Posted by: reformedmusings | June 22, 2007

Hi Ho, Hi Ho

On what will our final judgment be based? Dr. Peter Leithart wrote a short post on this subject called Judgment By Works. He starts with Westminster Confession of Faith 33.1:

In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.

Then he asserts that this conflicts with Declaration 9 from the PCA Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, etc., which reads:

The view that justification is in any way based on our works, or that the so-called ‘final verdict of justification’ is based on anything other than the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

Dr. Leithart then concludes:

When anyone associated with the FV says “final verdict of justification,” they mean “final judgment.”

It appears that the committee condemns the very view that WCF 33.1 articulates, since the Confession says explicitly that what we receive at the final judgment will be “according to what they have done,” which is clearly something other than the “perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone.”

Clearly? Kinda makes even a dumb pilot like me go hmmm. I assume that this is some sort of challenge, although not a very difficult one. Let’s have some fun and take a stroll through classic Reformed thinking, which is firmly rooted in sola fide rather than Federal Vision’s “covenant faithfulness.”

My favorite reference on the WCF is Robert Shaw’s An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith first published in 1845. If you don’t have this, you really should get a copy. On WCF 33.1, Shaw first emphasizes the reality of the final judgment, then differentiates between its application to the elect and the non-elect:

The sentence to be pronounced will be answerable to the several states in which mankind shall be found. They shall receive their doom according to their works. – Rev. xx. 13. It is to be remarked, that the good works of the righteous will be produced in that day, not as the grounds of their acquittal, and of their being adjudged to eternal life, but as the evidences of their gracious state, as being interested in the righteousness of Christ. But the evil deeds of the wicked will be brought forward, not only as evidences of their being strangers to Christ, but also as the grounds of their condemnation. [my emphasis]

This directly contradicts Dr. Leithart’s conclusion. What does it mean to be “interested in the righteousness of Christ”? Romans 3:21, 22 says:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (ESV) [my emphasis]

“…apart from the law…” This agrees with Galatians 3:5, 6 and Genesis 15:6 which both say that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness. It couldn’t have been Abraham’s covenant faithfulness involved in his justification here, because he had barely begun to walk in covenant with God. Yet God clearly pronounced Abraham forensically righteous. Romans 3:21, 22 also tells us that God sees Christ’s imputed righteousness, not our works of the law–again directly contradicting Leithart’s conclusion.

Another classic Confession reference is A.A. Hodge’s The Westminster Confession of Faith commentary. On WCF 33.1, he says essentially the same thing as Shaw:

The saints will not be acquitted in the day of judgment on the ground of their own good deeds, but because their names are found “written in the book of life,” or the book of God’s electing love, and on the ground of their participation in the righteousness of Christ. Their good deeds will be publicly cited as the evidences of their union with Christ. Their union with Christ is the ground of their justification. Their faith is the instrument of their union with Christ; and their faith, as the Apostle James says, is shown by their works. Phil. iv. 3; Rev. iii. 5; xiii. 8; xx. 12, 15. [my emphasis]

Again we see that historic Reformed thinking differs greatly from the Federal Vision approach. It’s not what we did or do, but what Christ did for us. Faith is the instrument of our salvation, and even that is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). We are saved by faith, not by works, lest any man boast (Ephesians 2:9). Hodge directly refutes Dr. Leithart by stating the Biblical truth that we are save because of Christ’s righteousness, not ours.

I am particularly fond of a rather obscure reference from the Westminster era. At the time of the Westminster Assembly, the Parliament asked many of the Divines and a few other Puritans to work together to produce an expanded set of notes for the Geneva Bible or possibly a new translation. The final product proved way too long for Bible notes, so they published it separately in 1657 as Annotations Upon all the Books of the Old and New Testament. For brevity, I’ll refer to it as the Westminster Annotations or just the Annotations. These notes bless my study every time I open their cover. On Revelation 20:12, the Divines wrote:

according to their works] The wicked must be judged according to their works written in the books. The just, written in the book of life, shall not come into judgment, John 5.24

The Annotations take careful note, just as did Shaw and Hodge later, that two books are opened at the final judgment, with the elect recorded in the Book of Life. The cited John 5:24 is no friend to Federal Vision’s “covenant faithfulness” at the final judgment either:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

No Federal Vision help from John or the Divines. Plus, Jesus says we already have eternal life. Jesus doesn’t say to “avoid morbid introspection,” be faithful to the covenant, and wait to see what happens at the final judgment.

One last comment on Dr. Leithart’s premise. No one disputes that there will be a final judgment where the elect will receive their eternal reward and the non-elect shall receive their deserved eternal condemnation. The issue is on what that verdict will be based. As we’ve seen in this brief exercise, the classic Reformed and Biblical answer is “by faith alone, through grace alone, because of Christ alone.” The Federal Vision answer is by “covenant faithfulness” which Dr. Leithart not just admits but proclaims to be based on “something other than the “perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone.”” How anyone can say this and then in the next breath say they believe in sola fide totally eludes me.

This very brief jaunt through some of the classic works on the Confession clearly shows that Federal Vision’s view of the final judgment is not only out of accord with the Westminster Confession, but by extension and demonstration differs from the Biblical presentation. Once again, the Standards hold up as “containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” No surprises here.




  1. […] has outlined Peter Leithart’s position (along with refutations from various sources) in this article.  Leithart claims: …the [Westminster] Confession says explicitly that what we receive at the […]

  2. […] Consistent with the rest of Scripture, we see here that our good works decide our reward, not our “final justification”, the latter being another Federal Vision theme. […]


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