The Oddities of Reformed Distinctions
December 3, 2008
Yesterday, R. Scott Clark (prof at Westminster West) posted the following quote from John Girardeau on justification:
“In discharging this instrumental office faith is entirely alone. It is followed, and in accordance with the provisions of the covenant of grace it is inevitably followed, by the other graces of the Spirit, and by good, that is, holy works; but they do not co-operate with it in the act by which Christ and his righteousness are received in order to justification. They are not concurring causes, but the certain results of justification.” (emphasis added- rsc)
Girardeau puts the choice squarely before us. Either good works and Spirit-wrought sanctity are the results of justification or a concurring cause.
Maybe I’m just a dunce, but isn’t this a little odd? After all, the Reformed understanding of justification by faith alone requires that the “totally depraved” elect man become regenerate by the Holy Spirit in order to come to faith. Justification is our righteous standing before God by the work wrought by Christ alone, but the subjective appropriation of this righteous standing requires an assent of faith. Once again, this act of faith, according to Reformed doctrine, is consequent upon (or concurring with) the Holy Spirit’s enlightening of the mind, i.e., revealing our depravity and guilt along with our forgiveness in Christ. “I was blind, but now I see,” as the hymn goes. So, vis-à-vis Professor Clark’s understanding, how exactly does a person come to faith without a work of the Holy Spirit that can rightly be called a moral regeneration? How is faith not concurrent with a renewed heart? Clark says that “good works and Spirit-wrought sanctity are the results of justification.” Yet, we surely must be sanctified to some degree in order to come to faith — right? [Hint: Yes.]
And this is what I find truly bizarre in Clark et al.‘s accounts of justification. Our repentance and hatred of sin requires a moral regeneration. Faith apart from this is dead. It is not faith at all, but some sort of rarified intellectual assent. But, we are then told that all of this actually only follows justification by faith. ??!! So, once again, either I’m missing something, or these sort of Reformed distinctions are meaningless. For now, I’m going with the latter, which further supports my theory that much of confessional Reformed thought is non-human (or “abstract and unreal,” as Newman said of Locke’s construal of assent), i.e., has no real meaning (given human semantics as an ontic device).