if we replace “justified” in “we are justified by means of faith alone” with “sanctified” or “finally saved,” the statement does not hold. In particular, Final Salvation will be adjudicated by “faith and fruit.”

2) “Salvation” is a Broader Concept

I disagree with Piper on a number of issues, but not here. He is saying salvation is a broader term than justification. (Dr. Raymond A. Blacketer, via Twitter)

I agree that Salvation is a broader term than just Justification. As we discussed last time, the benefits of Union with Christ are two-fold, Justification and Regeneration—the latter to be taken in its widest sense to include all that answers to our corruption of nature (illumination, the death of the old man and resurrection of the new, sanctification, and ultimately glorification); the former answering to our guilt. To be sure, the Scripture speaks of Salvation itself as having a past referent, a present referent, and a future referent. We read the following uses throughout:

Past tense:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10)

Present tense:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18)

Future tense:

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (Rom. 5:9)

It is common in systematics to divide these tenses into differing benefits, past tense being Justification, present tense being Sanctification, and future tense being Glorification. Piper’s breakdown is a bit different in his article:

  • In justification, faith receives a finished work of Christ performed outside of us and counted as ours — imputed to us.
  • In sanctification, faith receives an ongoing power of Christ that works inside us for practical holiness.
  • In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith. As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

It seems to me that piper speaks comfortably in both ways, but here is pointing up the judicial or forensic aspect of Salvation relative to both the past and the future. But no matter. I presume we all agree that each of these benefits do in fact flesh out the more holistic meaning of “salvation,” beyond just justification.  But a major problem, as I see it, is that these inseparable benefits of Union with Christ by faith are often unduly disjointed.  They are treated as though one is initially justified—right with God, as Piper puts it—and then one begins the next phase on that bases, i.e., Sanctification; then at the end of the lifelong work of Sanctification, one comes to the Last Judgement, passing through to the final and consummate stage of Glorification. Particularly for Piper, the future aspect of Salvation follows a judgement based upon all of what has gone before. Thus, fruits are brought forward as confirmations of living faith in the Last Judgement such that one cannot properly say that this future aspect of Salvation is “by means of faith alone.”

But this multi-step progress of Salvation, passing from one stage to the next in order, seems to obscure the meaning of Justification itself. Justification is a judicial declaration of “not guilty” and “perfectly righteous” in Christ.  As many have pointed out (including {gasp} N. T. Wright), the law-court imagery of Justification, viz., the Judge declaring one innocent and righteous from the Seat of Judgement is properly in view of the Final Judgement. When will the books be opened and the judicial sentence passed by God seated on His throne? When will the verdict be read? At the end of the ages. Justification itself is the present declaration that one is, and will duly be pronounced “not guilty” when the actual Judgement occurs. Sentence has not yet been passed. But by Union with Christ, the declaration of future salvation is already sealed. Thus we read (as quoted above),

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (Rom. 5:9)

Having been Justified, we have been saved and will be saved. By the Holy Spirit we “were sealed for the day of redemption” upon our conversion, “were saved in this hope” of the final redemption, and by faith wait for “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (Eph. 4:30; Rom. 8:23-25; 1 Thes. 1:8-10).

This is what is truly precious about the doctrine of Justification: it is not just the first step from which one moves on into the rest of the benefits of saving Union with Christ. It is the declaration at the beginning of what will be at the end. Justification is the definitive, present, juridical, and authoritative pronouncement on the whole of the believers walk to Glory; that is, a pronouncement on the whole of what constitutes Salvation in its broadest sense. Justification answers our guilt in Adam, both now and at the Last Judgement. This declaration is true and unchanging from the moment of faith and Union, through the entire course of Regeneration, Sanctification, and Glorification. It pronounces the end at the beginning and all along the way. And how are we Justified—how do we receive this holistic declaration of “not guilty” and “perfectly righteous?” By faith alone. Sola Fide.

Thus, faith is the instrumental cause of not only our Justification, but our complete and final Salvation. As such, Herman Witsius can speak of our taking hold of Christ as the “formal and principal act of faith” wherein we “receive Christ the Lord for justification, sanctification, and so for complete salvation.” And this faith “lays claim to whatsoever is Christ’s, which is offered at the same time with Christ; and above all, the righteousness of Christ, which is the foundation of salvation” (Bk 3.7.19). Even more, “that being thus justified by his grace, that is, acquitted from sin,” we might “lawfully, yea, in full assurance, hope for the inheritance of eternal life.” For Justification is itself the “absolution from guilt, and an adjudging to eternal life” (Bk 3.8.10).

This is by no means a denial of what was affirmed before, viz., that there are multiple benefits that constitute Salvation. Rather, it is simply the proper orientation of Justification as the forensic declaration upon the whole matter of Salvation, not a first step of “getting right with God” so we can take the next step. It is the declaration for every believer, at this moment, that the verdict is “not guilty” at the bar of Judgement on the Last Day.

Now of course, good works are the means from here to there, from the present declaration of the verdict to the final declaration of the same. As Mark Jones is wont to point out from Witsius,

[…] the right to life is “assigned to the obedience of Christ, that all the value of our holiness may be entirely excluded.” However, regarding the possession of life, “our works…which the Spirit of Christ works in us, and by us, contribute something to the latter.” (“John Piper Compromising Sola Fide?”)

I will do him one better:

The whole comes to this, that no faith justifies, but that which is living and fruitful in good works; that acts of love and holiness are required, as fruits of faith, as testimonies of Christ dwelling in us, as marks of our regeneration, as what goes before salvation, and without which there can be no full assurance of it. (Bk. 3.8.53)

But who in this discussion denies any of this? Does this then mean that Salvation itself is not properly Sola Fide, but only Justification? Do we not all already agree that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10); that this is the very reason we say we are “saved by grace through faith” (note the causal conjunction “For” at the beginning of verse 10)? Likewise, do we not all already agree that “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22)? Is anyone disagreeing that there is an ordained path to Glory? I don’t think so. But every work of gracious salvation includes means. How often do we as Reformed folk say, “God ordains the means as well as the ends.” Do we then mean to imply that nothing is Sola Gratia or Sola Fide because God has ordained means?

God has graciously granted to believers both the right and the privilege of Salvation, Sola Fide. Witsius recounts the so-called Golden Chain of Romans 8:30:

“Whom he did predestinate;” that is, whom by his most free and immutable decree he has chosen to grace and glory, “them he also called;” that is, by his word and Spirit he sweetly invited, and powerfully drew them from a state of sin and misery to communion with Christ, and being endowed with faith regenerated them: “and whom he called, them he also justified;” that is, as soon as they were united to Christ by the Holy Spirit and by faith, he, on the account of the merits of Christ imputed to them, acquitted them from the guilt of sin, and adjudged them to have a right to all the good things of Christ, as well in grace as in glory: “and whom he justified, them he also glorified;” that is, he not only gave them a right but also put them in actual possession of the greatest blessings, 1st, By sanctifying them, and transforming them more and more to his own image, and making them partakers of a divine nature, which doubtless is a great degree of glory. 2dly, By plentifully pouring in upon them the sweetest consolations of his Spirit, which are, as it were, the preludes of joy and happiness. 3dly and lastly, By making them perfectly happy, first in soul, and then in soul and body together. (Bk. 3.8.8)

And last, to my lights, the necessity of good works does not even suggest that works are therefore a proper cause of Salvation. Simply put, that which is necessary does not equate to that which is either an efficient, material, instrumental, or final cause. To imply such is to commit the Fallacy of Composition. Though heat and light are of necessity joined in the flame, it is nevertheless not the light that cooks the meat, nor the heat that lights the room. Teleology is quite important in identifying causes. In the same manner, though faith and works are of necessity joined, it is not the works that save, but rather the faith.

Conclusion

John Calvin summarizes this all quite well in the Institutes:

[W]hen Scripture intimates that the good works of believers are causes why the Lord does them good, we must still understand the meaning so as to hold unshaken what has previously been said, viz., that the efficient cause of our salvation is placed in the love of God the Father; the material cause in the obedience of the Son; the instrumental cause in the illumination of the Spirit, that is, in faith; and the final cause in the praise of the divine goodness. In this, however, there is nothing to prevent the Lord from embracing works as inferior causes. But how so? In this way: Those whom in mercy he has destined for the inheritance of eternal life, he, in his ordinary administration, introduces to the possession of it by means of good works. What precedes in the order of administration is called the cause of what follows. For this reason, he sometimes makes eternal life a consequent of works; not because it is to be ascribed to them, but because those whom he has elected he justifies, that he may at length glorify (Rom. 8:30); he makes the prior grace to be a kind of cause, because it is a kind of step to that which follows.

But whenever the true cause is to be assigned, he enjoins us not to take refuge in works, but to keep our thoughts entirely fixed on the mercy of God; “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life,” (Rom. 6:23). Why, as he contrasts life with death, does he not also contrast righteousness with sin? Why, when setting down sin as the cause of death, does he not also set down righteousness as the cause of life? The antithesis which would otherwise be complete is somewhat marred by this variation; but the Apostle employed the comparison to express the fact, that death is due to the deserts of men, but that life was treasured up solely in the mercy of God. In short, by these expressions, the order rather than the cause is noted. The Lord adding grace to grace, takes occasion from a former to add a subsequent, so that he may omit no means of enriching his servants. Still, in following out his liberality, he would have us always look to free election as its source and beginning. For although he loves the gifts which he daily bestows upon us, inasmuch as they proceed from that fountain, still our duty is to hold fast by that gratuitous acceptance, which alone can support our souls; and so to connect the gifts of the Spirit, which he afterwards bestows, with their primary cause, as in no degree to detract from it. (3.14.21)

So ultimately I quite agree with Dr. Blacketer, “salvation” is a wider concept; but it is nevertheless the proper subject of the Five Solas. This, unfortunately, is not at all what Piper was saying.

We will next turn to rejoinder #3 noted above, the cloud of orthodox Reformed witnesses. Lord willing, many of the questions generated by this post will be answered by the exceedingly more brilliant doctors of our tradition. Particularly, on good works and the Last Judgement, more to come.

6 Responses

  1. Alex Harris

    Brad, it has been too long! I hope you are well. My question is quick but I do have a lengthy quote to go with it. Is Piper really saying anything different than this?

    “XXIV. The foundation of this justification can be nothing but inherent holiness and righteousness. For, as it is a declaration concerning man, as he is in himself: by the regenerating and sanctifying grace of God, so it ought to have for its foundation, that which is found in man himself: He that doth righteousness is righteous, says John, 1 John iii. 7. And Peter says, Acts x. 34, 35 “of a truth, I perceive, that in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with God.” And Luke in the name of God, gives testimony to the parents of John the Baptist, that “they were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless,” Luke i. 6. But yet inherent righteousness is not the foundation of this justification, from its own worthiness, or because it is a holiness exactly commensurate with the rule of the law, but because it is the work of the Holy Spirit in the elect, which God cannot but acknowledge and delight in his own, and because the failings with which it is always stained in this world are forgiven in Christ’ sake.
    XXV. In this sense we think the apostle James speaks of justification in that much controverted passage, James ii. 21, 24. where he declares, that “Abraham was not justified by faith only, but also by works,” and insists upon it, that every man ought to be justified in this manner. For the scope of the apostle is to shew, that it is not sufficient for a Christian to boast of the remission of his sins, which indeed is obtained by faith only, but then it must be a living faith on Christ; but that besides he ought to labor after holiness, that being justified by faith only, that is, acquitted from the sins he had been guilty of, on account of Christ’s satisfaction, apprehended by faith, he may likewise be justified by works, that is declared to be truly regenerated, believing and holy; behaving as becomes those who are regenerated, believing and holy. Thus our father Abraham behaved, who having been before now justified by faith only, that is, obtained the remission of his sins, was afterwards also justified by his works. For, when he offered up his son to God, then God said to him, “now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me,” Gen. xxii. 12. And James insists upon it, that this last justification is so necessary to believers, that, if it be wanting, the first ought to be accounted only vain and imaginary.
    XXVI. These things are evident from scripture: but lest any after the manner of the world should ridicule this, I inform the more unskillful, that this is no invention of mine, but that most celebrated divines have, before me, spoken of such a “justification according to inherent righteousness and of works.” Bucerus in altero Colloquio Ratisbonensi, p. 313. Says, “we think that this begun righteousness is really a true and living righteousness, and a noble excellent gift of God; and that the new life in Christ consists in this righteousness, and that all the saints are also righteous by this righteousness, both before God and before men, ‘and that on account thereof the saints are also justified by a justification of works,’ that is are approved, commended and rewarded by God.” Calvin teaches much the same, Instit. Lib. iii. c 17. viii. Which concludes with these words, “The good works done by believers are counted righteous, or which is the same, are imputed for righteousness.” — The Economy of The Covenants Between God and Man Vol.1 pg. 400-401

    Much love brother!!

    Reply
    • Brad Mason

      Alex, my man! Where the heck have you been?

      On the Witsius quote, I believe Piper is saying something much different. I intend to deal with this passage in the next post. But I will note now, Witsius is not even here speaking of the last judgement. He is presenting 3 different justifications: 1. When God declares individual acts just; 2. When God declares one to be just in time, by pronouncing that they are not guilty of what men or the devil may accuse them of, in order to ease the conscience of a believer; 3. The justification that is to life, based soley on Christ’s merits.

      I promise I will go into detail.

      Thank you for reaching out, brother!

      Reply
  2. Mark Mars

    Brad,

    In the midst of all the critiques of what Piper said (and from my understanding I think it is important to critique what he said), I get the sense that a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark is playing out. The scene is the one where Indy shows us why guns are better than swords.

    In some sense what Piper said (N.B. what Piper said, not Piper himself) is like the man who came out of the crowd and starting doing his fancy sword work. Now, in all the critiques I’ve read, I’ve not seen any come out and really shoot down what Piper is saying. Respond to it, yes. Deal it a fatal blow, no.

    Now, I’m not a great gunslinger, but I would like to contribute to the discussion in hopes of dealing a fatal deathblow to his way of thinking.

    If I correctly understand what Piper is saying, then it appears to me he is presuming we can perform at least one “act” that is completely, totally, and purely without any sin. In short, I understand that he must presume (consciously or unconsciously) that a believer who has not yet been glorified has the ability to no longer fall short of the glory of God in any of his actions, his thoughts, his attitudes, his beliefs, his value system, his intentions, his timing of the act, the extent of the act, etc.

    When I survey the full extent of all that is required of me to live up to the glory of God in all that I do, this side of heaven, then there is no way that I can even believe I’m measuring up to ALL of God’s glory.

    To then say, that I must count on any of my efforts to get me to heaven, is to induce the greatest sense of hopeless I probably could conceive: not only is Christ’s sacrifice, righteousness and merit not good enough to cover my filthiness, my corruption, my weakness, my guilt (for I will still remain guilty), I must now muster within my corrupt nature a holiness, a righteousness, a godliness, that I do not possess and which therefore renders me ineffective at pleasing God.

    No! I look to Christ as the only way by which man may be saved! I can NOT look to, rely on, rest upon, ANY of my efforts.

    And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other Name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved, Acts 4:12.

    I do pray that God would work in me and through me so that I’m not a hindrance, as it were snuffing out the truth by ANY of my unrighteousness (Rom 1:18), and in the hope that others may glorify God by whatever I’m able to do by the power, charity and wisdom with which the Spirit endows me (Matt 5:16).

    Mark, the temporary Gunslinger.

    Reply
    • pduggan

      Piper is not saying “I must count on any of my efforts to get me to heaven”

      Also, can you do a single act as a Christian that pleases God? That he will say ‘well done” to? yes, yes he will.

      Reply
      • Mark Mars

        PD,

        I’m not claiming Piper is saying what you have in quotes.

        What I’m claiming is this: in order for Piper to say what he has said, then he is presuming (consciously or unconsciously) that I can do something that is totally without sin, EVEN if I’m JUSTIFIED by Faith.

        If God looks at my goodness, my righteousness, my holiness and on the basis of what I’ve done and/or who I am says, “Well done”, then this is to put Christ’s person and work to shame. (But God finds all His joy in Christ! Mk. 1:11)

        But He has declared that will not share His glory with another (Is. 42:8) and so this can NOT happen.

        So, I don’t see how God can look at what I’ve done or who I am and say, “Well done.”

        God will look to Christ and because I’ve been united to Christ by faith, then He not only declares me just, but also a beneficiary of all the heavenly blessings. (Eph. 1:3).

        How can these blessings not include salvation? If it doesn’t include salvation, then how does this not make God a liar, based on what Peter said in Acts 4:12?

        Under His Mercy,
        Mark

  3. Bob

    I marvel at how 500 years after Luther did battle with the theology of Rome that we are fighting the same battle but this time within our own camp wth those who self-identify as being a part of Luther’s heritage.

    Reply

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