Vs. Turretin #10: Sanctification

Vs. Turretin #10: Sanctification May 7, 2024

François Turretin (1623-1687) was a Genevan-Italian Reformed scholastic theologian and renowned defender of the Calvinistic (Reformed) orthodoxy represented by the Synod of Dort, and was one of the authors of the Helvetic Consensus (1675). He is generally considered to be the best Calvinist apologist besides John Calvin himself. His Institutes of Elenctic Theology (three volumes, Geneva, 1679–1685) used the scholastic method. “Elenctic” means “refuting an argument by proving the falsehood of its conclusion.” Turretin contended against the conflicting Christian  perspectives of Catholicism and Arminianism. It was a popular textbook; notably at Princeton Theological Seminary, until it was replaced by Charles Hodge‘s Systematic Theology in the late 19th century. Turretin also greatly influenced the Puritans.

This is a reply to a portion of Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Vol. 2, 17th Topic: Sanctification and Good Works). I utilize the edition translated by George Musgrave Giger and edited by James T. Dennison, Jr. (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: 1992 / 1994 / 1997; 2320 pages). It uses the KJV for Bible verses. I will use RSV unless otherwise indicated.  All installments of this series of replies can be found on my Calvinism & General Protestantism web page, under the category, “Replies to Francois Turretin (1632-1687).” Turretin’s words will be in blue.


First Question

What is sanctification and how is it distinguished from justification, yet inseparable from it?

I. As Christ was made to us of God righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30)—not dividedly, but conjointly; not confusedly, but distinctly—so the benefit of sanctification immediately follows justification as inseparably connected with it, but yet really distinct from it.

Protestants (particularly Reformed ones) make a sharp distinction between justification and sanctification (whereas Catholics — following Holy Scripture — combine them). For Protestants, works of sanctification have — in the final analysis — nothing to do with salvation. They are done in thankfulness for a justification already attained. Thus, Turretin writes a bit later:

God makes us first new creatures by regeneration; then we show that we are regenerated by our new obedience (as these acts are distinguished in Eph. 2:10; Ezk. 36:26; Jer. 32:39). . . . The actual laying aside of vices and the correction of life and morals follow regeneration, as its proper effects (Gal. 5:22, 23; Col. 3:5). . . . Scripture has frequently distinguished these benefits (1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11; Tit. 3:5; Rev. 22:11).

But the formal separation is not a biblical distinction, as I will show again and again. Let’s look at the Bible passages Turretin sets forth as alleged proof of his view:

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

This is itself doesn’t prove the formal separation of justification and sanctification. It is stating that the justified person or disciple of Christ will do good works. All agree on that. But it doesn’t establish Protestant soteriology. In the previous two verses, Paul wrote:

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — [9] not because of works, lest any man should boast.

This is consistent with his overall teaching. See: St. Paul on Grace, Faith, & Works (50 Passages) [8-6-08]. When Paul writes that we’re “not” saved “because of works” (Eph 2:9), he is denying works salvation. But in Ephesians 2:10 he shows that works are part of the overall equation. They can’t save us by themselves, but neither can or does faith. They have to function together, with both being caused by God’s prior grace. Ephesians 2:8-10 presents the whole package, and it’s thoroughly Catholic. It’s our “three-legged stool” of salvation: grace, faith, and works.

Ezekiel 36:25-27 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. [26] A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. [27] And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

Jeremiah 32:39-41  I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. [40] I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. [41] I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.

Again, God cleanses us and indwells us, and we do good works. But this is completely harmonious with the Catholic view of an organic connection between justification and sanctification. It doesn’t prove the Protestant view over against ours. We would contend that the justified person does the good works precisely because of the prior organic connection.

Galatians 5:22-25 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. [24] And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. [25] If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Colossians 3:1-2, 5 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [2] Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. . . .  [5] Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Paul is saying that those who have the Holy Spirit simply do these things. They flow from the nature of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This seems altogether organic and connected by nature. It’s a somewhat subtle distinction, but a real one. Of course, the good works are later in time than initial justification, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t intrinsically connected.

1 Corinthians 1:30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption;

1 Corinthians 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Revelation 22:11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

These are clear expressions of organic, intrinsic connection of justification and sanctification. It’s difficult to understand why anyone would think otherwise.

Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,

Paul reiterates that we are not saved by works alone and that God’s grace is the ultimate cause (cf. 2:11). But in the same letter he writes five times that good works are part of the whole package:

Titus 1:16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds; they are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good deed.

Titus 2:7 Show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity,

Titus 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Titus 3:8 The saying is sure. I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men.

Titus 3:14 And let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not to be unfruitful.

Nor could Paul so often have denied that we are justified by works if justification is the same as sanctification;

He could do so if what he meant in those “negative” passages was Jewish works of Mosaic Law, as the New Perspective on Paul (a Protestant school of thought) maintains.

The former [justification] consists in the judicial and forensic act of remission of sin and imputation of righteousness; the latter [sanctification] in the physical and moral act of the infusion of righteousness and internal renovation. 

This plainly states the anti-traditional, innovative Protestant conception of sanctification: imputed justification and infused sanctification. Catholicism holds that both are infused.

sanctification is indeed begun in this life, but is perfected only in the other. . . . by degrees and successively.

If it’s perfected in the afterlife; indeed, even “by degrees and successively”: how is that to be distinguished from purgatory?

Although we think that these two benefits should be distinguished and never confounded, still they are so connected from the order of God and the nature of the thing that they should never be torn asunder.

This is the sense in which the two competing views are actually quite similar (almost merely abstractly or conceptually distinct), in terms of practical application to life. I have often noted this and rejoiced in it. I argue for the Catholic viewpoint, but at the same time recognize that the two views are very close to each other.

This is clearly evident even from this—that they are often set forth in one and the same word as when they are designated by the words “cleansing” and “purging” and “taking away,” not only in different places, but also in the same context (as Jn. 1:29, when “the Lamb of God” is said “to take away the sin of the world,” i.e., both by taking away its guilt and punishment by the merit of his blood and by taking away its pollution and taint by the efficacy of the Spirit; and in Rev. 1:5, Christ is said “to wash us from our sins,” both as to justification and as to sanctification; in which sense “the robes of believers” are said “to have been made white in the blood of Christ” [Rev. 7:14] . . . God joined these two benefits in the covenant of grace, since he promises that he will not remember our sins and that he will write his law in our hearts (Jer. 31:33, 34). Nor does the nature of God suffer this to be done otherwise. For since by justification we have a right to life (nor can anyone be admitted to communion with God without sanctification), it is necessary that he whom God justifies is also sanctified by him so as to be made fit for the possession of glory. Nay, he does not take away guilt by justification except to renew his own image in us by sanctification because holiness is the end of the covenant and of all its blessings (Lk. 1:68–75; Eph. 1:4).

Amen! Like I said, “close.”

The very faith by which we are justified demands this. For as it is the instrument of justification by receiving the righteousness of Christ, so it is the root and principle of sanctification, while it purges the heart and works through love (Gal. 5:6). Justification itself (which brings the remission of sins) does not carry with it the permission or license to sin (as the Epicureans hold), but ought to enkindle the desire of piety and the practice of holiness. With God, it is a propitiation that he may be feared (Ps. 130:4); speaks peace to his people that they may not turn again to folly (Ps. 85:8). Thus justification stands related to sanctification as the means to the end. And to this tends the whole economy of grace, which for no other reason has dawned upon us, unless “that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly” (Tit. 2:12).

More great thoughts, which Catholics wholly agree with.

Three opinions concerning the necessity of good works.

II. There are three principal opinions about the necessity of good works. First is that of those who (sinning in defect) deny it; such were formerly the Simonians and the modern Epicureans and Libertines, who make good works arbitrary and indifferent, which we may perform or omit at pleasure. The second is that of those who (sinning in excess) affirm and press the necessity of merit and causality; such were the ancient Pharisees and false apostles, who contended that works are necessary to justification. These are followed by the Romanists and Socinians of our day. The third is that of those who (holding the middle ground between these two extremes) neither simply deny, nor simply assert; yet they recognize a certain necessity for them against the Libertines, but uniformly reject the necessity of merit against the Romanists. This is the opinion of the orthodox.

This is trying to have it both ways. Are works necessary for salvation (alongside grace and faith) or not? Turretin opts for a supposed “middle ground” and a “certain necessity.” He (and Protestants en masse) can’t have it both ways. In order to maintain some sort of necessity for works, they go after merit. But it’s a distinction without a difference. I have collected fifty biblical passages directly tying good works to entrance into heaven and ultimate salvation. They simply can’t be interpreted as involving no merit whatsoever. If they weren’t meritorious whatsoever, then heaven couldn’t possibly be any kind of reward for doing them. Yet it is; so they are meritorious. It’s as simple as that. Here are some of them:

Matthew 7:19-21 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20] Thus you will know them by their fruits. [21] “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 25:31-36 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. [32] Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, [33] and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. [34] Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; [35] for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, [36] I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Luke 3:9 (+ Mt 3:10; 7:19) Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Luke 14:13-14 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

John 5:26-29 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

Romans 2:5-13 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honour and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Hebrews 6:7-8 For land which has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned.

1 Peter 1:17 . . . who judges each one impartially according to his deeds . . .

Revelation 2:5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Revelation 20:11-13 Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done.

Revelation 22:12 Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done.

Moreover, there are several biblical passages that tie salvation directly to sanctification, in a way contrary to the Protestants view of sanctification:

Acts 26:18 to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. [Phillips: “made holy by their faith in me”] [cf. Acts 20:32; Jude 1]

This would appear to contradict a strict notion of sola fide, or faith alone: one of the two “pillars” of the so-called “Reformation”, because it connects sanctification directly to faith; indeed, it comes “by” faith. Here is another passage that connects sanctification with faith (traditionally associated with justification):

Acts 15:8-9 And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith.

The Greek word for “cleansed” used here is katharizo. It is used many times in the Gospels in reference to the cleansing of lepers (e.g., Mt 10:8; Lk 7:22). We see this dynamic also in Hebrews:

Hebrews 9:12-14 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (cf. 1 John 1:7, 9: same word: katharizo)

Thus, the “eternal redemption” secured by Jesus Christ with “his own blood” leads inexorably to a purified conscience, and a new ability to serve God, just as flesh was purified by the old sacrificial system. Sanctification seems intimately connected to justification, or in any event, redemption. Perhaps the two clearest verses in the New Testament that directly connects sanctification to salvation itself, are these:

2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

Romans 6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life.

The author of Hebrews maintains the same motif:

Hebrews 10:10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

Hebrews 10:29 How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?

Hebrews 13:12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

The following five passages also plainly teach the notion of meritorious works:

2 Timothy 2:15, 21-22 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. . . . If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work. So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.

Hebrews 10:24 and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,

Hebrews 10:36, 38-39 For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. . . . but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.

2 Peter 1:10 Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall;

Jude 1:20-21 But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

See also:
‘Doers of the Law’ Are Justified, Says St. Paul [National Catholic Register, 5-22-19]
Jesus on Salvation: Works, Merit and Sacrifice [National Catholic Register, 7-28-19]
good works are set forth to us as the effects of eternal election (Eph. 1:4); the fruit and seal of present grace (2 Tim. 2:19; 2 Cor. 1:21, 22; Jn. 15:4; Gal. 5:22); and the “seeds” or “firstfruits” and earnests of future glory (Gal. 6:7, 8; Eph. 1:14; Rom. 8:23).
They are also described as a partial cause of salvation, and instrumental in achieving it, per all the biblical data I brought forth above.
everyone sees that there is the highest and an indispensable necessity of good works for obtaining glory. It is so great that it cannot be
reached without them (Heb. 12:14; Rev. 21:27).
Exactly! This state of affairs can’t exist unless good works brought about by grace and done in faith are also meritorious. It simply makes no sense trying to deny the merit part of it. It’s an internal difficulty of Protestant soteriology.
Although we acknowledge the necessity of good works against the Epicureans, we do not on this account confound the law and the gospel and
interfere with gratuitous justification by faith alone . . . 
That’s the contradiction and incoherent position.


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Photo credit: from the Brill page, “Francis Turretin (1623–87) and the Reformed Tradition”: chapter 6, publication history.

Summary: Critique of the 17th century Reformed / Calvinist theologian François Turretin with regard to the doctrine of sanctification, including meritorious good works.

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