Antinomianism Series: The Scots Confession – Article 13

AntinomianismToday I want to take a look at a lesser utilized Reformed confession. More concise than it’s parallel British counterpart, the Westminster Confession, but in some ways easier to get your heard around, this Confession bears a special place in the catalog of the great confessions of the 16th century. The work of John Knox, as well as 5 of his colleagues[1], this work bears the voice of a direct student of John Calvin, and as such represents a somewhat more direct expression of Calvin’s thoughts. Articles 13, 14, and 15 deal with the content in question, and today I will address Article 13. The full text of the Scots Confession can be found here.

The cause of good works, we confess, is not our free will, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who dwells in our hearts by true faith, brings forth such works as God has prepared for us to walk in. For we most boldly affirm that it is blasphemy to say that Christ abides in the hearts of those in whom is no spirit of sanctification. Therefore we do not hesitate to affirm that murderers, oppressors, cruel persecutors, adulterers, filthy persons, idolaters, drunkards, thieves, and all workers of iniquity, have neither true faith nor anything of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, so long as they obstinately continue in wickedness. For as soon as the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, whom God’s chosen children receive by true faith, takes possession of the heart of any man, so soon does he regenerate and renew him, so that he begins to hate what before he loved, and to love what he hated before. Thence comes that continual battle which is between the flesh and Spirit in God’s children, while the flesh and the natural man, being corrupt, lust for things pleasant and delightful to themselves, are envious in adversity and proud in prosperity, and every moment prone and ready to offend the majesty of God. But the Spirit of God, who bears witness to our spirit that we are the sons of God, makes us resist filthy pleasures and groan in God’s presence for deliverance from this bondage of corruption, and finally to triumph over sin so that it does not reign in our mortal bodies. Other men do not share this conflict since they do not have God’s Spirit, but they readily follow and obey sin and feel no regrets, since they act as the devil and their corrupt nature urge. But the sons of God fight against sin; sob and mourn when they find themselves tempted to do evil; and, if they fall, rise again with earnest and unfeigned repentance. They do these things, not by their own power, but by the power of the Lord Jesus, apart from whom they can do nothing.

There are a few very important things to note about this Article, both in the content of this Article and its placement within the broader context of the Confession.

First, the origin of good works comes before the discussion of which good works are acceptable to God, but also before the discussion of the role of the Law. This seems to me to imply that in the view of the framers of this confession, that the cause of good works is more central than the role the Law plays. That is, where the good works originate is more important than what the good works are.

Second the Article regarding the origin of good works comes immediately after the Article regarding faith in the Holy Spirit. While I will not treat this Article directly, it is sufficient to demonstrate my point to note that Article 12 states that faith in the Holy Spirit is caused by the Holy Spirit himself. It is also important to note that sanctification here is seen as the work of the Holy Spirit. Finally, it is important to note that in addition to revealing the Son to us, quickening our dead sinful flesh, and clearing the darkness from our mind, that he also “bow(s) our stubborn hearts to the obedience of His blessed will.”

Now, lets look at the specifics of Article 13 itself.

This article unequivocally indicates that the cause of good works in the life of the believer is the Holy Spirit. It “is not our free will, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who […] brings forth such works as God has prepared for us to walk in.” Furthermore, it indicates that it is not only incorrect, but blasphemous (IE an affront to the very nature of who God is) to say that God leaves us where we are rather than causing us to grow in holiness. This language, although not directly sourced to, calls to mind Ephesians 2:8-10 and the idea that we are saved (justified) by grace, through faith, not by works but for works.[2]

The confession then goes on to say that not only do they affirm, but that they don’t even hesitate to affirm, that those who persist in habitual sins -with specific allusion to the X, Y, and Z will not inherit the kingdom of God passages found within the Pauline Epistles[3]-  with no attempt to grow in holiness are not Christians. They “have neither true faith nor anything of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus.”

This movement from dead sinner, to infant Christian, to growing believer, to ultimately mature saint is the work of the Holy Spirit from start to finish, such that if the beginning of the process is initiated by the Holy Spirit then it is utterly blasphemous to think that this process will not be completed by him who is faithful to complete the good work which he started.

Because of this foregone conclusion of increasing sanctification, “thence comes that continual battle which is between the flesh and the Spirit in God’s children.”

The confession will get to the role Law in Article 15, however it is strikingly clear at this point that any theology that affirms that we ought not call Christians to lives of increasing holiness and obedience or that the Christian or any theology that does not affirm that the Holy Spirit is faithful to purify those who are God’s people to mature and obedient faith in Christ is deficient in the eyes of this Reformed confession.


 

[1] Cochrane, Arthur C.; Rogers, Jack (2003), Reformed Confessions of the Sixteenth Century, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 160
[2] Ephesians 2:8-10
[3] Romans 13:13. 1 Corinthians 6:9, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:5-9