This entry contains interpretations of Calvin that are, I think, tedentious and questionable. I won’t engage them but I will recommend that readers consult Peter Lillback’s The Binding of God: Calvins Role in the Development of Covenant Theology (Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought) for some more relevant evidence about Calvin’s views.
Also, it is worth pointing out that we have other teachers besides John Calvin. I’ve heard Shepherd and others appeal to J. Gresham Machen, for example, as someone who insisted that justification in James and Paul was not a word applying to two different things.
Likewise, for what it is worth, the Westminster Confession’s chapter “Of Justification” (11) contains this statement:
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.
The term, “dead faith” is a direct quotation from James, and is cited in the prooftexts. It is unclear to me how one can claim to be confessional on this point and claim that justification here means something different than the justification of sinners as Paul teaches with all of Scripture and which this chapter (and even the small paragraph quoted above) is uniformly discussing.
So Lane’s “smoking gun” is:
Works is therefore a constituent member of justifying faith. They have to be Spirit-filled works, of course. My question is this: how is this one iota different from Trent? Trent would be more than happy with this formulation. I go with Calvin, who resolutely adheres to the exclusive particle in the phrase “justification by faith alone.”
Well, anyone is free to consult any standard work on the gulf between Reformed and Roman Catholic views on this matter and see what is stated everywhere: Roman Catholic theology think James’ “dead faith” is real faith by which a Christian must be justified as long as he mixes in works.
But the Protestants all disagreed. They thought James’ “dead faith” was mere assent which was not true faith. On the contrary, true faith is defined this way, with general and a principle actions.
By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.
For more on this paragraph, see my essay here.
I note in passing that the exclusive particle “alone” (or better adverbially: “only”) stands just fine in the Westminster/Shepherd view. “Alone” doesn’t refer to constituent parts, but about the need for extras. Saying that faith is always obedient, does not make works an instrument of justification in any anti-Protestant sense.
On the other hand, it is not clear to me how Lane can keep himself within those bounds. He is still, I notice, acting like speaking of what is or is not “in justification” actually communicates clearly and precisely. It does nothing of the kind, as far as I can tell, but only promotes confusion and needless suspicion. I think we’d be better off asking about the meritorious ground of our justification, or cause. But you know me: I’m just a nostalgic traditionalist.
But lets think for a moment about what it would take to eliminate any and every sense of saying a sinner is justified “by works” if “works” are defined as any obedience in the abstract.
Could a sinner be justified by merely passively receiving Christ’s righteousness? Well, no. God commands all sinners to cease all attempts at self-salvation and to rely and receive only Christ’s righteousness. This leaves a sinner justified by obeying the Gospel. And that is a denial of the Gospel according to our neo-rigorists.
Could a sinner be justified by faith alone with faith defined as nothing more than assent? Again, no. “Assent” is a verb. It is an action. It is something a person does. It is something a person is commanded to do. Again, we are back to justification by works, and the Gospel is again denied according to “Reformed” neo-rigorist standards.
What self-stultifying confusion do we want to pour over the church of Jesus Christ? This whole quest for non-obedient faith to justify is self-referentially incoherent, and it is not in conformity to our heritage. The neo-rigorists should not be permitted to redefine the Faith. Whatever Shepherd’s alleged sins, the price of condemning him comes too high. It means the loss of coherent conversation about theology in favor of self-contradictory shibboleths that function as social boundaries without having any cognitive content.