Main Page
  About Us
  Glossary of Terms
   
  SECTIONS
  Culture
 
Theology
  Education
  Ecclesiology
  Philosophy
   

A Study of Dispensationalism
by Arthur Pink

"But there is further reason, and a pressing one today, why we should write upon our present subject, and that is to expose the modern and pernicious error of Dispensationalism. This is a device of the Enemy, designed to rob the children of no small part of that bread which their heavenly Father has provided for their souls; a device wherein the wily serpent appears as an angel of light, feigning to "make the Bible a new book" by simplifying much in it which perplexes the spiritually unlearned. It is sad to see how widely successful the devil has been by means of this subtle innovation."

Theology

Getting Justification Wrong

Christopher Alexion | Why Arminianism undermines the Good News


All orthodox Christians believe that there is but one plan of salvation for fallen man, and that this plan is revealed in Scripture. That’s good, of course. But we must be sure we have the plan right. God’s plan of redemption is no trifling matter, and false doctrines (which the apostle Peter described as “damnable heresies”) have led many astray because they are almost orthodox. But in eternal matters, sometimes almost isn’t good enough.

Such is the case with the historic Arminian view of justification. Now, Arminianism has mellowed considerably over the years; Arminians have become less consistent and more orthodox. So the “Arminian” view to which I refer is not what one might run into in the local Free-Will Baptist church or Assembly of God. But it was the position of a number of thinkers in earlier centuries, and this view even influenced the Puritan Richard Baxter1 .

Basically this view modified the Roman Catholic position that justification consists of an inward renewal in the sinner. It held that “faith is ‘counted for righteousness’ because it is in itself actual personal righteousness, being obedience to the gospel viewed as God’s new law.”2 One well-known radio speaker put it in more popular terms: “Jesus Christ declares you righteous because you believe in him.”

The subtle error in that statement (probably unintended by the speaker) might go undetected to many evangelicals who have not taken the time to study systematic theology. No doubt many would ask, “What’s wrong with that?” What’s wrong with the statement is this: by confusing the means of justification with the basis of justification, it sets up a plan of salvation different from that revealed in Scripture.

Some explanation is necessary. When we speak of the means or instrument of justification, we’re talking about how God declares us righteous. We want to know, “Through what medium does it occur?” When we speak of the basis or ground of justification, we’re talking about why God declares us righteous. We’re asking, “What is the ‘because’ of our justification?” Answer 33 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is instructive: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth our sin, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” The Catechism touches on two important concepts: (1) we are justified “for [because of] the righteousness of Christ; and (2) this righteousness is “received by [through] faith alone.”

The Westminster Confession explains this in more detail:

Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God. (WCF XI.i)

This is faithful to Scripture: “He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21). “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). God’s law is perfect, requiring perfect obedience (Galatians 3:10; James 2:10), and the righteousness of evangelical obedience, even though proceeding from regeneration, is an imperfect righteousness. Our “works of righteousness”—our best works, even done through the Spirit’s grace—can’t justify us (Titus 3:6). We need the righteousness of another. Christ’s blood and righteousness must form the basis of our justification.

But if the righteousness of Christ forms the basis of justification, then faith cannot. That’s why the Confession describes faith as “the alone instrument of justification” (WCF XI.ii), not the basis of justification. Nothing we do or ever could do brings us into favor with God. It is solus Christus, Christ alone, who is the ground of our hope, and even our faith is a gift from Him (Ephesians 2:8).

The problem with the historic Arminians was that, as John Gerstner pointed out, they “were making faith into a work and then allowing justification by faith to mean justification by works.”3 Their scheme envisioned a “new law” in which God set aside the standard of perfect legal righteousness to which He had previously held Adam and all others under the Old Covenant. God, they said, is now willing to accept men on the basis of an act of trust (“evangelical obedience”) in Him, with Christ’s sacrifice making up the difference.4 Michael Horton sums it up this way:

[T]he Arminians denied the Reformation belief that faith was a gift and that justification was a purely forensic (legal) declaration. For them, it included a moral change in the believer’s life and faith itself, a work of humans, was the basis for God’s declaration. In 1618-19, the Synod of Dort, an international conference of Reformed churches, the Remonstrants (“Arminians”) were judged heretical and the churches of the Reformation concurred, even those of non-Reformed persuasion (as, for instance, the Lutherans).5

Like the Reformers we ought to jealously guard the truth that saving faith is not some act of righteousness that sets one sinner apart from others, nor a mystical force which works an inward goodness in the sinner himself. Saving faith isn’t faith in faith. This isn’t said in order to belittle faith, only to put it in its proper context. Sinners cannot be justified without believing on Christ (Romans 3:27, Acts 4:12); we are certainly justified “by faith” (Romans 3:30, 5:1; Galatians 3:11, etc.). But it doesn’t follow that since we’re justified through faith we must be justified because of faith. The faith of a believer always has an object: Christ. Count von Zinzendorf, perhaps, said it best:

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
‘Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

 

1 See J. I. Packer, A Quest For Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), pp. 157-160.
2 Ibid., p. 153.
3 John H. Gerstner, Jonathan Edwards, Evangelist (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1994), p. 143
4 Jonathan Edwards saw this as a contradiction: if God set aside His law, why did Christ have to die to make up for any leftover sins? (Gerstner, Jonathan Edwards, Evangelist, p. 145)
5 Michael Horton,
“Evangelical Arminians: Option or Oxymoron?”


  Christopher Alexion is a homeschooled high school senior with interests in a Calvinistic view of apologetics, philosophy, and politics. He pursues these interests through writing, and several of his articles have appeared on the Internet. When not immersed in an essay or good book, however, he can often be found listening to secular music (from the Baroque era), working on projects around the house, and—though not often enough—playing baseball. He lives in New Castle, Delaware.  
 
REVIEWS

By Nat Carswell

When confronted by the type of inanity which so dominates the Modern Evangelical New Testament American Christian (MENTAC) landscape today, one is tempted to become cynical and angry-sins as grievous as the inanity itself.
 
CONTRIBUTORS
Rev. Paul Alexander
Christopher Alexion
Rev. Greg Bahnsen
Nat Carswell
Gordon H. Clark
Edward Dalcour
Kevin L. Clauson, M.A., J.D.
Rev. William Einwechter
J. C. Evans
Kenneth Gentry
Perry A. Hess
Michael S. Horton
Ronald Kirk
Amanda Krystaponis
Rick Martin
Charles A. McIlhenny
Larry J. Michael, PhD.
Wil Pounds
Eunice V. Ray
Colonel Ronald D. Ray
Ernest Reisinger
P.Andrew Sandlin
Steve M. Schlissel
Geoff Thomas
Sarah Thomas
K. Cody Vest
 
OFFSITE LINKS
A Place for Truth
Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
Association of Classical & Christian Schools (ACCS)
Biblical Horizons

Business Reform

Can a Christian lose his or her Salvation?

Canon Press and Book Service

Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics

Center for Cultural Leadership
Chalcedon
Chasing Hats
Covenant Media Foundation
Credenda Agenda
Dispensationalism: Being Left Behind
Free Books
Historic Creeds
King's Meadow
Ligonier Ministries
Messiah's
ModernReformation.org
Postmillennialism
Razormouth
Reformation Ink
Reformed Web Sites
The Church
SCCCS
Search the Bible
The Department of Christian Defense
The Not So Secret Rapture
The Preterist Archive
The Works of Flavius Josephus
Threshold