Hunter Powell, The Crisis of British Protestantism: Church Power in the Puritan Revolution 1638-44, Politics, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015). 264pp. Hardcover. $105.00.

This is likely the most significant work written to date on the thorny subject of church power in British Reformed orthodoxy. Powell focuses on debates over the nature of church power primarily from 1638-1644 (p. 2). He aims to redefine and to clarify categories related to debates over church government at the Westminster Assembly. He does so by treating primarily the view of the so-called five “dissenting brethren” in relation to the Scottish commissioners, setting both their historical context. This is such a paradigm shifting work that it is one of the most important books that anyone interested the Westminster Assembly and its theology could take up and read. It shows how Westminster debates over church government were not as neat and tidy as many have assumed and how the question of church polity fits into the broader context of Reformed orthodox theology.

This book challenges historical conceptions of Presbyterian polity at the Westminster Assembly. Powell modifies the common narrative of church government debates at Westminster, which often treats these debates as an exercise in how long it took the Assembly to fall in line with the Scots. Instead, Powell shows how the Scots achieved a high degree of unity with the Apologists (Congregationalists who were known later as the Dissenting Brethren) over the question of the seat of church power. While English Presbyterians in the Assembly were divided over whether church power was seated in the local church and was then communicated to Presbyteries, or whether church power was seated in Presbyteries and was communicated to particular churches, the Apologists and the Scots agreed that Christ communicated church power to the congregation as a whole and to its elders directly and in two distinct ways. According to men such as Rutherford on the Presbyterian side and Burroughs on the Congregational side, the only significant difference that existed between them resided in the power of synods, especially with respect to excommunication. The Apologists denied that synods could execute this censure while the Scots affirmed that they could. However, many English Presbyterians opposed both the Scots and the Dissenting Brethren by denying that the elders of local congregations could excommunicate members without a synodical act. This meant that both the Scots and the Dissenting Brethren held minority positions at the Assembly. At the end of the day, the real Grand Debate at the Assembly was not over Presbyterianism vs. Congregationalism, but between the Assembly as a whole and Erastian opponents, which included debates between Presbyterians over the proper seat of church power. The Scots held the tenuous position of attempting to accommodate the Apologists on the one side and of preventing the fracture of the Presbyterian majority on the other side over the question of the seat of church power. The Scots agreed with the Apologists over church power, but they agreed with the Presbyterian majority over the governmental power of Presbyteries.
This work gives us a unique window into debates at the Westminster Assembly. Part of the reason why Powell’s research creates such a seismic shift in how we read Assembly debates over church government lies in the sources that he used. Previous research relied on pamphlets written by authors outside of the Assembly rather than on records of Assembly debates and the writings of the Westminster divines. Powell guides readers by the hand through the Assembly debates in a way that makes history come to life. The reader can virtually feel the tension in the air and recognize the temperaments and personalities of the divines in their proceedings. He shows that all primary sources are not equal and that we gain a different picture of events when we follow the actors in the story instead of the spectators in the crowd commenting on the play. This does not mean that his historiography is flawless. In comparing the polity of the famed Voetius with the Congregationalists at Westminster and in highlighting Voetius’ enthusiastic endorsement of the Congregationalist John Cotton’s Keys of the Kingdom, Powell makes almost no appeal to primary sources. However, his treatment of the vital subject of church government at Westminster gives a picture of the development of varied versions of Presbyterian polity that Presbyterian ministers in particular bypass to their great detriment.
This book is the kind of history that Presbyterian churches in particular need. It forces readers to listen to the Westminster divines and to assess them on their own terms and in their own world. Modern readers may not always like what they find in reading books like this one. Yet this work is necessary to help explain what the Westminster Assembly did and did not intend to say in its affirmation of Presbyterian polity. Presbyterians were not all cut from the same cloth and not all Congregationalists were as far away from some Presbyterianism as we may tend to think. Above all, this book provides us with an admirable example of how the Scots and the Apologists pursued catholic unity in their theology without threatening their distinctives. This provides us with a model of doctrinal precision, spiritual maturity, and catholic charity that has potential to serve the church well today.



What does baptism do? A number of different answers have been given to this question. At one end of the spectrum are those who say that it is a converting ordinance. At the other end are those who claim that baptism is a mere sign of our salvation and profession of faith. Although it has been argued that the Westminster Confession of Faith affirms that baptism is a converting ordinance in that it is the instrument and occasion of regeneration by the Spirit and union with Christ, I will present a number reasons this is an incorrect reading of the Confession. This article will look at the first reason.
The Confession should not be interpreted as teaching the doctrine of baptismal regeneration because that doctrine is incompatible with what the Confession teaches about the nature and purpose of baptism. Unquestionably, the Westminster Standards emphasize the sealing function of the sacraments. Each time a sacrament is defined, generally or specifically, its sealing nature and purpose is mentioned (WCF 27.1; WCF 28.1; WCF 20.1; WLC 162; WLC 168; WSC 92). In one place, seal is used as a synonym for sacrament (WCF 30.3). A similarity or agreement between baptism and the Lord’s Supper is that both are seals of the same covenant (WLC 176). Interestingly, the sections on baptism contain more references to the concept of seal and confirmation than those on the Lord’s Supper.
This emphasis on depicting baptism as a seal is significant because the purpose of a seal, according to the Standards, is to confirm interest in Christ (WCF 27.1), and to strengthen a believer’s faith and all other graces (WLC 162; cf. WCF 14.1). Confirmation and conversion are two distinct functions, and so confirming grace is to be distinguished from converting grace. Although, as Richard Vines granted, confirming and converting grace may be the same in substance, even as every degree of heat is of the same nature as the first degree, there is still a difference between first coming to Christ and being strengthened and confirmed in Christ. Since the Word fulfills both functions, it is feasible that a sacrament could do so as well. Nevertheless, if baptism is divinely designed for sealing and confirming then one key implication would be that it is not a converting ordinance because sealing and confirming presuppose the existence of that which is being sealed and confirmed.
Several members of the Westminster Assembly highlighted this implication in their own writings. Daniel Featley observed that sacraments are properly and precisely seals and therefore they do not begin our incorporation into Christ but rather continue and confirm it. Similarly, Samuel Rutherford said that the true and formal effect of a sacrament is to seal and confirm which is “but a legall strengthening of a right, and not the adding of any new thing.” Thus, “Baptisme is not that whereby we are entred into Christs mysticall and invisible body as such, for it is presupposed we be members of Christs body, and our sinnes pardoned already, before baptism comes to bee a seale of sinnes pardoned.”
George Gillespie believed the Reformed have consistently taught that sacraments are not converting ordinances because God instituted them as sealing ordinances. They are, therefore, designed “not to give, but to testify what is given, not to make, but confirm saints.” Or as Walaeus, one of many Reformed theologians cited as evidence, asserted against “Papists” and some Lutherans, “sacraments do instrumentally confirm and increase faith and regeneration, but not begin nor work faith and regeneration where they are not.”
Does the Confession teach baptismal regeneration? The Confession’s teaching on the nature and purpose of baptism suggests that it doesn’t because a sacrament designed to confirm and not make saints does not confer or convey regenerating grace.
*This article and the rest of this series is based upon D. Patrick Ramsey, “Baptismal Regeneration and the Westminster Confession of Faith.” The Confessional Presbyterian 4 (2008): 183–193.
Because we’ve had a month’s pause for #Reformation500, it would be good to review the previous seven articles that concern our salvation before we continue. Articles 9 and 10 set the extent of our guilt before God. They explain the nature of humanity’s lost condition through sin and our total inability to save oneself apart from God’s sheer grace. Articles 11-13 set out the scope of God’s grace. Our justification in Christ is by faith alone and not through works. Being impossible to justify oneself, good works are evidence of justification. Gratitude completes this section on our salvation in Articles 14-17. They set the parameters of the believer’s pursuit of holiness. Article 14 explaining the impossibility of exceeding God’s requirements in daily life while articles 15-17 sets the impossibility of reaching God’s requirements apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. 
XVI—Of Sin After Baptism

Not every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again, and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned, which say, they can no more sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.
Article 16 reflects the teaching of two of Cranmer’s original articles on the same theme. Sin after baptism was article 15 in the Forty-Two Articles of 1553 followed by article 16 on the sin against the Holy Spirit. Article 16 on the sin against the Holy Spirit was omitted in Archbishop Parker’s revision in 1563. It is suggested that the Anglican divines preferred to leave the nature of the unpardonable sin less well-defined as it was in 1553. One could also suggest that the simplification’s purpose was to keep focused on the objective nature of salvation. We can see why in how article 16 continues the issue raised in article 15. Article 15 answered the question of human sinlessness in light of the unique sinlessness of Christ and article 16 examines its opposite of a hopeless sinfulness: if Christ alone was sinless, what about sins committed after baptism? Is this how we are to understand the sin against the Holy Spirit?
Two errors are confronted here that has dogged the church through the ages: either the teaching that great sins after baptism could not be forgiven or the teaching that it was impossible for the truly regenerate to sin. These errors seem to have been prevalent at the time of the Reformation. Cranmer’s Reformatio Legum affirms the same teaching of the article:
Those who believe that the justified can no longer fall into sin even though they are still living in this world, or that if they happen to do something which is forbidden by the laws of God, God will not count that as sin, also have a perverse conception of justification. Opposed to this opinion, but equally ungodly, are those who believe that any sin which may be committed by our will after we have received baptism is mortal, and who say that all such sin has been done against the Holy Spirit and cannot be forgiven [Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticorum, Gerald Bray, ed. 195].
Article 16 tracks the doctrine of our salvation by God's grace alone to its ultimate conclusion. It is easy humanly speaking to question the sincerity of a fellow Christian or in times of trial to question our sincerity. There are also those who have made a profession of faith at one time in their lives but fall away completely. What comfort is there for a family member who clutches a “decision card” completed years before? Is it possible to say, “once saved always saved?” The article rightly reminds us that the highest purpose of God’s plan of salvation in Christ, made known in Scripture, is not our blessedness, wonderful as this is. The highest purpose is God's glory. Through the gift of his Word and by the power of his Spirit, we come to gain a sense of God and his ways. We come to a sense of him. We come to understand him. But it is a limited, creaturely, understanding. As we gaze into the face of God in Jesus Christ, we say, “Heavenly Father I know you through your Son and by your Holy Spirit…” But we also say, "Oh! The depths! I will never get to the bottom of this. I will never be able to put my arms around all this, and my creaturely mind contain the wonders of it!" Articles 14-16 are very pastoral in their intention by pointing the believer back to the objective truth of their salvation rather than the stumbling block of their limited understanding.
Article 16 points out that the believer will sin after he or she comes to trust in Christ's word and work for their salvation. But those sins do not put us beyond God's forgiveness. The article is built on the truths explained in the articles that preceded it. When we understand how the article continues what came before, the point it makes is simple. We are sinners saved by God's grace. The dominion of sin has ended, but the presence of sin remains. Therefore, when we stumble and fall into sin, we can come to God in repentance and faith, trusting in his promise that we are justified in Christ. God forgives us because his wrath for our sin was propitiated on the cross. In the same way, human conceit is tempered as we are reminded that our righteousness is imputed, not inherent and that we must believe and trust that what is Christ’s is ours by adoption. Articles 14-17 remind us what a high privilege we enjoy in that God is pleased to glorify himself through the salvation of poor sinners like me and you.
For previous articles in this series, see:
  1. Introduction
  2. One God in Trinity, Trinity in Unity (Art. 1)
  3. The Incarnation and Atonement (Art. 2)
  4. The Work of Christ (Arts. 3-4)
  5. The Holy Spirit (Art. 5)
  6. The Rule of Faith: Part 1 (Art. 6)
  7. The Rule of Faith: Part 2 (Art. 7)
  8. The Rule of Faith: Part 3 (Art. 8)
  9. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 1 (Art. 9)
  10. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 2 (Art. 10)
  11. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 3 (Art. 11)
  12. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 4 (Art. 12)
  13. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 5 (Arts. 13-14)
  14. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 6 (Art. 15)

Thanks to our friends at Reformation Heritage Books we have two (2) E-Book copies of Wilhelmus à Brakel's 4-volume, The Christian's Reasonable Service

  • 1 E-Book will be for a someone in the U.S.
  • 1 E-Book will be for a someone outside the U.S.

Deadline to register is Friday, November 24.

Enter here.

Wallace Marshall, Puritanism and Natural Theology (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2016), 144pp.
Wallace Marshall’s Puritanism and Natural Theology ably demonstrates that Puritanism in general not only theoretically developed but pastorally utilized a robust natural theology. More provocatively, he shows that they saw natural theology as foundational to supernatural theology with more kinship to medieval scholasticism than the Reformers allowed. Marshall challenges notions that the Puritans either had little time for natural theology or attributed to it a relatively minor role. He also contests the contemporary Reformed consensus that the Puritans saw the Scripture alone as the “principle for knowing theology” (principium cognoscendi theologiae). With a plethora of primary resources at hand, Marshall rightly argues that this consensus should be left behind. 
Marshall proceeds with the common understanding that natural theology refers to “all religious knowledge that is accessible through the use of reason independently of supernatural revelation.” Indeed, the Puritans believed that God clearly evidences himself to all mankind through the created order. However, Marshall further maintains that the Puritans used reason and theistic proofs to “demonstrate the existence and attributes of God” to both unbelievers and believers (chap. 1). Thus, Marshall deals extensively with Puritan apologetics showing that they employed natural theology as evidentialists.  
The “essential components” of this natural theology concerned arguments for “the existence of God, the human duty of loving and living for God, natural law, divine providence, and the immortality of the soul” (chap. 5). Regarding their defense of providence, Marhsall treats at length the Puritan use of natural theology to address theodicy for the vindication of  a sovereign yet good God in a world filled with evil and injustice (chap. 6). Richard Baxter, for example, extensively addressed theodicy through reason and, in the process, even made an appeal to a plurality of worlds populated by a myriad of unfallen righteous creatures. 
The Puritans believed that natural theology was useful for helping believers struggling with remaining unbelief (through practical and speculative atheism), engaging unbelievers, and confronting skeptics (chap. 2). Some denied (e.g. William Twisse) or limited (e.g. William Gurnall) the usefulness of rational evidences for Bible-informed Christians, but most affirmed their great value to combat remaining atheism and strengthen existing faith. The Puritans also believed that we should engage unbelievers with reason as a foundation to receiving special revelation (e.g. John Eliot’s ministry to New England Indians). Finally, natural theology confronted skeptics (e.g. seventeenth-century Deism and Atheism) with proofs for God’s existence and the divine nature of Scripture, though with limited success expected against such resistant minds. 
The Puritans were convinced that reason could be employed even though the fall diminished its intellectual power and inclined it to suppress truth (chap. 3). Still, while nothing in Christianity is “contrary” to reason, some mysteries are “above” it (vs. Socinianism) and God cannot be fully comprehended with it. Thus, the Spirit with the written Word overcomes and corrects limited reason to reveal otherwise unattainable truths. Here, Marshall could have done more to interact with the Puritan emphasis (in continuity with Calvin) on the noetic influence of sin and its corruption of reason and in connection with Puritan exegesis of key passages (e.g. Rom. 1:18-21, 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14). 
With their embrace of the necessity of Scripture, the Puritans knew the limits of natural theology, which could not reveal truths such as the Trinity or that essential to the gospel (chap. 4). Most importantly, natural theology could not bring people to a saving relationship with Christ who alone can forgive convicted sinners. As John Owen noted, we can “know God by the light of nature” but “cannot come to God by that knowledge.” In this way, while natural revelation provided a way to truly know God, special revelation took priority over it.
Interestingly, a minority believed that natural revelation could even be sufficient for salvation (e.g. Richard Baxter). Indeed, the Westminster Confession (10.3) argued for the salvation of regenerated “elect infants dying in infancy” never hearing the gospel and other elect individuals “incapable” (mentally) of understanding it. Individuals such as Matthew Henry went the next step in consideration of those who never hear the gospel: “[W]e cannot say, it is impossible for any of them, though they live up ever so closely to the light they have, to be saved by Christ they never heard of.” Yes, you read that correctly. Some Puritans believed (contrary to the Westminster Confession) that the light of nature could be sufficient for salvation in Christ in certain circumstances.
In the light of his findings, Marshall rightly suggests that eighteenth-century Enlightenment rationalism had more continuity with the Puritan employment of reason than originally thought. Accordingly, John Locke’s (see Marshall’s helpful appendix on him) Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) also did not radically depart from what the Puritans considered a legitimate use of reason in relation to special revelation. Still, Marshall qualifies the Puritan approach with the clear assertion, “Although the Puritans were rational theologians, they were emphatically not rationalistic.”
Authors who have told the story of the Reformation often neglect to give appropriate recognition to some of its most influential and significant figures, whom David Steinmetz dubbed, “Reformers in the wings.” These were often viewed by their contemporaries to be as significant as those figures whom history has deemed worthy of greater notice. Among these Reformers in the wings, none deserves to receive attention more than Heinrich Bullinger, successor to Zwingli as the Antistes or chief pastor of the Reformed church in Zürich, Switzerland. Though Bullinger labored after Zwingli and in the shadow of Calvin, his influence rivaled Calvin’s on the continent and on the British Isles. 
In this article I would like to contribute in a small way to the commemoration of Bullinger’s life and work by looking at his 1537 treatise, Der Alt Gloub (“The Old Faith”). Though little known it expresses one of the most significant features of Reformation defense and reminds us today of a neglected theme.
Der Alt Gloub defends the antiquity of the Christian faith, emphasizing the substantial unity of teaching between the Old and New Testaments. Its full title represents its primary thesis: “The old faith, an evident probation out of the Holy Scripture, that the Christian Faith (which is the right, true, old and undoubted faith) has endured since the beginning of the world.” Bullinger’s aim was to demonstrate that the Christian faith was centered in the revelation of redemption in Christ and that salvation by grace alone through the work of Christ was the ancient faith. Therefore the Roman Catholic objection that the Reformers were innovators was turned on its head: Rome had abandoned the old faith by its innovations and inventions.
In the Introduction, Bullinger notes that many suppose that the Christian faith commenced with the birth of Jesus. Though Bullinger acknowledges that this was the time of the fulfillment of the promises, he insists that the old covenant people of God already knew “the same salvation in Christ Jesus” that Christians know (p. 1). The difference between the people of God then and now, is a difference, not in “religion or substance” but in the degree to which salvation in Christ was openly manifest (p. 2). Old Testament believers were, consequently, “Christians” whose faith was substantially identical to that of New Testament believers (p. 2).
Section One: “Of the goodness of God and the wickedness of man.” Scripture begins with the truth of God’s creation, particularly of man as his image-bearer. Though God depends on nothing beyond himself, he freely expressed his “own grace and mercy” to create and to reveal “his unsearchable goodness” (p. 3). Among all his creatures, man stands alone as an image-bearer of God. This means God furnished man with every good gift and perfection so that he might live before God in faith and obedience. God also invited man as his image-bearer to respond in obedience and thankfulness. For this reason, God stipulated that Adam might not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, promising him life on condition of obedience and threatening him with death on condition of disobedience (pp. 7-8). The “tree of life” was ordained to be a kind of “token and sacrament” of the blessedness of human life in obedience to God. However, despite God’s goodness and grace, man fell into sin and has come under judgment and condemnation.
Section Two: “The first and right foundation of the our holy Christian faith.” God could have abandoned man in his sin and left him in bondage to the devil. However, the good news is that God has chosen to save his people in Jesus Christ, and in a way that honors his truth and righteousness. This gospel is the great foundation of the Christian faith, which God has revealed from the beginning as the only remedy for human sin. A way has been found “whereby the righteousness and truth of God should be satisfied, and in which the mercy of God should especially be exercised and declare itself; that is to say, Christ Jesus, who is given us by the manifest grace of God, was offered for our sins, satisfied and recompensed the righteousness of God, and so delivered us out of the bonds of the devil” (p. 9). When God approached Adam and Eve after disobeying his commandment, he didn’t approach to destroy in righteousness, but to promise salvation from sin through his Son in Genesis 3:15. In this promise, God declared: “I will have mercy upon him, and receive him to grace again; but in order that my truth and righteousness may be satisfied, I will cause my Son to take the very nature of man upon him. Then I will that he take upon himself the curse and damnation, and die, and with his innocent death take away that death and curse, and so to let the generation of man out of death into life, out of the dominion of the devil into his own kingdom, out of darkness into light” (pp. 12-13).
Section Three: “Of the first faithful Christians, Adam and Eve.” Adam and Eve were the first Christian believers. In confirmation of faith in God’s promise, Adam named his wife “Eve,” who would be the “mother of all living” (p. 19). Adam lived from the promise that God would bring life from death, restoring a people for himself to blessedness and salvation. As he lived under the fatherly protection and favor of God, he looked for the coming of his Son to satisfy God’s truth and righteousness, destroy the power and kingdom of the devil, and gain for him entrance into the kingdom of God (p. 22). Although Adam and Eve did not enjoy the benefit of the “rites” and “ceremonies” of the church they knew Christ under the form of the “bodily offering,” as a “representation of the sacrifice of Christ” (p. 22).
Section Four: “That the holy Patriarchs also were Christians and saved by Christ.” The history of the Patriarchs is a history of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Adam. The Christian faith revealed to Adam was preserved through a faithful remnant in the line of Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even when God’s wrath was poured out upon the whole world at the time of the Flood, God renewed the covenant first made with Adam by promising salvation to Noah and his family. By means of the Ark, which was a “figure of Christ” (p. 30), God saved believing Noah and his family. Since the idolatry and corrupted religious practices of the heathen arose after the period of the renewal of the covenant with Noah, we are taught that the Christian faith “is older than any other” (p. 33). Similarly, since God further revealed and renewed the covenant with Abraham long before the giving of the law through Moses, the Christian faith “is older than the Jewish faith” (p. 36). Though the Jews “boast themselves of the circumcision, and because they are called Jews and Israel,” yet we know that Abraham was justified or reckoned righteous before he was circumcised (p. 36). Indeed, “our Christian faith is 2048 years older than the circumcision, and 2449 years older than the law, the priesthood and ceremonies of the Jews” (p. 36). The history of the patriarchs proves that “from the beginning of the world until the death of Joseph, the right Christian faith endured 2300 years.
Section Five: “The law of God given by Moses, leads unto Christ, and makes mention of all his works.” In faithfulness to his covenant God brought his people through Moses out of Egypt by his power and grace. When God instituted the rite of the Passover, he gave Israel a figure of the redemption that is through the blessed seed of promise: “Therefore the Israelites were not spared because of the blood of beasts, but for the sake of the blood of the blessed seed that was promised to come. And thus the whole deliverance out of Egypt was a figure of the true redemption by which we are delivered from the power of the devil and from everlasting death through Jesus Christ, and brought into the land of promise, even to eternal joy and salvation” (p. 41). When Israel entered the land, God wrote his law upon two tablets of stone. Though given to Israel in written form, they contained “no new thing, nor ought that was not before in the world, but rather renewed the old, and the law that he hitherto had written in the hearts of holy men” (pp. 42-3). This law was added to the promise as a “schoolmaster” that teaches us to know our sin and unworthiness, as well as our need for a Mediator (p. 48) and as “a rule of our life, informing us what we ought to do, and what we ought to leave undone” (p. 49).
Sections Six–Seven: “All virtuous kings and the people of Israel, trusted unto Christ, and not to the Law.” God continued to provide for his people through Joshua, the Judges, and then through the kings of Israel and Judah. The gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ continued to be preserved through these servants. However, the greatest figure of this period was king David. An examination of his Spirit-inspired Psalms confirm that he was intimately acquainted with the person and works of Christ, his son after the flesh. The Psalms clearly testify to:
  • the deity of the eternal Son of God and the doctrine of the Trinity (p. 64);
  • the glorious and eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ (p. 65); 
  • the preaching of the holy gospel to the heathen nations (pp. 65-6); 
  • the ordination of Christ to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek (p. 67); 
  • the victory of Christ over all his and his people’s enemies (p. 66); 
  • and the passion and death of Christ that he endured for his people (pp. 68-9).
Section Eight: “All holy prophets do point unto Christ, and preach salvation only in him.” During the divided kingdom, God gave his people much success but also delivered them over into captivity when they persisted in their disobedience. Despite the decline and growing unfaithfulness of the people of God, his promises in Christ remained sure. One remarkable evidence was his provision of prophets sent to “rebuke wrong and idolatry, and to teach all righteousness and true worship of God” (p. 75). These many prophets all concur in their preaching of the way of salvation through Christ: “[T]hey all preached the sum of the doctrine and knowledge of the faith that we spoke about before, and wrote in one sum, which faith Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David had” (pp. 76-7). The preaching of these prophets anticipated everything that is taught us concerning the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament and Apostles’ Creed:
  • his deity and humanity (p. 78); 
  • the coming of John the Baptist as his messenger (p. 79); 
  • his preaching of God’s grace and performance of many signs and wonders (pp. 79-80); 
  • his kingdom and the subjection of all peoples to him (p. 80); 
  • his passion and death (p. 82); 
  • and his burial, resurrection, and ascension (p. 84).
Section Nine: “Of the time of the grace of Christ, and how that he himself testifies, that the salvation of all the world stands only in him.” The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament: “the Scriptures of the new Testament hang all together and refer themselves to the Scriptures of the old Testament, so that there can not be right understanding without the other, no more than the gloss [interpretation] with the text. The text is the law and the prophets, the exposition are the Evangelists and Apostles” (p. 91). In the fullness of time, 3974 years after the beginning of the world, Christ was born in Bethlehem according to the word of the prophets (p. 91). When the angels announced the good news of his birth, they reminded the shepherds of the word of promise to Abraham that in his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed (p. 92). In the course of his ministry, the original promise that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent was fulfilled. Unlike the first Adam, Christ overcame the devil (p. 95). Through his life, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, all the Old Testament promises find their fulfillment. With the coming of Christ, the ceremonies and rites of the law have not so much been abrogated as perfected and completed (p. 94).
Section Ten: “That also the elect apostles preached this old faith, and declared, that all salvation is only in Christ.” Christ Jesus is the lamb of God who was slain from the foundation of the world, and the only one through whom sinners can be cleansed and saved. This gospel is the old faith that Christ wants to be preached throughout the whole world (p. 101). The apostles carried out his task by means of the preaching of the holy gospel and the administration of the two sacraments of the new covenant, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (pp. 102-104).
Conclusion. Since the time of the ministry of the apostles, the church of Jesus Christ has endured the presence of many false teachers and “unclean persons” who have corrupted and sometimes abandoned altogether the old, true faith (pp. 107-8). These unfaithful shepherds “labored more after riches, than to perform their office and charge” (p. 108). Rather than keeping the church in obedience to the simple gospel of Jesus Christ, they have introduced many new rites and ceremonies unknown to the church of old. The pope with his multitude of followers has in recent times sought “to suppress the old religion and to set up his own ordinances, which were unknown to our fathers of old time” (p. 110). However, despite the multitude of those who are captive to the inventions and innovations of the pope and his ministers, the true old religion will undoubtedly remain upon the earth until Christ comes again. If faithful believers and ministers have to suffer for the sake of this old religion at the hands of the pope and his servants, they should remember that this was the circumstance of God’s people, including the prophets and our Lord Jesus Christ himself, from the beginning (pp. 110-11).
 This post is adapted from the full article, “Heinrich Bullinger’s Der Alt Gloub (“The Old Faith”): An Apology for the Reformation.” Mid-America Journal of Theology 15 (2004): 11-32. Available here.
These days no one asks a question like this. It seems too arrogant, too outdated, grossly missing the mark of a honest religious conversation. Moreover, any reference to the Anti-Christ seems to be further marred by the fancy treatments that it has received in popular pseudo-apocalyptic novels, futurist accounts of world trends, and millenarist explanations of Christian eschatology.
It seems that on the Anti-Christ is better to maintain a silent attitude if not an agnostic approach. It is there in the Bible, but we don’t know what it looks like and we are bound to stay away from any polemical discourse or unhelpful conjecture. Ecumenical correctness imposes a dialoguing code that demands that only “nice” things can be said in inter-faith conversations.
In this overly hesitant position there is also a clear-cut theological judgment on the way in which the Protestant tradition has been understating the nature of the Anti-Christ for centuries. From Martin Luther to C.H. Spurgeon, from John Wesley to the Puritans, there has been a consistent, coherent and univocal interpretation of the identity of the Anti-Christ. The Protestant Reformation did not invent this reading of the Papacy as the Anti-Christ but carried it on from strands of Medieval teachings and gave it a deeper theological basis.
Here is how the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith aptly summarizes this widespread and long-standing Protestant consensus:
There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof, but is that Antichrist, the man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the church, against Christ and all that is called God” (art. 25.6).[Followed by The Savoy Declaration (1658), art. 26 and The London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), art. 26]
Francis Turretin (1623-1687) is perhaps the greatest Reformed theologian of the XVII century. His major work, the Institutes of Elenctic Theology, has been one of the most influential theological textbooks of the continental Reformed tradition. In his section on the Church, Turretin extensively deals with the Papacy, as he always engages in “apologetic” theology. His more comprehensive treatment of the Pope as the Antichrist, however, is his 7th Disputation on the Antichrist that, in turn, is part of a larger work entitled Concerning our Necessary Secession from the Church of Rome and the Impossibility of Cooperation with Her (1661).[Published as Whether It Can be Proven the Pope of Rome is the Antichrist]. Here we find perhaps the most detailed and systematic Protestant argument for the identification of the Pope as the Antichrist. Turretin endeavors to exegete Scripture and evaluate the facts of church history for the purpose of saving the Church of Christ from committing spiritual fornication.
After noting that it is the common opinion of Protestants that the Pope is the Antichrist, Turretin explains that Scripture reveals the place of the Antichrist (the temple), his time (from apostolic times onward), and his person (an apostate from the faith, a performer of spurious miracles, one who opposes Christ, a self-exalting figure, a man of sin, an idolater). Turretin goes as far as analyzing the name and number of the Beast of Revelation 13:17-18. Gathering all these elements together, he does not find these marks among the Jews or Turks (Muslims), nor among the Greek Orthodox. In his view, they only fit the chief authority of the Roman Church.
Turretin is convinced that the Antichrist is not a single person but must refer to an office or succession of persons in office that began operating in apostolic times. To the Catholic objection that Popes have never denied Christ, Turretin replies that the Antichrist will not openly deny Christ as a professed enemy but as a professed friend of Christ who praises Him with their words, yet fights Him with his actions. He sees this attitude in Popes who arrogate to themselves the three offices of Christ (Priest, Prophet and King), but bury the Gospel under their own traditions and undermine His work of redemption by their masses, purgatory, indulgences, and false worship.
Referring to the doctrine of Papal supremacy, the 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (882). Turretin’s analysis of the Papacy may seem harsh and trenchant, but fits the presentation of the official teaching of the Roman Church on the Papacy. The Pope as Vicar of Christ with full, supreme and universal power, coupled with the political status of the papacy, is indeed an institution that claims titles and prerogatives which must be Christ’s and Christ’s only and is also an institution that blurs religious and political fundamental distinctions!
These views are certainly far from being “ecumenically correct.” Yet, whatever one makes of them, it is important to appreciate the fact that they do not stem from slandering invectives or bandying insults. Theologians like Turretin built a highly sophisticated Biblical and theological argument and were not driven by resentment alone. The Roman Church, while not being static, nor a monolithic reality, does not really change in its fundamental commitments. It expands itself but does not purify itself. It embraces new trends and practices but does not expel unbiblical ones. It grows but it does not reform itself according to gospel standards. The discussion on the Anti-Christ must be revived and worked out with biblical soberness and historical awareness.   
This post originally appeared here.
The Papacy has always had its critics throughout the centuries. It is fair to say, however, that it was the XVI century Protestant Reformation that developed the most comprehensive and massive argument against the Papacy pulling together biblical, doctrinal, historical, moral, and institutional threads in order to do so. The Protestant critique reached its peak with the identification of the Pope as the Antichrist. According to the New Testament the Antichrist is someone who is against Christ and His church by wanting to take His place and destroy His work (e.g. 2 Thess. 2). For Christians the Antichrist is the enemy par excellence. This equation stirred the religious emotions more than many subtle theological arguments.
The Protestant Reformation was not the first movement that referred to the Pope as the Antichrist. There was a robust Medieval European tradition – from the Waldensians to Wycliffe, and down to the Hussites – that had denounced the Pope in such a radical way. This is why a recent Roman Catholic and Lutheran dialogue in the United States acknowledges this fact: “In calling the pope the ‘antichrist’ the early Lutherans stood in a tradition that reached back into the eleventh century. Not only dissidents and heretics but even saints had called the bishop of Rome the ‘antichrist’ when they wished to castigate his abuse of power.” Even in this case the Reformers were not necessarily innovative but relied on previous strands of thought well attested for in Church history. Here is how John Calvin argued his case against the Papacy.
The French Reformer John Calvin dealt with Roman Catholic representatives at various times and in different ways (see The Calvin Handbook, 104-112). His major work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion (first edition: 1536) contains frequent interactions with Roman Catholic doctrines and practices. Here Calvin develops his argument that the Pope is the Antichrist (Institutes 4.7.25). The historical Pope that Calvin had in view was Paul III (1534-1549) but his critique never focuses on his person, but rather on the Papal institution.
After underlining the fact that the Antichrist sets his tyranny in opposition to the spiritual kingdom of Christ, Calvin writes that the Antichrist “abolishes not the name of either Christ or the Church, but rather uses the name of Christ as a pretext, and lurks under the name of Church as under a mask” by robbing God of his honor. This is, for him, a clear picture of the Pope and therefore he concludes by saying that “it is certain that the Roman Pontiff has impudently transferred to himself the most peculiar properties of God and Christ, there cannot be a doubt that he is the leader and standard-bearer of an impious and abominable kingdom.” Calvin is not speaking of a particular historical Pope, but he is referring to the Pope as representing the institution of the Papacy.
An Antidote to the Papacy
Calvin’s main critical analysis of the Papacy is found in two works in particular. In 1543 the theological faculty of the Sorbonne published twenty-five articles that candidates had to subscribe to as a kind of oath to remain faithful to the Catholic Church. The following year, Calvin wrote a refutation of this summary of Catholic doctrine in his Articuli a facultate sacrae theologiae parisiensi by quoting each article and providing a critical review, i.e. an “antidote.” (This word “antidote” would come back in Calvin’s 1547 refutations of the Acts of the Council of Trent in Acta synodi Tridentinae cum Antidoto)Article XXIII treats the primacy of the See of Rome and rehearses Catholic proofs for it. In response, Calvin argues that while Scripture often speaks of Christ as the head of the Church, it never does so as far as the Pope is concerned [see also Institutes 4.6-7). 
The unity of the Church is based on one God, one faith and one baptism (Eph. 4:4), but there is no mention of the necessity of the Pope in order for the Church to be the Church. Moreover, in listing the ministries and offices of the Church, Paul is silent about a present or future Papacy. Peter was Paul’s co-worker, not his pope-like leader. The universal Bishop of the Church is Christ alone. To this Biblical argument for the headship of Christ, Calvin adds a historical reference to some Patristic writings that support the same New Testament view. Even Cyprian of Carthage, who is often considered a Church Father who favored an early form of a Papacy, calls the bishop of Rome a “brother, fellow-Christian, and colleague in the episcopate,” thus showing that he did not have in view the kind of primacy that was later attributed to the Pope.
These kinds of biblical and patristic arguments against the Papacy can be found in another giant of the Protestant Reformation of the XVI century, namely Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562), especially in his 1542 Trattato della vera chiesa e della necessità di viver in essa (Treatise of the true church and the necessity to live in her). They appear to be standard controversial treatments of the magisterial Reformation.
What is Wrong with the Papacy?
Returning to Calvin, another of his works that deals with the Papacy was written in 1549. When Charles tried to find a compromise solution to the Augsbug Interim, Bucer and Bullinger urged Calvin to respond. He wrote the treatise Vera Christianae pacificationis et Ecclesiae reformandae ratio, in which he described the doctrines that should be upheld, including justification by faith. In expounding the doctrine of the Church, Calvin devotes a section to the Papacy. Here he criticizes the standard Catholic reading of John 21, a New Testament text that is considered to be one of the Biblical foundations of the Papal office. In commenting on the passage, Calvin notes that the threefold command to Peter to shepherd the sheep is to be related to the threefold denial of Jesus by Peter.
This office is not exclusive given the fact that Peter exhorts his fellow-elders to do the same (1 Peter 5:2). Furthermore, according to Calvin the Papacy is totally invalid because in the New Testament there is no injunction given to Peter to find successors in a juridical sense. To keep the unity of the Church, Christ is all we need. Calvin then comments on the choice of Rome as the chosen See for the Pope. “Why Rome,” Calvin asks. In writing to the Romans, Paul mentions many individual names, but Peter is not on the list. And even if Peter would later go to Rome, why was the city selected as the special and central place for future Popes? Why not Jerusalem? Or Antioch? Calvin, however, does not address the political and historical importance of Rome as reasons for locating the Papacy there.
Finally, Calvin once again accuses the Pope of being the Antichrist because of his “tyranny,” “destruction of the truth,” “corruption of the worship of God,” “breaking of His ordinances,” and the “dispersion of the order of His Church.” Here we see many similarities with Luther, with the exception that with Calvin the apocalyptic tone is not as strong and is less evident than that of the German reformer. Rather than passionate eschatological concerns, Calvin relies on lucid theological and Biblical arguments in his effort to grapple with the Papacy.
This is an excerpt from my book, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to the Papacy (Fearn: Christian Focus Publications, 2015). It also appeared here
Luther and the Pope have long been perceived as representing the two enemies within Western Christianity. Their persons embodied the religious conflict that took place in the XVI century giving rise to the Protestant Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. Before Luther rejected the Pope, the Pope had already rejected Luther by condemning him first in 1520 and then excommunicating him in 1521. So it is difficult to establish who first broke fellowship with the other.
In fact, before burning the 1520 Papal bull Exsurge Domine that contained his condemnation, Luther was a devout Roman Catholic and highly esteemed the Pope. His acceptance of the Papacy was totally uncritical. He believed that the problem lied with the curia around the Pope, not with the Pope himself. Even after nailing the 95 Theses in 1517 he had hopes of finding a hearing with the Pope concerning the need to correct certain moral abuses and doctrinal errors. In the Theses Luther is chiefly concerned with limiting the powers of the Pope, not considering them self-referential and unlimited, but instead under Gospel standards (e.g. Thesis 5). For example, Popes have no power over the souls who are in Purgatory, only God does (Theses 22 and 25). Popes cannot give absolution if God has not granted it (Thesis 6). Popes can only act within the boundaries set by the Word of God.
At this stage, Luther begins to counter the absolute claims of the primacy of the Pope or of the Councils with the primacy of Scripture. In writing against the Catholic theologian Johannes Eck in 1519 Luther develops his critical approach towards the Papacy with a fuller set of arguments (Resolutio Lutherana … de potestate papae). The authority of Popes and Councils should be subordinate to that of the Bible. The Papacy was not instituted by Christ, but was instead established by the Church in the course of its history. So it does not come from “divine law”, but is instead a human institution. The “rock” of Matthew 16 is not a reference to Peter, but is his confession of Jesus on behalf of the whole church or Christ himself. He alone is the solid foundation of the Church. The Roman Popes have nothing “petrine” about them, nor is there anything “Papal” in Peter. The Papacy is not commanded nor foreseen by Scripture, and therefore obedience to the Word of God must take precedence over obedience to the Pope. If the Pope disobeys the Scripture, the faithful Christian should follow the latter without hesitation. Christians are not obligated to obey an unfaithful Pope.
Although the debate was becoming hotter, it was only after his definitive excommunication in 1521 that Luther elaborated his even more radical critique of the Papacy. At this point, Luther became convinced that the supreme adversary of the Christian faith was its supreme representative, i.e. the Pope. The Papacy had become a power structure and could no longer serve the cause of the Gospel, but served instead the carnal interests of the Church. In his response to Ambrogio Caterino (an Italian Dominican monk who had written a defense of the Pope and against what Luther had published on the topic) the German reformer turned his opposition to the Papacy into an apocalyptic argument. In commenting on Daniel 8:23-25, Luther identifies the ferocious king of the passage who devastates the saints as the Pope. Playing with the double meaning of the Greek word anti, Luther argues that the Pope is against Christ and takes his place by claiming to act on his behalf. He is a counterfeit Christ. He is therefore the Antichrist. According to Luther, his times were marked by the imminent end of the world; this then demanded that the situation be painted in black and white. The Pope and the Turks were the representatives of the Antichrist and were focusing their final attack on the Church of Christ.
In 1534 Luther drafted the Smalcald Articles, which are a summary of Christian doctrine from a Lutheran perspective. In art. 4, Luther speaks of the Pope’s power as “false, mischievous, blasphemous, and arrogant” mainly interested in “diabolic affairs.” His critique, however, is not confined to his contemporary experience of the Papacy, but draws on historical and theological arguments.
In the same article he writes: “it is manifest that the holy Church has been without the Pope for at least more than five hundred years, and that even to the present day the churches of the Greeks and of many other languages neither have been nor are yet under the Pope. Besides, as often remarked, it is a human figment which is not commanded, and is unnecessary and useless; for the holy Christian [or catholic] Church can exist very well without such a head, and it would certainly have remained better [purer, and its career would have been more prosperous] if such a head had not been raised up by the devil. And the Papacy is also of no use in the Church, because it exercises no Christian office; and therefore it is necessary for the Church to continue and to exist without the Pope”. A church without the Pope captures Luther’s vision at this point.
In 1545, one year before dying, Luther wrote his final fierce thoughts on the Papacy. In his work Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil, he is aware that the final, eschatological hour is at hand. The Pope is a child of the Devil who wants to destroy the Church through the sword  of the Turks and through the lies of the Pope. It is an eschatological emergency reaching its final stage. No compromise is possible under these circumstances and evil is to be denounced and fought against relentlessly. Luther’s views of the Papacy developed over his life from an initial acceptance to a final and total rejection of it. His apocalyptic views served to shed a sinister light on the Pope and shaped his harsh language against him. Yet Luther, the superb Biblical scholar he was, was also an excellent Christian theologian who easily dismantled the superficial Biblical and theological arguments in favor of the Papacy.
Because of this rich display of Christian wisdom, his radical criticism cannot be explained in psychological terms as if he were driven by resentment only. His theological assessments set the tone for the wider Reformation movement.

This post is an excerpt from my book A Christian’s Pocket Guide to the Papacy (Fearn: Christian Focus Publications, 2015). it also appeared here.
In the last article, I looked at John Davenant’s discussion on the formal cause of our justification. Now I will turn to his discussion of the role of good works in light of our justification in Christ.
Davenant is at pains to refute the common Romanist accusation that Protestants deny the necessity of good works. In particular, he focuses upon correcting Bellarmine’s caricature of the Protestant position which is that Protestants believe that good works are not conditionally connected to salvation and are only necessary to attest or evidence true faith; and answering Bellarmine’s criticisms of the Protestant position on good works. In so doing, he fervently and repeatedly affirms that good works play an active and positive role in salvation.
Davenant defines good works as those which are "wrought by the regenerate now, and flow from a heart purified by faith" and they may be external like feeding the hungry or internal such as trusting God. Good works are necessary for a variety of reasons. Believers must engage in good works in order to submit to God’s command, express gratitude, satisfy one’s conscience, avoid punishment, be assured of salvation, edify one’s neighbor and glorify God. There is even a causal necessity to good works in that if the Spirit abides in a person then he will bear fruit. But what is more, Davenant affirms that good works are conditionally necessary for salvation.
The good works that are conditionally necessary for salvation are not perfect works, which are demanded by the law. Rather what is required and demanded by the gospel are "those works of inchoate holiness, which through the efficacy of grace are wrought by the regenerate." In other words, sincere, not hypocritical, obedience is necessary for salvation. Another important caveat is that good works are not meritorious in any sense. They do not merit justification or the preservation and increase of salvation. These two points are intricately related. Sincere obedience cannot be meritorious. Therefore, since the good works that are necessary for salvation are imperfect, they are not meritorious. And since they are not meritorious they can be quite imperfect and even intermittent. Indeed, a believer can fall into grievous sin or backslide and still be saved. Nevertheless, sincere obedience, which is akin to perseverance, is still necessary for salvation and pleasing to God because of the gospel. This is one difference between the law and the gospel. The law could not accept sincere obedience because it demands perfect obedience and condemns for the slightest sin. But the gospel, which "treats with the justified, who are delivered from death through faith in Christ, and graciously appointed to life, allows sinners an advocate, by whose intercession they obtain the constant remission of sins," can require and even reward the sincere but imperfect works of believers because they are "accepted by God the Father, in Christ the Mediator."
Davenant clearly states that justification and the right to eternal life is by faith alone. Good works are demanded from the justified and thus not for their justification. Yet, he is also willing to admit that some good works are necessary to justification as "concurrent or preliminary conditions." Here Davenant has in mind internal good works such as a hatred for sin and a turning to Christ for mercy. These internal works, which essentially amount to faith and repentance, are conditionally necessary for justification in terms of order and not causality. They are not an efficient or meritorious cause of justification. Nevertheless, a sinner must believe and repent in order to be justified. Davenant uses the example of being knighted. A man must go through the ceremony in order to become a knight, but his role in the ceremony is not the meritorious ground or cause of his knighthood.
Good works, in the sense of internal and external works, are conditionally necessary for the justified believer both negatively and positively. Negatively, they are necessary to avoid condemnation or to retain and preserve the state of justification. They are the "means or conditions, without which God will not preserve in men the grace of justification." Once again Davenant stresses that good works are not causes which effect or merit this preservation. They are the means or conditions by which God preserves his people. In order to remain alive a person must avoid those things which will kill him such as poisons. Likewise, in order to maintain spiritual health a person needs to avoid those things which kill, which in turn requires a believer to continually do good works, that is, to repent, trust, and obey. "But these acts do not properly and of themselves preserve the life of grace by securing the effect itself of preservation; but indirectly and incidentally by excluding and removing the cause of destruction."
Positively, good works are conditionally necessary for salvation in order to grow in grace and make it to glory. Echoing his predecessors, Davenant says that good works are necessary because they are God’s appointed path to attain eternal life. There are three goals or ends for good works: the glory of God, the welfare of one’s neighbor, and one’s own salvation. This last end indicates that there is a personal salvific interest or motive to doing good works. The road to glory is paved with good works and he who would arrive at the celestial city must walk on this narrow road. Davenant writes:
Besides, we ought to regard eternal life as our goal and end; but this goal is never reached except in the way of good works. For that broad way of licentiousness and impiety leads straight to hell, as Christ himself assures us, Matt. vii. 13, 14. It being understood then, that we are seeking the kingdom of heaven, we must necessarily enter upon the way which leads to the kingdom of heaven—the way of good works.
Yet again, the Englishman stresses that good works are not proper efficient causes of eternal life, but are necessary by a necessity of order. They are necessary "as the way to the kingdom, not as the causes of reigning." Matthew 19:17, Heb 10:36; 1 Tim 2:14-15, 2 Cor 4:17, and Rom 8:13 teach that law keeping, perseverance, sanctification, patience and mortification are necessary as the non-meritorious divinely ordained road to glory. Good works therefore "follow justification, and precede glorification as the way ordained thereto," making them a subsequent condition of justification and an antecedent condition to salvation.
It is in this respect that Davenant can speak of good works as being rewarded with heaven and as causes of salvation. Indeed, with respect to the latter, he is even willing to refer to good works as efficient causes. Works are often denied to be an efficient cause in salvation by Protestants, as Davenant himself does, but only in the sense of meriting or being the ground of salvation. This is why the key point between the Romanists and the Protestants, at least according to Davenant, was not that good works are in some sense a cause of salvation. Rather, the dispute was over the kind of cause attributed to good works. Romanists affirmed that good works are meritorious or properly efficient causes. Davenant, on the other hand, admits that good works are an efficient cause, but only in an improper, non-meritorious or broad sense. In responding to Bellarmine’s claim that Phil 2:12 teaches that good works are necessary as efficient causes, Davenant carefully distinguishes between efficiency in its broad and narrow senses. He writes:
We do not deny efficiency altogether to works in relation to salvation, but meritorious efficiency, or efficiency properly so understood: namely, such as reaches or produces the effect itself of salvation: but efficiency taken in a broad sense, that is to say, as working something preceding the effect of salvation, we willingly grant to spring from good works. For good works lead to progression in the way of salvation, which consequence is antecedent to salvation itself, although it is not the meritorious or efficient cause of the same. And in this sense, he who performs good works is said to work out his salvation, not by effecting his salvation, through the inherent virtue or merit of his works, but by advancing forward to salvation by the way of good works.
Thus, on the one hand, Davenant says that it is God who saves his elect from start to finish. By grace alone, God brings them into a state of justification, preserves them in that state and finally glorifies them. He flatly denies that their good works, indeed their feeble efforts, acquire "the efficacy or character of a meritorious cause for the preserving of justifying grace, or the attaining to heavenly glory." Yet, on the other hand, he freely admits that "God preserves and increases the gifts of grace in those who apply themselves to good works, and by the zeal of good works draws them on to the goal of salvation." So, although good works are not causes, which effect or merit salvation, "they cause the doers of them to advance in the way of salvation."
One of the key criticisms by Roman Catholics against the Protestant doctrine of justification was that it nullified the necessity of and the incentive to do good works in part because they viewed Protestants as only teaching that good works are necessary in order to prove the existence of faith. John Davenant, however, as we have seen above, aptly defended the Protestant position from this criticism. Good works are indeed conditionally necessary for salvation as the way to glory.