“What do you think about Doug Wilson?” is a question we receive often as pastors, and it’s sometimes hard to know exactly how to answer. He has a remarkable wit that he sometimes uses to defend biblical positions in a hostile society, which accounts for much of his appeal among conservative and Reformed-minded Christians. But we have deep concerns about his ministry practices and, even more importantly, the theology that stands behind those practices.1We are aware of accusations toward Doug Wilson’s church and ministries concerning improper uses of pastoral authority and mishandlings of abuse, however we are not in a position to speak knowledgeably on such matters. Therefore, we limit our critique to their stated theology.
Kevin DeYoung has written an incisive critique of “the Moscow mood,” primarily addressing how the content coming out of Moscow, Idaho (the headquarters of Wilson’s ministry) falls short of the character and virtue revealed in Scripture, and taught and modeled by Christ. In this essay, we continue in this stream of brotherly critique by focusing on just one pillar of “the Moscow doctrine,” specifically Wilson’s problematic doctrine of faith and its relationship to justification. We draw attention to historical and theological points that have been too easily overlooked by many of Moscow’s recent and sometimes unsuspecting acolytes. At the heart of these serious errors is the understanding of faith’s relationship to justification as expressed by the Federal Vision (abbreviated FV), which bears several striking similarities to the doctrines of Richard Baxter (1615–1691). We conclude that Baxter’s doctrine is similar to the FV on justifying faith, that both reject the Reformed position on this issue, and that Wilson can rightly be considered neo-Baxterian on this point. Therefore, just as our confessional Baptists forefathers responded to Baxter’s errors, contemporary Baptists should respond firmly and decisively to Wilson’s similar errors.
What’s the Big Deal with Federal Vision?
It is beyond our purpose to recount the history of the FV movement. Dr. Steve Wellum has written a succinct summary. R. Scott Clark has helpfully cataloged a great deal of the FV discussion at his blog. Fuller treatments can be found in the PCA’s report and the URCNA’s report. But most relevant for this essay is the OPC’s report, which specifically examines the FV’s relation to the doctrine of justification.
Now, what is the Federal Vision? It’s notoriously difficult to pin down, since the movement has splintered, and many self-proclaimed adherents differ from one another on various points of substantial weight. True to his brand, Wilson distinguished between “amber ale federal vision” (regeneration and justification cannot be lost) and “oatmeal stout federal vision” (regeneration and justification can be lost), and Wilson identified with the former. However, most Federal Visionists point to the Joint Federal Vision Statement from 2007 as a good summary of their affirmations and denials. Doug Wilson was an architect and signatory on this statement. However, in a 2017 blog post, Wilson distanced himself from the term “Federal Vision” while stating that he still affirms its teaching: “This statement represents a change in what I will call what I believe. It does not represent any substantial shift or sea change in the content of what I believe.” Some mistakenly interpreted him to be recanting his FV position, but he wrote, “I would still want [sic] affirm everything I signed off on in the Federal Vision statement.”
Again, what is the Federal Vision? Perhaps we can boil the FV down to the “objectivity of the covenant,” “the objectivity of the visible church,” and “the efficacy of the sacraments.” These affirmations have far-reaching implications.
The FV holds that all who are baptized are objectively part of the covenant of grace. The FV dark (oatmeal stout) teaches that baptism confers vital union with Christ along with all of his graces, including entry into “the regeneration” as well as justification unto life (without the imputation of Christ’s active obedience), which is maintained by covenant faithfulness. Saints who do not persevere in faith will lose their regeneration and justification, proving that they were not decretally elect. This is the perspective of men such as James Jordan and Peter Leithart.
The FV light (amber ale) teaches that all who are baptized are united to Christ in his covenantal life and grace, and receive the status of covenantal election. Only the decretally elect are regenerated and justified by the word of the gospel in their baptism, but their regeneration and justification are not tied to the time of their baptism. The regenerate cannot lose their regeneration, but all who are baptized into Christ must remain in Christ by their covenant faithfulness. This is the perspective of Doug Wilson.
Thankfully, Wilson’s “amber ale” is not as far afield as some of his stouter FV brethren. The OPC report stated this concerning Wilson:
Perhaps the most fruitful interaction between an FV proponent and his critics has occurred on the part of Douglas Wilson, who, in being examined by his judicatory (at his request), affirmed the covenant of works, with some qualifications, as well as the imputation of the active obedience of Christ in our justification.
Nevertheless, Wilson’s theology is still in error on the matter of faith’s relationship to justification, and his equivocation on some FV terminology serves mainly to obfuscate the issues.
One reason for the heterodoxy and error found in the FV is that it sought to revise historic Reformed orthodoxy but without engaging it sufficiently. The result was that it jettisoned many of the careful distinctions and balanced theological formulations of the fathers of the Reformed faith. This is seen in the FV’s hesitancy with respect to the “scholastic use of words and phrases” (Joint Federal Vision Statement), which is directly contrary to the Reformed tradition that from the beginning operated in a scholastic mode (see Turretin’s Institutes, for example). We argue that Wilson’s wrong thinking on the matter of faith’s relation to justification is a result of not dealing adequately with some of the essential distinctions in the scholastic mode of the Reformed heritage.
Since the FV is so multifaceted, we shall address just its doctrine of justification, specifically as it’s expressed by Wilson. Our motive is fundamentally pastoral: a key part of our concern is that the FV, largely through the influence of Doug Wilson, has siphoned off many lovely Baptist families and has won them (perhaps unknowingly) to an aberrant doctrine of justification. Therefore, we wish to offer a theological critique from a confessional Baptist perspective. We aren’t the first to do so. In 2019, Brandon Adams wrote an assessment of FV’s incompatibility with confessional Baptist theology. Just weeks afterward, James White and Doug Wilson recorded a significant video clarifying some issues. Adams soon posted a follow-up essay responding to some Muscovite critics.
Now, to understand Wilson’s errors on justifying faith, it’s helpful to examine the theology of Richard Baxter. Though the case against Baxter has been closed for three centuries, his influence (even if indirect) continues, as we will show, through the “the Moscow doctrine.”
Richard Baxter on Faith and Justification
Many will know the name of the Puritan Richard Baxter from his influential book, The Reformed Pastor (1656), and his book of wisdom for pastoral counseling, The Christian Directory (1673). These practical books have been, and still are, relevant and useful to the church today. But there’s a reason his theological writings aren’t being reprinted. Specifically, his doctrine of justifying faith was deeply and dangerously flawed in ways akin to the Federal Vision.
To understand why Baxter’s view of faith was flawed, it’s important to see what the Reformed Orthodox taught. Reformed theology said that while faith is an act of obedience, faith only justifies as it rests in and receives Christ and his righteousness, which is why they called faith the instrument of justification. William Ames (1576–1633) wrote, “Faith justifies only by apprehending the righteousness by which we are justified.”2William Ames, The Marrow of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968), 162. They were answering the question: “If Jesus Christ completely obeyed the law of God, and if Christ’s obedience wholly satisfies God’s justice, then what can be justly required of human beings in justification?” Reformed theology understood that faith as obedience cannot be required in justification. That’s because Christ already obeyed perfectly for our justification. Thus, there is no room for our faith as obedience in point of justification. Herman Bavinck writes:
Faith does not justify by its own essence or act because it itself is righteousness, but by its content, because it is faith in Christ, who is our righteousness. If faith justified on account of itself, the object of that faith (that is, Christ) would totally lose its value. But the faith that justifies is precisely the faith that has Christ as its object and content (emphasis added).3Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol 4 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 211.
It is not sufficient to say, “Christ obeyed for the ground of our justification, but we have to obey for the instrument of our justification.” Renaming the obedience of faith the “instrument of justification” does not solve the theological problem, and it misunderstands the nature of faith as an instrument in justification. To require faith as obedience in justification implies that Christ’s obedience is insufficient in justification. Furthermore, a fallen man’s faith is imperfect and sin-tainted, which means such faith is disqualified to justify as obedience, and God would be unjust to accept such faith as obedience in point of justification because it is a non-just faith. Therefore, while faith is obedience, only faith as the appropriating organ, an empty hand or an open mouth, is rightly called the instrument of justification.4Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2000), 522.
The Apostle John says that the one who passively “looks” on Jesus is the one who “believes” unto eternal life (John 6:40). Faith justifies solely by virtue of its resting and receiving Christ’s righteousness. Scripture says faith justifies as it receives Christ and his righteousness alone for justification (Phil 3:9, Rom 4:5, etc.). In this way, as R.C. Sproul says, “justification by faith alone is really theological shorthand for justification by Christ alone.” Faith as a justifying instrument is the relinquishment of all one’s own obedience in point of justification.
Richard Baxter rejected the carefully considered Reformed doctrine of faith. Instead, he taught that faith justifies in all of its acts. He wrote:
It is not therefore any one single act of faith alone by which we are justified, but it is many physical acts conjunctly which constitute that faith which the gospel makes the condition of life. Those therefore that call any one act or two by the name of justifying faith, and all the rest by the name of works; and say that it is only the act of recumbency [leaning, resting, reclining] on Christ as Priest, or on Christ as dying for us, or only the act of apprehending or accepting his imputed righteousness, by which we are justified, and that our assent, or acceptance of Him as our Teacher and Lord, our desire of Him, our love to Him, our renouncing other Saviors and our own righteousness are the works Paul does exclude from our justification, and that it is Jewish to expect to be justified by these though but as conditions of justification; these persons do mistake Paul, and subvert the doctrine of faith and justification, and their doctrine tends to corrupt the very nature of Christianity itself.5Richard Baxter, Of justification four disputations clearing and amicably defending the truth against the unnecessary oppositions of divers learned and reverend brethren (London: Nevil Simmons, 1658), 77–78.
This quotation demonstrates that Baxter does not operate with the proper distinctions concerning how faith relates to justification. In the end, he collapses faith and works and makes them both necessary, not just for “final salvation,” but for justification as well. Thus, in Baxter’s Aphorisms of Justification, his seventy-eighth thesis reads:
Our full justification and our everlasting salvation have the same conditions on our part. But sincere obedience is without all doubt a condition of our salvation: therefore also of our justification.6Richard Baxter, Aphorismes of Justification (Hague: Abraham Brown, 1655), 199. We have slightly modernized this quotation for clarity.
Quite explicitly, he states that a believer’s obedience is a necessary condition for final salvation and “also of our justification.” This is a flat rejection of the Reformed doctrine of justification.
Is Doug Wilson a Neo-Baxterian?
In a manner similar to Richard Baxter, Doug Wilson teaches that faith as obedience is the instrument of justification. Since faith as obedience is imperfect and tainted with sin, Wilson’s position raises questions about the purity, holiness, and justice of God, the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and active obedience for justification, as well as the gracious nature of justification as a free gift.
In Wilson’s post, Obedience Unto Life, he writes, “At the same time, life and obedience are essential characteristics of the instrumentality of faith, in just the same way that life is an essential characteristic of a seeing eye.” Note carefully that Wilson says obedience is essential to the instrumentality of faith. The Reformed faith would agree that obedience is an essential characteristic of faith. But to say that its obedience is an essential characteristic of faith’s instrumentality is unorthodox. Faith’s instrumentality is the manner by which it receives justification. Wilson thinks justification is by faith in its act of obedience and not only by faith in its act of receiving and resting upon Christ.
In another post, Wilson says:
By obedience in the phrase obedient faith, I am not referring to any of the doing that proceeds out of this being. I am treating obedient faith and living faith as synonymous. The subsequent actions performed by this obedient faith are genuine and sincere, but not perfectly so (because of our remaining sinfulness). Because they are not perfect, they cannot be the basis at all our our justification — our best works would condemn us in the worse [sic] way. Neither can the living faith that gives rise to all these actions be the ground of our justification. But it is obedient in its life, and in that living condition it is the instrument of our justification.
Wilson sounds like he’s attempting the standard Reformed expression of the doctrine — he says “what I’m affirming here is classic Reformed theology 101, the kind you buy at Walmart”7The 17:56-mark, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWqW41sBdYQ. — but he is actually rejecting it. He claims to be “as Reformed as all get out” and a “Westminsterian Puritan,” but teaches contrary to the Reformed doctrine of faith as expressed in the Westminster Standards. Again, he errs when he links the obedience to the instrumentality of faith in justification. Furthermore, in his CREC exam, he said, “By obedient faith, I mean faith that’s alive and therefore does what God expects of it.” Therefore, it is evident that Wilson is saying that faith in its character as obedience, or life, is instrumental for justification before God.
Wilson goes so far as to say that regeneration, which precedes faith, is the instrument of justification. In the CREC examination, he says, “Instead of saying ‘faith is the instrument (not ground) of justification,’ we may now say ‘the regenerate heart believing is the instrument (not ground) of justification’” (Q 105). Note that he does not say the belief of the regenerate heart is the instrument of justification. He says the regenerate heart itself, while believing, is the instrument of justification. In the same answer, he defines regeneration as “infused righteousness.” Thus, he thinks infused righteousness is instrumental in justification. Clearly, Wilson is not using the categories of the Reformed Orthodox, who insisted that faith only justifies by virtue of the object it receives and rests upon: Christ and his righteousness alone. The suggestion that regeneration as “infused righteousness” is the instrument of justification is contrary to Scripture (e.g., Phil 3:9) and to the Reformed confessional tradition.
The URCNA Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal Vision and Justification denounces, “The FV emphasis upon a ‘living’ or ‘obedient’ faith in the definition of its role as the instrument for receiving the grace of justification in Christ.”
These revisionist errors are significant. This is not merely semantic, wrangling over words, or inventing artificial distinctions. This is the heart of the gospel. The FV “oatmeal stout” is far afield of the historic Reformed doctrine of justification, but the FV “amber ale” is too. Thus, when Wilson says, “I don’t deny justification by faith alone. I affirm it, stoutly, from beginning to end,”8The 10:40-mark, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWqW41sBdYQ. he simply does not mean what the Reformed have historically meant by that phrase. No version of the FV is an option for those seeking to abide within the historic Reformed tradition.
In sum, intentionally or not, Wilson is Baxterian with respect to justifying faith. And Baxter’s reconceptualizing of justifying faith (and its far-reaching implications that resulted in his Neonomianism) caused a considerable controversy, drawing respondents from many prominent Reformed writers, including several Baptists.
The Baptists’s Consistent Denunciation of Baxter
Because of Baxter’s voluminous writings, he had an extraordinary influence upon Christians of various denominations, including Baptists. This prompted a response from theologians and pastors across the Anglophone world. Below is a survey of some of their rhetoric on this point.
Benjamin Keach (1640–1704)
The venerable Baptist minister Benjamin Keach engaged heavily with Baxter, especially on the issue of justification, and wrote:
Justification is a free act of God’s grace, through that redemption which is in Christ, (who, as our head, was acquitted, justified, and discharged, and we in him, when he rose from the dead) and when applied to us, we in our own persons are actually justified, in being made and pronounced righteous, through the righteousness of Christ imputed to us; and all our sins, past, present, and to come, forever pardoned; which is received by faith alone. And that our sanctification, nor faith it self, is any part of our justification before God; it not being either the habit, or act of believing, or any act of evangelical obedience imputed to us, but Christ, and his active and passive obedience only, apprehended by faith: and that faith in no sense tends to make Christ’s merits more satisfactory unto God; but that he was as fully reconciled and satisfied for his elect in Christ by his death before faith as after; otherwise it would render God only reconcilable, (not reconciled) and make faith part of the payment or satisfaction unto God, and so lessen the merits of Christ, as if they were defective or insufficient. Yet we say, it is by faith that we receive the atonement, or by which means (as an instrument) we come to apprehend and receive him, and to have personal interest in him, and to have our free justification evidenced to our own consciences.9Benjamin Keach, The articles of the faith of the Church of Christ, or, Congregation meeting at Horsley-down Benjamin Keach, pastor, as asserted this 10th of the 6th month, 1697 (London, 1697), 12–13.
Here we see that Keach denied that justification was by “the habit, or act of believing, or any act of evangelical obedience imputed to us.” Instead “it is by faith that we receive the atonement, or by which means (as an instrument) we come to apprehend and receive him.” It’s faith’s passive (or receptive) aspect that receives Christ’s righteousness for justification, not its active (or obedient) aspect. This is the Reformed doctrine of justification; this is the proper sense of sola fide.
John Gill (1697–1771)
Similarly, the great John Gill denied the Baxterian view and affirmed the historic Reformed doctrine of faith’s relationship to justification when he wrote:
What the eye is in the body, that faith is in the soul. The eye, by virtue of its visive faculty, beholds sensible objects, but does not produce them, and did they not previously exist, could not behold them. We see the sun shining in its brightness, but did it not exist before, it could not be visible to us. The same observation will hold good in ten thousand other instances. Faith is the hand which receives the blessing of justification from the Lord, and righteousness, by which the soul is justified from the God of its salvation.10John Gill, The Doctrine of Justification by the Righteousness of Christ, Stated and Maintained, Being the Substance of Several Sermons, 4th ed. (London: G. Keith and J. Robinson, 1756), 43. Our quotations have been slightly modernized for clarity.
Just as the eye receives images (its “visive faculty”) but does not produce them, so faith receives Christ’s righteousness for justification but produces neither the righteousness nor the justification. Here also we see Gill affirming justifying faith as the receiving hand, not the obedient principle. Elsewhere, Gill elaborates at length:
Moreover, faith, as an act of ours, is a duty. For whatsoever we do in a religious way, we do but what is our duty to do. And, if it is a duty, it belongs to the law. For, as all the declarations and promises of grace belong to the gospel, so all duties belong to the law; and if faith belongs to the law, as a duty, it is a work of it, and therefore by it we can’t be justified, “for by the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified.11Gill, The Doctrine of Justification by the Righteousness of Christ, 20.
Thus we read Gill’s affirmation of active, or obedient, faith, which accords with the law of God. This is part of Gill’s refutation of antinomianism. However, he says that faith “as an act of ours” is a work of the law and is therefore not justifying. He continues:
Besides, faith is imperfect. It has many deficiencies. Were it perfect, it is but a part of the law, though one of the weightier parts of it, and God, “whose judgment is according to truth,” will never reckon or account a partial conformity to the law a complete righteousness. Add to this that faith and righteousness are manifestly distinguished — “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” — it is “unto all, and upon all them that believe” (Romans 1:17; 3:22). Something else, and not faith, is represented as our justifying righteousness. Faith is not the blood, nor obedience, of Christ, and yet by these we are said to be justified, or made righteous (Romans 5:9, 19). We are, indeed, said to be “justified by faith,” but not by faith as an act of ours, for then we should be justified by works (Romans 5:1); nor by faith as a grace of the Spirit, for this would be to confound justification and sanctification; but we are justified by faith objectively, as it looks to, receives, apprehends, and embraces Christ’s righteousness for justification. And let it be observed, that though we are said to be justified by faith, yet faith is never said to justify us…. Are we said to be justified by faith, or by faith to receive the righteousness of Christ for justification?… In one word, it is God, and not faith, that justifies.12Gill, The Doctrine of Justification by the Righteousness of Christ, 20–22.
Gill, and Reformed authors generally, are concerned not “to confound justification and sanctification,” which is what Baxter and Wilson have done when they collapse the distinction between faith’s receptive aspect and faith’s active aspect. Instead, as Gill affirms, “we are justified by faith objectively, as it looks to, receives, apprehends, and embraces Christ’s righteousness for justification.”
Andrew Fuller (1754–1815)
The eminent pastor theologian, Andrew Fuller, who Charles Spurgeon considered “the greatest theologian of the century,” was once accused of adopting “some of the leading peculiarities of Mr. Richard Baxter.”13Andrew Fuller, “Letter VI: Baxterianism” in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, 3 vols. (1845 ed.; repr. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 2:714. He rejected the charge strenuously. To demonstrate his innocence, he took up the “irksome task” of reading all the works of Baxter he could before concluding that Baxter’s writing was “so circuitous, and full of artificial distinctions, and obscure terms, that I could not in many cases come at his meaning, nor could I have read them through without making myself ill.”14Fuller, “Letter VI: Baxterianism, 714. He concluded:
I find but little satisfaction in Mr. Baxter’s disputations on justification. He says a great deal about it, distinguishing it into different stages, pleading for evangelical works as necessary to it, etc. etc…. Yet he disavows all works as being the causes or grounds on account of which we are justified; and professes to plead for them only as “concomitants;” just as we say repentance is necessary for forgiveness, and faith to justification, though these are not considerations moving God to bestow those blessings. In short, I find it much easier to express my own judgment on justification, than to say wherein I agree or differ with Mr. Baxter. I consider justification to be God’s graciously pardoning our sins, and accepting us to favour, exempting us from the curse of the law, and entitling us to the promises of the gospel; not on account or in consideration of any holiness in us, ceremonial or moral, before, in, or after believing, but purely in reward of the vicarious obedience and death of Christ, which, on our believing in him, is imputed to us, or reckoned as if it were ours. Nor do I consider any holiness in us to be necessary as a concomitant to justification, except what is necessarily included in the believing…. Nor could I feel a union of heart with those who are commonly considered in the present day as Baxterians, who hold with the gospel being a new remedial law, and represent sinners as contributing to their own conversion.15Fuller, “Letter VI: Baxterianism, 715.
Earlier, Fuller had written a Confession of Faith for his church, wherein he addressed this issue of faith’s relation to justification. He avowed, “The subject-matter of justification, I believe to be nothing of our own moral excellence, but the righteousness of Christ, alone, imputed to us, and received by faith.” A little later in the same document, he writes, “Although I disclaim personal holiness, as having any share in our justification, I consider it absolutely necessary to salvation; for without it ‘no man shall see the Lord.’” Here, Fuller makes the important distinction between faith’s receptive act for justification and faith’s obedient act for salvation. “Obedient faith” is a fruit or effect of justification, not its cause; and salvation is the reward of obedient faith.
Elsewhere, Fuller wrote:
Though believing in Christ is compliance with a duty, yet it is not as a duty, or by way of reward for a virtuous act, that we are said to be justified by it. It is true that God does reward the services of his people, as the Scriptures abundantly teach, but this follows upon justification. We must stand accepted in the Beloved, before our services can be acceptable or rewardable. Moreover, if we were justified by faith as a duty, justification by faith could not be, as it is, opposed to justification by works. “To him that worketh is the reward reckoned, not of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:4–5)16Andrew Fuller, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, 3 vols. (1845 ed.; repr. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 2:384.
Here again, we find Fuller rejecting faith “as a duty” or as “a virtuous act” as necessary for justification. If this were admitted, such faith would become a condition for justification, which necessitates the idea of merit, and thus would be a form of “justification by works.”
While more examples could be included from theologians of other denominations,17Most famously is John Owen’s response in vol. 5 of The Works of John Owen by Banner of Truth. this sampling of some of the major writing theologians in the Baptist tradition demonstrates a decisive rejection of Baxterianism, especially with respect to justifying faith. It also shows how some of the most influential Baptists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries intentionally situated themselves in the broader Reformed stream of thought on this doctrine.
The Reformed Doctrine of Justification
Reformed orthodoxy enshrined the Bible’s doctrine of justification in its confessional tradition. Consider the Second London Confession 11.1–2 on justification:
Paragraph 1. Those whom God effectually calls, he also freely justifies, 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; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ’s active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.
Paragraph 2. Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.
Consider the second paragraph in light of Baxter and Wilson on faith’s role in justification. The confession teaches that “Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness is the alone instrument of justification.” That phrase is identical to Westminster Confession of Faith 11.2. According to these confessions, faith is only instrumental in justification as it rests and receives Christ, not as it obeys.
Furthermore, The Westminster Larger Catechism says:
Q. 70. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.
Q. 72. What is justifying faith?
A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.
Q. 73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.
Question 73 speaks directly to the matter at hand. Faith justifies “only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.” Faith does not justify as faith, as obedience, or as a part of regeneration. It only justifies by virtue of its reception of justifying content: Christ and his righteousness.
If pastors and teachers don’t get this right, they might think the answer to the sins of God’s people is to call them merely to believe and obey Christ’s commands, rather than to rest in Christ for forgiveness and righteousness, to adore Christ for his loveliness, and to obey him from a motive of gratitude, adoration, and joy. Geerhardus Vos said, “Legalism . . . obeys but it does not adore.”18Geerhardus Vos, “Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke” (Part 2), The Princeton Theological Review (Jan. 1916).
Is a woman struggling to be a faithful wife and to raise godly children? Pastors who get this wrong might be inclined to tell the woman that she needs to get her feelings together and believe God’s gracious promises to obey his commands. But the Reformed doctrine of faith means pastors should tell Christian women who are discouraged by their sin that Christ died for their sins, that his objective work outside of them rescues them so they can rest in the free grace of Christ, receive his forgiveness, and accept that they are safe and secure in the robes of his righteousness for assurance of salvation. Her faith as resting will then strengthen her to persevere in faithful obedience day after day, remembering Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.
Are children ever discouraged when their parents ask them to obey in something that disappoints them? Pastors who are unclear on the doctrine of faith might teach that the way to minister the gospel to disobedient children is to discipline them and command their joyful obedience. But those who hold to the Reformed doctrine of faith will discipline their children for sin, even while they also proclaim Christ and him crucified and risen for sinners, inviting their children to receive and rest in Jesus’s shed blood and righteousness, to believe his love and mercy toward them, and to put on obedience by faith in him.
In short, those who think of faith’s instrumentality in justification as obedience will be more likely to teach that Christians should move directly from sinning to obeying Christ. But the Bible and the Reformed faith teach that Christians should move from sinning to resting in Christ and then to obeying Christ. It’s what Jesus taught when he called sinners to come to him for “rest,” and then he also told them to take his “yoke” of obedience upon them (Matt 11:28–29). Paul said, “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
Conclusion: The Need for Clarity in Opposing False Teachers
As we witness and lament the waning of Christianity’s influence in American public life, Doug Wilson’s rhetoric has galvanized conservative and Reformed-minded Christians who, at the very least, are hungry for a vision of the future that has a strong Christian influence on the culture. Some have left faithful and orthodox churches for churches more aligned with “the Moscow mood,” while failing to discern the real danger of “the Moscow doctrine,” especially with respect to FV and its erroneous doctrine of justification.
Master of rhetoric that he is, Wilson would have us think we are tilting at windmills, stating:
Keep your eye on the ball. I believe that this FV issue continues to be an issue because of the doctrinal downgrade entailed in wokeness that is currently swamping Reformed evangelicalism in general. It is a distraction. I am one of the few voices raised in effective opposition to all of that woke foolishness, and so these canards are being resurrected again in order to dampen any thoughts that any of you might have about the propriety of following me into battle.
You know, the actual battle.
But the theological issues can’t be so flippantly dismissed because of a commitment to “own the libs.” More is at stake than that. And regardless of how effective his opposition to wokeness is, Wilson isn’t the hero we need to follow into battle. A significant error on the doctrine of justification isn’t merely a distraction.
Whereas some might (mistakenly, in our view) dismiss DeYoung’s critique as BigEva pearl-clutching because of Moscow’s “serrated edge,” our concern is anything but that. It’s not a disagreement about tone, emphasis, or “knowing what time it is.” It’s a fundamental disagreement about the heart of the gospel, about the doctrine Luther called “the article by which the church stands or falls.” For whatever “visceral” appeal “the Moscow mood” might present, we implore you to flee from the very real spiritual danger embedded in “the Moscow doctrine.”
 We are aware of accusations toward Doug Wilson’s church and ministries concerning improper uses of pastoral authority and mishandlings of abuse, however we are not in a position to speak knowledgeably on such matters. Therefore, we limit our critique to their stated theology.
 William Ames, The Marrow of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968), 162.
 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol 4 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 211.
 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2000), 522.
 Richard Baxter, Of justification four disputations clearing and amicably defending the truth against the unnecessary oppositions of divers learned and reverend brethren (London: Nevil Simmons, 1658), 77–78.
 Richard Baxter, Aphorismes of Justification (Hague: Abraham Brown, 1655), 199. We have slightly modernized this quotation for clarity.
 The 17:56-mark, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWqW41sBdYQ.
 The 10:40-mark, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWqW41sBdYQ.
 Benjamin Keach, The articles of the faith of the Church of Christ, or, Congregation meeting at Horsley-down Benjamin Keach, pastor, as asserted this 10th of the 6th month, 1697 (London, 1697), 12–13.
 John Gill, The Doctrine of Justification by the Righteousness of Christ, Stated and Maintained, Being the Substance of Several Sermons, 4th ed. (London: G. Keith and J. Robinson, 1756), 43. Our quotations have been slightly modernized for clarity.
 Gill, The Doctrine of Justification by the Righteousness of Christ, 20.
 Gill, The Doctrine of Justification by the Righteousness of Christ, 20–22
 Andrew Fuller, “Letter VI: Baxterianism” in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, 3 vols. (1845 ed.; repr. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 2:714.
 Fuller, “Letter VI: Baxterianism, 714.
 Fuller, “Letter VI: Baxterianism, 715.
 Andrew Fuller, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, 3 vols. (1845 ed.; repr. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 2:384.
 Most famously is John Owen’s response in vol. 5 of The Works of John Owen by Banner of Truth.
 Geerhardus Vos, “Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke” (Part 2), The Princeton Theological Review (Jan. 1916).