Thursday, September 25, 2014

Obedience envy?

The calls for more obedience and more holiness keep getting more insistent as exhibited on a number of blogs, and in the comments to this post and this post. And we agree, as followers of Christ, we are called to holy living; a life that is normed by the moral law of God as given to mankind in Adam and as summarized in the Decalogue and, I might add, as given to believers in Christ. If we are going to emphasize obedience in some way as necessary for salvation, then the question is how much? For some perspective...
HC Question 114. But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments?
Answer: No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.
HC Question 115. Why will God then have the ten commandments so strictly preached, since no man in this life can keep them?
Answer: First, that all our lifetime we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin, and righteousness in Christ; likewise, that we constantly endeavour and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come.

WLC Q. 149. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A. No man is able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed.
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 [Q/A 95], 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 [i.e. their thankfulness] in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.
So… No one keeps the commandments even close to perfectly (far from it), which is the only kind of “keeping” the moral law recognizes. And that ought to daily stop us and always lead us into an attitude of repentance, seeing our need of Christ and how by grace both his passive and active obedience replaces our moral deficiency with his perfect sufficiency… and likewise lead us to greater thankfulness in that it is he who first loved us and laid hold of us, even while we were yet his enemies and dead in our sin. Then in thankfulness as we look to walk in the direction of his moral law, we can know that he accepts our imperfect and inconsistent growth in obedience inasmuch as it is sanctified by his blood – that God, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere [which sincerity by definition is always lacking due to the "corruption in every part"], although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections” (WCF 16.6)

In my mind this kind of levels the sinner/saint-obedience playing field for all concerned; and causes me to think, in light of Christ's perfect obedience for us, that my own (and yours) is not all that and a box of biscuits...

So what should the emphasis be? Grace or obedience? How about the full and free grace of God in Christ as proclaimed in the gospel, which gospel is the ground and even the Rock, upon which all obedience is commanded to believers and accepted by God. Again some perspective, this time from our tertiary standards in the OPC:
The preacher must, as Christ's ambassador, seek to build up the saints in the most holy faith and beseech the unconverted to be reconciled to God. Nothing is more necessary than that the gospel of salvation by grace be proclaimed without any adulteration or compromise, in order that the hearers may learn to rely for salvation only on the grace of God in Christ, to the exclusion of their own works or character, ascribing all glory to God alone for their salvation. The preacher is to instruct his hearers in the whole counsel of God, exhort the congregation to more perfect obedience to Christ, and warn them of the sins and dangers that are around them and within them. A preacher fails to perform his task as a God-appointed watchman on Zion's walls who neglects to warn the congregation of prevalent soul-destroying teachings by enemies of the gospel. [Directory for the Public Worship of God, Book of Church Order]
And now for the TWR benediction:
... and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1:14-17)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Romans 8:4 Justification or Sanctification?

In his book, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest? (p. 56), Mark Jones writes:
In 1 Corinthians 7:19, there is a contrast that runs counter to a strict law-gospel distinction: “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.” Similarly, in Romans 3:27, Paul contrasts a “law of works” with a “law of faith.” Moreover, in agreement with what has been said above, the law actually becomes a quickening Spirit that sets us free from sin and death. By this principle, the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in believers (Rom. 8:1–4).
Then in one of his Ref 21 blog posts he zeros in on Romans 8:4,
Romans 8:4. Enough said. Though, the reader should know that the context shows that Paul is clearly speaking about sanctification, not justification.
I guess for Mark Jones that settles the issue once for all. If we only knew what he knows then we wouldn't be so careless as to think Romans 8:4 could be speaking about anything other than sanctification! Now, I'm aware that there are good men who believe this verse is about sanctification. Yet, I find it curious that Mark Jones can make such an unequivocal statement. I rather doubt that he is unaware of what many, if not most, older Reformed theologians understood this verse to be teaching.

But just in case, here are samplings of a few of the old guys who might have possibly stated it this way:  The context of Romans 8:4 shows that Paul is clearly speaking about justification, not sanctification. 

John Owen, THE NATURE OF JUSTIFICATION AS DECLARED IN THE EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL, IN THAT UNTO THE ROMANS ESPECIALLY.
5. As was before observed, reconciliation and the pardon of sin through the blood of Christ do directly, in the first place, respect our relief from the state and condition whereinto we were cast by the sin of Adam, — in the loss of the favor of God, and liableness unto death. This, therefore, is that which principally, and in the first place, a lost convinced sinner, such as Christ calls unto himself, does look after. And therefore justification is eminently and frequently proposed as the effect of the blood-shedding and death of Christ, which are the direct cause of our reconciliation and pardon of sin. But yet from none of these considerations does it follow that the obedience of the one man, Christ Jesus, is not imputed unto us, whereby grace might reign through righteousness unto eternal life.
The same truth is fully asserted and confirmed, Romans 8:1-4. But this place has been of late so explained and so vindicated by another, in his learned and judicious exposition of it (namely, Dr. Jacomb), as that nothing remains of weight to be added unto what has been pleaded and argued by him, part 1 verse 4, p.587, and onwards. And indeed the answers which he subjoins (to the arguments whereby he confirms the truth) to the most usual and important objections against the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, are sufficient to give just satisfaction unto the minds of unprejudiced, unengaged persons. I shall therefore pass over this testimony, as that which has been so lately pleaded and vindicated, and not press the same things, it may be (as is not unusual) unto their disadvantage.
Thomas Jacomb: pp 576-77, The Righteousness of the Law Rom VIII Ver. IV

3. Thirdly, Others open it thus, the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in Believers perfectly, yet not personally, but imputatively.

Their meaning is this, the Lord Jesus in his own person whilst he was here on earth did obey the Law, perfectly conforming to it in all its holy commands; now this his most perfect obedience to the Law made over, reckoned, imputed to his members, as if they themselves in their own persons had performed it. The Law’s righteousness is not fulfilled in them formally, subjectively, inherently or personally; but legally ( they being in Christ as their Head and Surety) and imputatively so it is. This is the fulfilling which suits with the words, for ’tis said that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, not by us, but in us; in us (that is) not only for our sake and for our good, but as Christ’s Obedience is ours by imputation. If the former senses [1. and 2.] be rejected this must be received; for since the Law’s righteousness must be fulfilled in the Saints, (otherwise what the Apostle here affirms would not be true), and since there are but two wayes wherein it can be fulfilled, either by themselves or by some other; it necessarily follows, if they do not fulfil it the first way that the second must take place; and so it must be fulfilled by Christ for them and his obedience be imputed to them. And this is that Exposition of the words which our * PROTESTANT Divines (so far as imputation in general is concern’d) do commonly give: but about it many things are necessary to be spoken unto, both for the explaining and also for the vindicating of it (which therefore shall be done by and by).
[emphasis in the original]
John Calvin, Commentary on Rom 8:4:
That the justification of the law might be fulfilled, etc. They who understand that the renewed, by the Spirit of Christ, fulfil the law, introduce a gloss wholly alien to the meaning of Paul; for the faithful, while they sojourn in this world, never make such a proficiency, as that the justification of the law becomes in them full or complete. This then must be applied to forgiveness; for when the obedience of Christ is accepted for us, the law is satisfied, so that we are counted just. For the perfection which the law demands was exhibited in our flesh, and for this reason — that its rigor should no longer have the power to condemn us. But as Christ communicates his righteousness to none but to those whom he joins to himself by the bond of his Spirit, the work of renewal is again mentioned, lest Christ should be thought to be the minister of sin: for it is the inclination of many so to apply whatever is taught respecting the paternal kindness of God, as to encourage the lasciviousness of the flesh; and some malignantly slander this doctrine, as though it extinquished the desire to live uprightly.
Charles Hodge, Commentary on Romans 8:4:
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, etc. This verse expresses the design of God in sending his Son, and in condemning sin in the flesh. He did thus condemn it, ἵνα, in order that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled. The meaning, therefore, of this passage is determined by the view taken of ver. 3. If that verse means, that God, by sending his Son, destroyed sin in us, then of course this verse must mean, 'He destroyed sin, in order that we should fulfill the law;" i.e. that we should be holy. But if ver. 3 is understood of the sacrificial death of Christ, and of the condemnation of sin in him as the substitute of sinners, then this verse must be understood of justification, and not of sanctification. He condemned sin, in order that the demands of the law might be satisfied. This is the view of the passage given even by the majority of the early Fathers, and by almost all evangelical interpreters, including the performers...
2. The analogy of Scripture. To make this passage teach the doctrine of subjective justification, that we are freed from condemnation or delivered from the law by our inward sanctification, is to contradict the plain teaching of the Bible, and the whole drift and argument of this epistle.
3. The concluding clause of the verse, (who walk not after the flesh, etc.) demands the interpretation given above. In the other view of the passage, the latter clause is altogether unnecessary. Why should Paul say, that Christ died in order that they should be holy who are holy, i.e. those who walk not after the flesh? On the other hand, the second clause of the verse is specially pertinent, if the first treats of justification. The benefits of Christ's death are experienced only by those who walk not after the flesh. The gospel is not antinomian. Those only are justified who are also sanctified. Holiness is the fruit and evidence of reconciliation with God. There is no condemnation to those who walk after the Spirit; and the righteousness of the law is fulfilled by those who walk after the Spirit. In both cases, the latter clause is designed to describe the class of persons who are entitled to appropriate to themselves the promise of justification in Christ.
4. Finally, as intimated in the above quotation from Calvin, it is not true that, the righteousness of the law, in the sense of complete obedience, is fulfilled in believers. The interpretation which makes the apostle say, that we are delivered from the law by the work of Christ, in order that the complete obedience which the law demands might be rendered by us, supposes what all Scripture and experience contradicts. For an exposition of the last clause of the verse, see v. l.

Friday, September 12, 2014

But Now! Apart From Works of the Law

As Michael Horton has pointed out, humans identify with law and works. It is our default position. Faith and trust in Christ alone, i.e. dependence on what Christ has done through the cross, is counter-intuitive and itself a gift of grace. Paul in Rom. 3:21, after showing how all are shut up in sin under the law, introduces the good news of justification by faith with the exclamation "But now!". We hear that good news and too often instinctively ask,"Yeah, but what do I need to do?" It's as if God has only started our justification through faith in Christ and now, in order to complete it and maintain it, we need to make sure we're holding up our end of the bargain.

Indeed, there are good works. But they necessarily proceed from our justification in Christ. Trusting in Christ alone for one's salvation results in a new heart (a work of the Holy Spirit) that is now alive to God and inclined toward obedience. Thus works flow from faith and thankfulness in light of his wondrous gift of forgiveness and justification. But these works (being yet imperfect) are never, partially or whole, the basis of our right standing before God. That righteous standing is secured solely on the basis of Christ's finished work of redemption. So to say "by faith alone" is to say "by faith in Christ's finished work of the cross alone", i.e. being declared righteous before God because of his perfect sacrifice for our sins and his perfect obedience on our behalf for our justification. Our motive then for obedience is one of thankful duty, not one of need or fear.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hart, Covenants, and Concerns...

Darryl Hart at his Old Life blog has a new post, Flattening Will Get You Nowhere, that I'm linking to as a follow up on yesterday's Machen, Jones, Quotes, Questions. Below is the lede to his post.


"Mark Jones wonders what is so controversial about the view that the covenant with Adam      was gracious:
. . . for the sake of argument, let’s say the Mosaic covenant has a meritorious element. Does that make it a republication of the covenant of works? Not necessarily. After all, you would have to re-define the covenant of works to make it a meritorious covenant. But what if you hold to the uncontroversial view that Adam, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, lived by faith in the Garden of Eden as he perfectly obeyed God’s law (for a time)? How is Sinai similar to that covenantal context and how is it different?
In other words, Adam was dependent on the work of grace to keep the law in a way comparable to what the Israelites experienced after the Mosaic Covenant. And as I gather from his interview (haven’t read his book yet), Jones also draws comparisons between Christ’s pursuit of holiness and the Christian’s similar endeavor. Lots of flattening in Jones’ reading of the Bible and history, though not much attention to Paul who may have provided a few reasons for not exalting every valley in redemptive history..."

Read Darryl's entire post here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Machen, Jones, Quotes and Questions...

Pulling quotes is hardly the best way to make comparisons when it comes to evaluating theology. And it certainly can give an inaccurate picture, so I'm open to that criticism on that score. But after reading Mark Jones' book, Antinomianism, I did come away with some concerns as to the template he is operating with when it comes to explaining how redeemed sinners live the Christian life. To what degree and in what way was Jesus Christ's life on earth the template or example for our sanctified living? What parallels are we to draw between Christ's sinless walk as the Lamb of God and ours as miserable offenders who by grace have trusted in him for salvation - an "It-is-finished" salvation secured by his shed blood and perfect obedience under the law for those whom he came to save.  Consider the quote comparisons below as a way to initially highlight some points in need of clarification and further inquiry.

J. Gresham Machen from his book, Christianity & Liberalism:
According to modern liberalism, in other words, Jesus was the Founder of Christianity because He was the first Christian, and Christianity consists in maintenance of the religious life which Jesus instituted. But was Jesus really a Christian? Or, to put the same question in another way, are we able or ought we as Christians to enter in every respect into the experience of Jesus and make Him in every respect our example? Certain difficulties arise with regard to this question…
But there is another difficulty in the way of regarding Jesus as simply the first Christian. This second difficulty concerns the attitude of Jesus toward sin. If Jesus is separated from us by his Messianic consciousness, He is separated from us even more fundamentally by the absence in Him of a sense of sin…
Once affirm that Jesus was sinless and all other men sinful, and you have entered into irreconcilable conflict with the whole modern point of view…
The religious experience of Jesus, as it is recorded in the Gospels, in other words, gives us no information about the way in which sin shall be removed.
Yet in the Gospels Jesus is represented constantly as dealing with the problem of sin. He always assumes that other men are sinful; yet He never finds sin in Himself. A stupendous difference is found here between Jesus’ experience and ours.

Mark Jones from his book, Antinomianism:
Christ is our mediator, our union with him means not only that we must be holy (i.e., necessity), but also that we will be able to be like him (i.e., motive)…
In other words, whatever grace we receive for our holiness first belonged to the Savior (John 1:16)…
How and in what power was Christ made holy? And what relation does his own pattern of holiness have to his people?…
He, like us, relied upon the Holy Spirit for his holiness (Isa. 11:2)….
Since Christ was rewarded for his good works, his people can rejoice that they too will be rewarded for their good works. In this way, the role of good works and rewards finds its Christological basis, which is crucial to any discussion of applied soteriology…

Friday, August 29, 2014

In Search of Union...

Do a word search for union in your bible and see what you come up with. I did one with my Concordance app (ASV) on my iPad and interestingly enough, though not surprisingly, didn't come up with one single
occurrence of the word. Yet union is a word that today litters Christian essays, articles, sermons, and books. I use the verb 'litters' not to belittle the proper use of the doctrine, but to highlight what I think is often its overuse as the supposed overarching meta-soteriological doctrine explaining salvation in the New Testament.

To me, it seems safest and most helpful to stick with bibilical language as much as possible. "Our union with Christ" or speaking of any particular blessing as coming to us "through union with Christ" aren't incorrect concepts per se. It's just that they are often used so broadly and freely that they are open to misunderstanding especially when not nailed down. As is often asked - what "union" are we talking about? Federal, legal, mystical...? What does one mean by "through union with Christ?"

I think it's similar in some ways to those who would insist that the doctrine of election be front and center when the gospel is preached. Only the elect 'hear' the gospel with ears of faith, yet they don't necessarily need to know up front how and why that is true in order to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins. That said, the gospel doesn't claim that God sent Jesus to die for everyone and thus make it theoretically possible for everyone to be saved if only everyone would believe. Christ came for the elect. "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37). Again, the biblical language should be our guide. See examples of gospel preaching in Acts. Is divine election present in the gospel? Indeed, it is the ground, yet most often in the background. 

The doctrine of our union with Christ is central in salvation. As John Calvin wrote,  "so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us" (Institutes 3.1.1). Yet as a doctrine it remains most often in the background not the foreground when Christ crucified is preached. In a word, faith isn't directly engaged by preaching "our union with Christ", especially when it isn't unpacked. That is how I'm presently thinking about this.

Unpacking "union with Christ" - from R. Scott Clark at Heidelblog:
Definitions
There is also apparently some confusion about what is meant by “union with Christ.” This is understandable because the doctrine has three or four aspects and, in contemporary discussion, all participants have not always been as cautious as necessary to make sure we are talking about the same aspect at the same time in the same way.
Louis Berkhof (1873–1957) represented the mainstream of the Reformed tradition when he spoke of the “federal union” that all the elect have with Christ (Systematic Theology, 448). This aspect of union is relative to the eternal, pre-temporal (before time) “covenant of redemption” (pactum salutis) between the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit). According to Ps 110, John 17 and other passages, the Father gave to his Son a people and the Son volunteered to be their Mediator, their federal representative, and their Savior; i.e., to earn their salvation. This is one of the three or four aspects of our union with Christ. For more on this see the chapter on the “Covenant Before the Covenants” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.
Berkhof wrote of a second aspect of our union with Christ, which he called the “union of life” (ibid). This union refers to the natural, organic relation that all humans have with the first Adam, who was the federal representative of all humanity (Rom 5). The corollary to our natural union with Adam, in whom we would have entered in glorious life had he (and we in him) obeyed the commandment of life (“you shall not eat”). In the covenant of redemption God constituted a union between the Son, who would be the Last Adam (1Cor 15) and his people. Implicitly, the Holy Spirit was a party to this covenant as that person who would apply redemption to the people given to the Son. The Second Adam (Rom 5), Jesus, fulfilled that covenant of works for all those whom he represented, for whom he died and for whose justification he was raised.
We might also speak of a third aspect of our union with Christ, which we might call decretal union, i.e., the union that exists between Christ and his people by virtue of God’s decree to elect, in Christ, some out of the mass of fallen humanity to redemption. Paul spoke to this aspect of our union with Christ when he wrote that we were chosen “in Christ” before the foundations of the world (Eph 1). This aspect is, of course, a corollary to the federal union and the union of life mentioned above.
The last aspect is mystical union (or sometimes referred to as “existential union”) and it refers to the subjective application of redemption purposed from eternity in the decree, covenanted among the Trinitarian person in the pactum salutis, accomplished by Christ in his active and suffering obedience, and applied to the elect by the Holy Spirit. Mystical union is, as Berkhof put it, that “intimate, vital, and spiritual” connection “between Christ and his people, in virtue of which He is the source of their life and strength, of their blessedness and salvation” (Systematic Theology, 449).
And also...
That faith which secures eternal life; which unites us to Christ as living members of his body; which makes us the sons of God; which interests us in all the benefits of redemption; which works by love, and is fruitful in good works; is founded, not on the external or the moral evidence of the truth, but on the testimony of the Spirit with an by the truth to the renewed soul (Systematic Theology, 3.68).

…The first effect of faith, according to the Scriptures is union with Christ. We are in him by faith. There is indeed a union between Christ and his people, founded on the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son in the counsels of eternity. We are, therefore, said to be in Him before the foundation of the world.

…But it was also, as we learn from the Scriptures, included in the stipulations of that covenant, that his people, so far as adults are concerned, should not receive the saving benefits of that covenant until they were united to Him by a voluntary act of faith. They are ‘by nature the children of wrath, even as others.’ (Eph. ii.3) They remain in this state of condemnation until they believe. Their union is consummated by faith. To be in Christ, as to believe in Christ are, therefore , in the Scriptures, convertible forms of expression. They mean the same thing, and therefore, the same effects are attributed to faith as are attributed to union with Christ” (Ibid, 3.104)
 So says Charles Hodge (1797–1878), who taught at Old Princeton for about fifty years, on the relation between faith and union.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Believer's Works Esteemed Righteous by God's Grace

"A more fruitful result follows; because, when God regenerates his elect, he inscribes a law on their hearts and in their inward parts, as we have elsewhere seen, and shall see again in the thirty-sixth chapter. (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26, 27.) But the difficulty is not yet solved; because the faithful, even if regenerated by God's Spirit, endeavor to conform themselves to God's law, yet, through their own weakness, never arrive at that point, and so are never righteous: I answer, although the righteousness of works is mutilated in the sons of God, yet it is acknowledged as perfect, since, by not imputing their sins to them, he proves what is his own. Hence it happens, that although the faithful fall back, wander, and sometimes fall, yet they may be called observers of the law, and walkers in the commandments of God, and observers of his righteousness. But this arises from gratuitous imputation, and hence also its reward. The works of the faithful are not without reward, because they please God, and pleasing God, they are sure of remuneration. We see, then, how these things are rightly united, that no one obeys the law, and that no one is worthy of the fruits of righteousness, and yet that God, of his own liberality, acknowledges as just those who aspire to righteousness, and repay them with a reward of which they are unworthy. When, therefore, we say that the faithful are esteemed just even in their deeds, this is not stated as a cause of their salvation, and we must diligently notice that the cause of salvation is excluded from this doctrine; for, when we discuss the cause, we must look nowhere else but to the mercy of God, and there we must stop. But although works tend in no way to the cause of justification, yet, when the elect sons of God were justified freely by faith, at the same time their works are esteemed righteous by the same gratuitous liberality.
John Calvin, Commentary on Ezekiel 18:17

Law - Gospel Contrast...

"... it is from Christ we must seek what the Law would confer on any one who fulfilled it; or, which is the same thing, that by the grace of Christ we obtain what God promised in the Law to our works: "If a man do, he shall live in them," (Leviticus 18:5.) This is no less clearly taught in the discourse at Antioch, when Paul declares, "That through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses," (Acts 13:38, 39.) For if the observance of the Law is righteousness, who can deny that Christ, by taking this burden upon himself, and reconciling us to God, as if we were the observers of the Law, merited favor for us? Of the same nature is what he afterwards says to the Galatians: "God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law," (Galatians 4:4, 5)."
John Calvin, Institutes of Religion 2.17.5

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Make Your Calling And Election Sure

John Calvin on 2 Peter 1:10-11Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble: for thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
For if ye do these things... Peter seems again to ascribe to the merits of works, that God furthers our salvation, and also that we continually persevere in his grace. But the explanation is obvious; for his purpose was only to shew that hypocrites have in them nothing real or solid, and that, on the contrary, they who prove their calling sure by good works, are free from the danger of falling, because sure and sufficient is the grace of God by which they are supported. Thus the certainty of our salvation by no means depends on us, as doubtless the cause of it is beyond our limits. But with regard to those who feel in themselves the efficacious working of the Spirit, Peter bids them to take courage as to the future, because the Lord has laid in them the solid foundation of a true and sure calling...
... He explains the way or means of persevering, when he says, an entrance shall be ministered to you. The import of the words is this: "God, by ever supplying you abundantly with new graces, will lead you to his own kingdom." And this was added, that we may know, that though we have already passed from death into life, yet it is a passage of hope; and as to the fruition of life, there remains for us yet a long journey. In the meantime we are not destitute of necessary helps. Hence Peter obviates a doubt by these words, "The Lord will abundantly supply your need, until you shall enter into his eternal kingdom." He calls it the kingdom of Christ, because we cannot ascend to heaven except under his banner and guidance.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sanctification: By God's Grace and Our Works?

I don't mean to quibble (or maybe I do...) but distinctions are important. Dane C. Ortlund, in his review of Barbara Duguid's book Extravagant Grace, concludes that "Duguid refutes the idea that sanctification is partly up to us; rather, it is 100% up to God (pp. 139–40)." And then he writes, "But it seems to me that it is better to say sanctification is 100% up to God and also 100% up to us in light of the way the Bible speaks of sanctification (1 Cor 15:10; Phil 2:12–13; Col 1:29). As Jonathan Edwards said, in sanctification “God does all, and we do all.”" - a formulation I find less than helpful as concerns sanctification. I think I get the point he's making - believers shouldn't take their Christ-secured salvation for granted and they are indeed called to real obedience to God's moral law. But I don't think we should define sanctification that way and I don't think the Westminster Standards do.
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.
How much more are we enabled? 100%?  We still sin. Does that mean we're not doing our 100%? What does it mean to not be doing our 100%? If I drop the ball on my 100% (only  50% or 75%), does that put in jeopardy my sanctification? In other words, is God's 100% not enough when it comes to sanctification? Or put another way, is sanctification-wrought partly my works of law-obedience?
WCF 13.2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
How about simply that we are called to continual and thankful obedience and it is God who sanctifies? As Paul writes, "But if it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace."

As to the three Scripture passages that Dane Ortlund references, are they really referring to sanctification? I don't know... Should references to laboring, obedience, effort, etc. automatically be read in the context of "our 100%" in the so-called God/believer equation of sanctification? Maybe those particular verses are just talking about Paul's tireless efforts for the sake of the gospel, Paul admonishing the Philippians to not look down on each other - to take seriously their calling to love the brethren, and again Paul speaking of his laboring hard for the gospel and yet not boasting in his own work but God's. 

This seems to be where a particular sanctification template determines how certain verses are interpreted (e.g. Rom. 2:13 as referring to believers' final justification). 

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Secret of Contentment - Christ

Are we content with the fact that we do not and never will in this life measure up to the standard of even one command of God's holy law? In one sense, hopefully, Yes… and yet in another, certainly No! It's not that we don’t fervently wish that we could truly and faithfully obey, even as we - now born of the Spirit - under grace and not under law, with our own insufficient and inconsistent means (the remnant of sin hanging on our back) work to that end… but it is by trusting alone in Christ, that we who are still sinners can now understand ourselves to be at peace with God through Him who is our Savior - who died for us, who by his blood has justified us - and who has given us a new heart and the seed of willingness, by the his Spirit, to now walk in faith unto (towards) obedience of that holy law. Yet(!) we do so with much limitation and imperfection. And so, looking not to ourselves for the evidence of our salvation, we look "to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”

Let’s not kid ourselves as to our present capabilities and any so-called inherent goodness of our works before God’s judgment seat. Rather we should rightly tremble... and in faith look with full assurance to the heavenly throne of grace, the throne to which Christ our Mediator implores us to approach. We have no other sure avenue of salvation and in Him indeed we do have the very ground of contentment for this life and the life to come.


[a revision of an earlier post]

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Covenant of Works and the Westminster Confession of Faith (3)

I've been reading and and really appreciating Dr. John Fesko's new book, The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights. As the title indicates, Dr. Fesko sets out, and I'll say succeeds, to set the Westminster Standards in the context of their times - culturally, politically, and theologically. Too often we import unawares our own modern debates and doctrinal concerns back into the divines' words, failing to grasp the concerns and issues surrounding the Assembly during that period of history. The focus in this current post isn't to review the book, but to look at a few quotes from the Covenant and Creation chapter which touch on the relationship between the Covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant. As is today, this was a much debated topic in the 17th century. And by 1640 there were several variations and nuances being employed by theologians in order to Scripturally grapple with it.

In chapter five Covenant and Creation, after recounting the theological/historical development of Covenant theology up to the time of the Westminster Assembly and then reviewing the teaching of WCF chapter 7: Of God's Covenant With Man, Dr. Fesko begins to look at the first two sections of Chapter 19: Of The Law Of God which states:
1. God gave to Adam a Law, as a Covenant of Works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
2. This Law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousnesse; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten Commandments, and written in two Tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.
On p. 145-146, Fesko writes:
The Confession then proceeds to situate the moral law in subsequent redemptive history: "This Law," referring to the law given to Adam "as a Covenant of Works," "after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousnesse, and, as such was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten Commandments, and written in two Tables" (19.2). The divines also acknowledge that "this Law," that which was delivered to Adam and subsequently to Israel, is "commonly called Moral" (19.3).
Was there an unified view taught in the Assembly as to how the Covenant of works relates to the Mosaic covenant? The short answer is no. Yet there were different views that had developed since the 16th century which were taught by various orthodox reformed theologians.  The confession doesn't endorse any one in particular. In fact the only view highlighted in the confession is the only one rejected outright by the divines (19.5), that of Tobias Crisp who taught that the Moral law had been swept away with the Mosaic covenant and was no longer binding on New Testament believers (p. 158). Among the views held by the divines were ones that taught that the Covenant of works was "revealed" or "annexed" in some manner to the Mosaic covenant.

On p. 150:
[Jeremiah] Burroughs contends that the administration of the Law, the Mosaic covenant, had different elements "annexed" to the covenant that New Testament believers no longer live under. He makes this point clearer as he propounds the nature of the Mosaic covenant:
"The Law that was first given unto Adam and written in his heart, afterwards even obliterated, then it was transcribed by the same hand in tables of stone and given unto them chifly to shew them their misery, and their need of Christ; to be a preparation for Christs coming into the world; and with this one addition beyond what we have in the new Testament, that there was a temporal covenant annexed unto it, that concern'd their living prosperously in the Land of Canaan, (& so far we are delivered even from the Law as it was given by Moses, that is, from the connexion of the Covenant that was added unto the delivering of the Law) concerning their happy and comfortable condition in the Land of Canaan upon the keeping of their Law."
On pp. 151-152:
George Walker (1581-1651), one of the Westminster divines, held this view: "For the first part of the Covenant which God made with Israel at Horeb, was nothing else but a renewing of the old Covenant of works which God made with Adam in Paradise." But Walker also believed that there was a second part of the Mosaic covenant, which was more obscurely given in the Levitical laws, the tabernacle, and the ark, which were types of Christ. This dimension of the Mosaic covenant was more clearly set forth in the Deuteronomic version of the covenant and "was nothing else but a renewing of the Covenant of grace which he [God] had before made with their Fathers, Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Other theologians of the period, such as Peter Bulkeley (1583-1659), made distinctions similar to Walker's. Bulkeley believed that the "Covenant of workes was then revealed and made knowne to the children of Israel, as being before almost obliterated and blotted out of mans heart, and therefore God renewed the knowledge of the Covenant of worke to them." Key to Bulkeley's statement is that the covenant of works was revealed, not that it was readministered. He also employs the wide-narrow distinction vis-a-vis the covenants of works and of grace as they both relate to the Mosaic covenant: "The Law is to be considered two wayes: First, absolutely, and by it selfe, as containing a covenant of works; Secondly, dependently, and with respect to the covenant of grace.
Yet others such as Samuel Rutherford opposed such views of the Mosaic covenant described as subservient. "One of the reasons Rutherford argued against this view was that he believed the Mosaic covenant was not a covenant of works; he based his argument upon a number of different texts from Scripture. On such text was Deuteronomy 30:6 and the promise of a circumcised heart" (p.152). Yet as noted by Dr. Fesko there were distinctions expressed by other theologians of that time that didn't preclude the Mosaic covenant from being considered part of the Covenant of Grace. "But as did Bulkeley and Walker, Blake also acknowledges the broad-narrow distinction when dealing with the Mosaic covenant:"
There are those phrases in Moses, which are ordinarily quoted, as holding out a covenant of Works, and in a rigid interpretation are no other; yet in a qualified sense, in a Gospel-sense, and according to Scripture-use of the phrase, they hold out a covenant of Grace, and the termes and conditions of it. (p. 152)
Given how the issue of the Covenant of works and its relationship to the Mosaic covenant is being hotly debated again today I can't help but think that these words of Anthony Burgess, cited by Fesko, are meant to apply to our time as well: "I do not find in any point of Divinity, learned men so confused and perplexed (being like Abrahams Ram, hung in a bush of friars and brambles by the head) as here" (p.153).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Covenant of Works and the Westminster Confession of Faith (2)


A Commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith With Scripture Proofs by A.A. Hodge

From Chapter 7:
The analysis of a covenant always gives the following elements: (a) Its parties. (b) Its promise. (c) Its conditions. (d) Its penalty. As to its parties, our Standards teach - In the first covenant that concerned mankind God dealt with Adam as the representative of all his descendants. The parties, therefore, are God and Adam, the latter representing the human race. That Adam did so act as the representative of his descendants, in such a sense that they were equally interested with himself in all the merit or the demerit, the reward or the penalty, attaching to his action during the period of probation, has already been proved to be the doctrine both of our Standards and of Scripture. (Ch. 6., ss. 3, 4.) As to the further nature of this covenant, our Standards teach-The promise of it was life, the condition of it perfect obedience, and the penalty of it death. (L. Cat., q. 20; S. Cat., q. 12.) 
This covenant is variously styled, from one or other of these several elements. Thus, it is called the "covenant of works," because perfect obedience was its condition, and to distinguish it from the covenant of grace, which rests our salvation on a different basis altogether. It is also called the "covenant of life," because life was promised on condition of the obedience. It is also called a "legal covenant," because it demanded the literal fulfillment of the claims of the moral law as the condition of God's favor. This covenant was also in its essence a covenant of grace, in that it graciously promised life in the society of God as the freely-granted reward of an obedience already unconditionally due. Nevertheless it was a covenant of works and of law with respect to its demands and conditions. 
(1) That the promise of the covenant was life is proved-(a) From the nature of the penalty, which is recorded in terms. If disobedience was linked to death, obedience must have been linked to life. (b) It is taught expressly in many passages of Scripture. Paul says, Rom. 10:5, "Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which does those things shall live by them." (Matt. 19:16,17; Gal. 3:12; Lev. 18:5; Neh. 9:29. 
That the life promised was not mere continuance of existence is plain-(a) From the fact that the death threatened was not the mere extinction of existence. Adam experienced that death the very day he ate the forbidden fruit. The death threatened was exclusion from the communion of God. The life promised, therefore, must consist in the divine fellowship and the excellence and happiness thence resulting. (b) From the fact that mere existence was not in jeopardy. It is the character, not the fact, of continued existence which God suspended upon obedience. (c) Because the terms "life" and "death" are used in the Scriptures constantly to define two opposite spiritual conditions, which depend upon the relation of the soul to God. (John 5:24; 6:4; Rom. 6:23; 11:15; Eph. 2:1-3; 5:14; Rev. 3:1.) 
(2) That the condition of the covenant was perfect obedience is plain from the fact-(a) That the divine law can demand no less. It is of the essence of all that is right that it is obligatory. James says, that "whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in onepoint, he is guilty of all." James 2:10; Gal. 3:10; Deut. 27:26. (b) That the command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, relating to a thing indifferent in itself, was plainly designed to be a naked test of obedience, absolute and without limit. 
(3) That the penalty of this covenant was death is distinctly stated: "In the day thou eatest thereof, dying thou shalt die." Gen. 3:17. This denoted a most lamentable state of existence, physical and moral, and not the cessation of existence or the dissolution of the union between soul and body, because-(a) It took effect in our first parents hundreds of years before the dissolution of that union. (b) Because the Scriptures constantly describe the moral and spiritual condition into which their descendants are born, and from which they are delivered by Christ, as a state of death. (Rev. 3:1; Eph. 2:1-5; 5:14; John 5:24.) This death is a condition of increasing sin and misery, resulting from excision from the only source of life. It involves the entire person, soul and body, and continues as long as the cause continues.
From Chapter 19: 
These sections teach the following propositions: - 1. That God, as the supreme moral Governor of the universe, introduced the human race into existence as an order of moral creatures, under inalienable and perpetual subjection to an all-perfect moral law, which in all the elements thereof binds man's' conscience andrequires perfect obedience. 2. That God, as the Guardian of the human race, entered into a special covenant with Adam, as the natural head of the race, constituting him also the federal head of all mankind, and requiring from him, during a period of probation, perfect obedience to thelaw above named, promising to him and to his descendants in him confirmation in holiness and eternal felicity as the reward of obedience, and threatening both his wrath and curse as the punishment of disobedience. 3. This law after the fall, and the introduction of the dispensation of salvation through the messiah, while it ceased to offer salvation on the ground of obedience, nevertheless continued to be the revealed expression of God's will, binding all human consciences as the rule of life. 4. That this moral law has for our instruction been summarily comprehended, as to its general principles, in their application to the main relations men sustain to God and to each other, in the Ten Commandments, " which were delivered by the voice of God uponMount Sinai, and written by him in two tables of stone; and are recorded in the 20th chapter of Exodus. The first four commandments containing our duty to God, and the other six our duty to man." L. Cat., q. 98...

(2.) The Ten Commandments teach love to God and to man; and on these, the Savior said, hang all the Law and the Prophets. Matt. xxii. 37 -- 40. (3.) Christ said, that if a man keep this law he shall live. Luke x.-25-28...

The Mosaic institute may be viewed in three different aspects: - (1.) As a national and political covenant, whereby, under his theocratic government, the Israelites became the people of Jehovah and he became their King, and in which the Church and the State are identical. (2.) In another aspect it was a legal covenant, because the moral law, obedience to which was the condition of life in the Adamic covenant, was now prominently set forth in the Ten Commandments and made the basis of the new covenant of God with his people. Even the ceremonial system, in its merely literal and apart from its ceremonial aspect, was a rule of works; for cursed was he that confirmed not all the words of the law to do them. Deut.. xxvii. 26.