Since The Confessional Outhouse is a team blog, bringing together confessors of different confessions, it seems as if this is a good forum for us to investigate the differences, strengths, weaknesses of various confessional standards. Rather than creating a never-ending comment-thread with “Whose confessional standards are best? Go!”, I think it would be better to tackle smaller, more specific questions, with an (I hope) recurring series of posts by all of us Outhouse Sitters. So I have created the category “Compare & Confess”, and inaugurate the series with this post. (I have also applied the new category back to Revision II, even though the children’s catechism is technically not a subscribed confessional artifact).
So it has occurred to me that the Heidelberg Catechism is stronger than Westminster on the topic of Imputation of both Passive and Active Obedience. (To review, Christ’s Passive Obedience consists of his going to the cross and passively submitting to God’s just wrath on our behalf, while his Active Obedience consists of his actively, perfectly fulfilling God’s law on our behalf). Witness HC #60:
Q: How are thou righteous before God?
A: Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin [there’s the passive]: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; [and there’s the active] inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.
The best I could find in WCF is from ch. 11:
1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: 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; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God…
3. Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to his Father’s justice in their behalf. Yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them; and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead; and both, freely, not for anything in them; their justification is only of free grace; that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.
It is common among Federal Visionistas to call the IAOC formulation a “Shibboleth” that one can reject while remaining confessional. It seems clear to me that “obedience” = “active” and “satisfaction” = “passive”, but I have encountered one FV who denied that parallel, asserting rather that the dichotomy “obedience and satisfaction” is compromise language that exists specifically because of proto-FVs among the Westminster assembly (with an alternate meaning I can’t remember). Not being a historical theologian privy to the doctrinal biographies of all the divines, or the minutes of all their meetings, I had no response to this. But the HC formulation seems to me much more explicit and undeniable in its affirmation of the imputation of both the active and passive obedience of Christ to the believer.
Now I have only heard of FV proponents existing within Westminster-confessing denominations: (OPC, PCA) — never any 3F denomination (CRC, URC, …?). Is this because the 3F are stronger on this point than Westminster?