Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Musings on Gratitude and Obedience

There are some who posit that thankfulness is an insufficient reason or motive for Christian obedience. Interestingly, by implication, they are critiquing the Heidelberg Catechism as defective due to its emphasis on the motive of gratitude for Christian obedience... but that is for another musing. Often what is put forth by those looking to supplement and shore up our gratitude is 1) the motive to obey because God simply commands it, and 2) due to the necessity of holiness in our lives our motive should therefore be to pursue godly living in order to become more holy. We need to be holy. Does gratitude exclude these?

The Law commands all mankind to obedience, believer and unbeliever. Yet the unbeliever hears the law and, regarding obedience, says – "forget it." He is not the least motivated to obey God’s law merely because God commands it. Nor does the need of holiness in his life excite him to attend to the moral law as a necessary guide for his living. Rather,  “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Why is it then that a believer considers God’s holy commands to be not only obligatory but now desirable? In a word, Mercy... God's mercy shown to him who was once a rebel to the Law but now pardoned in Christ Jesus.

Let's consider this “necessity for holiness”… what is meant by that? Certainly holiness is at the center of God's eternal purpose for each of the elect. Due to God’s decreed will holiness, we can say, is indeed necessary. So obedience in that context is certainly necessary as the ordained outcome for all those Christ has saved. The justified will indeed be sanctified. And having the law written on their hearts, former lawless rebels now agree with the Law even as they yet struggle against their sinful tendencies. But should the believer consider obedience “necessary” as a condition for his salvation? No. He should only consider obedience necessary in that it is the only reasonable and logical response born of gratitude in his heart to the One who bore the curse of death for his sins, i.e. the way in which God has given him to walk unto salvation (WLC32).

Thankfulness is born in the heart of the sinner for whom Christ, by His perfect obedience to the Law and bloody death on the cross, purchased eternal life.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Rom. 5:6-11 NASB)
Gratitude fuels the new-heart-attitude and rectified-will thus making it unthinkable that blood-washed sinners would respond any other way than by offering themselves unto God for righteous living. This unmerited forgiveness for all our sins is not just a one time occurrence but is experienced throughout the Christian's life. We are sinners who still sin. And thankfully we have a Mediator and Advocate in heaven - Jesus Christ the Righteous - who intercedes continually for us with his precious blood... whose intercession allows for assurance of forgiveness in our consciences again and again. It would seem to me then that gratitude, as the primary motive of obedience for blood-washed sinners, infuses all other motives for the Christian's pursuit of holiness.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Klinean Gold Nugget...

"There is no reconciliation with the Creator, no renewal of love for him or genuine confession of Yahweh as covenant Lord that is not in the last analysis due to God’s restorative power operating in forgiving grace."
 - Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 236

Calvin: "Love... Proceeds from Faith and a Good Conscience"

The question is: Does obedience grow out from faith as surely as fruit from a tree, i.e. the faith through which God reckons a sinner righteous?

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5 ESV)
If the law must be directed to this object, that we may be instructed in love, which proceeds from faith and a good conscience, it follows, on the other hand, that they who turn the teaching of it into curious questions are wicked expounders of the law. Besides, it is of no great importance whither the word love be regarded in this passage as relating, to both tables of the law, or only to the second table. We are commanded to love God with our whole heart, and our neighbors as ourselves; but when love is spoken of in Scripture, it is more frequently limited to the second part. On the present occasion I should not hesitate to understand by it the love both of God and of our neighbor, if Paul had employed the word love alone; but when he adds, "faith, and a good conscience, and a pure heart," the interpretation which I am now to give will not be at variance with his intention, and will agree well with the scope of the passage. The sum of the law is this, that we may worship God with true faith and a pure conscience, and that we may love one another. Whosoever turns aside from this corrupts the law of God by twisting it to a different purpose.
But here arises a doubt, that Paul appears to prefer "love" to "faith." I reply, they who are of that opinion reason in an excessively childish manner; for, if love is first mentioned, it does not therefore hold the first rank of honor, since Paul shows also that it springs from faith. Now the cause undoubtedly goes before its effect. And if we carefully weigh the whole context, what Paul says is of the same import as if he had said, "The law was given to us for this purpose, that it might instruct us in faith, which is the mother of a good conscience and of love." Thus we must begin with faith, and not with love.
"A pure heart" and "a good conscience" do not greatly differ from each other. Both proceed from faith; for, as to a pure heart, it is said that "God purifieth hearts by faith." (Acts 15:9.) As to a good conscience, Peter declares that it is founded on the resurrection of Christ. (1 Peter 3:21.) From this passage we also learn that there is no true love where there is not fear of God and uprightness of conscience.
Nor is it unworthy of observation that to each of them he adds an epithet; for, as nothing is more common, so nothing is more easy, than to boast of faith and a good conscience. But how few are there who prove by their actions that they are free from all hypocrisy! Especially it is proper to observe the epithet Which he bestows on "faith," when he calls it faith unfeigned; by which he means that the profession of it is insincere, when we do not perceive a good conscience, and when love is not manifested. Now since the salvation of men rests on faith, and since the perfect worship of God rests on faith and a good conscience and love, we need not wonder if Paul makes the sum of the law to consist of them.
John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Timothy 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fatherly Anger Leads to Forgiveness...

I think the point that Calvin is making in the passage below, as he mentions that God is wonderoulsy angry with his children, is not to put fear in his children so that they will shape up and sin less. Of course we should sin less. In fact we shouldn't sin at all.That is the negative teaching of the Moral Law. But this passage is emphasizing the provision that God gives the elect in Christ for forgiveness and cleansing. So then, we are at times (thankfully) convicted of our sin by the Spirit and become aware of the dread penalty that is due us for our sin except for Christ (WLC 97). Calvin explains that this anger of the Father is intended to put a godly fear in us in order to humble us and bring us to repentance at the throne of Grace; that the blood of Christ might wash our consciences from the stain of sin and we might renew our trust alone in Christ and his sacrifice for our sin.

Book 3:2:12, Calvin
"The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,” (Rom. 5:5); namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. On the other hand, we see that God is mysteriously offended [wonderously angry] with his children, though he ceases not to love them. He certainly hates them not, but he alarms them with a sense of his anger, that he may humble the pride of the flesh, arouse them from lethargy, and urge them to repentance. Hence they, at the same instant, feel that he is angry with them for their sins, and also propitious to their persons."
In other words, when we sin our need isn't to sin less (it only takes one to condemn) but to be humbled by God so as to avail ourselves of his grace in forgiveness and repentance found in Christ. Sinning less doesn't relieve a troubled conscience and doesn't cleanse one from sin. Turning my eyes of faith to Christ does: but to him who does not work, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness (Rom. 4:5). Still sinners, we will still sin. And if we, by the grace of God, do remove certain types of sins from our lives the Holy Spirit will then show us a whole other layer of sins that lurk just under the surface unnoticed by us. Emphasizing the grace of God in his children does not undermine godly living but promotes it through the finished work of Christ.

Thanks to Brad Lindvall for initiating this topic via email.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Prayer of Calvin for the Church...

Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast at this time deigned in thy mercy to gather us to thy Church, and to enclose us within the boundaries of thy word, by which thou preserves us in the true and right worship of thy majesty, - O grant, that we may continue contented in this obedience to thee: and though Satan may, in many ways, attempt to draw us here and there, and we be also ourselves, by nature, inclined to evil, O grant, that being confirmed in faith, and united to thee by that sacred bond, we may yet constantly abide under the guidance of thy word, and thus cleave to Christ thy only-begotten Son, who has joined us for ever to himself, that we may never by any means turn aside from thee, but be, on the contrary, confirmed in the faith of his gospel, until at length he will receive us all into his kingdom. Amen.
Prayers of John Calvin from his Commentary on Hosea

Friday, November 28, 2014

Bucer's Admonition to Proclaim Christ Faithfully...

"But in this matter it is specially to be noted that the doctrine of Christ is to be faithfully proclaimed not only in the public gatherings of the church, but also in the home and to each one individually, following the example of Paul in the third and fifth texts. Thus in the third text [Acts 20:18-21] he states: I have proclaimed the doctrine of Christ to you and taught you in the general and public assembly, δημοσίᾳ-- and also privately from house to house, κατ’ οἴκους. And afterwards: For three years I never stopped warning each of you day and night. And in the fifth text [1 Thess. 2:5-12]: Like a father his children I have warned each one of you &c. The doctrine of the holy gospel is the doctrine of eternal salvation, and on account of our corrupt nature there is nothing more difficult and troublesome for us to learn; that is why this doctrine requires the most faithful, earnest and persistent teaching, instruction and admonition that anyone could ever employ."
Martin Bucer, Concerning The True Care Of Souls: p 181.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Samuel Petto: Covenants and Conditions

I just finished reading Michael Brown's book Christ and The Condition - The Covenant Theology of Samuel Petto (1624-1711). For anyone who wants to get a solid introduction into the development of covenant theology from the time of the Reformers through the high Reformed Orthodox period this is a valuable read. As the title indicates, the main focus is the covenant theology of Samuel Petto, a 17th century reformed theologian. Though hardly a household name today, Brown places Petto among the several influential covenant theologians of his day.

Only 124 pages, yet Brown covers a lot of ground, surveying that period of history with concise historical summaries, quotes, and insights. He looks at the covenant theology of Calvin, Ursinus, Olevanius, Rollock, Perkins, Polanus, Wollebius, Ames, Sibbes, Ball, Bolton, Strong, Rutherford, Dickson, Calamy, Cocceius, Patrick Gillespie, Owen, Turretin, Witsius, and of course Petto. The question in focus throughout is, "how did the Mosaic Covenant relate to the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace?" Brown documents what were a variety of approaches to that question among these many theologians. Crucial to these Reformed theologians, and especially Petto, was understanding the Mosaic covenant in such a way as to not impinge upon the unconditional promise of salvation in, and the continuity of, the Covenant of Grace throughout Scripture. And very much related to that was their view that the Mosaic covenant was not a re-inauguration of the Covenant of Works for one's salvation.

Here are two shorts excerpt taken from the book:
"The better Covenant and that at Sinai, are contradistinguished, and so must be two distinct Covenants, else the opposition were groundless, Jer. 31.31, 32 -- I will make a New Covenant -- Not according to the Covenant I made with their Fathers -- i.e. not according to the Sinai Covenant; for that was it which was made when they were brought out of the Land of Egypt. He doth not say, I will set up a new administration of my Covenant (though that had been true) but a New Covenant; there is a plain opposition between Covenant and Covenant, and therefore the New and that at Sinai must be two distinct, and not one and the same in two different forms; and the rather, because this New Covenant is not opposed to the Covenant with Abraham, and to that with David, but only to that with Moses and Israel at Mount Sinai..." (Petto, p. 101)
... He [Petto] refused to call faith, repentance, or obedience "conditions," either antecedent or subsequent ones. He acknowledged that if there was a condition for believers in the new covenant, it would seem to be faith, yet that cannot be the case. A condition "properly taken," he argued, earns the right to the benefit promised. This, said Petto, cannot apply to faith, because faith receives a benefit; it does not earn a right to it. While recognizing that the New Testament often uses conditional language to speak of the necessity of faith, repentance, and obedience, he stressed that these are gifts earned by Christ's obedience and bestowed upon believers by the inward working of the Holy Spirit. "In the very Covenant it self, it is promised that he will write his Laws on their hearts, Heb. 8.10. and that inplyeth Faith, Repentance, and every gracious frame." (p. 113)
[The quotes that Brown uses here are from Petto's Difference between the Old and New Covenant]

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Competent Turk?

And now for something completely different...

Screen shot
Frank Turk inquires into my thinking regarding a comment I made in response to this post of his. The conversation is below. It seems that Frank's style is to opt for condescension, a quick exit rather than engagement - and then a hasty closing off any further comments in order to have the last word and prove he stands alone as the smartest guy in the room. Impressive...

Jack Miller said...
Hearty Amen. Nicely reasoned - of course, with the help of your younger brother! The Spurgeon quote is icing on the cake...
5:59 PM, NOVEMBER 21, 2014Jack Miller said...
But I would say that Jones wasn't really saying his sanctification was imaginary as to demean the sanctification that God works in him (us), but that compared to the standard of God's holy law his obedience or sanctification in this life is but a meager start and far from (imaginary when compared to...) the holiness that is required in the Law. 
6:27 PM, NOVEMBER 21, 2014Frank Turk said...
Jack --
I think that it would be great if that's what he said. Can you show me where he said that? Because his words are pretty clear:
Personally, I am so thankful for my right standing with God because, after all, my sanctification is more imagined than real. But my justification is more real than imagined.
And if you ask me which blessing I love most right now, the answer is easy: union with Christ. For, in him, I have everything, so that I don't really need to decide whether I love justification or sanctification more than another. I'm comforted, primarily, by the fact that I belong to Christ and his work for me and in me will not fail.
That passage is pretty clear. Where does he say that stuff about God's law?
If anything, the expanded quote says this: I don't have to worry about my sanctification at all because Christ's ultimate work for me is all that matters. If I love Jesus, that's enough.
I'm not the one who asked the question, nor am I the one who wants to propose an answer which hides behind an MLJ quote which is often misused to mean that we can be careless about whether what we preach is antinomian.
I think what Jones said there was flowery, and full of puppies and bunnies, and gravely mistaken -- but I am open to see how you find your interpretation of his words in his words. 
9:19 AM, NOVEMBER 22, 2014Jack Miller said...
Frank, given how short Jones' post is I don't think one can say definitively what he means here and there. But in trying to give him a charitable read I take him as simply saying that his justification is fully complete and perfect in Christ. And that his sanctification by comparison is far, far (therefore the metaphor imaginary) from complete. As for the union bit I don't agree with his emphasis there. I think he may be presenting false choices between the three. But still, his comparison/contrast between justification and sanctification is consistent with the Reformed standards. And wouldn't you agree that the expression of sanctification in one's life would show itself in a direction of obedience to God's law? If so, then growing in sanctification would imply growing in obedience to the law.
WLC Q. 70. What is justification? [perfect & complete]
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 anything 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.
Of Sanctification [ongoing & partial in this life]
1. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
Heidelberg Q. 114.
But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments?
No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience... 
11:20 AM, NOVEMBER 22, 2014Frank Turk said...
Dear Jack --
I always find it hilarious when people quote the WCF or the Catechism on Justification to mop up their crumby reading of what it says about sanctification.
Thanks for the laugh. Have a nice weekend.
2:27 PM, NOVEMBER 22, 2014
New comments have been disabled for this post by a blog administrator.

Calvin: Embrace Christ Fully...

"It is indeed true, that we are justified in Christ through the mercy of God alone; but it is equally true and certain, that all who are justified are called by the Lord, that they may live worthy of their vocation. Let then the faithful learn to embrace him, not only for justification, but also for sanctification, as he has been given to us for both these purposes, lest they rend him asunder by their mutilated faith."
John Calvin, Commentary on Romans 8:13.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

What Role Does the Law Play In Our Daily Renewal?

What role does the law play in our being renewed in righteousness and true holiness by the Spirit, i.e our sanctification? To answer that I think it is safest to look primarily to the confessional standards such as:
WLC Q. 97. What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate? 
A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men [see Q. 95 below], it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.
WLC Q. 95. Of what use is the moral law to all men?
A. The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly; to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives: to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery, and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience.
So the moral law points the regenerate to Christ and his fulfilling of that law as a covenant of works for us (which we couldn't fulfil and still can't) and that he endured the curse of the law in our place (we are miserable offenders). And all of this he alone accomplished for our good. And it is this good news that increases and provokes more and more thankfulness in us as we grow in the blessedness of God’s grace in which we stand. That thankfulness finds its expression in our grateful duty as we endeavor to walk in conformity to Christ’s moral law, it being the guide or rule of our obedience.

Regarding sanctification, it seems to be more a function of God’s grace than his law:
WSC Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
Certainly the law is used by God, through both preaching and His written Word, yet it is Christ himself who has been given to us for both justification and sanctification and, as the earlier quotes make clear, even our whole salvation. John Calvin responding to Sadoleto:
… We deny that good works have any share in justification, but we claim full authority for them in the lives of the righteous. For if he who has obtained justification possesses Christ, and at the same time, Christ never is where His Spirit is not, it is obvious that gratuitous righteousness is necessarily connected with regeneration. Therefore, if you would duly understand how inseparable faith and works are, look to Christ, who, as the Apostle teaches (1 Cor. 1:30) has been given to us for justification and for sanctification.Wherever, therefore, that righteousness of faith, which we maintain to be gratuitous, is, there too Christ is, and where Christ is, there too is the Spirit of holiness, who regenerates the soul to newness of life.

The Way Appointed to Salvation...

Lest there be any confusion:
O Christians, men and women, hear this and learn. For surely the ignorant man shall perish in his ignorance, and the blind who follows another blind man will fall into the ditch with him. But there is one way to life and salvation, and that is faith and certainty in the promises of God which cannot be had without the gospel; for by hearing it and knowing it living faith is provided, together with sure hope, and perfect love for God and a lively love toward our neighbor. Where then is your hope, if you contemn and scorn to hear, see, read, and retain this holy gospel?
From John Calvin’s preface to Pierre Olivétan’s French translation of the New Testament (1534)

Monday, November 3, 2014

*Gospel Sanctification*

"This whole matter of sanctification and holiness is peculiarly joined with and limited unto the doctrine, truth, and grace of the gospel; for holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls...
"The “law,” indeed, for certain ends, “was given by Moses,” but all “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” There neither is, nor ever was, in the world, nor ever shall be, the least dram of holiness, but what, flowing from Jesus Christ, is communicated by the Spirit, according to the truth and promise of the gospel."
- John Owen, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Priority of Justification in Good Works

10. In this way we can admit not only that there is a partial righteousness in works, (as our adversaries maintain,) but that they are approved by God as if they were absolutely perfect. If we remember on what foundation this is rested, every difficulty will be solved. The first time when a work begins to be acceptable is when it is received with pardon. And whence pardon, but just because God looks upon us and all that belongs to us as in Christ? Therefore, as we ourselves when engrafted into Christ appear righteous before God, because our iniquities are covered with his innocence; so our works are, and are deemed righteous, because every thing otherwise defective in them being buried by the purity of Christ is not imputed. Thus we may justly say, that not only ourselves, but our works also, are justified by faith alone. Now, if that righteousness of works, whatever it be, depends on faith and free justification, and is produced by it, it ought to be included under it and, so to speak, made subordinate to it, as the effect to its cause; so far is it from being entitled to be set up to impair or destroy the doctrine of justification that it is what it is.
John Calvin, Institutes of Religion - Book 3.17.10