R. Scott Clark believes that Trent properly understood the Protestant position on the role of good works: good works are merely evidence of sanctity and nothing more (CJPM, 252-3). John Davenant, however, one of the English delegates to the Synod of Dort, vigorously disagrees.
While he acknowledges that some Lutherans believe that good works merely attest the existence of true faith, Davenant repeatedly asserts that this is not the Protestant position. Good works play an active and positive role in salvation. To describe this active role, Davenant uses what is arguably one of the most common phrases on this subject in Reformed writings, including the Westminster Standards (see WLC 32), namely that good works are the way to salvation/kingdom/eternal life. Davenant writes:
“[Bellarmine] charges us falsely also with asserting that good works are not otherwise necessary than under the character of a sign, to announce the presence of faith… But we abhor such doatings as these with our whole soul, and openly affirm that good works have, in reference to salvation, a necessity of their own, not significative only, but active; because (as has been before shewn by us more than once) by means of the practice of good works are we advancing and make progress towards the kingdom of heaven.” Justification, 1:314.
Good works are the way to salvation in the sense that the only road that leads to glory is the one paved with good works. One must walk along this narrow road in order to arrive at the gates of the celestial city. After citing Matthew 7:14, Davenant comments:
“Hence it is plain, that a certain sure way is laid down to the kingdom of heaven by God himself, and that the same is a narrow way, namely, that of virtue and holiness: not the broad way of iniquity and lust. As therefore, if there is a certain, only, and prescribed way, which leads to any city, it is necessary to all who wish to enter that city, to take this way; so, since by the Divine appointment the way of good works leads to the goal of eternal glory, he must inevitably enter upon and hold this way, who desires to arrive thither.” Justification, 1:302-303.
It would seem then that Mark Garcia is correct to critique Clark on his understanding of the role of good works. Good works do not merely attest sanctity, justification or saving faith. They are “not significative only, but active.” It would also seem therefore that Clark’s colleague at WSC, Michael Horton, better captures the Protestant, or at least Reformed, view of the necessity of good works when he writes:
“[Holiness] is the indispensable condition of our glorification: no one will be seated at the heavenly banquet who has not begun, however imperfectly, in new obedience.” God of Promise, 182-3.