Justification According to Righteousness and Works
Somewhat recently Dr. Clark posted an article entitled, “Was Herman Witsius a Federal Visionist?” The obvious answer is no because a Federal Visionist wasn’t a thing to be yet. Maybe the question is, “Would Herman Witsius be a Federal Visionist today?” The answer is no, who knows, and who cares. No, because his theology simply isn’t the same. Who knows, because how can we possibly know how someone like him would think in today’s theological landscape. Finally, who cares, because who cares where he lands on that question.
The point of this post is not to defend the FV folks, although I would be more than happy to do so. I wanted to draw attention to some confusion among the Reformed people that I interact with on Twitter and Dr. Clark as well. I greatly appreciate Dr. Clark more than I feel any other way about him. We have the same interest. He is the expert and I am not. He has read far more than I probably ever will read. I think every student of theology should read all of his blogs, articles, and books. However, I do not agree with Dr. Clark’s understanding of some Reformed theology.
My change from a Baptist to a Presbyterian did not start as a conviction on baptism but as a conviction of the conditionality of the new covenant. I’ll write more on that if I am ever asked but that search led me to read Herman Witsius. Not only did I learn about the (or a) Reformed view on the conditionality of the covenant but I also saw a very different way that Reformed theologians spoke of the role of works in salvation (see Dr. Lilback’s The Binding of God as a good starting place). I plan to quote Witsius in length so as to show that I am not using him out of context.
“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
I’d like to make a few comments of my own. Witsius starts with the justification of the saint according to inherent righteousness and then proceeds to the justification of men as a sinner. He very clearly teaches a multi-staged justification. Why or how is this controversial? If Witsius is known as the “Middle Man,” then is orthodoxy as wide as the two views that he attempts to bring together? He even claims that this particular justification according to works is so necessary that the first is vain without it. Lastly, he proves that this idea of two justifications (not separate mind you) is “no invention of my own.” He claims to agree with Calvin that our good works are imputed for righteousness.
Thankfully, I know Dr. Clark has read this book because on the back of mine it reads:
“…If you know a seminary student who is studying to enter the ministry or otherwise to teach the Reformed faith, be sure that he has these volumes.” – R. Scott Clark
Hopefully next time I will post on John Ball’s view of good works as necessary to remaining in the state of justification.