Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The "Righteous" Necessity of the Imputation of Christ's Active Obedience

More from Eighteen Sermons on Romans 8:1-4, pp 590-91 ( 1672). Thomas Jacomb makes the case for the necessity of the active obedience of Christ imputed to the believer in justification - a necessity, he argues - extending beyond the justification which comes to the sinner upon first believing in Christ but further unto the believer's "title to eternal life."
And I desire the words may be well observed; 'tis not said that the righteousness of the Law might be endured, suffered, or undergone by us, as if it did relate to the penalty of the Law; but that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, which surely most properly must relate to the doing part of the Law: doth he *fulfil who suffers? that's very harsh. To say that one of the things that have been spoken of was or is sufficient viz. the undergoing of the punishment without the doing of the duty, and that therefore the imputation of Christ's death and sufferings is enough: I say for any to assert this, they do (in my thoughts ) offer some violence to the Text in hand, which tells us the righteousness, the whole righteousness of the Law was to be and is fulfilled in believers. 
3. 'Tis urged thirdly, 'tis necessary not only in respect of the Law, but of ourselves also that Christ's active Obedience should be imputed, inasmuch as our righteousness and title to eternal life do indispensably depend upon it. The Law is the measure and standard of righteousness, let that be fulfilled and a person is righteous, otherwise not; without this none can stand before the great God as being such. Well then, the Sinner himself being altogether unable thus to fulfil the Law thereby to be made righteous; Christ's fulfilling of it must be imputed to him in order to righteousness. Guilt and righteousness do both carry in them a reference to the holy Law; when that is broken, 'tis guilt; when that is kept, 'tis righteousness: therefore as, supposing that Law had not been transgressed, we had not been guilty, so unless that Law be fully conform'd to, we cannot be *righteous. Now where shall we find this full conformity to the Law but in Christ? and what will that in Christ avail us if it be not imputed and made over to us? So as to eternal Life, unto which without fulfilling the Law we can have no claim or title: For the old Law-condition or Covenant being yet in force, do and live, (Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12; Luke 10:28); unless this Condition be performed we cannot hope for life. True indeed, under the Covenant of Grace God accepts of what is done by the Surety, and he doth not expect of the Sinner in his own person the perfect obeying of the Law as a condition of life, but yet he will have the thing done either by or for the Sinner, either by himself or by his Surety, or else no life: doth not this then evince the necessity of the imputation of Christ's active Obedience? [emphasis in the original]

Monday, October 13, 2014

Interpreting Romans 8:4 - Imputation

Thomas Jacomb's exposition on Romans 8:1-4 was *described by John Owen in this way:

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. *[THE NATURE OF JUSTIFICATION AS DECLARED IN THE EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL, IN THAT UNTO THE ROMANS ESPECIALLY]

Continuing the case to be made, Jacomb furthers his explanation of how and why the "requirement of the Law" is fulfilled in believers (Rom. 8:4) through the imputation of both the passive and active obedience of Christ:

2. That Obedience of Christ must be imputed without the imputation of which the righteousness of the Law is not, or could not be fulfilled in believers: (this cannot be deny'd, for 'tis brought in here expressly as the end of God's sending his Son, that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us). Now I assume, but without the imputation of Christ’s active Obedience, the Laws righteousness is not and could not be fulfilled in believers, ergo. This I prove from - what hath been already said; the Law’s righteousness consists in two things, (1.) in its requiring perfect conformity to its Commands: (2.) in its demanding Satisfaction, or the undergoing of its penalty upon the violation of it: This being so, how can the Law’s righteousness be fulfilled in Saints either by the active or by the passive Obedience of Christ apart and alone? put them both together and the thing is done, there is that in both which is fully adequate to the Laws demands; but divide them, and it is not so.

The passive Obedience satisfies as to the Law’s penalty and secures from the Law’s curse, but where's our performing of the Duty which the Law requires if the active Obedience be not imputed also? And 'tis conceived, that this righteousness of the Law doth mainly and primarily refer to the preceptive and mandatory part of the Law, and but secondarily to the penal and minatory part of the Law: For in all Laws ( Civil or Sacred ) that which is first intended in them is active Obedience; the bearing the penalty is annexed but to further and secure  that: so that he who only bears the penalty doth not answer the first end and the main intention of the Law. Whence I infer, since the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in believers (as the Apostle here saith it is), that therefore the commanding part of the Law must be fulfilled in them, (that being the main branch of its righteousness and that which is principally designed by it ); but that cannot be, unless the active Obedience of Christ be imputed to them. This Argument (with submission to better judgments) is to me of great weight. [emphasis in the original]

Eighteen Sermons on Romans 8:1-4, pp 589-90. Thomas Jacomb 1672 

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Goodness of God Leads To A Free Obedience...

... yet if you but consider the Lord's ways towards you, and your ways towards him, you will mourn with a gospel-mourning, reasoning with yourself after this manner: Was I under the law of works by nature, and so, for every transgression against any of the ten commandments, made liable to everlasting damnation? and am I now, through the free mercy and love of God in Christ, brought under the law of Christ, and so subject to no other penalty for my transgressions, but fatherly and loving chastisements, which tend to the purging out of that sinful corruption that is in me? Oh what a loving Father is this! Oh what a gracious Saviour is this! Oh what a wretched man am I, to transgress the laws of such a good God, as he hath been to me! Oh the due consideration of this will even, as it were, melt your heart, and cause your eyes to drop with the tears of godly sorrow! yea, the due consideration of these things will cause you to "loathe yourself in your own sight for your transgressions", (Eze 36:31), yea, not only to loathe yourself for them, but also to leave them, saying with Ephraim, "What have I to do any more with idols?" (Hosea 14:8) and to "cast them away as menstruous cloth, saying unto them, Get ye hence," (Isa 30:22). And truly you will desire nothing more, than that you might so live, as that you might never sin against the Lord any more. And this is that "goodness of God which," as the apostle says, "leadeth to repentance"; yea, this is that goodness of God which will lead you to a free obedience. So that if you do but apply the goodness of God in Christ to your soul, in any good measure, then will you answerably yield obedience to the law of Christ, not only without having respect either to what the law of works either promiseth or threateneth; but also without having respect to what the law of Christ either promiseth or threateneth; you will do that which the Lord commandeth, only because he commandeth it, and to the end that you may please him.
Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Be Persuaded...

So that all the covenant that believers are to have regard to, for life and salvation, is the free and gracious covenant that is betwixt Christ [or God in Christ] and them. And in this covenant there is not any condition or law to be performed on man's part, by himself; no, there is no more for him to do, but only to know and believe that Christ hath done all for him...
I beseech you to be persuaded that here you are to work nothing, here you are to do nothing, here you are to render nothing unto God, but only to receive the treasure, which is Jesus Christ, and apprehend him in your heart by faith, although you be never so great a sinner; and so shall you obtain forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal happiness; not as an agent but as a patient, not by doing, but by receiving. Nothing here comes betwixt but faith only, apprehending Christ in the promise. This, then, is perfect righteousness, to hear nothing, to know nothing, to do nothing of the law of works; but only to know and believe that Jesus Christ is now gone to the Father, and sitteth at his right hand, not as a judge, but is made unto you of God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What Does Your Obedience Look Like?

In the New Testament,  Jesus gives a summary of the entirety of the moral law as taught in the Old Testament: 
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matt 7:12
 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matt 22:37-40
The exacting and uncompromising standard of what is required of man by the Law of God is distilled into these two basic commands of loving God and loving neighbor. In other words, 1) Put the Lord your God first in all that you think, purpose, say, and do... and 2) In all your interactions with other people put them first in all that you think, purpose, say, and do. 

Christians are those who by God's grace have trusted in Christ for salvation. Through faith they are justified before the moral law, i.e. forgiven their sins and accounted righteous (perfectly obedient) for Christ's sake. And as believers in Christ they have a new heart and renewed will by which they have a new desire to obey. Sealed by the Holy Spirit and no longer under the reign of sin, God is now their Father who further sanctifies them by the Spirit of Christ. This and more is the status of the redeemed as they begin each day.

So, in light of all that God has done in Christ for us, my question is, what does your (and my) obedience look like? In other words, how obedient is your obedience to the perfection of the Law as described above? What does your obedience look like? To answer that, if you're like me, your mind races to whatever examples you can find of overt acts of other-centeredness such as going out of your way to help a disagreeable customer at work or surprising your wife by doing the dishes so she doesn't have to. As to God-centeredness, you recount your times of prayer and Scripture reading in the morning and faithful attendance of Lord's day worship. You might also venture into those examples of fighting temptation. At this point, you're probably not be feeling too bad about your obedience. Sure, you slip up every now and then. But who doesn't? More or less, as they say, you're imperfectly yet sincerely obeying. Come on, can anyone realistically perfectly obey the law? Hmm... Careful, unwittingly you may begin lowering the standard of God's law.

Well, how about those "occasional slip-ups?" What do they look like and what do they reveal? 
An example: 
At work you go through a long day of seeming non-stop interruptions from fellow workers, customers, and phone calls as you are attempting to complete various time sensitive tasks. Despite the impatience you feel, you more or less keep your frustrations relatively in check. Finally the day is done. You "did your best." How's your obedience looking? Well, outwardly, not too bad. But don't look too deeply.  
Next, you arrive home from work. Sitting down comfortably on your front porch and looking forward to some well-deserved relaxation, you finally get back to reading that book you've been trying to finish. Moments later your neighbor drops by and asks to borrow your lawn mower, as his won't start (he always has trouble starting that old mower) . Reluctantly you get up and head off to the garage thinking, "Great, now I got to listen to a lawn mower while I read." You pull the mower out of the garage and your neighbor thanks you as he heads off to his chore. 
At last... back to your book. Leaning into your chair and now reading, you begin to hear the stuttered sounds of unsuccessful attempts to start the mower. Minutes later your neighbor sheepishly returns asking for some help starting your mower... Frustration now peaking and visibly showing, you head off to help. After several yanks on the pull cord without success, you open the fuel tank. Empty. "Come on, Harry... You got to put gas in the thing!", you exasperatingly point out with a forced smile. Looking somewhat reprimanded, Harry thanks you. Problem solved, you walk back to your porch shaking your head, feeling justified in your frustration and yet also somewhat unsettled by a vague sense of failing. Loving neighbor as yourself... how's that obedience looking right about now? Apparently after you "obeyed" the law's command to help your neighbor, it had not yet finished doing its work, it's most important work.
In sanctification, God's moral law does much more that direct (WLC Q/A 97). It exposes us as we are in order that we might, more and more, come to see ourselves not as we want to see ourselves or want to be seen by others but as we really are: self-centered people who don't love as we ought. The law requires perfection and diagnoses our real problem, not just our outward sins of selfishness but - us - as self-absorbed individuals who at the core are first and foremost committed to ourselves and not others. When confronted with that inescapable evidence we can try to slough it off as just the product of a tough day at work or an inconvenient neighbor. Or, by following up on that vague sense of failure, we can weakly and soberly agree with Paul (Rom. 3:19) and let the law slay our self-justifying thoughts. The air goes out of our balloon. Cataloging our good works seems vain and pathetic. Convicted, we know we are worthy of rejection. We can't and don't keep the law in its perfection. In that inexcusable and helpless state the burdened soul needs and desires only one thing and that is the cleansing mercy and forgiveness of God in Christ. And it is there in our wretched state (Rom. 7:24) that God's grace (Rom. 7:25; 8:1) is most available and most realized (Heb. 4:14-16). I would argue that it is precisely at times like this that the work of sanctification is especially present in our lives. And then, with a more realistic humbled view of ourselves, we can commit to a renewed thankful obedience expressed as our uneven growing love of God and love of neighbor - yet paradoxically with less self-confidence - which is a good thing (Isa. 66:2b). We might call this progressive sanctification through self demolition (Luke 9:23-24)...

We go through life building, enhancing, and protecting an image - a self-image - the purpose of which is to gain certain affirmations and positive responses from others; and even more to avoid the self-exposure that leads to the dismissals, the rejections, and the not-being-taken-seriously in our carefully constructed self-project. This is what it means to be a sinner. Yet even though our faith in Christ for salvation is lively, we're not yet so convinced. Thus God, again and again, applies the hammer of his law to us at the most inopportune times. And he does so in order to methodically and lovingly dismantle our carefully crafted mirage of ourselves, that in its place his grace might abound more and more. With this gradually-more-healthy view of ourselves we find that we can more honestly agree with the words of Jesus, "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’" Why? Because we're beginning to realize that our feeble obedience really doesn't look all that great under the bright light of God's law and the abundant grace that has been poured out upon believers in Christ.

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. 

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:
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