Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Believers - Dead to the Law as a Covenant of Works

"Dead to the law. — By the term the law, in this place, is intended that law which is obligatory, both on Jews and Gentiles. It is the law, the work of which is written in the hearts of all men ; and that law which was given to the Jews in which they rested, chap. ii., 17. It is the law, taken in the largest extent of the word, including the whole will of God in any way manifested to all mankind, whether Jew or Gentile. All those whom the Apostle was addressing, had been under this law in their unconverted state...

"Dead to the law means freedom from the power of the law, as having endured its curse and satisfied its demands. It has ceased to have a claim on the obedience of believers in order to life, although it still remains their rule of duty. All men are by nature placed under the law, as the covenant of works made with the first man, who, as the Apostle had been teaching in the fifth chapter, was the federal or covenant-head of all his posterity; and it is only when they are united to Christ that they are freed from this covenant... 
"What is simply a law implies no more than a direction and obligation authoritatively enforcing obedience. A covenant implies promises made on certain conditions, with threatenings added, if such conditions be not fulfilled. The language, accordingly, of the law, as the covenant of works, is, " Do and live;" or, " If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments;"' and " cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them." It thus requires perfect obedience as the condition of life, and pronounces a curse on the smallest failure. This law is here represented as being man's original or first husband. But it is now a broken law, and there fore all men are by nature under its curse...

"But though believers, in virtue of their marriage with Christ, are no longer under the law in respect to its power to award life or death, they are, as the Apostle says, 1 Cor. ix., 21, "Not without law to God, but under law to Christ." They receive it from his hand as the rule of their duty, and are taught by his grace to love and delight in it ; and being delivered from its curse, they are engaged by the strongest additional motives to yield to it obedience. He hath made it the inviolable law of his kingdom. When Luther discovered the distinction between the law as a covenant and as a rule, it gave such relief to his mind, that he considered himself as at the gate of paradise."

- Robert Haldane's Romans commentary, pp. 283-284

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Calvin: Justified By Faith Alone - No Dread of Judgment Deserved

Although, in the section quoted below, John Calvin is making an argument against the heretical teaching of Osiander, he nonetheless asserts the all important and central truth that also refutes any doctrine which would state that, along with the imputed righteousness of Christ, a believer must present some measure of inherent righteousness derived from his own works of obedience in order to attain heaven. Calvin declares that the only righteousness that will stand for the elect sinner on the judgment day is a righteousness that is whole and thoroughly approved by the Law, i.e. the imputed righteousness of Christ.
But it ought to be remembered, as I already observed, that the gift of justification is not separated from regeneration [i.e. sanctification], though the two things are distinct. But as it is too well known by experience, that the remains of sin always exist in the righteous, it is necessary that justification should be something very different from reformation to newness of life. This latter God begins in his elect, and carries on during the whole course of life, gradually and sometimes slowly, so that if placed at his judgment-seat they would always deserve sentence of death. He justifies not partially, but freely, so that they can appear in the heavens as if clothed with the purity of Christ. No portion of righteousness could pacify the conscience. 
It must be decided that we are pleasing to God, as being without exception righteous in his sight. Hence it follows that the doctrine of justification is perverted and completely overthrown whenever doubt is instilled into the mind, confidence in salvation is shaken, and free and intrepid prayer is retarded; yea, whenever rest and tranquility with spiritual joy are not established. Hence Paul argues against objectors, that "if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise," (Galatians 3:18.) that in this way faith would be made vain; for if respect be had to works it fails, the holiest of men in that case finding nothing in which they can confide. This distinction between justification and regeneration [i.e. sanctification] (Osiander confounding the two, calls them a twofold righteousness) is admirably expressed by Paul. Speaking of his real righteousness, or the integrity bestowed upon him, (which Osiander terms his essential righteousness,) he mournfully exclaims, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24;) but retaking himself to the righteousness which is founded solely on the mercy of God, he breaks forth thus magnificently into the language of triumph: "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth." "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" (Romans 8:33, 35.) 
He clearly declares that the only righteousness for him is that which alone suffices for complete salvation in the presence of God, so that that miserable bondage, the consciousness of which made him a little before lament his lot, derogates not from his confidence, and is no obstacle in his way. This diversity is well known, and indeed is familiar to all the saints who groan under the burden of sin, and yet with victorious assurance rise above all fears. Osiander's objection as to its being inconsistent with the nature of God, falls back upon himself; for though he clothes the saints with a twofold righteousness as with a coat of skins, he is, however, forced to admit, that without forgiveness no man is pleasing to God. If this be so, let him at least admit, that with reference to what is called the proportion of imputation, those are regarded as righteous who are not so in reality. But how far shall the sinner extend this gratuitous acceptance, which is substituted in the room of righteousness? Will it amount to the whole pound, or will it be only an ounce? He will remain in doubt, vibrating to this side and to that, because he will be unable to assume to himself as much righteousness as will be necessary to give confidence. 
It is well that he who would prescribe a law to God is not the judge in this cause. But this saying will ever stand true, "That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judges," (Psalm 51:4.) What arrogance to condemn the Supreme Judge when he acquits freely, and try to prevent the response from taking affect: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." And yet the intercession of Moses, which God calmed by this answer, was not for pardon to some individual, but to all alike, by wiping away the guilt to which all were liable. And we, indeed, say, that the lost are justified before God by the burial of their sins; for (as he hates sin) he can only love those whom he justifies. But herein is the wondrous method of justification, that, clothed with the righteousness of Christ, they dread not the judgment of which they are worthy, and while they justly condemn themselves, are yet deemed righteous out of themselves.                    [emphasis and bracket comments added]
Calvin, John. Institutes: Christian Religion 3.11.11

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Clark on the Conditions in the Covenant of Grace...

If the latest discussion on faith alone and works of obedience has left some a bit confused, then here is some more help. Dr. Scott Clark explains the conditions of and the differences between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. There is a lot at stake in this debate, and yet little is served by pigeonholing those on either side of the argument. Clark's blog links at the bottom of his post are a valuable resource and worthy of reasoned consideration and engagement.
Some thoughts relative to the current discussion about the nature of conditions in the covenant of grace: First, we cannot get this right unless we distinguish between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Part of the problem in this discussion is that the covenant of works is either rejected or neglected. I understand the exegetical and historical reasons why that happened and have addressed them at length in print and online. Beginning in the early 1560s in Heidelberg Reformed theologians began articulating explicitly what at least some had been implying prior, that God made a legal covenant with Adam before the fall, which covenant he had the ability to fulfill as the federal representative of all humanity. This formulation was confessed by the Westminster Divines in the mid-17th century in the Westminster Standards (e.g., WCF 7.2, 19.1,6; WLC 30, 97; Savoy Declaration 6, 7, 19, 20). The divines used the expression “covenant of works” 4 times in the confession alone. They set up a strict contrast between the covenants of works and grace. Since, in the modern period, many have abandoned this distinction the table is set for confusion of the principles of works and grace and this is what has happened...
As they say, read the whole thing.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Piper: Salvation by faith alone and just a little bit more?

John Piper writes concerning how one is made right with God in the forward to a new book by Thomas Schreiner. Now this excerpt may just be the result of a poorly expressed thought concerning justification and salvation. But it is worrisome. Does he understand what the words faith alone mean?
The stunning Christian answer is: sola fide—faith alone. But be sure you hear this carefully and precisely: He says right with God by faith alone, not attain heaven by faith alone. There are other conditions for attaining heaven, but no others for entering a right relationship to God. In fact, one must already be in a right relationship with God by faith alone in order to meet the other conditions. 
“We are justified by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” Faith that is alone is not faith in union with Christ. Union with Christ makes his perfection and power ours through faith. And in union with Christ, faith is living and active with Christ’s power. 
Such faith always “works by love” and produces the “obedience of faith.” And that obedience— imperfect as it is till the day we die—is not the “basis of justification, but... a necessary evidence and fruit of justification.” In this sense, love and obedience—inherent righteousness—is “required of believers, but not for justification”—that is, required for heaven, not for entering a right-standing with God.
J. Gresham Machen responded emphatically to Piper 92 years ago 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.
And over 450 years ago John Calvin weighed in with his more comprehensive rebuttal in his commentary on Ephesians 2:8-10: 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.
For by grace are ye saved... This is an inference from the former statements. Having treated of election and of effectual calling, he arrives at this general conclusion, that they had obtained salvation by faith alone. First, he asserts, that the salvation of the Ephesians was entirely the work, the gracious work of God. But then they had obtained this grace by faith. On one side, we must look at God; and, on the other, at man. God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is not a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, and if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all commendation, it follows that salvation does not come from us...
What remains now for free-will, if all the good works which proceed from us are acknowledged to have been the gifts of the Spirit of God? Let godly readers weigh carefully the apostle's words. He does not say that we are assisted by God. He does not say that the will is prepared, and is then left to run by its own strength. He does not say that the power of choosing aright is bestowed upon us, and that we are afterwards left to make our own choice. Such is the idle talk in which those persons who do their utmost to undervalue the grace of God are accustomed to indulge. But the apostle affirms that we are God's work, and that everything good in us is his creation; by which he means that the whole man is formed by his hand to be good. It is not the mere power of choosing aright, or some indescribable kind of preparation, or even assistance, but the right will itself, which is his workmanship; otherwise Paul's argument would have no force. He means to prove that man does not in any way procure salvation for himself, but obtains it as a free gift from God. The proof is, that man is nothing but by divine grace. Whoever, then, makes the very smallest claim for man, apart from the grace of God, allows him, to that extent, ability to procure salvation.
Could these be Antinomian musings or are Machen's and Calvin's words fairly understood to be the Gospel proper - the power of salvation unto everyone who believes - in Christ alone? 

Update:  John Calvin just called this in from his Institutes of Christian Religion. He felt the need to add an exclamation point to his previous words:
When we see that the whole sum of our salvation, and every single part of it, are comprehended in Christ, we must beware of deriving even the minutes portion of it from any other quarter...
Hence the Scriptures make the sum of our salvation to consist in the removal of all enmity, and our admission into favor; thus intimating, that when God is reconciled all danger is past, and every thing good will befall us. Wherefore, faith apprehending the love of God has the promise both of the present and the future life, and ample security for all blessings, (Ephesians 2:14.)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Marks of a Christian - Thomas Bell

"These are the three decisive marks of being in the covenant of grace: conviction of sin, faith in Christ, and holiness of life. By the first we see our misery, by the second we accept of deliverance, and by the third we testify our thankfulness to him who delivered us. The first has a relation to the covenant of works, the second to the covenant of grace, and the third to the law of Christ."
Thomas Bell, A Treatise on the Covenants of Works and Grace. p. 183

Monday, September 14, 2015

Beware... the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees...

"Does a good man forfeit his holy comfort, by making his graces, or performances, or lively frames, his ground of right to trust in Jesus for salvation? He should hence learn the need that he has, to be daily exercising himself in mortifying the legal spirit, which remains in him. It is this, that prompts him to make his graces and duties, his warrant to renew his actings of trust in the Saviour; and thereby, to forfeit the comfort of his soul. Next to unbelief itself, his legal temper is, perhaps, the worst enemy of his pure consolation. It is a secret and subtle foe, that seems to intend him a kindness; whilst it is always putting him, upon seeking for some good qualifications in himself, on the ground of which, he may trust that God loveth him, and that Christ saveth him. Let him, therefore, if he would retain spiritual comfort, be diligent in mortifying his sell-righteous spirit; and know that, the way to conquer and destroy it, is, by faith, to bring daily into his conscience a better hope, from a better righteousness than that of the law. All the spiritual distress of the exercised Christian, may be traced to a legal spirit in him. He seldom wants comfort, but by looking less or more to his own righteousness, instead of looking off, to the consummate righteousness of Jesus Christ. Believer, it is not sufficient, in order to maintain spiritual comfort, that thou dost not rely on thy graces and performances, for a title to eternal life. Thou must not presume to rely on them, for even so much as a right to trust in Christ: thou must not make them, the smallest part of thy warrant, to renew thy exercise of confidence in him."
John Colquhoun, Treatise on Spiritual Comfort - pp 115-117
... all true and solid peace is built upon justification by the blood of Christ, so it can only be maintained by the daily exercise of faith, in this comfortable doctrine. " Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." Rom v. 1. But so far as the legal temper prevails, their peace is set upon another foundation; is built upon their enlargements in duty, their frames, and attainments in religion; and therefore must be unstable as water (The Evangelical Preacher, vol. iii. p. 199.)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Two Laws, Two Righteousnesses...

I'm reading an excellent book (1814) written by the 18th century Scottish divine, Thomas Bell. I came across it on Nick Batzig's blog Feeding On Christ. This work arguably had influence on the likes of John Colquhoun, someone I have quoted quite a bit on this blog. Below is a small section of the larger first part of the book on the covenants of works and grace in which he goes through Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia. I imagine this excerpt might be seen today as somewhat controversial among some. Yet as I see it, Bell makes sense of Paul as does the rest of what I have read so far.
"6thly. We read of two laws, Rom. iii. 27. The one is called the law of works, the other the law of faith. The one justifies by deeds of obedience to it, i. e. if men would satisfy its demands, it would justify them. The other justifies by faith. The one justifies in such a manner that boasting is not excluded, inasmuch as it promises life to sinners, on condition of their own personal obedience only. For Adam the head of the first covenant having
failed, if any of his posterity will still have life by that covenant, they themselves must yield it perfect obedience in their own persons, and by their own strength; for the law supposeth strength, promiseth none. Now if they could do this, they might boast indeed, as of some mighty achievements performed by themselves. Every one might glory in himself as the cause of his own salvation. And thus, boasting instead of being excluded, would be established. But the apostle expressly tells us that boasting is excluded, and that by the law ot faith. Now faith is not a working, but a receiving of righteousness, the righteousness of another: and therefore it effectually excludes all boasting of personal worth or works. He that is justified by faith, can no more boast of any thing done by himself, than a beggar enriched by the undeserved gift of another, can boast of it as his own acquisition. In the one case, it becomes the poor man to magnify his generous friend; and in the other, the believer glorieth only in the Lord his righteousness. Now these two laws, the one establishing, and the other excluding boasting, what are they? What else can they be, but the two covenants of works and of grace? For by grace are we saved, through faith; and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast, Eph. ii. 8, 9.
"These two laws of works and of faith, I take to be the same with those mentioned, Rom. viii. 2. called the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, and the law of sin and death. The covenant of works is called the law of sin and death, because it bindeth sin and death upon us till Christ set us free. The covenant of grace is called the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, because it enables and quickens a man to spiritual life through Christ. (Practical use of Saving Knowledge *). To these two laws of works and of faith, may be referred the two very different answers given by our Lord and the disciples, to sinners enquiring after happiness. The one says to the haughty young man, If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments, Matth. xix. 17. This is the law of works. The others say to the trembling jailor, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, Acts xvi. 31. This is the law of faith. The law of works saith, the man who doeth those things, shall live by them, Rom. x. 5). The law of faith says, the just by faith, shall live by it, Gal. iii. 1 1. li. 20.
Footnote * If any would rather refer the two laws, Ram. viii. 2. to the two opposite principles in the believer, I should not contradict. For certain it is, that agreeably to the apostle's phraseology, chap. vii. 28. there is a law in the members, the law of sin warring against the law of the mind. What is called the law of sin, may he called the law of death, as well as the body of death, verse 24. inasmuch as to be carnally minded is death, chap. viii. 6.: the law of the Spirit of Life may very fitly be under stood of the law of the mind, chap- vii. 23. inasmuch as to be spiritually minded is life, chap. viii. 6. Taking the passage thus, it has reference to the words immediately preceding, "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." How or whence is it that they who are in Christ do so walk? The apostle answers, The law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. The law of the spiritual mind, which I have from Christ Jesus, delivers me from absolute bondage to the law of sin and death, which is in my members. Though I feel its awful power, and am at times ready to succumb in the conflict, yet I am not brought under its dominion. I walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. This freedom therefore from the law of sin and death is not absolute, as appears from chap. vii. 21, 23. but comparative. The man being dead to sin, liveth no longer in it, chap. vi. 2. though still it liveth and lusteth in him, chap. vii. 17.; he that is dead is freed from sin; it hath not dominion over him, chap. vi. 7, 14. After all, it is obvious that the two laws taken in this sense, necessarily imply the two covenants.
"7thly. We read of two righteousnesses, Rom. x. 5 — 10. The one is called the righteousness of the law, the other, the righteousness of faith. The one is described by Moses, that the man who doeth these things shall live by them. But the righteousness of faith speaketh in a very different strain, viz. that salvation is to be obtained, not by doing, but by a cordial believing unto, or resting upon, a righteousness already wrought out by the Lord Jesus Christ. Here the blessing sought is the same, viz. life and salvation. But two very opposite ways of obtaining it are pointed out, doing and believing. The one according to the law, or covenant of works; the other according to the gos pel, or covenant of grace. The one according to the Sinai covenant, Lev. xviii. .5.; the other according to
the covenant in the land of Moab, which was very dif ferent from it, Deut. xxix. 1. xxx. 11-14. The two righteousnesses here are just as opposite as the law and faith: And we know that the law is not of faith: but the man that doeth them, shall live in them. The law commands doing, in order to obtain Ijife: the gospel directs to believing. The one points out the old way, once practicable indeed, but now impossible. The other reveals a new way to reach the same end, even Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, Rom. x. 4. Thus these two righteousnesses are perfectly consonant to the two covenants. The one is the man's own, who seeks it as it were by the works of the law. And therefore if the least imperfection be found in it, he must be subject to the curse of that law by which he seeks to be justified. The other righteousness is not the sinner's own, that is, it is not wrought out in whole, or in part by him, but by the Surety, the Son of God, and apprehended by the sinner's faith: therefore called the righteousness of God, Rom. x. 3. and the righteousness of faith, verse 6. Phil. iii. 9. And as sure as this righteousness is altogether perfect, so sure shall that sinner's salvation be, who renouncing every other ground of dependence, rests on it alone."
Thomas Bell,  A View of the Covenant of Works and Grace and a Treatise on the Nature and Effects of Saving Faith: pp. 156-159

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Needed... more grace?

[From the Archives: Originally posted March 10, 2012]

At Old Life, Darryl Hart has a post with this comment of his:
... the way to blur law and gospel is by sneaking grace into the relationship. If the law is gracious (which it is in a sense), then it must be salvific. But then there is Paul’s stop sign, the law is not of faith. Must be a different kind of grace.
What the law-is-gracious crowd forget is that Rome says salvation is entirely gracious — good works and all.   
The language of grace clarifies nothing. In some cases it obscures, as in “grace before the fall.”
This got me to thinking about the thrust of so many sermons that are preached today. Too often when Christian living and good works are exhorted from the pulpit, I hear grace invoked as some kind of seasoning or spice that enables the believer to think, speak, and act as God intends. As in: Jesus died for you sins. You’re now forgiven and have his Spirit. So, relying on the grace that he gives, go out and love your neighbor as yourself… The gospel is functionally reduced to “grace added” and gets presented as a means to an end kind of thing, something given in order that you can do it, i.e. live as God teaches in his law.

But we're not in need of mere renovation by grace.  Our problem is not that we're lacking some missing ingredient with which we could live a holy life.   The gospel isn't an offer of  grace with which to turn our lives around.  Rather, the gospel is God's personal and merciful response to the unyielding verdict of the law.
For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.  Now that no man is justified by the law before God, is evident: for, The righteous shall live by faith; and the law is not of faith; but, He that doeth them shall live in them.  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Gal.3:10-114)
Yet moral law-keeping as that which we can and need to do leads us back in the direction of that curse.  But you'll say, "Jesus has saved us from the curse of the law.  He bore the curse in our place."  Indeed he did!  And yet, too many sermons relegate that good news to the status of a past historical event.  Something to rejoice in and be thankful for, but now it's our turn.  Our job now, it seems, is to depend on present grace supplied in order to get on with the business of moral law-keeping.  But aren't we supposed to live holy lives?  Yes!  But the problem comes in when the implicit (or explicit) understanding is that, redeemed from the curse of the law, we now can live up to the law.  Grace offered is invoked as a means to that end.  If only we trust and believe more, then by grace we can live as we ought...

But there's a problem and the problem is us!  Still sinners, we keep getting in the way of our own renovation project.  Where is one to turn?