A few days ago, I found an old CD which turned out to contain, among other things, a collection of documents I wrote up while I was coming to the conclusion that the gap between the Augustinian and the Reformed doctrines of justification could be bridged. The writings document my attempt to process this question from the beginning, where I seem skeptical that the gap could be bridged, to the end, where I was just about ready to conclude that it could be.
You can read more about the context of all of this here, where I lay out a narrative of the history of my thinking on the doctrine of justification. In short, I started with what I called an Augustinian doctrine of justification. I came to believe, back in 2000, that this view was in conflict with the Reformed view. I wrote this paper at that time arguing for the Augustinian view and against the Reformed view. But, in 2003, as documented below, I began to wonder if the gap between these two views might be bridged. You can see that thought process played out below. In the end, in the Summer of 2003, I concluded that the gap could be bridged, and for over a decade after that I publicly articulated my doctrine of justification in Reformed language - an example of which you can find here (I say "publicly," because in my own private thoughts I felt freer to think in Augustinian terms sometimes). (See also here, in ADDENDUM 1/18/22 towards the bottom, some emails from this time period illustrating my thinking as I articulated it to a Catholic correspondent.) I continued to be optimistic about the gap being bridged between Augustinian and Reformed thought for a few years after becoming Catholic (back in 2015), and I wrote some articles (see here and here) in which I've tried to articulate two different ways (a pro-Augustinian way and an anti-Augustinian way) the Reformed doctrine might be understood, but over the past three years or so I've once again begun to be suspicious of whether the gap can be bridged after all (though I'm not feeling conclusive on this point at this time).
In some of the documents, I appear to be addressing a Reformed person in correspondence. In one document, I explicitly mention "Pastor Wallace." He's the pastor of Christ OPC in Salt Lake City, UT, which was our church for fourteen years. Back at the time these documents were written, I was hoping to persuade him that my Augustinian view was OK. He may be the person all the documents that are addressed to someone were addressed to, but I did correspond with some other Reformed people about this as well at this time, so I'm not sure. It's been a long time (about 19 years!), and I didn't even remember that these documents existed until the day before yesterday.
At any rate, enjoy! (I've left my writing as it was when I wrote it, even leaving in typos. I did, at a few points, remove an extra space between paragraphs.)
This document is dated 4/14/2003. I'm pretty much rearticulating my Augustinian position which I argued for in my earlier paper. As in that paper, I acknowledge the idea that we are justified--made right with God--by the righteousness of Christ, and by that righteousness imputed to us in the sense of "counted as ours," but I also affirm that this has no reality or actualization in our life or experience unless that righteousness is also infused into us, changing us and making us actually righteous, because a state of unrighteousness in our lives inherently brings God's displeasure and punishment, while a state of righteousness in our nature inherently brings God's pleasure and reward.
Obviously I wrote this piece as a brainstorming document to myself, not intended for public view. Sorry for all the typos!
We are sinners by nature, evil and guilty. Therefore, we cannot be justified, or be accepted by God as righteous, by our works. The law cannot justify us because we cannot obey it; rather, it condemns us. Solution: Christ took our sin upon himself and died for it, destroying it, and rise from the dead, producing the righteousness we need to be acceptable to God, or justified. This gift belongs to all who receive it by faith. If faith is present, Christ’s righteousness is counted to the person on account of it. They are declared and considered one with Christ; his death to sin is theirs, and thus his righteousness is theirs. This person thus has a new identity or status as a righteous person. This new status comes to be actualized in the person’s life as they are set free from sin and become slaves of righteousness, dying to that which is odious to God and brings death and rising to new life in the Spirit, living a life that is pleasing and acceptable to God and that fulfills the law and thus brings the reward of eternal life. Being a slave to sin in its own nature brings death and such a person cannot please God. Being a slave to righteousness in the Spirit in its own nature brings life and acceptance by God because it pleases him.
The transition between talking about the gift of righteousness as a status or identity to talking about its fruit in us comes in 6:2. Paul’s statement here reveals some things about his theology of justification: 1. There is an assumption that what is true of our status must also be true of our actual lives. We have been declared dead to sin. We have been given the status, “dead to sin.” Obviously, therefore, we must really be dead to sin, so how can we live in it any longer? Putting this question in the context of the rest of the chapter as well as the rest of Paul’s discussion, we can say that not only is there a necessary connection and even an identity between the status change and the nature change, but that the status change is actualized and realized in the nature change. This follows from Paul’s teaching that being sinful necessarily brings wrath and death and that being holy necessarily brings acceptance and life. Paul connects the reward of eternal life and our acceptance before God, as well as our fulfilling the law, with the nature change and speaks of corruption as being what is reaped when we sow to the flesh and eternal life being what is reaped when we sow to the Spirit. This is many places. We are to be judged according to our works, good and bad, and rewarded accordingly. We fulfill the law by living in the Spirit. This teaching beyond Paul as well. Also, the purpose of the status change is so that the nature change can happen, because this is what God is after – its pleases him and brings us eternal life instead of death. 2. Obviously, also implied here is that the nature change is equivalent to the status change. If we must be in our actual lives what we are in our status, as I showed above, obviously our actual lives cannot be less than our status. We cannot remain sinful with regard to our actual lives if our status is changed. We become in our actual lives what we are in status. We are righteous before God in our status; we must be righteous before God in our actual lives.
Explore this: Perhaps not identity and actualization; perhaps owning and using. In this case, the difference becomes, how does Christ’s righteousness make us acceptable to God? By changing our status, or by changing our nature?
Explore this: Perhaps “to whom God counts righteousness” means whom God considers righteous because Christ’s righteousness has made them righteous intrinsically. Thus, similar to “gains acceptability”.
2. Two Problems: 1. Evil in our record or acts does not make either all bad; rather, it makes them a mix. There is both good and bad. This does not lesson the seriousness of the bad; it merely states the existence of both. The Law does not demand perfection in the sense that one never has been a sinner; it requires perfection of will – Love the Lord with you whole heart, etc. We experience a mix of good and bad wills, or moral centers and principles of choice and action. Also, the Law is only concerned about records as evidences and expressions of a good or evil will. It is the will alone that is under obligation and that is rewarded or punished; the act in the record is charged to our account because we – that is, our personal self or will or identity – was responsible. Our will either hated or loved God, and the preference expressed itself in the act. It is this preference that alone justifies or condemns the will, and thus the self. The goal of the Law is a good will, which will express itself in good works. The thing the Law hates is an evil will, which expresses itself in evil works. Our record provides evidence of who we are. 2. We cannot be justified except by being personally righteous and we cannot be condemned except by being personally sinful. This is because the thing that calls forth God’s wrath is an evil will. God’s wrath cannot be removed unless the thing that calls it forth is removed, and the removal of the will entails the removal of the wrath. Similarly, God’s acceptance is elicited by nothing but a good and acceptable will, and God’s acceptance cannot be elicited therefore unless there is a good will which must be there in order for it to be elicited.
P. 94 of Hughes’ Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Great quite on law being fulfilled in us, the New Covenant.
This document is dated 4/25/2003. I'm still trying to find rapport with the Reformed by emphasizing that it is the imputation (the counting ours by God) of Christ's righteousness which gives us a right to that righteousness and so to eternal life which is its reward. But I feel there are two points of difference between myself and the Reformed: 1. I think that the infused righteousness of sanctification truly fulfills the moral requirements of God's moral law and thus truly merits eternal life, while the Reformed think the righteousness of sanctification is inherently defective, doesn't meet the law's requirements adequately, and thus does not merit God's favor such as to bring the reward of eternal life. 2. Although I grant that the imputation of Christ's righteousness is what gives us a right to Christ's righteousness, and thus to the eternal life which is its reward, yet if we are talking about what actually, immediately, causes God to be pleased with us and actually view us as righteous, it is not imputation but Christ's righteousness within us--the fruit of imputation. Because the Reformed don't see the righteousness of sanctification to be good enough to merit God's favor, they have to look elsewhere for an immediate ground of God's viewing us as righteous and being pleased with us, and they find that ground solely in imputation apart from a consideration of infusion or inward change.
1. We are sinful and have done sinful things, and are therefore guilty in God’s sight. Christ becomes a propitiatory sacrifice, thus fully paying the penalty for our sins. He also merits for us by his holy life righteousness that is acceptable to God for eternal life. He does these things for us. It is our sins he destroys on the cross and it is our merit he earns. Thus, because of Christ’s atonement and obedience alone, we who have no righteousness of our own become guiltless and righteous. We add nothing at all to this: Christ’s work is the sole foundation and source of our righteousness before God. Christ thus earns for us the status of completely new creatures in Christ.
2. We experience the fruits of Christ’s work on our behalf, which are imputed to us, as they are applied to us subjectively by the Holy Spirit. By his power, we begin to experience the status of new creatures in our lives as we begin to live as new creatures, our sinful natures being transformed into the image of Christ in holiness. Thus, the break from our old lives that Christ earned for us comes alive in us as we begin to change from being sinful and thus displeasing to God and become conformed to Christ’s holiness, living a life that pleases him and glorifies him, thus fulfilling the law and the purpose for which we were made. This process of the subjective application of Christ’s work to our lives, which is never perfect in this life, begins in regeneration, continues through a life of sanctification and is completed in our glorification, when our old nature will be completely done away with and we will be perfect in holiness.
The differences between us concern certain aspects of number 2 above. In my view, as the imputed righteousness of Christ comes alive in us, we come to be conformed personally and in our experience to our new status that Christ earned for us and imputed to us. This means that this righteousness within us fulfills the law. While the Reformed tradition has viewed our internal regeneration and sanctification as unable to meet the law’s requirements, I see it as capable of doing so. Note that this does not mean that WE merit by virtue of this internal righteousness. Our sanctification is God’s work in us, rather than being from us. We did not produce it; it is the application to us of Christ’s imputed righteousness. Therefore we cannot merit from it. If it were ours inherently or intrinsically, we could merit from it, but it is not. It is ours simply by gift. Just as our righteousness is given to us graciously at first, so it remains ours only by God’s grace to all eternity. Also, it adds nothing in terms of merit to the right we have to eternal life by Christ’s imputed righteousness. Christ’s righteousness imputed to us gives us our full right to eternal life; our sanctification is simply the application of it to us. It realizes or brings us into the experience of this right in our lives and experience, but it does not add to it, as if Christ’s righteousness imputed is not complete or sufficient. It is like the difference between buying a house and moving into it. The house is yours from the moment the purchase is completed. Your moving into it doesn’t add to your possession of it as a right, but it is the fruit of your possession of it. It is your coming into what you have been given. It realizes your new possession. I view our sanctification as bringing home to us and actualizing in us and in our experience the conformity to the law Christ has merited for us. Christ earned for us the satisfaction of our sin; we come into the experience of that in our repentance and crucifying of the flesh, which kill our sins and separate us from them. Christ earned for us righteousness which is pleasing and acceptable to God and which merits the reward of eternal life; we come into the experience of that in our sanctification and good works, which please God and thus merit the promised reward. In this sense, our sanctification is the fruit or realization or actualization in our lives of our justification by Christ’s imputed righteousness. Related to this, another difference between this view and the Reformed view that I see revolves around what is sometimes called the ‘formal cause’ of justification, by which I mean the immediate basis for us being pleasing to God and attaining a moral fitness, or merit, for the reward of eternal life. While as I said above, our sanctification doesn’t add to Christ’s work as it is imputed to us, but rather actualizes it, it does indeed actualize it. Thus the immediate basis for God’s moral approbation of us is Christ’s righteousness as it exists in us, as it has been infused into us by the Holy Spirit. Our sanctification doesn’t add to our right to eternal life, but that right is only realized by the righteousness being in us. To return to the house analogy mentioned above, your right to your new house is not added to by your moving into the house, but until you do so, your life is still the same experientially as it was before you gained a right to the house. In the Reformed view, since sanctification is not seen as matching up to Christ’s imputed righteousness but as being essentially defective as to moral fitness to reward, the immediate ground of our change of relationship to God cannot be Christ’s righteousness being in us, but must remain Christ’s righteousness outside of us. We might express this, as long as it is understood the way I have expressed it here, by saying that the ultimate cause of our acceptance with God in both views is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, but the immediate cause of our acceptance, or the immediate basis of our change of status experientially or as actualized, is Christ’s righteousness imputed in the Reformed view and Christ’s righteousness infused in my view. That is, the right to eternal life works or comes into effect for us simply by being imputed in the Reformed view; it works or comes into effect for us by being infused into us in my view.
This document is dated 4/27/2003. In looking for points of agreement with the Reformed position, I emphasize again that we are justified by Christ's righteousness imputed to us. I also strongly affirm the Calvinistic doctrines regarding election and free will. (Though I don't have time here to go into this, I should note that, while my comments on election and free will will sound harsh to Catholic ears to some degree, really I was not affirming anything here substantially that I would deny today as a Catholic. For example, here I deny the cooperation of the will with grace, but if you look closely you will see that what I am denying is a kind of cooperation where there is thought to be an independent contribution of the will--that is, the will contributes something of its own which is not itself also a product of grace. I would not have denied that the will, moved by grace, cooperates with grace, but my language reflects Calvinist rather than Catholic terminology. This is a good example of how Calvinists and Catholics can talk past each other. When Calvinists hear "the will cooperating with grace," they think of the Semipelagian idea that the will contributes some saving good of its own apart from grace, and so they deny this. But when they deny it, Catholics hear a denial of free will's involvement altogether, while, in reality, Calvinists do affirm the involvement of free will moved by grace. See here and here for more on these subjects.)
In my points of disagreement, as with the previous document, I state that Reformed and Augustinians disagree in that Augustinians hold sanctification to be the immediate ground of God's acceptance of us in terms of actual experience (while imputation is fully sufficient to give us a right to that experience because it is God's declaring this experience to belong to us), while the Reformed hold that imputation alone is the immediate ground of God's being pleased with us and accepting us as actually righteous. I also again state that the Reformed believe that sanctification, even when completed after this life, is inadequate to meet the law's standards and so cannot provide the immediate ground for God's acceptance of us, whereas Augustinians hold the opposite.
I make use of Francis Turretin (the great seventeenth-century Reformed theologian) in my attempt to bridge my gap with the Reformed view. Particularly, I cite his five reasons why sanctification cannot be meritorious, and I show where I agree and disagree with Turretin. One note here: I argue with Turretin about whether a work has to be "undue" in order to be meritorious. As I will note in another document later on, Turretin's statement confused me here because it seemed too "commercial"--as if we were talking about "merit" as a kind of transaction where I am giving one thing to buy something else. In my view, "merit" is more about moral fitness--that is, that something is either pleasing or displeasing to God and so attains God's reward or punishment. I eventually come to understand Turretin to be saying that we cannot give God something of our own which is not his gift in order to intrinsically, without grace, deserve God to give us eternal life. Interpreted that way, I would agree with Turretin, for all our goodness is a product and gift of God's grace. We can only "buy" God's pleasure with the gifts he has freely given us. At any rate, I am attempting here to use Turretin's arguments to show that my own view, even on Turretin's Reformed terms, cannot be considered to amount to a denial of justification by Christ's righteousness in favor of a doctrine of justification by our own merit.
POINTS OF AGREEMENT:
1. Out of the mass of corruption and evil that fallen man has become, God has elected a certain number to eternal life out of his free grace alone, without foresight of faith or any good works in anyone. We all deserve nothing but hell, but God has chosen to save some out of his mercy alone.
2. God sent Christ to purchase redemption for his elect by taking upon himself our sins, suffering for them and satisfying God’s justice for them, and meriting for us by his holy life, sacrifice, and resurrection righteousness. By virtue of his satisfaction and righteousness, which he imputes to us, we come to be forgiven of our sins and to possess a righteousness which is acceptable to God and his law and which merits eternal life. Thus, Christ’s sacrifice and righteousness imputed to us is the meritorious cause of our justification.
3. God applies the benefits of Christ’s atonement to us by uniting us to Christ through the Holy Spirit.
4. Because we are only justified by Christ’s righteousness and not by our own, we in ourselves always have deserved and always will deserve nothing but hell and can never merit anything good from God. All our merit is God’s gift, and we rely on him for it completely and give him all the glory. We are thus justified by grace alone through faith alone and not by works to any degree.
5. When God regenerates us, he works through his Spirit with effectual and irresistible power, so that our conversion is accomplished not by grace cooperating with our free will, but by grace alone, without any contribution from our free will. Our good will is entirely a product of grace. Likewise, the preservation and growth of holiness in us is by God’s grace alone, without contribution from our free will in such a way that free will contributes something not itself given it by grace, and thus God assures that by his grace alone we will never fall away but will persevere to the end.
POINTS OF DISAGREEMENT:
1. While we both agree that Christ’s righteousness imputed to us gives us the full right to a status of righteousness before God and thus to eternal life, because it is the meritorious cause of our justification, and that nothing can ever be or need ever be added to that merit, we disagree over how we actually come into our possession of Christ’s righteousness, how it becomes actualized as ours or how it is applied to us. The difference between these two things can be compared to the difference between purchasing a house and moving into it. In the classic Reformed view, our possession of Christ’s righteousness is actualized by means of an external actualization which in itself does not involve any internal change (although internal change is inseparable from it and always accompanies it). In the Augustinian view, our ownership of Christ’s righteousness is actualized by means of its being imparted to us and becoming our character internally. This imparted righteousness is identical with our regeneration and sanctification. Thus, in the Reformed view, the immediate ground of our becoming morally acceptable to God and his law is Christ’s righteousness considered only as imputed or as external to us and our character. In the Augustinian view, the immediate ground of our becoming morally acceptable to God and his law is Christ’s righteousness as it exists within us and has become our character.
2. In accordance with the difference just mentioned, the Reformed and Augustinian positions differ also on the value of our inherent righteousness, or the righteousness we have by virtue of being new creatures in Christ. In the Reformed view, this righteousness is considered inadequate to fulfill the requirements of God’s law, which points out the need for another external righteousness to accomplish that task so that we might be justified. In the Augustinian view, Christ’s righteousness imparted is considered adequate to fulfill the requirements of the law (though we recognize and point out that we have not come into a full possession of it yet and thus that there is a remnant of sin in us which still draws God’s disapproval – and yet our dominant character is in accordance with the law because grace reigns in us. Eventually, after this life, we will be made perfectly conformable to the law by virtue of internal righteousness.). There is thus no need for any other righteousness besides Christ’s righteousness imparted to us in regeneration and sanctification.
In order to clear some of the understanding of the Augustinian view with regard to the issue of merit, it is helpful to examine typical Reformed explanations for why we cannot merit by virtue of our sanctification. What we will see is that although I disagree about some of these points, I agree on at least one of them and thus, by typical Reformed standards, my view does not claim that we merit anything with God and is not a doctrine of justification by works but one of justification by grace (which I have always affirmed anyway).
Francis Turretin can express the standard approach to this in Reformed literature. According to Turretin, these five conditions are demanded for “true merit’:
1. It must be undue. That is, it cannot be owed to God as a debt.
2. It must be our own. It cannot be the gift of God.
3. It must be absolutely perfect.
4. It must be proportionate to the reward.
5. A reward must be due to it by justice.
My (very brief and partial) response to these is as follows:
1. I do not think merit must be undue to be true merit. In this case, there could be no true merit in all of reality, since the nature of obedience is that it is fulfilling a requirement. Certainly, our obedience which we render to God in sanctification is a debt and is not undue, but it is still true merit nonetheless. I define merit not as “giving someone what is not due to them” but as “moral fitness to a reward.”
2. I agree with Turretin here. We cannot merit by virtue of something that is a gift. If our sanctification is a gift of grace, then it is not our merit in the sense Turretin is discussing here. We merit nothing by it. It is ours not intrinsically but simply because it is given to us.
3. I understand the relationship between our imperfections and our obedience differently from Turretin, so I do not think this requirement successfully disqualifies our sanctification from being meritorious. But I cannot explain further now.
4. I believe our sanctification is proportionate to the reward of eternal life, in the same way our sin is proportionate to eternal death.
5. I believe that our sanctification has eternal life due to it as a matter of justice (although I understand this not in the sense that it is undue or not a debt but in the sense that it has a “moral fitness” to the reward).
Obviously, this brings up much to discuss. What I have endeavored to show here is simply that by Turretin’s requirements,who is representative of typical Reformed requirements generally, my view excludes human merit from justification, and I accept that judgment and indeed affirm it strongly. My view is justification by grace through faith and not justification by works.
This document is dated 5/8/2003. Here I attempt, briefly, to restate my own position in language amenable to Reformed people. I do so by defining "merit" in the sense of "personal merit, what belongs to me apart from it being a gift of grace," and in that sense I affirm that we have no personal merit. Our merit is solely a gift, meaning it can only be imputed to us (declared ours by God as a free gift), and sanctification does not add to that but is nothing more than the fruit of that imputation worked out in our actual experience. Sanctification, being a gift from God, gives us no personal merit, though it does please God. If we had imputation without sanctification, we would have a right to please God and be acceptable to him in actuality and experience but we would never actually attain to this. If we had sanctification without imputation, we would, in our experience, be pleasing to God, but we would not have a right to be pleasing to God.
Here’s another attempt at a perspective on my position to add to our progress in clarifying my ideas:
As sinners, we cannot meet the law’s demands and so are condemned by it. However, Christ has satisfied the law and merited righteousness for us. Those who by God’s grace have faith have their sins pardoned and Christ’s righteousness imputed to them, and by this and this alone they are justified, or declared right before God and his law. This righteous status is not based on our works or even on God’s work in us, but solely on the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness. Inseparably accompanying this new status is our sanctification, whereby we are conformed in our inner character and experience to what we already have by status. This sanctification is the inworking in our experience of our outward status, and therefore presupposes the status and doesn’t add anything to it and is not the basis of it. Justification by imputed righteousness gives us all we need with regard to merit and right to God’s favor and acceptance. Sanctification makes us inwardly pleasing to God and fit to dwell with his holiness, and brings us to experience what we have been given by right of imputation. These are inseparable aspects of salvation and our union with Christ (as Calvin said, “Is Christ divided?”) and indeed are interwoven and imply each other. Insofar as we must distinguish, we must attribute the merit to the imputed righteousness, which the internal righteousness forms no part of the basis of, and the experience to the internal righteousness. If we were to ask what would happen if we could have one without the other, we must first answer, it cannot be, since they are intrinsically inseparable and imply each other and are absurd without each other. But if we try to make the division, we must say that if we were to have the imputed righteousness without the inward, we would never come to experience what we have by right; we would never please God, though we would merit his acceptance. If we were to have the inward sanctification without the outward status, we would be pleasing to God and experience his pleasure without having any merit before the law making us acceptable to God, and on the contrary would merit rejection and wrath from God by his law.
This document is dated 5/12/2003. Here I succinctly state what I perceive to be the most fundamental points of difference between my own Augustinian view and the Reformed view. It is similar to what I've stated in previous documents. I add here that even if we say that sanctification is a fruit of imputation and is therefore grounded in imputation rather than the other way around (because our receiving righteousness in our actual lives and experience is a fruit of God's deciding to grant us ownership of that righteousness and thereby make it legally ours), yet there is a very real sense in which imputation is grounded in sanctification. Imputation only gives us a right to be acceptable as righteous before God because it anticipates sanctification which is what, in actuality, makes us righteous before God. Imputation is a promise that we will be sanctified and thus be acceptable to God. The substance and fulfillment of imputation is sanctification.
Points of disagreement:
1. In my view, Christ’s righteousness within us (especially considered as completed after our death and resurrection) truly matches the righteous status given us. That is, it truly conforms to the law and thus truly merits eternal life. In the Protestant view, it is considered imperfect (even when sanctification is completed, due to past sin) and thus never conforms to the law and merits eternal life.
2. In my view, while our status comes before our sanctification and thus our sanctification is in a real sense based on our status rather than the other way around, still our status finds its grounding in our sanctification in that without that it would be an inappropriate status. To use an analogy, if a frog is declared by an act of omnipotent law to be a human being and given that status, it is necessary that the frog then actually become a human being. If he did not, the status would be inappropriate and in fact a lie, seeing it never has any correspondence with any reality. The declaration only makes sense if the frog then becomes in reality what it has been declared to be. So the reality that makes appropriate and truthful the declaration that the ungodly are now godly, or righteous, is that the ungodly then become godly, and in that sense the status is grounded in it. The status goes before, but still has reference to the subsequent change. In the Protestant view, no one ever becomes actually righteous (in the sense of “conformed to the law so as to fulfill it and merit eternal life”), and so the reality which grounds the status must be found in something other than the subsequent change. It seems to me it is rooted, in the classic Protestant view, in the declaration and status itself, so that imputed righteousness refers only to itself and has no reference to the subsequent change (although the subsequent change inseparably and infallibly accompanies it).
This document is dated 5/13/2003. Once again, I articulate my own view using the language of imputation and sanctification. In my version of this, "imputation" means that God has promised us Christ's righteousness and legally transferred ownership of it to us, making it ours by a legal declaration. As a result of this, he actually gives us Christ's righteousness, and all its benefits, when he sanctifies us. Really, we could say that, in my view, what is promised in imputation is "that Christ's righteousness will be given to us, infused into us, making us righteous, and in that way make us actually morally pleasing and acceptable to God and thus fit for the reward of eternal life which is the natural and appropriate fruit of his being pleased with us." Really, what is imputed is sanctification, and then, obviously, receiving sanctification fulfills the promise of imputation and actualizes it. It is like buying a book on Amazon.com. Once you've paid for the book it is legally yours, but you don't get anything out of that until the book actually arrives in the mail. In the Reformed view, on the other hand, because they hold that the righteousness of sanctification never really meets the standards of God's law so as to be morally acceptable to him and thus merit the reward of eternal life, they have to look for another way in which imputation is actualized, and they look just to the imputation itself apart from sanctification. Merely by imputation alone, not only are we given a right to be made acceptable to God, but we are actually, in reality and in our experience, made right with God, and he is wholly pleased with us and thus rewards us with eternal life. This would be like getting the "your order has been received" email from Amazon.com and finding in that the complete fulfillment of buying the book, without any consideration of the book itself ever being received (and, in fact, the book is never really received--that is, our sanctification, in the Reformed view, never meets the standards of "acceptable righteousness" in God's law). This is how I viewed the Reformed view at this time and thus why I considered my Augustinian view to differ from it. But, as you can see, I'm working hard to see if I can understand the Reformed language in a better way, a way that would reconcile it with Augustinianism, and if I can state my Augustinian view in a way that would be true to it but would also pass the acceptability test among the Reformed.
My frog story, I think, helps to bring out what I'm trying to say here. I'm still using that analogy to this day to talk about this.
Justification: We are sinful and have done sinful things, and are therefore guilty in God’s sight. Christ becomes a propitiatory sacrifice, thus fully paying the penalty for our sins. He also merits for us by his holy life righteousness that is acceptable to God for eternal life. He does these things for us. It is our sins he destroys on the cross and it is our merit he earns. Thus, because of Christ’s atonement and obedience alone, we who have no righteousness of our own become guiltless and righteous. We add nothing at all to this: Christ’s work is the sole foundation and source of our righteousness before God. Christ thus earns for us the status of completely new creatures in Christ.
Sanctification: We experience the fruits of Christ’s work on our behalf as they are applied to us subjectively by the Holy Spirit. By his power, we begin to experience the status of new creatures in our lives as we begin to live as new creatures, our sinful natures being transformed into the image of Christ in holiness. Thus, the break from our old lives that Christ earned for us comes alive in us as we begin to change from being sinful and thus displeasing to God and become conformed to Christ’s holiness, living a life that pleases him and glorifies him, thus fulfilling the law and the purpose for which we were made. This process of the subjective application of Christ’s work to our lives, which is never perfect in this life, begins in regeneration, continues through a life of sanctification and is completed in our glorification, when our old nature will be completely done away with and we will be perfect in holiness.
We can see from the above that sanctification is the fruit of justification, as these terms are defined above. Christ’s work on our behalf is legally declared to be ours, both for pardon and for merit. God says, in effect, “I legally declare Christ’s satisfaction for sin and his righteousness to belong to Mark Hausam, with all the implications and benefits thereof.” And the result of this legal declaration is that I now own Christ’s righteousness and thus come to experience (partly in this life, wholly in eternity) the benefits of being righteous like Christ: Christ has friendship with the Father; so do I. Christ has a true vision of the ugliness of sin; so do I. Christ recognizes his Father as supremely valuable and praiseworthy, and he loves him and delights in him with his whole heart; so do I. Christ lives a life that is pleasing to his Father and thus gains his Father’s approval and reward; so do I. All that Christ has because of who he is as a righteous Son, I have as well because God has given it to me and declared it legally mine. Thus, sanctification is the fruit of justification. When someone buys a house, once the house is legally declared to belong to him, he then receives all of the benefits of the house, including getting to move into it and live in it.
Let me illustrate thus with a story: Once upon a time, there was a frog who wanted to be a prince. Specifically, he admired the handsomeness of princes and was painfully aware that frogs do not usually get high marks in this department. So he went to the local governor (who was a very magical person) and asked him to make him a prince. The governor made up a contract which declared that the identity of prince was now legally granted to the frog with all the benefits thereof, especially handsomeness. The governor asked the frog to sign on the dotted line, telling him that once he did so, the legal transaction would be complete. So, excitedly, the frog signed his name (don’t ask me how) on the dotted line. As soon as he had done so, he was magically transformed into a handsome prince, and ended up marrying some princess and ruling over some kingdom somewhere, living, of course, happily ever after.
What I want to point out in this story is the unbreakable connection between the legal declaration that the frog is now a prince and his immediate transformation into a prince, with all the handsomeness thereof. If the legal contract was not going to be a fake, the frog had to have the transformation. If he remained a frog, the contract would prove false and broken, because what was “deeded over” to the frog was, among other things, handsomeness. He wanted to look like a prince, probably to please a princess or something. The contract was fulfilled in the transformation. The transformation was the fruit of the contract. Similarly, when Christ’s righteousness is “deeded over” to us, the fruits of that transaction include becoming personally righteous and pleasing to God. If we are not sanctified, then we remain loathsome to God and never experience the benefits of being righteous like Christ, and the legal imputation of Christ’s righteousness is broken because we do not actually get to experience what was legally declared to be ours. So sanctification is coming to experience in our state what we have been legally given with regard to our status. It is the imputation bearing its fruits and effects and therefore being fulfilled.
It is important to note in all of this that we are justified solely by the righteousness of another, of Christ, and not at all by our own righteousness. When we had no righteousness of our own, God declared Christ’s righteousness ours, and this is the sole basis for our right to forgiveness of sins and eternal life as God’s children. This imputed righteousness brings us in itself, before God’s law, the status of being forgiven and righteous, logically prior to its bearing its fruit in us. Indeed, this imputed righteousness comes alive in us and in our experience in sanctification, but this doesn’t add to Christ’s merit imputed to us, but is the outworking and fruit of it. This sanctification, at least when it is finished, will match up fully to the status, and thus will be truly acceptable to the law, or meritorious. But we will never merit anything by it, it will never be meritorious to us, because it is not our righteousness but is the outworking of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. It does not add to Christ’s righteousness imputed, but is its fruit, or outworking, in our lives and experience. We have never had, we don’t have now, and we never will have any merit of our own, but our only merit is that of Christ imputed to us graciously, which imputation bears the fruit of holiness in our lives by the grace of God.
This document is dated 5/13/2003. It continues along the same lines as the previous documents, and shows me continuing to try to figure out how to articulate my position in a Reformed-friendly way. Again, I light on the distinction between sanctification meriting God's acceptance and favor and eternal life vs. us meriting God's favor by our own personal merit as if we contributed something of our own apart from grace. If the Reformed mean the latter when they reject the concept of "merit," then I can agree with them, but not if they mean the former (that is, not if they mean that sanctification itself, in itself, considered in its own nature, is not good enough to be acceptable to God.)
1. As creatures, we are incapable of merit. God can never owe anything good to us as a matter of justice, though he can owe evil to us. Even without saving grace, everything we have is purely a gift, and if we receive any blessing, it is simply that God has freely chosen to bless us. We are nothing in ourselves, and God owes nothing good to nothing. But when we corrupt his gifts, he truly, and in strict justice, owes us condemnation.
2. However, God is bound by his goodness to bless his own works and image, since he is bound to favor himself and his glory which his works and image reflect. So when God freely chose to give us being, he bound himself to bless us in proportion to the value he put upon us in his grace. He is therefore bound to respect his image in us, to delight in our happiness and to hate our suffering, but only in proportion to our worth as those made in God's image. However, since our worth even as endowed with temporal life is nothing compared to God, God is never bound to give eternal blessings to us as creatures.
3. This is compounded by our sinful condition. Being sinners, we not only do not deserve eternal blessings, but we, in strict justice, deserve eternal condemnation under the eternal wrath of God. In ourselves, we are only sinful creatures, and so we can never deserve anything except God's wrath.
4. God has chosen to save his elect people out of the world through Jesus Christ, and to give us eternal blessings in him. Christ accomplished this redemption and eternal life for us by taking upon himself our sins and suffering for them, and by his obedient life producing for us a righteousness, or merit, which deserves eternal life in strict justice, because it is an infinite righteousness, being God's. God is bound to reward this righteousness by his goodness. In salvation, God gives this righteousness to us. Thus, we who have no merit of our own and could never have any merit, being nothing but sinful creatures in ourselves without grace, gain merit purely as a gift through Christ, and thus strict justice comes to demand not our death but our life. The unrighteous receive the righteousness of another as a gift and through this righteousness alone are saved from hell and rewarded with eternal life. Though there are many aspects and descriptions of this redemption, there are two main components, or steps, which are spelled out that concern us now:
a. First, we are declared righteous. We are declared to be free from the guilt of sin and fully in accord with God's law. This declaration is on the basis of Christ's righteousness as it is counted to us, credited to our account, or imputed to us. Considered as having no righteousness in us, or as ungodly, we are declared righteous, or conformed to the law, on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ. We thus come to have the status of righteousness before God and his law based on Christ's righteousness imputed to us.
b. Having this new status, we become conformed inwardly to it by Christ's righteousness coming to live in us. Our character, life, and experience come to match the status given to us. We come to be in reality, in our character and our lives, what we have been declared to be in our status. As we have been declared righteous and conformed to the law by imputation, so we now become internally righteous and conformed to the law by the impartation of Christ's righteousness within us, or by participation in Christ's righteousness, resulting in good works. While this change has occured qualitatively and substantially at the moment of conversion, it is not perfect in this life, and awaits its completion until death and the resurrection. Until then there is a constant struggle against the old nature, the remnant of sin that is still in us. This sanctification adds nothing to our status, which is complete logically prior to it. It is simply the fruit and outworking of imputed righteousness in our lives. Though it is acceptable to the law and therefore by the law merits God’s favor and pleasure, we merit nothing by it, since it is not our righteousness but only the outworking of Christ’s imputed righteousness in us through the agency of the Holy Spirit, and thus does not meet the requirement for a human meritorious work.
This document is dated 5/28/2003. I try to distinguish in what way sanctification is meritorious and in what way it is not, and in doing so I again state how I understand the relationship between imputation (which gives us a right to Christ's righteousness and all its benefits) and sanctification (which delivers to us in actualization and in our experience Christ's righteousness and all its benefits). I also here bring in David Brainerd, the famous Puritan missionary, whose biography was written by Jonathan Edwards, as an ally, showing from quotations how he, too, understood sanctification to be inherently meritorious (though, unlike me, he doesn't actually use that word). I also appeal to William Perkins, another famous Puritan theologian. Quotes like these helped me to come to the conclusion that I could understand Reformed language in a more Augustinian way and articulate my own Augustinianism in Reformed language, thus bridging the gap between my view and the Reformed.
The Brainerd quotes and the Perkins quote are in documents that are quite old and in the public domain. I had ready access to these because at this time I was working full-time on a PhD thesis which involved reading a ton of Puritan and Edwardsian literature. You can see the Brainerd quotations here.
Justification by imputed righteousness gives us the right to eternal life, because it gives us the satisfaction and merit we need to fulfill the law’s requirements. Sanctification is the working out in our experience of the righteousness we have been given a right to in justification. The satisfaction of Christ comes alive in our experience as we suffer with Christ, see the full heinousness of sin, and die to sin and put it to death throughout our life. The righteousness of Christ comes alive in our experience as we become holy and morally pleasing to God.
What is merit? I define merit as a moral fitness to a reward. When there is a moral beauty which necessarily calls forth God’s favor and thus a favorable response from him, there is merit. Likewise, demerit is a moral ugliness which warrants God’s displeasure and an unfavorable reaction from him.
In what way is sanctification not meritorious?
1. Sanctification is not meritorious in that it does not give us the right to Christ’s merit and thus to eternal life. This is accomplished antecedently in the imputation of righteousness. Even after sanctification is accomplished, we still have a right to Christ’s righteousness and thus to eternal life through it only by imputation. The relationship between the two is like the difference between having a piece of software given to you and installing it on your computer (right and experience). If it is given to you by a friend but you don’t install it, you have a right to it and to what it can do, but you don’t get to experience it. If you were to install it without it having been given to you, you would get the benefit of it but you wouldn’t have a right to it. This is the same as justification and sanctification. The imputation gives us a right to Christ’s righteousness; sanctification is the “installation,” as it were, of Christ’s righteousness in our experience. In this sense, the merit is wholly in the imputation and not in the sanctification. This is what Augustine was pointing to (though his articulation was different) when he said that when God rewards us, he is merely crowning his own gifts.
In what way is sanctification meritorious?
1. Sanctification is meritorious in the sense that it truly makes us morally pleasing, or beautiful, to God. That is to say, God truly delights in his image in us when he remakes us in it in sanctification. God cannot but delight in a heart that loves him, since he loves love to himself. God finds us morally repulsive in an unsanctified, unrepentant state, which is why we can’t be in his presence in that condition, since no unclean thing can be in his presence. He cannot even look on sin. So when we die to sin with Christ, when our flesh is crucified with Christ, we are cleansed of this impurity and God no longer is repulsed morally by us, and when we are reborn or resurrected with Christ to a new life of holiness, like a phoenix rising out of its own ashes, we become morally beautiful and delightful to him, and he cannot but delight in his work and image in us. In this way, sanctification makes it fitting that we should be delighted in by God, and this is what I mean when I call sanctification meritorious.
David Brainerd seems to express the same thing I mean when I say that sanctification is meritorious in these two quotes from his diary (published by Jonathan Edwards):
444 – “The exercise of these Godlike tempers, wherein the soul acts in a kind of concert with God, and would be and do everything that is pleasing to God; this, I saw, would stand by the soul in a dying hour; for God must, I think, ‘deny himself’ [II Tim. 2:13] if he casts away ‘his own image’ [Gen. 1:27], even the soul that is one in desires with himself.”
449 – “I saw further that as this divine temper, whereby the soul exalts God and treads self in the dust, is wrought in the soul by God’s discovering his own glorious perfections ‘in the face of Jesus Christ’ [II Cor. 4:6] to it, by the special influences of the Holy Spirit, so he cannot but have regard to it, as his own work; and as it is his image in the soul, he cannot but take delight in it. Then I saw again that if God should slight and reject his own moral image, he must needs ‘deny himself’ [II Tim. 2:13]; which he cannot do. And thus I saw the stability and infallibility of this religion, and that those who are truly possessed of it have the most complete and satisfying evidence of their being interested in all the benefits of Christ’s redemption, having their hearts conformed to him; and that these and these only are qualified for the employments and entertainments of God’s kingdom of glory; as none but these have any relish for the business of heaven, which is to ascribe glory to God and not to themselves; and that God (though I would speak it with great reverence of his Name and perfections) cannot, without denying himself, finally cast such away.”
William Perkins expresses something like part of what I mean by our dying with Christ to sin cleansing us from our moral repugnance to God in this quote:
442-443 – “In man wee must consider his estate by nature, and his estate by grace. In the first, hee and his flesh are all one, for they are as man and wife: therefore one is accessary to the doings of the other. When the flesh sinneth, the man also sinneth, that is in subjection to the flesh; yea when the flesh perisheth, the man likewise perisheth beeing in this estate, with the flesh: a louing couple, they are, they lieu and die together. But in the estate of grace though a man haue the flesh in him, yet hee and his flesh are diuorced asunder. This diuorcement is made, when a man beginnes to dislike and to hate his flesh, and the euill fruites of it: this separation beeing made, they are no more one, but twaine, and the one hath nothing to doe with the other. In this case though the flesh beget sinne and perish therefore, yet the Christian man shall not incurre damnation for it. To come more neere the matter; you say the flesh begets in you wauerings, doubtings, and distrustings: what then? it troubleth you, but feare not, remember your estate: you are diuorced from the flesh, and you are new married unto Christ: if these sinnes bee laide at your doore, account them not as your children, but renounce them as bastards: say with Paul, I doubt indeede, but I hate my doubtings, and I am no cause of these, but the flesh in me which shal perish, when I shall bee saued by Christ.”
This document is dated 6/6/2003. A lot of interesting things here. I'm starting to think that I can reconcile with the Reformed position, but I'm not quite sure. I'm more and more feeling I can use the Reformed language in articulating my position. (Note that my Augustinian position hasn't changed a hair's breadth throughout any of this, nor will it change in what comes later. All that is changing is my sense of whether or not I can understand the Reformed view in a way consistent with my Augustinianism and thus whether or not I can express my Augustinianism, non-deceptively, in Reformed terms.)
One interesting thing here is that I articulate what basically amounts to the Catholic doctrine of the "temporal consequences of sin," which is the root of things like penance, purgatory, indulgences, etc. (see here and here for more on this)--though, at this time, I don't think I even had any of these Catholic ideas on my radar screen. My own thinking, rooted in Scripture and reason, basically came to a Catholic point of view on satisfaction and penance without being brought there by the Catholic tradition itself.
I've got quotes here from the great Puritan theologian and philosopher Jonathan Edwards that show that he viewed the meritoriousness of moral goodness in a way similar to how I did (though he would never have put it that way, and I would say now that other things he says elsewhere seem to critique the Augustinian view). Moral goodness, by its intrinsic nature, is pleasing to God and deserving of reward, just as moral evil is displeasing and deserving of punishment. It follows from this that inasmuch as a moral creature is morally good, he deserves happiness (in the sense of having a moral fitness to it), and the reverse. But this implies that unsanctification is intrinsically connected to being unacceptable to God and receiving punishment from him, while being in a perfectly sanctified state would imply being perfectly acceptable to God and rewarded by him with happiness. So, as with Brainerd and Perkins (and others), I found things in Reformed authors which are inconsistent with what I had thought to be the Reformed view, which makes sanctification not inherently pleasing to God such as to be acceptable to him. These authors seemed to suggest that the Reformed view could be understood in an Augustinian manner (despite the inability of these same Reformed authors to grasp that), and thus encouraged me to think I might be able to reconcile myself to the Reformed point of view.
I give here what I think is a helpful way of distinguishing how sanctification is meritorious from how it is not and in this way express a possible difference and concern with the Reformed position: "Perhaps it might be appropriate to represent my belief here by saying that I believe that if sanctification were our work, we would merit by it (in the sense of being intrinsically worthy of praise eternally because of it), but since it is not, we don’t. This point, and the quote from the confession, seem to be saying that even if sanctification were our work intrinsically without grace, we would not be worthy of praise and eternal life for it. This seems to deny that God is ever truly pleased with his work in us." This gets at, I think, the key issue. Why is sanctification not meritorious? Is it because there is something inherently defective about it in its own nature, or is it defective only when it is considered as if it were an offering from us trying to earn something from it as if we had produced it ourselves by ourselves (rather than it being a product of God's grace)? To use an analogy, if my friend gives me $20, the $20, in its own nature, is sufficient to buy, say, a pair of gloves. On the other hand, we wouldn't say that I had earned a pair of gloves by using the $20 to pay for them, for the $20 was a gift. So we can talk about the $20 meriting the gloves in one way but not in another. I think a key point upon which this attempted reconciliation of Augustinianism and Reformed thought turns is going to be whether sanctification, in its own nature, meets the requirements of God's law to be acceptable to him, or whether it does not. If it does not, then there is an unavoidable breach between Augustinianism and the Reformed position. If it does, then there might be reconciliation. (At this time, I was starting to think that perhaps reconciliation was possible. Now, 16-19 years later, I've begun to reassess this and wonder if the gap might indeed be unbridgeable.)
The state of things at this point:
I can agree that all our merit is based in imputed righteousness. We do not merit by our works, or by our sanctification, but only by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. I agree with the classic Reformed position that sanctification cannot be meritorious.
I would insist, however, that sanctification is truly morally pleasing to God. God delights in it. I would also say that unholiness in our life, even given justification, is morally displeasing to God. In an unholy condition, we are morally repulsive to him, and he cannot accept us in that condition, even though justified. This seems allowable to the traditional Reformed explanation, as they assert that God will allow no unclean thing into his presence, and so we must be sanctified. Saying our sanctified state is truly pleasing to God seems agreeable to classic Reformed sentiment as well. I would also suggest that when we are sanctified, it is by a death to sin and by a rebirth in righteousness. It involves suffering, as we see our sins for what they really are, understand God’s wrath and hatred against them, and are truly repulsed by them ourselves and sorry for them. It also involves suffering as we endure the testimonies of God’s displeasure against sin in this world in the form of many temporal sufferings, and as we must struggle against sin and put it to death. I acknowledge that our sufferings, repentance, and dying to sin do not give us a right to pardon and that we do not satisfy by them, since pardon, like positive merit, is fully based in the imputation of Christ’s suffering and righteousness. However, there is an appropriateness to the fact that we must die in order to live, and there would be a moral unfitness if we were to be sanctified without the suffering that comes with the transition. It is appropriate, in other words, that we see our condition for what it truly is and that God manifest his displeasure against it before it is wholly eradicated in our lives.
I anticipate that the above will be fully agreeable to you. We may also be able to come to terms with my agreement with David Brainerd’s comments (which can be found in one of the earlier documents I sent you). I would agree with Brainerd that when God recreates his image in us in sanctification, it is pleasing to him such that he cannot but delight in it and cannot finally cast those who possess it away without denying himself. God, loving himself and his glory supremely, necessarily loves his own image in us and it is appropriate therefore for him to crown it, though we merit nothing by it. Let me give a couple of quotes from Jonathan Edwards illustrating this a little more:
“Worthiness is of the essence of moral goodness, and universally and necessarily attends it, as much as guilt or blame attends sin or moral evil. As all moral evil is blameworthy, and worthy of abhorrence and the fruits of abhorrence, so all moral goodness is praiseworthy, worthy of acceptance, approbation, and of the fruits of acceptance and approbation;”
“The thing which makes sin hateful, is that by which it deserves punishment; which is but the expression of hatred. And that, which renders virtue lovely, is that on account of which it is fit to receive praise and reward; which are but the expressions of esteem and love. But that which makes vice hateful, is its hateful Nature; and that which renders virtue lovely, is its amiable Nature. It is a certain beauty or deformity that are inherent in that good or evil will, which is the soul of virtue and vice, . . . which is their worthiness of esteem or disesteem, praise or dispraise,”
Thus, I understand Brainerd to be saying that there is a certain moral beauty in our sanctification which makes it morally appropriate for God to love it, be pleased with it, and accept it, (“Well done, good and faithful servant”) etc., just as there is a moral ugliness in our unholiness which makes it appropriate for God, in his holiness, not to accept it into his presence but to cast it out (“Without holiness no man shall see the Lord”). We may be able to agree on this, or at least you may be able to tolerate my position here, as long as I maintain, which I do, that we do not merit anything by this holiness in us, all our merit being based solely in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us. We possess a right to eternal life solely on the basis of imputation.
Here is where I see some potential problems standing in the way of our agreement which I’m not sure how to resolve or if they are resolvable yet: I am going to, as I have before, invoke Turretin’s list of reasons why sanctification is not meritorious, and discuss my thoughts on each of them. As I have pointed out before, this is a common list in Reformed literature of the time, with some variations but very substantial agreement (even in form):
According to Turretin, sanctification cannot be meritorious because these requirements are necessary for a meritorious work:
1. It must be undue. That is, it cannot be owed to God as a debt.
2. It must be our own. It cannot be the gift of God.
3. It must be absolutely perfect.
4. It must be proportionate to the reward.
5. A reward must be due to it by justice.
Before I go into an interaction with these points, I want to quote Turretin from a page before he enumerates these points: “Biel defines merit to be ‘a work imputable to praise’ (i.e., worthy of praise) . . . . If our opponents would be content with this meaning, there would be no controversy. For no one denies that the good works of the believer are worthy of praise.” This is all I want to affirm about our sanctification, as my previous discussion of the subject has hopefully made clear. Now, on to the points:
1. This point seems to be dealing with a different definition of merit from the one I hold. My idea of merit is a quality in something making it morally pleasing and thus worthy of praise or moral approbation, as I have said. This point seems to think of merit in a commercial sort of way, as if we to merit means to buy something from God, to give him some kind of “money” in order to get his favor. I don’t approve of this “money” image, nor when I speak of sanctification as being pleasing to God and worthy of praise do I mean to suggest that our sanctification buys God off. In fact, in my understanding of merit, something cannot be meritorious unless it is owed. Also, as creatures, God can never owe anything to us. Thus, our reward is purely grace. All our merit is in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. So God owes us nothing.
2. As I have pointed out before, I wholly agree with this point. Surely we cannot merit anything with something that is not our own. This is the conclusive, key point, as I see it, which forever rules out human merit. We can never possess merit intrinsically. All our merit is in imputation, and this point explains why.
3. If we are defining merit as ‘being pleasing to God,’ this is not true, since even in our imperfect state God’s work in us is pleasing to him. And this is much more the case when it will be perfected in us, and God will wholly delight in his complete, perfected image in us. We will be completely morally pleasing to God. But if merit refers to the right to God’s favor, I agree that one sin forever eradicates our ability to merit, because, considered in ourselves without imputation, we would be forever guilty of that one sin, and all of God’s work in us would not be counted for us since it is not ours intrinsically but a gift.
4. This is one place where we may have some difficulty coming to agreement. Now, if we are talking about ourselves and our works apart from imputation, then I agree wholeheartedly that nothing we do from ourselves or which we have a claim to intrinsically can be proportionate to the reward. Rather, anything we as creatures can contribute, would always be an infinite distance removed from it. But it seems that more is implied here than simply this. The Westminster Confession says, “We cannot, by our best works, merit pardon of sin, or eternal life, at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come . . .” One of the things this seems to be saying is that God’s work in us is not proportionate to the reward. But I understand the reward to simply be God’s delight in us because of his work in us and the fruit of that (“Well done, good and faithful servant”). So this seems to suggest that there is nothing in our sanctification that truly delights God such that he praises and rewards it forever. I see our sanctification as possessing such moral beauty to God that he receives us into his presence and rewards his work in us with his eternal delight in us because we reflect him. If this is true, it seems that our sanctification would possess a proportion to the reward, although I would again state that this doesn’t imply that we merit anything by it, since all our merit can only be in imputation. Perhaps it might be appropriate to represent my belief here by saying that I believe that if sanctification were our work, we would merit by it (in the sense of being intrinsically worthy of praise eternally because of it), but since it is not, we don’t. This point, and the quote from the confession, seem to be saying that even if sanctification were our work intrinsically without grace, we would not be worthy of praise and eternal life for it. This seems to deny that God is ever truly pleased with his work in us.
5. If this refers to the concept of an undue work, my comments on point 1 apply here. If this simply means that the work must have a moral beauty which makes it appropriate necessarily for God to love and bless it, then I agree that our sanctification possesses that, though, of course, I do not believe that we merit by it.
Summing all of this up, I can agree that our merit is wholly based in the imputation of Christ righteousness to us and not at all in our sanctification. We only merit, or have a right to eternal life or to God’s favor, by imputation. However, I believe that God’s work in us has such a morally beautiful character, and thus such a value to God, that he cannot but delight in it and cannot with moral appropriateness reject it, and that for eternity, and I believe that in this sense, it has a proportion to the reward, though it is not undue or merely optional, but owed to God, and required by him.
This very short document is dated 6/10/2003. I don't really have anything to add here beyond what I've said earlier.
Merit – When something has sufficient power within itself for the attaining of something else, so that it attains it necessarily, we say it merits that thing. Merit in a moral sense refers to the ability of righteousness, or moral beauty, to attain God’s favor and blessing.
This document is dated 6/11/2003. Some of the above documents seem to be written as intended to be sent to someone. This one, however, seems to be simply my own personal brainstorming notes. I'm brainstorming how I might try to bridge the Augustinian-Reformed gap.
What I'm saying about Arminians below in the first #2 is that Calvinists typically accuse Arminians of effectively bringing in a doctrine of personal merit because they hold that the choice of the will to follow Christ is something produced from the will itself apart from grace (thus making Arminianism a form of Semipelagianism - for more on this, see here). But this charge only holds up if the good choice of the will merits God's acceptance, which implies an Augustinian rather than a Reformed view. In the Reformed view, because of previous sin, the good choice of the will merits nothing from God, and so it doesn't matter in terms of merit whether it comes from us ultimately or is also a product of grace. I'm basically trying to argue that the classic Calvinist critique of Arminianism depends partly on an Augustinian understanding of good works and merit.
Some interesting stuff in the "How to proceed" paragraph. I'm continuing to try to use Protestant authors as allies. I believed at that time that Luther was more of an Augustinian than in sync with the Reformed on the point of how justification relates to sanctification. I still think that Luther, at least earlier on, when he wrote Bondage of the Will, was very Augustinian (though he's got some nuances, particularly with regard to how he understands free will, that I still don't think I fully grasp yet.) He may still have been pretty Augustinian later in his life, though he starts talking about imputation more as he gets older. At any rate, I wanted to use him and others as allies--trying to find people Reformed people would respect saying the same things I was saying.
We can see here also where I thought my version of Augustinianism differed from the Catholic view (the "Romanist" view, as I call it here, imitating Protestant language). I knew that the Catholic position is Augustinian, but I thought they had fudged on the doctrine of free will and grace, playing around with Semipelagianism to some degree. I saw (and still see) Semipelagianism as indeed implying a fatal doctrine of personal merit, so I felt severely critical of Rome on that point. (Since then, I've come to see Rome's view in a different light as I've come to understand it better, as you can see here and here.)
There is an interesting and helpful articulation of the "right vs. experience" distinction in here. Again, what I was trying to say was that imputation gives us a legal right, a legal ownership, of Christ's righteousness and its benefits, while sanctification gives us actual, experiential possession of Christ's righteousness and its benefits. Again, put another way (but a way I suspect would bug the Reformed significantly, but still a helpful way), imputation gives us a legal right to sanctification and its benefits, while sanctification, of course, delivers those benefits to us to actually enjoy. It actualizes what is promised to us in imputation. We're promised that we would love God and God would find us pleasing to him, and that comes about in sanctification. (That's why, earlier, I said that the substance and fulfillment of imputation, in this view, is sanctification.)
The quotations are from Jonathan Edwards, from his works which are in the public domain, though these were quoted from the Yale edition of his works (though I have no idea from exactly where now, after all these years). I was reading Edwards's works systematically in connection with the PhD thesis I was working on that I mentioned earlier. One thing I note in Edwards below is that he said that "either an equivalent punishment, or an equivalent sorrow and repentance," could satisfy for our sins. I found this interesting because it pointed out that repentance and (what I would now call) penance could, in principle, satisfy for previous sins, which was my view (and I now recognize in the form of the Catholic doctrine of penance or satisfaction, though the Catholic form of these ideas wasn't really on my radar screen at that time). (See here also for more on this.)
1. Merit is of the essence of righteousness, so the degree of righteousness is proportionate to the degree of merit.
2. Aminians are accused of merit, because the soul contributing the determining factor of salvation leads to us being saved by a good act of the will. But if acceptance of Christ merits, then we merit by God’s grace, or Augustinianism.
1. How to proceed: 1. State position in comparison with Reformed. Where we agree, where we disagree. State objective, first of all to show not salvation by works, secondly to defend position. Make sure to make use of the purchase-application idea, and perhaps quote Hodge p. 195 to help the conversation in this area. Adam’s sin purchased the right to sin and death for us all, as we had union with him and his sin was therefore imputed to us. Christ’s righteousness purchased the right to righteousness and eternal life for all who have union with him and therefore have his righteousness imputed to them. We can accept that. The only question is, does this imputation, both with Adam and with Christ, make use of or replace our own personal sinfulness and righteousness in the application of these purchased rights. 2. State history of issue, Augustine, Romanist perversion due to free will, Luther, Calvin. Perhaps my view can be thought of as a third option other than Rome or Calvin, but preserving Calvin’s concerns about grace and merit, and so with the Reformed against the Romanists. 3. Quote from Bondage intro and Luther’s stuff to indicate non-meritorious in bad sense, and in what sense it is meritorious. Perhaps quote Wright on Jansenism being a form of Calvinism and contradicting Romanist merit ideas.
1. I feel that I could not present the record of my life before God and plead it for why I should go to heaven. It is full of evil and blemishes, and provides ample reason why I ought to go to hell. How can I explain this from an Augustinian perspective? Well, I think that guilt is intrinsically connected to sin, and what you are is what counts, evidenced by what you do. The only way for us to be in heaven is if we are truly righteous and morally fit for it. An enemy to God is not fit for it. When I look back on a day, I see my sins, and I don’t what God to judge me on the basis of them, but he won’t because I have been personally separated from them by repentance. But doesn’t the Bible say God judges us on our record? Yes, but he doesn’t judge the sin without also taking into account its death and our death to it and separation from it. So it is just for him to give us heaven. What am I really feeling when I feel like my life is inadequate for God to judge for good? Well, in this life, I have remnants of sin, and I am close to my past sins, so my guilt is present with me. They remind me I am a sinner in myself. I am only saved because God does not judge me for my sins, but pardons them. Our memory of our sins reminds us to look at ourselves as personally undeserving, and to see our good as God’s work in us.
2. God, looking at our record for judgment, sees two principles running through it: ourselves in ourselves, deserving hell, and grace, his work in us, deserving heaven. The question then becomes, which prevailed in the person, which overcame the other and took possession of the soul ultimately, and that is grace. So he rewards us with eternal life. So we don’t want him to judge us by OUR works, but by HIS work in us, which can only be done if it reigns in us.
Right vs. Experience. Justification and Sanctification. We need both. Right without experience would be to have the right or status of being pleasing to God but in actual experience to be abominable and irritating to him. Experience without right would mean that God would in experience be pleased with us while we have no right to be pleasing to him but rather justice demands that we be condemned to hell as morally ugly and therefore under his wrath.
“Sanctification is imperfect, mixed with our sins, and therefore cannot be the basis for justification” – That is true, but it understates the case. Not only will we have all our past sins still against us, which must be removed only by pardon, but the good works are God’s gift, so we don’t get credit for them. Therefore, judged by our works, God sees only our bad works, since they only are truly ours, and we deserve death. So we can’t be justified by our works, even our works done in grace. How can we be justified? Only by Christ’s merit given to us and none of our own. His merit is graciously imputed to us who have none, and this bears its fruit in our lives in our sanctification.
1. 829 – “Worthiness is of the essence of moral goodness, and universally and necessarily attends it, as much as guilt or blame attends sin or moral evil. As all moral evil is blameworthy, and worthy of abhorrence and the fruits of abhorrence, so all moral goodness is praiseworthy, worthy of acceptance, approbation, and of the fruits of acceptance and approbation;”
2. 627 – Our works are rewarded with such a great reward only because they are seen in Christ, or our person’s are seen in Christ. “If we never had committed but one sin and at all other times had exercised perfect holiness and performed perfect obedience, yet looking upon us as we are by ourselves, with all that belongs to us, we should be in no degree lovely persons but hateful, though we had performed many lovely acts; and no one act of holiness is a lovely act in itself and without consideration of any relation to Christ, unless it be a perfect act.”
3. 679 – “Hence when the sense get to heaven they will [have] this to rejoice them and add to their blessedness, that God hath a real delight and joy in them, in their holiness and happiness.”
4. 779 – “THE NECESSITY OF SATISFACTION.” “All sin may be resolved into hatred of God and our neighbor, as all our duty may be resolved into love of God and our neighbor.” “When the majesty of God has such contempt cast upon it, and is trodden down in the dust by vile sinners, ‘tis not fit that this infinite and glorious majesty should be left under this contempt, but that it should be vindicated wholly from it; that it should be raised perfectly from the dust wherein it is trodden by something opposite to the contempt that it is equivalent to it, or of weight sufficient to balance it, either an equivalent punishment, or an equivalent sorrow and repentance, so that sin must be punished with an infinite punishment.” Fascinating discussion of satisfaction.
5. 341 – “not enough considering that they have nothing to boast of, seeing that ‘tis God that makes them to differ, and that . . . their beauty is not original to themselves.”
6. 341 – “If God should behold them as they are, with all their unworthiness, their filthiness and deformity, and did not overlook their deformity upon Christ’s account, God would have no delight in them at all for that little holiness they have, because their sin is of infinite demerit and their holiness is nothing put in the scale against it.”
7. 340-341 – And it must needs be so, for God necessarily takes delight in his own image and in his own beauty wherever he sees it. Indeed, the best saints in this world, they have more deformity than they have of this beauty, but all their deformity is overlooked; it is put upon Christ’s account, so that although there be so much filthiness and deformity in the saints, yet God sees none . . . he sees nothing but beauty in them . . . Not that there is no spot really in the church here upon earth, for how exceedingly defiled are the hearts of the saints, and how defiled and spotted are their services: but God beholds it not; he imputes it not to them; he sees nothing but beauty . . . [inherent righteousness] is Christ’s righteousness as well as imputed righteousness: imputed righteousness is Christ’s righteousness accepted for them, inherent holiness is Christ’s righteousness communicated to them . . . Now God takes delight in the saints for both these . . . though ‘tis the former only that avails anything to justification.”
8. 692-693 – “The new nature in a Christian is perfectly pure: there is nothing purer than the new nature in the saints. The new nature is [not] quite pure, for the saints ben’t quite pure. Yet ‘tis not because the new nature in them is not pure, but because there is a mixture of new nature and old. As the old nature is altogether corrupt, so the new nature is altogether pure: there is not the least defilement in it. So far as that goes, there is nothing but purity. The defilement that is in the soul don’t arise from any defilement in the new nature from a mixture of the old. The new nature is as pure as heaven itself is . . . And indeed the new nature in a saint can scarce itself be distinguished from the communication or participation he has of the Spirit of God, or that Spirit dwelling in him united to him, acting as a vital principle in his soul.”
9. Brainerd 444 – “The exercise of these Godlike tempers, wherein the soul acts in a kind of concert with God, and would be and do everything that is pleasing to God; this, I saw, would stand by the soul in a dying hour; for God must, I think, ‘deny himself’ [II Tim. 2:13] if he casts away ‘his own image’ [Gen. 1:27], even the soul that is one in desires with himself.”
10. Brainerd 449 – “I saw further that as this divine temper, whereby the soul exalts God and treads self in the dust, is wrought in the soul by God’s discovering his own glorious perfections ‘in the face of Jesus Christ’ [II Cor. 4:6] to it, by the special influences of the Holy Spirit, so he cannot but have regard to it, as his own work; and as it is his image in the soul, he cannot but take delight in it. Then I saw again that if God should slight and reject his own moral image, he must needs ‘deny himself’ [II Tim. 2:13]; which he cannot do. And thus I saw the stability and infallibility of this religion, and that those who are truly possessed of it have the most complete and satisfying evidence of their being interested in all the benefits of Christ’s redemption, having their hearts conformed to him; and that these and these only are qualified for the employments and entertainments of God’s kingdom of glory; as none but these have any relish for the business of heaven, which is to ascribe glory to God and not to themselves; and that God (though I would speak it with great reverence of his Name and perfections) cannot, without denying himself, finally cast such away.”
The process of justification is the process by which a person who has no righteousness is given the righteousness of Christ by which he can stand before God’s judgment. It is by grace and faith rather than by works or merit. It can be divided into three parts: 1. Synthetic Justification—declaring righteousness to be ours who have none ourselves. 2. Sanctification—making us actually personally righteous by virtue of the infusion of the rightteousness given us in synthetic justification. 3. Analytical justification—declaring us to be actually and personally righteous, having been made righteous by Christ’s righteousness given to us and infused within us.
If “It must be undue” means, it must be something that we give to God, coming from ourselves and adding to him, or profiting him, and we are thinking of sanctification as our work, then I agree that it is not undue. Relatedly, if “the disproportion between sanctification and the reward” refers to a disproportion coming from the work considered as coming from us, or as us giving to God what is his own gift to us, obviously, there is no proportion. Even if we give back to God all his own, we deserve no reward. And we don’t even do that, taking into account our sins and all the defects of our obedience. We cannot satisfy or merit by God’s work in us. Our satisfaction and merit is wholly by imputation, though given imputation, we can be said to have merit in some sense, or to attain the reward.
This document is dated 6/16/2003. I'm trying here to use the term "justification" to refer to imputation--where Christ's righteousness is declared legally ours, giving us a right to it and its benefits--and the term "sanctification" to refer to the actual delivery to us of Christ's righteousness and our actual experience of it and its benefits in sanctification. By adopting this language, in contrast to the Augustinian language which would use the term "justification" to cover both of these things, I'm hoping to be able to articulate the substance of my Augustinian views in a way palatable to Reformed people (but without any deception, which is why I've spent so much time and effort trying to correctly understand and interpret what the Reformed are trying to say and how they might legitimately be understood).
Justification: We can only be justified, or given a title and right to eternal life, by the imputed righteousness of Christ, by which he satisfied for our sins and merited eternal life for us. We cannot be justified by our own works, because we cannot merit by them. Even if we were without sin, as creatures we could never merit eternal life by our works, because of the infinite disproportion and distance between God and us, seeing that we are nothing in ourselves and we have all from him, and we are not only creatures, but sinners, who deserve therefore nothing but eternal wrath. We cannot satisfy for our sins or merit by works without grace, since we have no good apart from grace, and we cannot satisfy or merit by God’s work in us, since in all our good works, we are simply giving back to God his own gifts. If a person steals money from you, he cannot make it up by giving you money you loaned to him, which he already owed you anyway. We cannot satisfy by paying our debts. We cannot merit by our works, before or after conversion.
Sanctification: Although we cannot merit by God’s work in us, the holiness he works in us makes us fit for the receiving of eternal life. Justification removes the guilt of sin and gives us a right to eternal life, but God’s holiness demands that we be freed from the presence of sin in us as well. In an unsanctified state, it would be unfitting for God to delight in us and give us the blessings of his favor. Rather, our uncleanness would warrant the manifestations of his abhorrence. Sanctification cleanses us from sin and conforms us to the law inwardly and in our practice, making us pleasing and delightful to God, and thus worthy of his delight and the blessings of it.
This document is dated 7/31/2003. In this document, I have, almost, come to terms with what I understand of the Reformed view. I've just about accepted that the gap between Augustinianism and Reformed thought can be bridged. I'm comfortable expressing my Augustinianism in what I take to be Reformed-friendly language. A very short time after this, as I recall, I concluded that the gap could be bridged, and that was my view for the next decade-and-a-half, even a number of years after I became Catholic. But since about three years ago or so, I've started to wonder whether my pro-Augustinian understanding of the Reformed doctrine of justification is really true to what the Reformed language was originally trying to say and what Reformed people in general have understood it to mean over the centuries. Is the gap really bridgable? I'm not entirely sure, but I'm growing more suspicious of it.
A very brief statement of my position on justification and sanctification.
Justification: Justification as a theological term refers to a state of acquittal and merit before the law of God. The “ground of justification” refers to that which gives us a right to pardon and to eternal life before that law. This is, and can only be, for sinful creatures, the imputed righteousness of Christ. Sinners cannot be justified by their own works or merit, either before regeneration or after—before, because they have no good works or righteousness at all before regeneration; after, because all the good they have in them is due simply to God’s grace and is his gift. We cannot satisfy for our sins or merit life at God’s hand by simply giving back to him what is his own. It would be like attempting to pay a debt, say $20.00, to someone by borrowing another $20.00 from him and then giving it back to him. If we owe a debt to God’s law, in order to pay it ourselves, we must pay it with what we have, not with what God gives us. Because all we have is from God, there is an infinite disproportion between what we are and have and what God is and has, and thus we cannot possibly make up for our sins or merit anything from God by any works of our own, regenerate or otherwise. Even without immediately considering sin, no creature righteousness at all, if there could be any, could merit anything from God, because of the before-mentioned disproportion; much less can we sinners hope to be justified by our works. The only possible ground of our justification, or our right to pardon and eternal life, is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. What we can never produce ourselves, must be credited to us as a gift. We must forever stand only in the righteousness of God’s Son, credited to us merely as an act of God’s grace.
Sanctification: If we have a right to pardon and eternal life entirely by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, what does it matter whether or not we ever become personally or internally righteous, or undergo sanctification? The imputation is not all we need to actually receive the benefits of eternal life. It gives us a right to it, but it does not fit us for the reception of it. The job of making us fit for receiving what we have been given a right to falls to sanctification. In an unsanctified and unregenerate condition, we are enemies of God, full of all corruption, and are appropriately loathsome to him in a moral sense. We are fit only for God’s displeasure, and it would be inappropriate for God, in his righteousness and holiness, to treat us in any other way than as displeasing to him and worthy of his abhorrence and the fruit of this abhorrence, namely rejection. We may have a right to life, but we are fit only for destruction. In sanctification, the Holy Spirit applies the virtue of Christ’s righteousness inwardly, giving us a participation in Christ’s righteousness or holiness internally and experientially, changing us from being morally repulsive enemies of God to being bearers of his image, morally pleasing and delightful to him, loving him with all our hearts. This process begins in regeneration and is completed in our glorification, and is substantial, but not perfect, in this life. This change destroys the sin in us, putting it to death, enabling us to do good works, and gives us a fitness for the reception of eternal life. Now we are morally pleasing to God; he delights in us, as we reflect his character. We are fit for God’s delighting in us and rewarding us with the fruits of his delight, namely reception into his presence and eternal life, and we are now unfit for anything else but God’s delight and acceptance. It would be inappropriate for God to reject us in abhorrence, since we reflect him and live in loving obedience to him, just as it was unfitting for him to receive us without sanctification. So, with this change, we are fit to be received.
It is impossible for justification to exist without sanctification, and vice versa. It would be a contradictory situation: If we were justified without sanctification, we would have a right to life but be fit only for death. If we were sanctified without justification and imputation, we would be have no right to life, and in fact deserve only death, and yet be unfit to receive death but only to be pleasing to God and receive the fruits of God’s delight. It would be as impossible as the idea of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object; it cannot be in all of reality. Justification and sanctification can be distinguished, but they can never be separated.
Another comment: Although without imputation, our best regenerate works can merit nothing from God, yet with imputation, in the context of being justified, God sees fit to reward us according to the righteousness he has created in us by the Holy Spirit. Justification by faith alone does not rule out a reward, even of eternal life, for our works, but it makes clear that such a reward is not inherently ours, but becomes ours only in the context of our having Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. God’s work in us is quite fit for reward, but we receive a right to that reward only by means of and with the assumption of our having Christ’s righteousness imputed to us.
One final comment: The differences I thought I had with the historic Reformed articulation of justification seem to boil down to terminology. I was using the term ‘merit’ not only to refer to what gives us a right to life, but as including the idea of ‘moral fitness.’ The idea that our regenerate works have a moral fitness to the reward has always been acknowledged in Reformed theology, but using the term ‘merit’ to refer to this fitness has been anathema, since to say regenerate works can merit eternal life in the Reformed tradition means that we can gain merit with God by means of them. I was using the term simply to express this concept of ‘fitness.’ When I realized this, along with some other realizations, I came to hope that our differences could end up being basically terminological rather than substantial. I think that is likely. But I must wait for confirmation of this in the form of feedback on this statement and further conversation.
Published on the feast of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church.