Van Til on the Shepherd Controversy

Transcription of a speech by Cornelius Van Til at the Justification Controversy meeting of the Committee of the Whole of the OPC Philadelphia Presbytery

[Van Til's emphasis in bold.]

I think that when we begin with the idea of faith, we have to think first of all that the devils also believe and tremble. Now we have faith by which we need not to tremble because Christ on the cross said, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" so that His people might not be forsaken. It is finished! It was finished, once for all. Now that is, I think, beautifully expressed in this word of our Lord:

[Begin discussion of John 6:22ff.]

When the multitudes wanted to make Him king because He had given them bread, and they thought it would be easy to have a handout, Jesus said, when they found the other side, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, ye seek me not because ye see signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. [VT: Now then comes the crucial point.] Do not work for food which perishes but for food which endures to eternal life which the Son of Man shall give to you, for of Him the Father even God has been sealed." They therefore said, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said unto them, "This is the work of God, that ye may believe on Him Whom He hath sent."

Here faith and works are identical. Not similar but identical. The work is faith; faith is work. We believe in Jesus Christ and in His salvation, that’s why we do not tremble. He died for us, in our place, and the Scotsmen would say, "in our room and stead," for that substitutionary atonement, on the basis of which we are forensically righteous with God and are now righteous in His sight and shall inherit the kingdom of heaven in which only the righteous shall dwell. And I'm going to ask John Frame if he will quote the Greek of this particular passage.

[Frame works through it reading both the Greek and English.]

I thank you. Well now, you see faith alone is not alone. Faith is not alone. Faith always has an object. The faith, your act of believing, is pointed definitely to God in Jesus Christ, and by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, and conversion, it's all one, it's not a "janus face" proposition, but it is not possible to give exhaustive statements in human words, human concepts. And that's why we have to be satisfied merely to do what the Scriptures and Confessions of Faith say that they [i.e. we] ought to do, and that then we are on the way, and I think that Norman Shepherd is certainly in the line of direct descent of [i.e. on the topic of] faith. Thank you.

Note from webmaster in response to private queries: The above transcript is provided here merely as an item of historical documentation. Its provision should not be taken to imply approval (or disapproval) of Shepherd's views or of Van Til's assessment of Shepherd's views. It should be noted that the particular point of controversy here concerned the orthodoxy of Shepherd's position (as articulated at that time) regarding the roles of faith and works in relation to justification. It should also be noted (i) that Shepherd's views have developed somewhat (for better or worse, depending on one's point of view) since the time of the controversy (late 70's to early 80's) and (ii) that throughout his career Van Til was in full agreement with the statements of the Westminster Confession of Faith regarding justification, the covenant of works, the imputation of Adam's sin, and the imputation of Christ's righteousness. —JA

Transcribed by Phil Hodson
Copyright © James N. Anderson 2003
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