Saturday, December 28, 2013

Considering Christian Liberty (1)...

Lately I've been looking at the doctrine of Christian liberty and its relationship to our conscience, good works, and justification. In reading, one finds an emphasis on the necessity of distinguishing law and gospel if the liberty believers have in Christ is to be comprehended along with the proper place good works should occupy. In this post I offer up some excerpts from Concerning Christian Liberty by Martin Luther. Here Luther refers to law and gospel as precepts and promises. He explains the role of the law and the role of the gospel and the vital connection between justification through faith alone in Christ and the true liberty from the law of works that a believer possesses.    

Martin Luther - Concerning Christian Liberty:
"Meanwhile it is to be noted that the whole Scripture of God is divided into two parts: precepts and promises. The precepts certainly teach us what is good, but what they teach is not forthwith done. For they show us what we ought to do, but do not give us the power to do it. They were ordained, however, for the purpose of showing man to himself, that through them he may learn his own impotence for good and may despair of his own strength. For this reason they are called the Old Testament, and are so... 
"For example, "Thou shalt not covet," is a precept by which we are all convicted of sin, since no man can help coveting, whatever efforts to the contrary he may make. In order therefore that he may fulfil the precept, and not covet, he is constrained to despair of himself and to seek elsewhere and through another the help which he cannot find in himself; as it is said, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thine help" (Hosea xiii. 9). Now what is done by this one precept is done by all; for all are equally impossible of fulfilment by us. 
"Now when a man has through the precepts been taught his own impotence, and become anxious by what means he may satisfy the law--for the law must be satisfied, so that no jot or tittle of it may pass away, otherwise he must be hopelessly condemned--then, being truly humbled and brought to nothing in his own eyes, he finds in himself no resource for justification and salvation.  
"Then comes in that other part of Scripture, the promises of God, which declare the glory of God, and say, "If you wish to fulfil the law, and, as the law requires, not to covet, lo! believe in Christ, in whom are promised to you grace, justification, peace, and liberty." All these things you shall have, if you believe, and shall be without them if you do not believe. For what is impossible for you by all the works of the law, which are many and yet useless, you shall fulfil in an easy and summary way through faith, because God the Father has made everything to depend on faith, so that whosoever has it has all things, and he who has it not has nothing. "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all" (Rom. xi. 32). Thus the promises of God give that which the precepts exact, and fulfil what the law commands; so that all is of God alone, both the precepts and their fulfilment. He alone commands; He alone also fulfils. Hence the promises of God belong to the New Testament; nay, are the New Testament... 
"For if the touch of Christ was healing, how much more does that most tender spiritual touch, nay, absorption of the word, communicate to the soul all that belongs to the word! In this way therefore the soul, through faith alone, without works, is from the word of God justified, sanctified, endued with truth, peace, and liberty, and filled full with every good thing, and is truly made the child of God, as it is said, "To them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name" (John i. 12). 
"From all this it is easy to understand why faith has such great power, and why no good works, nor even all good works put together, can compare with it, since no work can cleave to the word of God or be in the soul. Faith alone and the word reign in it; and such as is the word, such is the soul made by it, just as iron exposed to fire glows like fire, on account of its union with the fire. It is clear then that to a Christian man his faith suffices for everything, and that he has no need of works for justification. But if he has no need of works, neither has he need of the law; and if he has no need of the law, he is certainly free from the law, and the saying is true, "The law is not made for a righteous man" (1 Tim. i. 9). This is that Christian liberty, our faith, the effect of which is, not that we should be careless or lead a bad life, but that no one should need the law or works for justification and salvation."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Calvin on Kingdom Considerations...

"Therefore, lest this prove a stumbling-block to any, let us observe that in man government is twofold: the one spiritual, by which the conscience is trained to piety and divine worship; the other civil, by which the individual is instructed in those duties which, as men and citizens, we are bold to performs (see Book 4, chap. 10, sec. 3-6.) To these two forms are commonly given the not inappropriate names of spiritual and temporal jurisdiction, intimating that the former species has reference to the life of the soul, while the latter relates to matters of the present life, not only to food and clothing, but to the enacting of laws which require a man to live among his fellows purely honorably, and modestly. The former has its seat within the soul, the latter only regulates the external conduct. We may call the one the spiritual, the other the civil kingdom. Now, these two, as we have divided them, are always to be viewed apart from each other. When the one is considered, we should call off our minds, and not allow them to think of the other. For there exists in man a kind of two worlds, over which different kings and different laws can preside. By attending to this distinction, we will not erroneously transfer the doctrine of the gospel concerning spiritual liberty to civil order..."
Calvin's Institutes of Religion, Book 3:19:15.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Remarkable Passage in Romans...

"In regard to this liberty there is a remarkable passage in the Epistle to the Romans, where Paul argues, "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace," (Romans 6:14.) For after he had exhorted believers, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof: Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God;" they might have objected that they still bore about with them a body full of lust, that sin still dwelt in them. He therefore comforts them by adding, that they are freed from the law; as if he had said, Although you feel that sin is not yet extinguished, and that righteousness does not plainly live in you, you have no cause for fear and dejection, as if God were always offended because of the remains of sin, since by grace you are freed from the law, and your works are not tried by its standard."
Calvin... Institutes...

Friday, November 22, 2013

The tyranny of the State's good intentions...

C.S. Lewis (Nov. 29, 1898 - Nov. 22, 1963) from his essay The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment:
"My contention is that good men (not bad men) consistently acting upon that position would act as cruelly and unjustly as the greatest tyrants. They might in some respects act even worse. Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth."
H/T - Joe Rigney at NRO

Reflections on our civil polity...

Commenting on Tocqueville's insights regarding the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty in AmericaPascal-Emmanuel Gobry writes:
He goes on: “Far from hurting each other, those two tendencies, seemingly so opposed, work together and seem to support each other. Religion sees in civic liberty a noble exercise of man’s faculties, and in the political realm a field given by the Creator to man’s intelligence. [...] Liberty sees in religion the handmaiden of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, the divine source of its rights. She sees religion as the safeguard of morality, and morality as the guarantee of the laws and of its own posterity...”  [Alexis de Tocqueville - Democracy in America]
Tocqueville understood very well that which is seemingly so hard for progressives to understand, which is that religion strengthens liberty insofar as it provides the moral foundations that prevent liberty from destroying itself. In contemporary sociological terms, we can put this differently : we can say that given the twin 21st century realities of disruptive capitalism and the administrative state, the only viable check on either of them that doesn’t turn us into a slave to the other is voluntary institutions, which ensure that we have a rich, vibrant civic life.
: from his essay - We're Losing The Two Things Tocqueville Said Mattered Most About American Democracy

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Christ is Not in the Law...

 "Fourthly; Christ is not in the law; he is not proposed in it, not communicated by it, - we are not made partakers of him thereby.  This is the work of grace, of the gospel.  In it is Christ revealed, by it he is proposed and exhibited unto us; thereby are we made partakers of him and all the benefits of his mediation.  And he it is alone who came to, and can, destroy this work of the devil.... This "the Son of God was manifested to destroy."  He alone ruins the kingdom of Satan, whose power is acted in the rule of sin.  Wherefore, hereunto our assurance of this comfortable truth is principally resolved.  And what Christ hath done, and doth, for this end, is a great part of the subject of gospel revelation."
John Owen - A Treatise of the Dominion of Sin and Grace

More from John Owen on sanctification and the grace of the gospel in this post!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

John Owen & Thomas Boston - Distinctions: The Law of Works, The Law of Christ, the Grace of the Gospel...

Thomas Boston writes in his Notes, found in Edward Fisher's The Marrow of Modern Divinity:
No longer under Law
The law of works is the law to be done, that one may be saved; the law of faith is the law to be believed, that one may be saved; the law of Christ is the law of the Saviour, binding his saved people to all the duties of obedience, (Gal 3:12, Acts 16:31)...
The law of works, and the law of Christ, are in substance but one law, even the law of the ten commandments - the moral law - that law which was from the beginning, continuing still the same in its own nature, but vested with different forms. And since that law is perfect, and sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of it, whatever form it be vested with, whether as the law of works or as the law of Christ, all commands of God unto men must needs be comprehended under it...
The distinction between the law of works and the law of Christ, as above explained according to the Scriptures, and the mind of our author, is the same in effect with that of the law, as a covenant of works, and as a rule of life to believers, and ought to be admitted, (Westm. Confess. chap. 19, art. 6). For, (1.) Believers are not under, but dead to the law of works, (Rom 6:14), "For ye are not under the law, but under grace..."
"The law of Christ is an "easy yoke," and a "light burden," (Matt 11:30); but the law of works, to a sinner, is an insupportable burden, requiring works as the condition of justification and acceptance with God, as is clear from the whole of the apostle's reasoning, (Rom 3)."
The point being that the commands of the moral law are, in substance, embodied in both the law as a covenant of works and the law of Christ or third use of the law.  Both are law that command and are binding.  The distinction has to do with the "why" of obedience.  For one under the law as a covenant of works the motive to obey is fear of condemnation/death and the now false hope of meriting eternal life.  For the believer in Christ the motive to obey is gratitude born of grace with no need to fulfill the law's demands whatsoever, for Christ has finished that burdensome task:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
The good news is that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law for his people.  He has born the law's penalty for sin and has also kept perfectly all the moral demands of the law.  And he has done this for all those who are his - who walk not according to the flesh (i.e. works) but according to the Spirit (i.e faith in Christ).
"The tree must first be, and then the fruit; for the apples make not the tree, but the tree makes the apples. So faith first maketh the person, which afterwards brings forth works. Therefore to do the law without faith, is to make the apples of wood and earth without the tree, which is not to make apples, but mere fantasies." (Fisher, Chapter 3:8)
John Owen writes about believers no longer under the dominion of sin (Romans 6:14), yet who find themselves still struggling against it.  Here he highlights the distinction between Christ's two words, i.e. the law and the gospel and their two different roles in the redemptive economy:
"This, then, is the present case supposed and determined by the apostle: “You that are believers are all of you conflicting with sin. You find it always restless and disquieting, sometimes strong and powerful. When it is in conjunction with any urgent temptation, you are afraid it will utterly prevail over you, to the ruin of your souls. Hence you are wearied with it, groan under it, and cry out for deliverance from it.” All these things the apostle at large insists on in this and the next chapter. “But now,” saith he, “be of good comfort; notwithstanding all these things, and all your fears upon them, sin shall not prevail, it shall not have the dominion, it shall never ruin your souls.” But what ground have we for this hope? what assurance of this success? “This you have,” saith the apostle, “ ‘Ye are not under the law, but under grace;’ or the rule of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, administered in the gospel.” But how doth this give relief? “Why, it is the ordinance, the instrument of God, which he will use unto this end — namely, the communication of such supplies of grace and spiritual strength as shall eternally defeat the dominion of sin.” 
"This is one principal difference between the law and the gospel, and was ever so esteemed in the church of God, until all communication of efficacious grace began to be called in question:  
"The law guides, directs, commands, all things that are against the interest and rule of sin. It [the law] judgeth and condemneth both the things that promote it  [rule of sin] and the persons that do them; it [the law] frightens and terrifies the consciences of those who are under its dominion. But if you shall say unto it, “What then shall we do? this tyrant, this enemy, is too hard for us. What aid and assistance against it [sin] will you [law] afford unto us? what power will you communicate unto its destruction?” Here the law is utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God; nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner: “The strength of sin is the law.” But the gospel, or the grace of it, is the means and instrument of God for the communication of internal spiritual strength unto believers. By it do they receive supplies of the Spirit or aids of grace for the subduing of sin and the destruction of its dominion. By it they may say they can do all things, through Him that enables them.  [bracketed explanatory words and emphasis added]
[A Treatise of the Dominion of Sin and Grace by John Owen]

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Baptism, Early Church Fathers - Questions and Thoughts...

Given the Reformed covenantal understanding of padobaptism as Biblical teaching (Reformed also teach believer baptism), how would one explain the historical data that a number of Early Church Fathers were born into Christian families and yet were not baptized until later in life (e.g. Augustine, Ambrose, Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nanzianzus)? Was the practice/understanding of baptism mixed in such a way that the covenantal practice of the early church diminshed after the time of the apostles? Was practice mixed in the first century? Just wondering how to interpret the historical record and what challenges that record presents.

Some initial thoughts:  
1) It's historical evidence such as the above regarding some of the ECFs, employed by credobaptists and lending weight to their assertion, that Scriptural baptism is only adult or believer baptism. This would seem obvious.

2) The historical record is problematic for the Roman Catholic.  They claim a direct doctrinal line from the apostles, and an unbroken tradition/practice as the one true church since Pentecost.  If in the 3rd and 4th century the RCC as the only true church taught infant baptism and that baptism regenerates and infuses righteousness (as RCs explicitly have since Trent) then this historical record is problematic.  Especially when one considers that Gregory's father was a bishop before Gregory was even born and that the others mentioned were raised by Christian parents.

3) On its face this would also seem problematic for the Reformed.  He must answer the credobaptist claim and evidence.  And that evidence would seem to undermine the Reformed teaching and practice of infant baptism visa-vis God's covenant with his people, baptism being the sign and seal of entrance to the church for children of believers as well as the blessings of the covenant of grace (WCF 28).

I think the Roman Catholics have the more difficult defense to make. Reformed have never attributed regeneration and justification directly to the act of baptism. It isn't hard to imagine that a weakening of the the covenantal understanding of baptism had occurred over a couple centuries after the apostles while at the same time the understanding that salvation received through faith in the gospel generally held firm.  Thus Augustine and others were catechized in the the teachings of the gospel with a view to a profession of faith while the practice of baptism for infants receded, at least as practiced in some parts of the church.  Without the covenantal understanding of baptism, the church is left with a weak rationale for infant baptism.  

Though an understanding of regeneration/grace-infused baptism is found in the ECFs, yet at least as shown by these examples, it wasn't the universal practice of the church to baptize infants for that or any other purpose. The ECFs mentioned above (Augustine, et al) weren't baptized until as adults they came to faith. Rome proudly owns the ECFs as corroborating evidence of their claim to Christ's only visible church.  This, it would seem, presents a challenge to Rome's claim of one continuous, infallible church regarding doctrine and practice since the apostles.  Its claim to be "The One True Infallible Church" is based on its interpretation of Scripture and its so-called unbroken apostolic tradition/practice.  The church's practice of baptism is clearly at variance with that claim in the 3rd and 4th century.

I think the Reformed have an easier case to make. Reformed admit the church, at times, does err and has erred.  Yet it remains the Lord's church.  Since the Reformation of 16th century there has been a reformed catholic church, one always reforming according to the Word of God. In fact that is the story of the Church from the time of the apostles.  To flip around the old 7UP commercial line, "Always has, always will..."  Biblical faith and practice have at different times been under assault within the church and thus the church has found itself in need of necessary reform/correction.  That's the back story to many of the epistles in Scripture and the front story to the justification controversy addressed in the Galatians' letter.  So, it shouldn't be considered an anomaly that the covenantal doctrine and practice of infant baptism weakened in the two centuries following the apostles (or even here and there during their own time). The Reformed church rest upon the doctrines of Scripture alone.  If practice/tradition deviate at times, that doesn't undermine the doctrine of Scripture or the legitimacy of the church.  What it does is to necessitate a more faithful contending for the faith by the church -  'the faith once delivered' - in its teaching and practice. In other words... the church in this age always has been and always is to be the Church Militant.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Sinaitic Covenant - Louis Berkhof

At Sinai the covenant became a truly national covenant. The civil life of Israel was linked up with the covenant in such a say that the two could not be separated. In a large measure Church and Sate became one. To be in the Church was to be in the nation, and vice versa; and to leave the Chuch was to leave the nation. There was no spiritual excommunication; the ban meant cutting off by death.
The Sinaitic covenant included a service that contained a positive reminder of the strict demands of the covenant of works. The law was placed very much in the foreground, giving prominence once more to the earlier legal element. But the covenant of Sinai was not a renewal of the covenant of works; in it the law was made subservient to the covenant of grace. This is indicated already in the introduction to the ten commandments, Ex. 20:2; Deut. 5:6, and further in Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:24. It is true that at Sinai a conditional element was added to the covenant, but it was not the salvation of the Israelite but his theocratic standing in the nation, and the enjoyment of external blessings that was made dependent on the keeping of the law, Deut. 28:1-14. The law served a twofold purpose in connection with the covenant of grace: (1) to increase the consciousness of sin, Rom. 3:20; 4:15; Gal. 3:19; and (2) to be a tutor unto Christ, Gal. 3:24.
—Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th edn, 298 (emphasis added).

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Reformation's Debate continues... Justification By... What?

Another bit from an ongoing discussion on a Roman Catholic blog:

My Roman Catholic interlocutor quotes me and then adds his comment:
“Baptism if not accompanied by faith ultimately avails nothing as regards the salvation of the soul.” – [Jack]
God always accomplishes what He promises. So baptism always results in justification. Man can be a covenant breaker – but God never can. – [DH]
My response:
Two things -
1. Of course we disagree with RCs that baptism is the instrument of justification. One might be able through a verse to infer that it is, but Scripture (OT and NT) in many places positively states that God justifies the ungodly through faith, even calling it the “faith of righteousness”… not the baptism of righteousness.

2. God always accomplishes what he, in the counsel of his will, purposes. In order for His promise to be effectual according to the Roman Catholic one must be baptized and not commit mortal sin, and [add in other things here]. And if he does commit mortal sin then he seeks restoration via penance to return to a justified state. If he doesn’t do that then God’s promised justification in baptism passes him by. Works and justification are very much linked here.

We maintain that Scripture teaches (for those of age) God’s promise of salvation is made effectual by grace alone through faith alone in – the One who fulfilled that promise for sinners – Jesus Chris alone, who died for their sins and fulfilled the demands of the Law for their justification. If man refuses to believe, then the promise of salvation is refused.
John 3: 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
… Jesus says that whoever believes (faith) is “not condemned”… to be “not condemned” under the law is to be justified under the law. So whoever has faith in him is justified and whoever has not faith in him is not justified, i.e. condemned.

What is at issue is the instrument of justification. Is it baptism or faith? And Paul makes it clear to all who are willing to hear and consider and believe the good news he teaches:

Romans 3:21-23 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
Romans 4: 4-5 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness
Romans 11: 5-6 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
Eph. 2: 8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Eph. 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Phil. 2:12b-13 work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
When it comes to justification Paul rules out works, even grace-assisted works. “Righteousness through faith”, not righteousness by baptism. Of course you reject this, as RCs see baptism and sanctification (grace-assisted works) as means to justification. We agree with Paul that sinners are justified through faith in Christ apart from any kind of works and that that one who is justified by grace will and does bring forth good deeds (sanctification built upon justification) through the gracious work of God’s Spirit (Eph. 2:10; Phil 2:12b-13).

I’m content to agree to disagree with you. I’m not content to disagree with the apostle Paul. And by the way, this is not my personal interpretation, but the teaching of those churches which hold to the reformed confessions and catechisms.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Infant baptism, death, and salvation - some thoughts from a Reformed view

  1. RC questioner,
    I am asking you nicely. Please give me your opinion about what happens to all the validly baptized infants that don’t live to be old enough to express a personal faith in Jesus Christ?
    Me: Here is my belief:
    WCF 10:3. Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.
    Acts 9:38 And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him.
    The Reformed confession, the Canons of Dort, Chapter 1, Article 17 (“The Salvation of the Infants of Believers”), affirms:
    Since we must make judgments about God’s will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy.
    Acts 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.
    Note that baptism isn’t required of infants in order for them to be saved. Indeed those children of Christians, as well as unborn who die before birth, are considered covenant children. And therefore we can presume with confidence (as Peter says that the promise is also to the children) that by God’s grace, mercy, and faithfulness they are marked for salvation. Now you may object and say, “what about faith alone?” When someone reaches the age of reason where they can reject or believe the gospel then faith is necessary for salvation, as clearly taught in Scripture and affirmed in our confessional standards. If a baptized child when older rejects Christ, then the only path to salvation is repentance and faith alone in the merits of Christ Jesus.
    What about infants who die that are not of the covenant (i.e. of non-believers)? See above – WCF 10:3. In other words, as God so chooses an individual for election unto salvation, even one outside the covenant who dies in infancy, then they “are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth.” God’s sovereign grace and election are always the determining factors in salvation. As Paul wrote:
    For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.
  2. WCF 28 Of Baptism
    5. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.
    For proof of this all we need to consider is our dear Lord Jesus as he hung innocently on that cruel cross for our damnable sins and the words he spoke to that guilty thief on the cross next to him:
    One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
    Amazing grace indeed…

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Once Saved, Always Saved?

Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace -
Some who believe that Christians are eternally secure give their doctrine the slogan “once saved, always saved,” but that slogan is very misleading. The slogan suggests that once persons make a decision for Christ, they can then go off and do their own thing, fully confident that no matter what they do or how they live, they are “safe and secure from all alarm.” That simply is not biblical. 
The new birth, to be sure, is an event. In other words, at some point in your life, the Holy Spirit moves and creates new life in your soul. But salvation is more than that. Justification, too, is a one-time declaration, but salvation also involves a process of, over time, becoming righteous, which is called sanctification. 
Sanctification is the Christian life, the daily pursuit of God and the transformation of the heart, mind, and will. Our priorities and our view of life are drastically altered, revolutionized, and reversed. We did not cooperate in our justification. But we must cooperate with God in our sanctification. 
Some Christians have the idea that they must sit back and let the Spirit do everything. But…the process toward maturity in Christ is not based on a passive view of life. Another way of saying sanctification is “taking the bull by the horns.” We do not wait for the Holy Spirit to perform some supernatural number on our lives: he already has done this for us! We actively pursue holiness and Christ-centeredness in our lives, recognizing that the same One who commands us to work, persevere, and obey gives us the supernatural ability to do so. Just do it! You do the work; but recognize that, if the work is done, God has done it in and through you. 
So then, when we speak of “once saved, always saved,” we are not taking into account the full scope of salvation. We have been saved (justified), we are being saved (sanctified), and we will one day be saved (glorified). You cannot claim to have been “saved” (justified) unless you are being sanctified. Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. 
Jesus made it plain throughout his ministry that one could not become his disciple (and, therefore, could not receive eternal life) unless that person was willing to “take up his cross daily” and follow Jesus. The New Testament emphasizes denying yourself, dying to sin, and deferring to others. 
These terms identify a concept that is not in vogue today. When even many church leaders are telling people to “believe in yourself” and are preaching a gospel that is more concerned with fulfilling our desires than God’s, we have difficulty falling unreservedly into the arms of the Savior in whom we find our only confidence. But of course, we cannot ever tailor-make the gospel to fit our self-serving expectations. 
Romans 8:30 makes clear the chain of salvation, a chain whose links cannot be broken: “And those he predestined, those he also called; those he called, he also justified; he justified, he also glorified.” Can one be predestined, called, justified, and lost? This verse teaches us that when God starts something, God finishes it. Did you grant yourself salvation? Did you gain it yourself in the first instance? No, salvation was a gift. Remember, God justifies and condemns: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? (Rom: 8:33-34). . . Since God initially gives us the grace to believe in him and to turn from self, why would he not give us the grace to keep on trusting in him?. . .
We have the responsibility to “go onto maturity” (Heb. 6:1). So we are responsible to persevere, but not for our perseverance. We are responsible to be saved, but not for our salvation. 
To lose our salvation, we would have to return to a condition of spiritual death. Of what sort of regeneration would the Holy Spirit be the author if those whom he has resurrected and given eternal life are capable of dying spiritually again? “Well, can’t you commit spiritual suicide?” one might ask. Not if we take seriously the claim of 1 Peter 1:23: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable.”
HT:  Reformed Bibliophile

Perfect Righteousness, not by works...

Antinomian: Well, sir, you have made it evident and plain, that Christ hath delivered all believers from the law, as it is the covenant of works; and that therefore they have nothing at all to do with it. 
Evangelist:  No, indeed; none of Christ's are to have anything to do with the covenant of works, but Christ only. For although in the making of the covenant of works at first, God was one party, and man another, yet, in making it the second time, God was on both sides:God, simply considered in his essence, was the party opposed to man; and God, the second person, having taken upon him to be incarnate, and to work man's redemption, was on man's side, and takes part with man, that he may reconcile him to God, by bearing man's sins, and satisfying God's justice for them. And Christ paid God 6 till he said he had enough; he was fully satisfied, fully contented, (Matt 3:17), "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Yea, God the Father was well pleased, and fully satisfied from all eternity, by virtue of that covenant that was made betwixt them. And thereupon all Christ's people were given to him in their election. (Eph 1:4) "Thine they were," 7 says Christ, "and thou gavest them me," (John 17:6).
And again, says he, "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hands," (John 3:35); that is, he hath entrusted him with the economic and actual administration of that power in the Church, which originally belonged unto himself. And hence it is that Christ also says, "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son," (John 5:22) 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. 
Wherefore my dear Neophytus, to turn my speech particularly to you, [because I see you are in heaviness] 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. Wherefore, as Paul and Silas said to the jailer, so say I unto you, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved"; that is, be verily persuaded in your heart that Jesus Christ is yours, and that you shall have life and salvation by him; that whatsoever Christ did for the redemption of mankind, he did it for you.
Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Saved By Grace Alone...

Over at Green Baggins, one commenter responds to another, highlighting the errors of the Federal Vision teachings (Peter Leithart - see PCA report HERE)...  It's part of an on-going debate and process in the PCA as that denomination attempts to deal with FV's nine-lives.  A companion-distortion of the gospel is the New Perspectives on Paul (N.T. Wright) which the report also addresses.  Both have been around a while and will probably, in one form or another, never go away. The basic error they espouse has been with the church since the Galatian letter heresy, i.e. man adding his own works to the work of Christ - even those works that are so-called grace assisted - for his justification and acceptance before God.  This... in direct opposition to what the apostles taught, i.e. - it's the ungodly (that's you and me) who are justified by God's grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone - and indeed, that that good news is assigned as the sure announcement (take it to the bank) of man's salvation by God's grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ.  Any formula which weakens man's total dependence on the grace of God ends up making Christ to be less than a complete Savior and salvation an elusive hope.  J. Gresham Machen stated it clearly in Christianity and Liberalism:
If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.
"So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace" (Rom. 11:5-6).
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel... But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace" (Galatians 1:6,15).
"so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:7).
"And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Rom. 4:5).
"yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16).
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us" (Eph. 1:3-8).
"But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11)
"And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus... I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’" (Acts 26:15-18)
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:8-10).

Monday, October 21, 2013

Law & Gospel, a review...

What follows is an interesting piece of history from 1818, an informative book review of John Coquhoun's A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel.  To quote the reviewer:
Nothing can be more important, at once to the comfort, and the fruitfulness of the Christian life, than a clear discernment of the difference between the Law and the Gospel. [emphasis added]

Art. III. A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel By John Colquhoun, D.D. Minister of the Gospel, Leith 12mo. pp. 351. Edinburgh: 1816.

The time is gone by in which writings like those of Dr. Colquhoun, would be sure to obtain all the consideration they deserve; not but what they will yet prove highly acceptable, and we doubt not, very
profitable to many readers.

Good and useful books may be divided into two classes; namely, those which being written under the guidance of a correct estimate of the moral and intellectual character of the times, are addressed, immediately, to the popular mind, such as it is today; and those in which the writer, possessing that intellectual vigour which repels internal influences, produces simply a transcript of his own mind, upon the subject he adopts. Works of the latter class, belong to no time, but to all ages. They are truly the property of that small number of persons who really think. They cull their readers scantily, from the millions of many centuries. Their influence upon the mass of mankind, is indirect and reflective; and so far as they obtain a contemporaneous celebrity, it is chiefly owing to some lower, or extrinsic excellence. Beside these two classes, there appears, from time to time, a straggler, which seems to have dropped behind the march of its predecessors. The book is perhaps good, but it ought to have been printed a full hundred years ago. If however, it be not of the rank that will command attention at any period, its merits may at least be such as might well apologize for a superannuated manner. It would, indeed, be a hopeful circumstance, if this green and hasty age, without being frighted by the ruff and the beard, would suffer itself to be schooled down into a little more of the carefulness, and laboriousness,and seriousness, which distinguished times that are passed. The wish that something of this sort might take place, makes us rejoice in the appearance of books like the one now before us; especially when they are accompanied, is in the present instance, by the sanction derived from the eminent worth and piety of the writer,

Dr. Colquhoun handles Theology in the manner which became general at the time of the Reformation, and which has long since ceased to be popular. It resulted immediately from that great maxim, or rather motto, of those who introduced Christianity a second time to the world: "To the Law and to the testimony." It may be designated as the forensic style. It is apt to be more occupied with terms than with, things, and is naturally produced when general attention forcibly reverts to the sense and authority of an acknowledged canon. This style neither rises among philosophical generalities, nor digresses into the regions of sentiment and imagination. It is a species of writing, perhaps, beyond any other, which taxes the attention of the reader; and this is a kind of tax which will never be readily submitted to, but in an age distinguished for laborious intellectual habits. Such is certainly not the character of the present day; and to fix the attention, is, perhaps, now, generally felt to be the most difficult and painful of all the efforts of the mind.

Dr. Colquhoun's method of presenting the subject to the reader, is as little in vogue as his manner of treating Theology. He adopts, to a great extent, the plan of a logical completeness of arrangement. For that virtual, and actual repetition of the tame thoughts, which is the inevitable fault, if it be a fault, of this attenuating plan, Dr. C. apologizes, by saying, that
'Though to some readers, there may appear, in several passages of the following work, a redundancy of words, and too frequent a recurrence of the leading sentiments, and even of the same modes of expression; yet, the Author cannot but hope that, to others, these will, in some degree, serve to render his meaning the more obvious and determinate.'
The contents of the volume are arranged under twelve, general heads, in which are considered, The Law of God in general; The Law of God as promulgated to the Israelites from Mount Sinai; The properties of the Moral Law; The rules for understanding rightly the Ten Commandments; The Gospel of Christ; The uses of the Gospel, and also of the Law, in its subservience to the Gospel; The difference between the Law, and the Gospel, The agreement between them; The establishment of the Law by the Gospel, or, the subservience of the Gospel to the authority and honour of the Law; The Believer's privilege of being dead to the Law, as a Covenant of Works, with the necessary consequence of it; The great obligations under which every believer lies, to perform even perfect obedience to the Law as a rule of life; and, lastly, The nature, necessity, and desert of good works.

A very extensive, comprehensive, and well digested knowledge of the Scriptures, is exhibited in the illustration of these topics; and this knowledge is uniformly brought to bear upon the experience and practice of the Christian. If we have said a word that may seem likely to obstruct the circulation of this volume, we are persuaded that we can in no way so effectually do Dr. Colquhoun justice, as by allowing him to speak for himself. We select two or three passages, which are the most easily broken off from the connexion in which they stand.  In speaking of the Law in the hand of Christ the Mediator, as a rule of life to believers, it is remarked, that
'To the law as a rule in the hand of Christ, belongs also a threatening of paternal chastisements. In order to deter believers from disobedience, as well as to promote in them the mortification of sin, the Lord threatens that, although he will not cast them into hell for their sins, yet he will permit hell, as it were, to enter their consciences; that he will visit them with a series of outward afflictions; that he will deprive them of that sensible communion with him, which they sometime enjoyed; and that he will afflict them with bitterness instead of sweetness, and with terror instead of comfort. These chastisements are, to a believer, no less awful, and much more forcible, restraints from sin, than even the prospect of vindictive wrath would be. A filial fear of them, will do more to influence him to the practice of holiness, than all the slavish fears of hell can do. A fear, lest he should be deprived of that sweetness of communion with God, with which he is favoured, will constrain him to say to his lusts, as the fig-tree in Jotham's parable, "Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over you?" "Shall I leave the spiritual delight which I had, in the communion with my God and Saviour, and have fellowship with you?" Or, if, for his iniquities, he be already under the dreadful frowns of his heavenly Father; his recollection of the comfort which he formerly enjoyed, and of which he is now deprived, will make him say, " I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now."' p. 44
Nothing can be more important, at once to the comfort, and the fruitfulness of the Christian life, than a clear discernment of the difference between the Law and the Gospel.
'If an exercised and disquieted Christian, do not distinctly know the difference between the law and the gospel, he cannot attain to solid tranquility, or established comfort of soul. He will always be in danger of building his hope and comfort, partly, if not wholly, upon his own graces and performances, instead of grounding them wholly, on the surety-righteousness of Jesus Christ; and so, he shall be perpetually disquieted by anxious and desponding fear. For since the law knows nothing of pardon of sin, the transgressions which he is daily committing, will be greater grounds of fear to him, than his graces and performances can be, of hope. The spirit of a depressed Christian, cannot be raised to solid consolation; but by being able so to distinguish between the law and the gospel, as to rely only, and with settled confidence, on the spotless righteousness of the second Adam, presented to him in the gospel, for all his title 'to the justification of life"' pp. 158, 9
Dr. Colquhoun makes frequent appeals to the consciences of those who are living under the infatuation which persuades them to rest their hopes upon an already violated covenant.
'How inexpressibly miserable are they, who are alive to the law as a covenant of works! They may "have a name to live, but they are dead." They are dead to God; to the favour, the image, the service, and the enjoyment of God. They are legally dead; for they are under the tremendous curse of the violated law, and are liable, every moment, to the intolerable and eternal wrath of Almighty God. They are morally dead likewise; for they are destitute of spiritual life; and they have no inclination, nor ability, to live unto God. Such persons know not, what it is to live a life, either of justification, or of satisfaction, or of consolation. The righteous law condemns them, because they have transgressed it; and its awful sentence not only shuts them up under the dominion of spiritual death, but binds them over to all the horrors of death eternal. Oh! secure sinner, the state in which you are, is that of a criminal condemned to death, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. Do not say, " I hope, that is not my state:" for you "are of the works of the law;" you are depending on your own works, for a title to the favour of God, and the happiness of heaven; and this renders it certain, that you are under the curse or condemning sentence of the law; for thus saith the Spirit of inspiration, " As many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse.'' O renounce, and that without delay, all dependence on your own works. Believe that, the Lord Jesus with his righteousness and salvation, is freely, wholly, and particularly, offered to you; and, relying on his consummate righteousness alone, for all your right to justification and salvation, trust in him, not only for deliverance from the curse of the law, but for complete salvation. So shall you become dead to the law of works, and, in union with the second Adam, be instated in the covenant of grace.' pp. 277, 8.

The Eclectic Review, Volume 10; Volume 28

 By William Hendry Stowel; July-December 1818 

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Excerpts from the Commentary of Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism Q.67 and Q. 70:
Baptism is a sacred rite instituted by Christ in the New Testament, by which we are washed with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to signify that God receives us into his favor, on account of the blood which his Son shed for us, and that we are regenerated by his Spirit ; and that we, on the other hand, bind ourselves to exercise faith in God, and to perform new obedience to him...
There is in baptism a double washing: an external washing with water, and an internal washing with the blood and Spirit of Christ. The internal is signified and sealed by that which is external, and is always joined with it in the proper use of baptism. This internal washing is again two-fold, being a washing with the blood and Spirit of Christ. Both are specified in the answer of the Catechism, and may take place at the same time. To be washed with the blood of Christ, is to receive the pardon of sin, or to be justified on account of his shed-blood. To be washed with the Spirit of Christ, is to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, which consists in a change of evil inclinations into those which are good, which the Holy Ghost works in the will and heart, so as to produce in us hatred to sin, and a desire to live according to the will of God...
Baptism is, therefore, the sign of both these forms of washing, or benefits of Christ, which include the forgiveness of sin, and the renewing of our nature ; and that not only because it has some resemblance to both, but also because these two benefits are inseparably connected, so that neither one can be without the other. If Christ do not wash us we have no part in him, and he who has not the Spirit of Christ is none of his. These benefits, however, differ from each other. Justification, which is by the blood of Christ, is complete and perfect in this life by imputation, for " there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1.) Regeneration, on the other hand, which is effected by the Spirit of Christ, and which consists in a change of our evil nature to that which is good, is not perfected, but only begun in this life ; yet in such a manner that this beginning does really take place in all the godly, and is experienced by them as long as they are in this life, because they truly and heartily desire to obey God in all things, and are greatly grieved on account of their defects, and remaining corruption...
He that believeth: The condition of faith is joined to the promise ; for those who are baptized do not receive that which is promised and sealed by baptism unless they have faith, so that without faith the promise is not ratified, and baptism is of no profit. In these words we have expressed in a concise manner the proper use of baptism, in which the sacraments are always ratified to those who receive them in faith ; whilst the sacraments are no sacraments, and profit nothing in their improper use...
Shall be saved, that is, he that is baptized may know that he enjoys the benefits which are signified by this sacrament, which consist in justification, and regeneration if he believe. For the promise is not ratified without faith, neither is baptism of any profit when thus received. The promise of salvation is added both to faith and baptism, but in a different respect. It is added to faith, as the necessary means by which we receive salvation ; and to baptism, as the sign which seals that which faith receives.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Perversion of God's Law

Neonomians allege, that though we cannot fulfil that perfect obedience which the law of works demanded, yet God has been graciously pleased, for Christ’s sake, to give us a new law, according to which, sincere obedience, or faith, repentance, and sincere obedience, are accepted as our justifying righteousness. It may be here remarked, that the Scripture nowhere gives the slightest intimation that a near and milder law has been substituted in place of the law of works originally given to man. Christ came "not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it." The gospel was never designed to teach sinners that God will now accept of a sincere instead of a perfect obedience, but to direct them to Jesus Christ as "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." The idea of a new law, adapted to the present condition of human nature, reflects the greatest dishonour both upon the law and the Lawgiver; for it assumes that the Lawgiver is mutable, and that the law first given to man demanded too much. - IX. Of Justification
Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1845)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

King David's Repentance...

From Dr. Michael Horton’s systematic, The Christian Faith, page 578

Referring to Psalm 51 Dr. Horton writes:
First, we recognize that David is not ashamed of his behavior but guilty.  Second, although he has sinned cruelly against Bathsheba and plotted the death of her husband, he recognizes that his sin is first and foremost against God.  Repentance is not only remorse for having wronged our neighbor, but is a recognition that God is the most offended party.  Third, David does not try to atone for his sins or pacify God’s just anger by his remorse.  David confesses that before God’s throne he is condemned, and he does not try to justify himself.  Fourth, David acknowledges not only his sinful actions but his sinful condition from the hour of conception.  Repentance pertains not only to certain sins; pagans can be remorseful for their immoderate behavior.  Rather, it is the revulsion of the whole soul toward its alliance with sin and death. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

"Tweets" from John Calvin - Repentance

Yesterday I had a little back and forth on Twitter with another believer over the role and place of repentance in God's salvation of sinners. I know, I know... on Twitter?!  Yet one benefit of Twitter's 117 character limit is to be exercised in something similar to the old adage - brevity is the soul of wit. A few of my tweets:
repentance is an evangelical grace which follows the gift of faith given by God through Christ.
Repentance - not a condition for faith unto salvation, but the first, and reoccurring, evidence of grace given.
in a word, true repentance is necessary part but not a condition of faith/salvation
Any way, I found myself, as I often do in these kinds of discussions, turning to John Calvin for some further clarity, which, as to repentance, can be found in Book 3 Chapter 3 of his Institutes of Religion.  So here are some non-limited-character "tweets on repentance" from the 16th century Twitter account of Calvin:
The sum of the Gospel is, not without good reason, made to consist in repentance and forgiveness of sins; and, therefore, where these two heads are omitted, any discussion concerning faith will be meager and defective, and indeed almost useless.
That repentance not only always follows faith, but is produced by it, ought to be without controversy, (see Calvin in Joann. 1:13.) For since pardon and forgiveness are offered by the preaching of the Gospel, in order that the sinner, delivered from the tyranny of Satan, the yoke of sin, and the miserable bondage of iniquity, may pass into the kingdom of God, it is certain that no man can embrace the grace of the Gospel without retaking himself from the errors of his former life into the right path, and making it his whole study to practice repentance.

Those who think that repentance precedes faith instead of flowing from, or being produced by it, as the fruit by the tree, have never understood its nature, and are moved to adopt that view on very insufficient grounds.

Still, when we attribute the origin of repentance to faith, we do not dream of some period of time in which faith is to give birth to it: we only wish to show that a man cannot seriously engage in repentance unless he know that he is of God. But no man is truly persuaded that he is of God until he have embraced his offered favor.

repentance consists of two parts, mortification and quickening. By mortification they mean, grief of soul and terror, produced by a conviction of sin and a sense of the divine judgment.

What then? Can true repentance exist without faith? By no means. But although they cannot be separated, they ought to be distinguished.
repentance may be not inappropriately defined thus: A real conversion of our life unto God, proceeding from sincere and serious fear of God; and consisting in the mortification of our flesh and the old man, and the quickening of the Spirit.

Both of these we obtain by union with Christ. For if we have true fellowship in his death, our old man is crucified by his power, and the body of sin becomes dead, so that the corruption of our original nature is never again in full vigor, (Romans 6:5, 6.) If we are partakers in his resurrection, we are raised up by means of it to newness of life, which conforms us to the righteousness of God. In one word, then, by repentance I understand regeneration, 36 the only aim of which is to form in us anew the image of God, which was sullied, and all but effaced by the transgression of Adam. So the Apostle teaches when he says, "We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord." Again, "Be renewed in the spirit of your minds" and "put ye on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."

so that during their whole lives they may practice repentance, and know that death is the only termination to this warfare.

the nearer any one approaches in resemblance to God, the more does the image of God appear in him. That believers may attain to it, God assigns repentance as the goal towards which they must keep running during the whole course of their lives.

Moreover if it is true, and nothing can be more certain, than that a complete summary of the Gospel is included under these two heads, viz., repentance and the remission of sins, do we not see that the Lord justifies his people freely, and at the same time renews them to true holiness by the sanctification of his Spirit?

Thus, too, Christ began his preaching, "The kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel," (Mark 1:10.) First, he declares that the treasures of the divine mercy were opened in him; next, he enjoins repentance; and, lastly, he encourages confidence in the promises of God. Accordingly, when intending to give a brief summary of the whole Gospel, he said that he behaved "to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations," (Luke 24:26, 46.) In like manner, after his resurrection the Apostles preached, "Him has God exalted with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins," (Acts 5:31.) repentance is preached in the name of Christ, when men learn, through the doctrines of the Gospel, that all their thoughts, affections, and pursuits, are corrupt and vicious; and that, therefore, if they would enter the kingdom of God they must be born again. Forgiveness of sins is preached when men are taught that Christ "is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption," (1 Corinthians 1:30) that on his account they are freely deemed righteous and innocent in the sight of God. Though both graces are obtained by faith, (as has been shown elsewhere,) yet as the goodness of God, by which sins are forgiven, is the proper object of faith, it was proper carefully to distinguish it from repentance.

Hence the Church 48 extols the goodness of God, and looks on in wonder, saying, "Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life," (Acts 11:18;) and Paul enjoining Timothy to deal meekly and patiently with unbelievers, says, "If God per adventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil," (2 Timothy 2:25, 26.) God indeed declares, that he would have all men to repent, and addresses exhortations in common to all; their efficacy, however, depends on the Spirit of regeneration.

not that repentance is properly the cause of salvation, but because, as already seen, it is inseparable from the faith and mercy of God; for, as Isaiah declares, "The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob." This, indeed, is a standing truth, that wherever the fear of God is in vigor, the Spirit has been carrying on his saving work.

For, as we have formerly shown (chap. 3: sec. 17 2) that repentance and faith go hand in hand, being united by an indissoluble tie, the one causing terror, the other joy, so in prayer they must both be present.

The mode in which Scripture reconciles the two things, viz., that by external preaching all are called to faith and repentance, and that yet the Spirit of faith and repentance is not given to all, I have already explained, and will again shortly repeat.

(Matthew 13:23.) How comes its then, that if God would have all to be saved he does not open a door of repentance for the wretched, who would more readily have received grace? Hence we may see that the passage is violently wrested, if the will of God, which the prophet mentions, is opposed to his eternal counsel, by which he separated the elect from the reprobate.

The sum is, that God is undoubtedly ready to pardon whenever the sinner turns. Therefore, he does not will his death, in so far as he wills repentance. But experience shows that this will, for the repentance of those whom he invites to himself, is not such as to make him touch all their hearts. Still, it cannot be said that he acts deceitfully; for though the external word only renders, those who hear its and do not obey it, inexcusable, it is still truly regarded as an evidence of the grace by which he reconciles men to himself. Let us therefore hold the doctrine of the prophet, that God has no pleasure in the death of the sinner; that the godly may feel confident that whenever they repent God is ready to pardon them; and that the wicked may feel that their guilt is doubled, when they respond not to the great mercy and condescension of God. The mercy of God, therefore will ever be ready to meet the penitent; but all the prophets, and apostles, and Ezekiel himself, clearly tell us who they are to whom repentance is given.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Covenant of Works - Covenant of Grace: In Adam - In Christ

Our previous post was Robert Shaw's exposition of WCF Chapter 19, Sec. 1 and 2 as found in his book, The Reformed Faith.  Now we go back to his exposition in Chapter 7 in order to examine the order of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace and understand their relationship to both Adam and his progeny and Christ and his elect.

WCF Chapter VII. Of God’s Covenant with Man
Section I.— The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him, as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.
Section II.— The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

Man is naturally and necessarily under a law to God. This results from the necessary and unalterable relation subsisting between God and man, as the one is the Creator, and the other his creature. God might, therefore, if he had pleased, demanded all possible obedience of man, without making any promise securing his establishment in a state of innocence and enjoyment, and his advancement to a state of still higher felicity, as the reward of his obedience. And though man had gone through a long course of obedience, without a single failure, he could not have laid his Creator under any obligation to him, or been entitled to any recompense. But God graciously condescended to deal with man by way of covenant, and thus gave him an opportunity to secure his happiness by acquiring a right to it - a right founded upon stipulation, or upon the promise. "Man," says the celebrated Witsius, "upon his accepting the covenant, and performing the condition, does acquire some right to demand of God the promise; for God has, by his promises, made himself a debtor to man; or, to speak in a manner more becoming God, he was pleased to make his performing his promises a debt due to himself,—to his goodness, justice, and veracity. And to man, in covenant, and continuing steadfast to it, he granted the right of expecting and requiring that God should satisfy the demands of his goodness, justice, and truth, by the performance of the promises." 

A covenant is generally defined to be an agreement between two parties, on certain terms. In every covenant there must be two parties, and consequently two parts—a conditionary and a promissory; the one to be performed by the one party, and the other to be fulfilled by the other party. If either of the parties be fallible, a penalty is often added; but this is not essential to a covenant. 

There are two important truths to which our attention is here directed. First, That God entered into a covenant with Adam, promising him life upon condition of his perfect and personal obedience. Secondly, That this covenant was made with Adam, not only for himself, but for all his natural posterity. 

I. That God entered into a covenant with Adam in his state of innocence, appears from Gen. ii. 16,17: "The Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." Here, indeed, there is no express mention of a covenant; but we find all the essential requisites of a proper covenant. In this transaction there are two parties; the Lord God on the one hand, and man on the other. There is a condition expressly stated, in the positive precept respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God was pleased to make the test of man’s obedience. There is a penalty subjoined: "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." There is also a promise, not distinctly expressed, but implied in the threatening; for, if death was to be the consequence of disobedience, it clearly follows that life was to be the reward of obedience. That a promise of life was annexed to man’s obedience, may also be inferred from the description which Moses gives of the righteousness of the law: "The man that doeth these things shall live by them," - Rom. x. 5; from our Lord’s answer to the young man who inquired what he should do to inherit eternal life: "It thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,"—Matt. xix. 17; and from the declaration of the apostle, that "the commandment was ordained to life."—Rom. vii. to. We are, therefore, warranted to call the transaction between God and Adam a covenant. We may even allege, for the use of this term, the language of Scripture. In Hos. vi. 7 (margin), we read, "They, like Adam, have transgressed the covenant." This necessarily implies that a covenant was made with Adam, and that he violated it. 

II. That this covenant was made with Adam, not only for himself, but also for all his natural posterity, is a doctrine which has met with much opposition. It is denied by Pelagians and Socinians, who maintain that he acted for himself alone, and that the effects of his fall terminated upon himself. Arminians admit that the whole human race is injured by the first sin, but at the same time controvert the proposition, that Adam was their proper representative. This truth, however, may be easily established. The Scripture represents Adam as a figure or type of Christ,—Rom. v. 14; and wherein does the resemblance between them consist? Simply in this, that as Christ was a federal head, representing all his spiritual seed in the covenant of grace, so Adam was a federal head representing all his natural seed in the covenant of works. In 1 Cor. xv. 45, 47, the one is called the first Adam, the other, the last Adam; the one the first man, the other the second man. Now, Christ was not the second man in any other sense, but as being the federal head or representative of his seed; and, therefore, the first man must have sustained a similar character, as being the federal head or representative of all his natural posterity. 

The extension of the effects of Adam’s first sin to all his descendants, is another strong proof of his having represented them in the covenant made with him. That he has transmitted sin and death to all his posterity, is clearly taught in the 5th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans; and unless his public character, as a representative in the covenant, be admitted, no satisfactory reason can be assigned why we are affected by his first sin in a way that we are not affected by his subsequent transgressions, or the transgressions of our more immediate progenitors. We know that "the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father" (Ezek. xviii. 20); and had Adam been merely a private person, his sin could have affected us no more than that of our immediate parents. The conclusion is inevitable,—that in the covenant of works, our first parent not only acted for himself, but represented all his natural posterity. 

Often has this part of the divine procedure been arraigned by presumptuous man. The supposition that God called Adam to represent us in a covenant, into which he entered with him long before we had a being, and to the making of which we could not personally consent, is, it has been alleged, inconsistent with the divine goodness, and contrary to moral justice and equity. To this it might be sufficient to reply, that this transaction being the proposal and deed of God, it must be fit and equitable. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" "He is a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he." But though we ought to acquiesce in the propriety of this transaction, simply because it was the will of God, yet it might be evinced, by various considerations, that it was not only consistent with equity, but manifested much of the divine goodness. If Adam had fulfilled the condition of the covenant, and thus secured happiness, not only to himself, but also to all his posterity, no one, certainly, would have complained that Adam was constituted his representative; and why should that transaction, which, in this event, would have been deemed just, be pronounced unjust on the contrary event? Adam, being made after the image of God, was as capable of keeping the covenant as any of his posterity could ever be supposed to be; that he should fulfil it was as much his personal interest as that of any of his descendants, his own felicity, no less than theirs, being at stake; and he was intimately related to the persons whom he represented, and had the strongest inducement to take care of his numerous offspring, as well as of himself. Adam having such peculiar advantages and inducements to perform the demanded obedience, it may be fairly presumed that, had it been possible for us to be present when the federal transaction was entered into, we would have readily agreed that it was more eligible and safe for us to have our everlasting felicity insured by the obedience of our first parent, as our covenant head, than that it should depend upon our own personal behaviour. And who would complain of his being represented by Adam in the covenant of works, since God has opened up a way for our recovery from the consequences of the breach of that covenant, by another and a superior covenant? 

Section III.— Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. 

In entering upon the exposition of this section, it is proper to remark, that, at the period when our Confession was framed, it was generally held by the most eminent divines, that there are two covenants connected with the salvation of men, which they called the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of grace; the former made with Christ from everlasting, the latter made with sinners in time; the righteousness of Christ being the condition of the former, and faith the condition of the latter covenant. This distinction, we conceive, has no foundation in the Sacred Scriptures, and it has long since been abandoned by all evangelical divines. The first Adam is said to have been a figure of Christ, who is called the second Adam. Now, there was not one covenant made with Adam, the condition of which he was to perform, and another made with his posterity, the condition of which they were to fulfil; but one covenant included both him and them. It was made with him as their representative, and with them as represented in and by him. In like manner, one covenant includes Christ and his spiritual seed. The Scriptures, accordingly, everywhere speak of it as one covenant, and the blood of Christ is repeatedly called "the blood of the covenant," not of the covenants, as we may presume it would have been called, if it had been the condition of a covenant of redemption and the foundation of a covenant of grace.—Heb. x. 29, xiii. 20. By the blood of the same covenant Christ made satisfaction, and we obtain deliverance.—Zech. ix. 11. We hold, therefore, that there is only one covenant for the salvation of fallen men, and that this covenant was made with Christ before the foundation of the world. The Scriptures, indeed, frequently speak of God making a covenant with believers, but this language admits of an easy explication, in consistency with the unity of the covenant. "The covenant of grace," says a judicious writer, "was made with Christ in a strict and proper sense, as he was the party-contractor in it, and undertook to fulfil the condition of it. It is made with believers in an improper sense, when they are taken into the bond of it, and come actually to enjoy the benefit of it. How it is made with them may be learned from the words of the apostle,—Acts xiii. 34: ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David,’ which is a kind of paraphrase upon that passage,—Is. lv. 3: ‘I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.’ God makes the covenant with them, not by requiring anything of them in order to entitle them or lay a foundation for their claim to the blessings of it, but by making these over to them as a free gift, and putting them in possession of them, as far as their present state will admit, by a faith of his own operation." 

The supposition of two covenants for the salvation of mankind sinners, is encumbered with various difficulties. One is obvious. In every proper covenant, there are two essential parts—a conditionary and a promissory. If, therefore, there be a covenant made with sinners, different from the covenant made with Christ, it must have a condition which they themselves must perform. But though our old divines called faith the condition of the covenant made with sinners, they did not assign any merit to faith, but simply precedence. "The remarked, "that what these divines call the covenant of grace, is merely the administration of what they call the covenant of redemption, for the purpose of communicating its blessings to those for whom they were intended; and cannot be properly considered as a covenant, because it is not suspended upon a proper condition." The Westminster Assembly, in this section, appear to describe what was then usually designated the covenant of grace, as distinguished from the covenant of redemption. But, though they viewed the covenant under a twofold consideration, as made with the Surety from everlasting, and as made with sinners in time, they certainly regarded it as one and the same covenant. "The covenant of grace," say they, "was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed." The doctrine of our standards on this deeply interesting subject, may be summed up in the following propositions: - 

1. That a covenant was entered into between Jehovah the Father and his co-eternal Son, respecting the salvation of sinners of mankind. The reality of this federal transaction, appears from Ps. lxxxix. 3: "I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant." The speaker, in this passage, can be no other but the Lord, who is mentioned in the beginning of the Psalm; and it cannot reasonably be questioned, that the words spoken have their ultimate and principal fulfilment in Jesus Christ, and assert a covenant made with him, of which the covenant of royalty made with David, King of Israel, was typical. In other places of Scripture, though the word covenant does not occur, we have a plain intimation of all the essential parts of a proper covenant. In Is. liii. 10, we have the two great parts of the covenant - the conditionary and the promissory; and the two glorious contracting parties the one undertaking for the performance of its arduous condition—the other engaging for the fulfilment of its precious promises: "If his soul shall make a propitiatory sacrifice, he shall see a seed which shall prolong their days; and the gracious purpose of Jehovah shall prosper in his hands." - (Bishop Lowth’s Translation.) 

2. That this covenant was made with Christ, as the head, or representative, of his spiritual seed. This is confirmed by the comparison between Christ and Adam, which is stated by the apostle,—Rom. v.; 1 Cor. xv. 45, 47; which clearly establishes the truth, that Adam and Christ severally sustained a public character, as the federal heads of their respective seeds. Christ and his spiritual seed are called by the same name (Isa. xlix. 3),—a plain evidence of God’s dealing with him as their representative in the covenant. Christ is likewise called the Surety of the covenant (Heb. vii. 22); and the promises of the covenant were primarily made to him.—Gal. iii. 16; Tit. i. 2. 

3. That this covenant originated in the free grace and sovereign will of God. The Scriptures uniformly ascribe this transaction to the good pleasure of Him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will, and represent it as conducing to the praise of the glory of his grace.—Eph. i. 3-6. On this account this covenant is, with great propriety, called the covenant of grace, because it originated in the free grace of God, and conveys the blessings of salvation to sinners in a manner the most gratuitous. 

4. That this covenant was established from eternity. The covenant of grace is called the second covenant, as distinguished from the covenant of works made with Adam; but though the second in respect of manifestation and execution, yet, with respect either to the period or the order in which it was made, it is the first covenant. The Head of this covenant is introduced (Prov. viii. 23), saying, "I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, ere ever the earth was;"i.e., he was set apart to his mediatory office and work, - in other words, to be the head of he spiritual seed in the covenant of grace from everlasting. The promise of eternal life is said to have been given us in Christ "before the world began" (Tit. i. 2); and the covenant is frequently styled an everlasting covenant.—Heb. xiii. 20. 

5. In the administration of this covenant, God "freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved." Though Christ, in this covenant, represented only a definite number of mankind, who were "chosen in him before the foundation of the world, yet, in the administration of the covenant, a free offer of salvation by Jesus Christ is addressed to sinners of mankind indefinitely and universally. - John vi. 32; Is. lv. 1; Rev. xxii. 17. This offer is not restricted, as Baxterians allege, to sensible sinners, or those who are convinced of their sin, and their need of the Saviour; for it is addressed to persons sunk in total insensibility as to their own miseries and wants.—Rev. iii. 17, 18. This offer is made as really to those who eventually reject it, as it is to those who eventually receive it; for, if this were not the case, the former class of gospel-hearers could not be condemned for their unbelief.—John iii. 18, 19. 

That God "requires of sinners faith in Christ that they may be saved," admits of no dispute. The part assigned to faith, however, has been much controverted. Many excellent divines, in consequence of the distinction which they made between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, were led to speak of faith as the condition of the latter covenant. But the term, as used by them, signifies not a meritorious or procuring cause, but simply something which goes before, and without which the other cannot be obtained. They consider faith merely as a condition of order or connection, as it has been styled, and as an instrument or means of obtaining an interest in the salvation offered in the gospel. This is very different from the meaning attached to the term by Arminians and Neonomians, who represent faith as a condition on the fulfilment of which the promise is suspended.. The Westminster Assembly elsewhere affirm, that God requires of sinners faith in Christ, "as the condition to interest them in him." But this is very different from affirming that faith is the condition of the covenant of grace. That faith is indispensably necessary as the instrument by which we are savingly interested in Christ, and personally instated in the covenant, is a most important truth, and this is all that is intended by the Westminster Divines. They seem to have used the term condition as synonymous with instrument; for, while in one place they speak of faith as the condition to interest sinners in the Mediator, in other places they affirm, that "faith is the alone instrument of justification," and teach, that "faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness." As the word condition is ambiguous, apt to be misunderstood, and is frequently employed in an unsound and dangerous sense, it is now disused by evangelical divines. 

6. That God promises his Holy Spirit to work in his elect that faith by which they come to have a special interest in the blessings of this covenant. This implies, that a certain definite number were ordained to eternal life, and that all these shall in time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament. 

Section IV.— This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ, the testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed. 

In the authorised English version of the New Testament, the covenant of grace is frequently designated a testament; and it is generally admitted, that the original word signifies both a covenant and a testament. There is, at least, one passage in which it is most properly rendered testament, namely, Heb. ix. 16, 17. Some learned critics, indeed, have strenuously contended against the use of that term even in this passage; but the great majority allow that the common translation is unexceptionable. 

Section V.— This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.

Section VI.— Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations. 

The doctrines laid down in these sections are the following:— 

1. That there are not two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but that the Old and New Testament economies are only two dispensations of the same covenant. The Jewish and the Christian dispensation are meant by the first and second—the old and new covenant.—Heb. viii. 7, 13
2. That believers who lived under the old dispensation, as well as those who live under the gospel, were saved by faith in Christ, and lived and died in the hope of a blessed immortality. 
3. That the New Testament dispensation of the covenant of grace is, in many respects, superior to that which preceded the coming of Christ in the flesh. The present dispensation exceeds the past, in the superior clearness of its manifestations—in its substantial ratification by the death of Christ - in the more abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit—in the introduction of a more spiritual form of worship, and in its extension to all nations. 

In concluding this chapter, let us reflect how admirably adapted the covenant of grace is to the situation of those who are ruined by the violation of the first covenant. Its condition being fulfilled by the glorious Surety, a full salvation is freely offered to the chief of sinners. But what will it avail us that this gracious covenant has been revealed, unless we obtain a personal interest in it, and are made partakers of its invaluable blessings? Let us, therefore, "take hold of God’s covenant," and let us labour after the fullest evidence of our interest in this blessed covenant. Then, amid all the troubles of life, we may "encourage ourselves in the Lord our God;" and, even when all other things fail us, we may experience that strong consolation which David enjoyed under his complicated trials, and in the immediate prospect of dissolution; and to which he gave utterance in these his last words: "Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure; this is all my salvation, and all my desire."