In the Greyfriars ministerial program, the systematics course is structured around the Westminster Confession of Faith. This means that last Thursday I was teaching through chapter 16, and I noticed a little something.
“These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life (16.2).
A good deal of the FV debate has revolved around faith and works, and the question, “What is the essence of faith?” and “What is evidence of that essential faith?” Or, put another way, what is faith like, all by itself, and what shows us that such a faith is there?
As I have insisted on the liveliness of true evangelical faith, the comeback has often been to relegate this liveliness to the realm of evidences. Faith is what it is, and when it obeys, shows signs of life, etc. it is simply doing the good works that testify to the reality of that faith. And, in the main, I agree with that. But not the whole distance.
Notice here that good works are the “fruits and evidences” of a “true and lively” faith. Liveliness in faith is not the evidence, but rather is something that needs to be evidenced. Put another way, those who separate liveliness from the essence of saving life, or who in any way make that life merely evidence, are out of accord with the Confession.