Salvation Sola Gratia, Sola Fide: On Distinguishing Is, With, And Through

By Dr. R. Scott Clark - Posted at The Heidelblog:

It is ironic that, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Reformed-ish wing of evangelicalism is having a controversy over salvation. It has been proposed by a leading evangelical pastor that we are initially justified by grace alone, through faith alone but saved finally only through “that fruit and that faith.” At least one of his apologists, when asked directly whether he was affirming salvation through works answered unequivocally: “yes.” Of course, by now you have seen the headline from the Desiring God Twitter feed declaring, “You are not saved through faith alone. Be killing sin.” Some apologists for this doctrine and rhetoric are appealing to the Epistle of James, as if the Protestants never wrote any commentaries on it, as if the 16th-century Romanist interpretation of James is obviously the only interpretation. Still others are alleging that anyone who denies this formulation is antinomian.

When the followers of Norman Shepherd dubbed themselves “the Federal Vision” (c. 2001) and began attempting to popularize his gross errors again, in the wake of his book, The Call of Grace, several orthodox Presbyterian and Reformed folk said to me that they were shocked that we are “having this discussion again,” that they thought that “justification was settled doctrine.” My reply then as now is to note that history tells a different story. As I noted in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry (2007) and have noted in this space since that time, almost as soon as the Reformation achieved clarity on salvation it came under attack from two sides: the antinomians, who would not tolerate the abiding validity of the moral law as the norm of the Christian life and the nomists, who would not abide free salvation earned for the elect and freely applied by the Holy Spirit. They wanted to include the fruit and evidence of salvation (justification and sanctification), i.e., good works into the ground (the basis for God’s declaration of righteousness) or the instrument (faith resting and receiving Christ and his righteousness). Even as the orthodox Lutherans and Reformed were consolidating their shared understanding of these things (on this see, e.g., Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology 3.232ff) the two errant sides (the antinomians and the nomists) were pecking away at the heart and soul of the Reformation. Neither the antinomians nor the nomists accepted the pan-Protestant settlement as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism: Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude (or law, gospel, and Spirit-wrought sanctification in union with Christ and communion with the church).

So it has been ever since. In the 18th century, when Thomas Boston and others (the so-called 12 Apostles) re-discovered the 17th-century Marrow of Modern Divinity, it set the Scottish Presbyterian Church on fire with controversy because it had already become dominated by nomists. They were charged with teaching antinomianism simply for preaching the gospel, for teaching Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude. So it is today. There are some who identify with the 18th-century nomists, who opposed the Marrow men. Most of them think that Norman Shepherd was railroaded out of job because he was “the last Reformed theologian,” who opposed the growing influence of broad evangelicalism within Presbyterianism. Like the Wizard of Oz they want desperately for you to ignore the man behind the curtain and the obvious: the NAPARC churches have universally condemned Shepherd’s soteriology.

As with the Federal Vision controversy the contemporary nomists ignore distinctions vital to Reformed theology:

For orthodox, confessional Protestants, whether Lutheran or Reformed, there has never been any question whether regenerate, believing persons saved sola gratia, sola fide will be graciously, gradually sanctified nor that out of salvation God produces in us the fruit of good works. Sanctification and good works are said to accompany true faith. This is how the churches summarize this doctrine in the Westminster Confession of Faith (11.2):

2. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.

Notice what faith does in justification. It rests and receives. The nomists hate this. They like the Roman doctrine that faith is “formed by love,” i.e., that faith does what it does (saves) because it is what it is, i.e., becoming a reality. a saving virtue, by grace and cooperation with grace. Bob Godfrey explained this difference very well in his essay in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry on the difference between faith that looks to Christ and faith that is “formed by love” (fides formata caritate).


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