Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Year End - Loose Ends - Grace...

Joshua (Joshua 24), after recounting God’s mercy and His faithfulness to the promises in delivering Israel from all her enemies, exhorts the Israelites to put away their false gods, to fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth. The Israelites essentially declare, “We will do it!” Joshua, truly understanding the perfection required by anyone who would serve God on the ground of their own works and also knowing the weak view the people had of the righteousness demanded by God, replies unto the people, "Ye cannot serve Jehovah; for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgression nor your sins.” They could not serve God in a holiness of their own and they could not atone for the pollution of their sins.

The Israelites had a need. It was that their watered-down law-keeping mindset had to be humbled and stopped in its tracks by the very Law that they presumed to fulfill. This was in order that they then might be lifted up by the LORD’s free mercy.
Calvin: “But Scripture humbles us more, and at the same time elevates us. For besides forbidding us to glory in works, because they are the gratuitous gifts of God, it tells us that they are always defiled by some degrees of impurity, so that they cannot satisfy God when they are tested by the standard of his justice; but that lest our activity should be destroyed, they please merely by pardon.” — i.e. God’s free mercy and pardon in Christ alone...
and in WCF 14:2,
“… But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.
“… the righteous acts of the saints.
And how are the acts of the saints constituted righteous? By what merit? By what obedience? By their own intrinsic holiness? No. Indeed, by the Holy Spirit we have been given a new sanctified heart and will in order that we might now seek to obey, even obey completely. Yet in this life - though now saints yet remaining sinners - no thought, no word, no deed - no matter how “holy” - is without some stain of sin. 

How is it then that we are not also rebuked, as were the Israelites, when we seek to serve God? Indeed often we are as the Holy Spirit brings us again and again to the foot of the cross that we would see the bankruptcy of our persons and of our works. And yet also, seeing and hearing the good news again, that we are accepted as righteous by God not by our works but due only to His free grace and mercy in Christ... the blessing of salvation that we receive and abide in through faith alone. We should never confuse our “righteous acts” in this life with the perfection required by the Law. Our works are acceptable only through the perfect obedience, merit, and mediation of our Savior and Advocate in heaven, Jesus Christ.

“The righteous shall live by faith.” As we seek to obey, it is through faith in Christ alone that our works are cleansed and lifted up to God. Our works rise up to God as acceptable only through the blood of Christ: “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” The writer of Hebrews was writing to believers.

“for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.”

“Prepared” in that “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…

Yes, as Scripture teaches, it is all by grace. And as my wont - a quote from Calvin:
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.
I don’t think our obedience or Godly living is diminished or weakened by extolling the truth that salvation, start to finish, is by God's grace. Rather, our persons as well as our obedience are cleansed, purified, i.e. made acceptable through the satisfaction of Christ’s own perfect obedience and death. In sanctification the only sure ground upon which sinner/saints walk and live unto God is the grace of the gospel.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Musings on Gratitude and Obedience

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Klinean Gold Nugget...

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fatherly Anger Leads to Forgiveness...

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

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

Thanks to Brad Lindvall for initiating this topic via email.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Prayer of Calvin for the Church...

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Bucer's Admonition to Proclaim Christ Faithfully...

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

Monday, November 24, 2014

Samuel Petto: Covenants and Conditions

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

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Competent Turk?

And now for something completely different...

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

Jack Miller said...
Hearty Amen. Nicely reasoned - of course, with the help of your younger brother! The Spurgeon quote is icing on the cake...
Jack 
5:59 PM, NOVEMBER 21, 2014Jack Miller said...
But I would say that Jones wasn't really saying his sanctification was imaginary as to demean the sanctification that God works in him (us), but that compared to the standard of God's holy law his obedience or sanctification in this life is but a meager start and far from (imaginary when compared to...) the holiness that is required in the Law. 
6:27 PM, NOVEMBER 21, 2014Frank Turk said...
Jack --
I think that it would be great if that's what he said. Can you show me where he said that? Because his words are pretty clear:
[QUOTE]
Personally, I am so thankful for my right standing with God because, after all, my sanctification is more imagined than real. But my justification is more real than imagined.
And if you ask me which blessing I love most right now, the answer is easy: union with Christ. For, in him, I have everything, so that I don't really need to decide whether I love justification or sanctification more than another. I'm comforted, primarily, by the fact that I belong to Christ and his work for me and in me will not fail.
[/QUOTE]
That passage is pretty clear. Where does he say that stuff about God's law?
If anything, the expanded quote says this: I don't have to worry about my sanctification at all because Christ's ultimate work for me is all that matters. If I love Jesus, that's enough.
I'm not the one who asked the question, nor am I the one who wants to propose an answer which hides behind an MLJ quote which is often misused to mean that we can be careless about whether what we preach is antinomian.
I think what Jones said there was flowery, and full of puppies and bunnies, and gravely mistaken -- but I am open to see how you find your interpretation of his words in his words. 
9:19 AM, NOVEMBER 22, 2014Jack Miller said...
Frank, given how short Jones' post is I don't think one can say definitively what he means here and there. But in trying to give him a charitable read I take him as simply saying that his justification is fully complete and perfect in Christ. And that his sanctification by comparison is far, far (therefore the metaphor imaginary) from complete. As for the union bit I don't agree with his emphasis there. I think he may be presenting false choices between the three. But still, his comparison/contrast between justification and sanctification is consistent with the Reformed standards. And wouldn't you agree that the expression of sanctification in one's life would show itself in a direction of obedience to God's law? If so, then growing in sanctification would imply growing in obedience to the law.
WLC Q. 70. What is justification? [perfect & complete]
A. Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.
WCF CHAPTER 13
Of Sanctification [ongoing & partial in this life]
1. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
Heidelberg Q. 114.
But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments?
A.
No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience... 
11:20 AM, NOVEMBER 22, 2014Frank Turk said...
Dear Jack --
I always find it hilarious when people quote the WCF or the Catechism on Justification to mop up their crumby reading of what it says about sanctification.
Thanks for the laugh. Have a nice weekend.
2:27 PM, NOVEMBER 22, 2014
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Calvin: Embrace Christ Fully...

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

What Role Does the Law Play In Our Daily Renewal?

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

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

The Way Appointed to Salvation...

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

*Gospel Sanctification*

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

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Priority of Justification in Good Works

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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Our Faith Looks To Christ...

It’s the emPHAsis thing. The truth that the moral law is still binding on believers can be sooo stressed as to cause one to lose sight of what has actually been merited by Jesus Christ for believers. Jesus proclaims “It is finished” and then for some that truth gets put into a lock box as believers are told that they now need to get about their part that is “necessary” for their salvation. I get it – obedience – isn’t optional as if we were saved to then go out and do whatever. The moral law continues to be a perfect rule of righteousness for believers (WCF 19.2).

But the emPHAsis that we obey, pray, learn, and trust like Jesus did – that he is the pattern for our Christian life – can leave out (despite the reality of the Spirit now within) a very big something >>> the abiding reality of our sinful nature and that our faith at its most basic and important level is a faith that looks to Christ for cleansing from sin, comfort for our consciences assaulted by the accusations of the enemy, and repentance of our wobbly hearts… In sanctification our sin is mortified by the blood of Christ not by our defiled good works which are acceptable only inasmuch as they are accounted acceptable by God for Christ’s sake.
Forgiveness of sins being previously given, the good works which follow have a value different from their merit, because whatever is imperfect in them is covered by the perfection of Christ, and all their blemishes and pollutions are wiped away by his purity, so as never to come under the cognizance of the divine tribunal. The guilt of all transgressions, by which men are prevented from offering God an acceptable service, being thus effaced, and the imperfection which is wont to sully even good works being buried, the good works which are done by believers are deemed righteous, or; which is the same thing, are imputed for righteousness. Calvin, Institutes 3.17.8.
Salvation is by God's free grace (WSC 33, 34, and 35).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Perfect Obedience of the Law Is Righteousness

We've been discussing the righteousness of the Law and the imputation to the elect of Christ's righteousness, i.e. his perfect obedience (passive and active) to the Law. What follows below are some excerpts of John Calvin on this topic. I've added italics and bold emphasis to certain portions of the text to draw attention to them, highlighting Calvin's argument. And I've also added some [bracketed phrases] that, I think, help clarify what it means to be righteous before God in Calvin's view. In other words, do we define righteousness as a substance or quality of goodness transferred from Christ to believers, one that continues to grow in believers? We know that when Scripture or the Confessions speak of Christ's righteousness being imputed to believer's through faith that they have in view the passive and active obedience of Christ to the Law. So it is helpful to keep together that relationship between righteousness and his perfect obedience as we think about what righteousness is in the believer and his good works.

CALVIN’S INSTITUTES 3.17.
7. Nor do I deny that the Law of God contains a perfect righteousness. For although we are debtors to do all the things which it enjoins, and, therefore, even after a full obedience, are unprofitable servants; yet, as the Lord has deigned to give it the name of righteousness, it is not ours to take from it what he has given. We readily admit, therefore, that the perfect obedience of the law is righteousness, and the observance of any precept a part of righteousness, the whole substance of righteousness being contained in the remaining parts. But we deny that any such  righteousness ever exists [i.e. for sinful man]. Hence we discard the righteousness [that comes through perfect obedience] of the law, not as being in itself maimed and defective, but because of the weakness of our flesh it nowhere appears...
The things contained in the law God enjoined upon man for righteousness but that righteousness we attain not unless by observing [through perfect obedience] the whole law: every transgression whatever destroys it. While, therefore, the law commands nothing but righteousness [i.e. perfect obedience]...
8. … Paul finds nothing stronger stronger to prove justification by faith than that which is written of Abraham, he "believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness [i.e. for perfect obedience to the Law]," (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6.)...
Here I beseech believers, as they know that the true standard of righteousness must be derived from Scripture alone, to consider with me seriously and religiously, how Scripture can be fairly reconciled with that view. Paul, knowing that justification by faith was the refuge of those who wanted righteousness of their own, confidently infers, that all who are justified by faith are excluded from the righteousness of works [for that requires perfect and complete obedience].
Justification, moreover, we thus define: The sinner being admitted into communion with Christ is, for his sake, reconciled to God; when purged by his blood he obtains the remission of sins, and clothed with righteousness [the perfect obedience of Christ], just as if it were his own, stands secure before the judgment-seat of heaven. Forgiveness of sins being previously given, the good works which follow have a value different from their merit, because whatever is imperfect in them is covered by the perfection of Christ, and all their blemishes and pollutions are wiped away by his purity, so as never to come under the cognizance of the divine tribunal. The guilt of all transgressions, by which men are prevented from offering God an acceptable service, being thus effaced, and the imperfection which is wont to sully even good works being buried, the good works which are done by believers are deemed righteous, or; which is the same thing, are imputed for righteousness [i.e. as perfectly obedient to the Law for Christ's sake].

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Our Hope is Built on Nothing Less...

Righteousness and perfect obedience aren't to be equated in such a way that they are made to be the very same thing, or that believers are actually made righteous. Yet for sinful man, there is no justification apart from presenting to God a righteousness that consists of a perfect obedience to the Law. That is, in order to be declared righteous by God he must have a just status of having perfectly satisfied the Law both to its demand for sin-payment and perfect obedience of every precept. And the obedience that fulfills the Law is not and never is his own. Rather his obedience before the Law upon which he is accounted with a righteous standing is Christ's imputed passive and active obedience before the Law. It's not a mere technicality. Christ's righteousness before the law is legally and justly my righteousness. It is not the status of a "quality" or substance of righteousness that is imputed or imparted, but the forensic status of having actually "done" the righteousness required by the Law. The sinner has nothing to offer here. Hence there is no righteousness for the sinner apart from a death for sin and a perfect obedience performed by Another that is imputed to him. So we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone because both his passive and active (perfect) obedience to all the Law are imputed to us.

Louis Berkhof:
“It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation could be reasonable. But this view fails to distinguish between our legal unity with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely, of the doctrine of justification. Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing (or future) condition, but on that of a gracious imputation–a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. The judicial ground for all the special grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us.” (Systematic, p 500)
 By God's election we are legally united to Christ our Surety and Mediator. Thus his death is our death. His obedience is our obedience. Upon his resurrection God imputes Christ's finished work to the elect. It is Jesus, who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). The declaration of Justification is then brought to us in the gospel and made ours when by the work of the Holy Spirit through God's effectual calling we are made alive in Christ, given the grace of saving faith by which we are united spiritually with Christ and justified in Him. The imputation of Christ's passive and active obedience is the legal (forensic) ground of our effectual calling. We receive that judgment or status, that legal justification through faith upon hearing the gospel. Westminster Larger Catechism:
Q. 57. What benefits hath Christ procured by his mediation?
A. Christ, by his mediation, hath procured redemption, with all other benefits of the covenant of grace.
Q. 58. How do we come to be made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured?
A. We are made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured, by the application of them unto us, which is the work especially of God the Holy Ghost.
Q. 59. Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?
A. Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ hath purchased it; who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.
Q. 70. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.
Q. 71. How is justification an act of God's free grace?
A. Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God's justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.
Q. 72. What is justifying faith?
A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.
Q. 73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Christ's Active Obedience: The End of the Law Unto Righteousness To Everyone That Believes

Last excerpt from Thomas Jacomb, a contemporary of John Owen, on this topic. This post and three previous posts from his 17th century work explain clearly and convincingly the Reformed understanding of the imputation of Christ's active obedience to believer's as held by the Divines of that era.
But 'tis queried, Was not Christ's passive obedience, without the active, sufficient for both of these? for righteousness and for life? To which they of the Opinion answer, No; they say upon Christ's death and suffering we are freed from guilt, but upon that (abstractly from his active obeying of the Law) we are not strictly and positively made righteous: So also, upon his death and suffering (they say) we are saved from wrath and Hell, but yet upon that alone we are not entitled to Heaven: they grant in Christ's death alone we are not entitled to Heaven: they grant Christ's death a fulness and sufficiency of Satisfaction, but as to merit for that they must take in the holiness and obedience of his life
I do but recite; not undertaking (at present) to defend what is here asserted: only let me close this Head with one thing which (to me) is observable. Our Lord being both to do and to suffer, to obey actively and passively (that he might fully answer the Law's demands for the justification and salvation of Sinners); 'tis considerable how the New Testament, in two eminent places, speaks distinctly to both these parts of his Obedience, in their distinct reference to both the parts of the Law under the old Testament, and in their distinct influence upon the Sinner's good. Gal. 3:13. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one & c. or as 'tis Vers. 10. Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things & c. --- here is Christ's passive Obedience (with respect to the old curse or penal part of the Law here mentioned), and the benefit which we reap thereby viz. deliverance from the Law's curse. That's one place; the other is Rom. 10:5. Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth: for Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the Law, that the man which doth these things shall live by them: here is Christ's active Obedience (with respect to the mandatory part or doing righteousness of the Law here mentioned also), and the imputation and benefit of this to believers viz. righteousness and life: Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness, (that is to convey that righteousness which the Law could not, or to perform the Law in order to righteousness which the Sinner could not); take it as you will, it must have reference to the Moral Law and to the preceptive part thereof, for so the Apostle opens it in that which follows Vers. 5.  
Now Christ's active Obedience thereunto is imputed to believers, otherwise why is it said that he is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth? All that I drive at is (1.) That the imputation of the passive obedience in Gal. 3:13. must not justle out the imputation of the active obedience in Rom. 10:5. (2.) That as the imputation of the one is necessary to free from the Law's curse, so the imputation of the other is necessary for the having of righteousness and life.
4. If Christ actively fulfilled the Law for us then his active fulfilling thereof must be imputed to us, but so he did, ergo. The Consequence I judge to be good and strong; for surely whatever Christ did on our behalf, in our stead, as designing and aiming at our good as his main end, that must needs be imputed to us; otherwise he and we too might lose that which he principally designed in his Obedience (which is not to be imagined). As to the Assumption that Christ actively fulfilled the Law for us, that is generally asserted and defended by Divines against SOCINIANS and Others: For whereas these affirm, that Christ fulfilled the Law for himself (he as a Creature being under the obligation of it), they prove the contrary (of which before); shewing, that Christ was not, in that way wherein he fulfilled the Law, at all obliged so to fulfil it for himself; but that all was done by him purely upon our account: he obeyed not merely as a Subject but as a Surety therefore his Obedience must be for us, and so imputable and imputed to us. And whereas others affirm, that Christ actively fulfilled the Law that he might thereby be fitted and qualified for his Mediatory Office, two things are answered:
(1.) The Scripture, where it speaks of Christ's subjection to the Law and accomplishment of it, doth not lay it upon this end or upon what refers to Christ himself, but upon that which refers to us (as the proper end thereof): He was the end of the Law for righteousness to them that believe; ---&c. made under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of Sons
(2.) They say, that Christ's fitness for his Mediatory Office did result from his Person, from the personal Union of the Divine and Humane Natures in him, rather than from his active Obedience to the Law; else he could not have been looked upon as one fit to be a Mediator till he had finished his whole Obedience to the Law; whereas from the first instant of the personal Union he was fit for that Work and Office
'Twas fit, nay necessary, that Christ the Mediator should conform to the Law; but these are two different things, what was fit for the Mediator to do and what must fit him to be the Mediator. These Ends therefore respecting Christ himself being removed, it follows that it was wholly for us that he fulfilled the Law: whence then I infer that that must be imputed to us, otherwise the end of it would not be attained; for without the imputation of it we should neither be the persons designed in it nor profited by it. To prevent mistakes and to give this Argument its full strength, I would state it thus: Whatever Christ did that we were obliged to do and which was to be our righteousness before God, that certainly must be imputed to us; I do not say that all which Christ did is strictly and properly imputed to us, but whatever he did if we were bound to do it, and if the doing of that was to be our righteousness, that must be imputed (or else we are in a sad case). He was incarnate for us yet that is not formally imputed, why? because Sinners were not under any obligation to any such thing; so I might instance in his working of Miracles, Intercession &c. But now if our Lord will be pleased to put himself under the Law and to fulfil the Law, that must be made over to us because that was a thing which we ourselves (according to the capacity of Creatures) were bound unto, and this was to be our righteousness before God: what is so circumstantiated, must be imputed; therefore this being taken in the Argument is good. [emphasis in the original except for bold type] 
 Eighteen Sermons on Romans 8:1-4, pp 591-93 ( 1672). Thomas Jacomb

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

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

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Interpreting Romans 8:4 - Imputation

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

The same truth is fully asserted and confirmed, Romans 8:1-4. But this place has been of late so explained and so vindicated by another, in his learned and judicious exposition of it (namely, Dr. Jacomb), as that nothing remains of weight to be added unto what has been pleaded and argued by him, part 1 verse 4, p.587, and onwards. And indeed the answers which he subjoins (to the arguments whereby he confirms the truth) to the most usual and important objections against the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, are sufficient to give just satisfaction unto the minds of unprejudiced, unengaged persons. I shall therefore pass over this testimony, as that which has been so lately pleaded and vindicated, and not press the same things, it may be (as is not unusual) unto their disadvantage. *[THE NATURE OF JUSTIFICATION AS DECLARED IN THE EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL, IN THAT UNTO THE ROMANS ESPECIALLY]

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


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

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

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