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).