Thanks, Lane. I thought that was the question, but was not sure. Are the editors saying, that the giving of the law at Sinai is equated with the covenant of works before the fall? I hope they are not saying this is the standard Reformed position, because I find it problematic. The law is not to be confused with the covenant of works. The law was given to the people who were in covenant with God as the means in which they were to live. The Lord told them before the law was given that they were to be holy. Moses as the mediator gives the law; there was no mediator under the covenant of works.
Not to speak for the editors, but the typical view put forward is NOT that the law at Sinai was a covenant of works in a salvific sense, but that it imitated the covenant of works towards the nation of Israel. Corporate blessings and curses were according to the law.
Meanwhile, the salvation of individuals continued, as always, to be by grace through faith.
I think “typological republication of the Covenant of Works” would be more a more precise description.
Thanks, Jeff. It is difficult to discuss something without reading the book, but I do not like the term “republication.” I still see that there is a confusion between law and the covenant of works. The law given by Moses was within the covenant of grace. I found Mark Jones blog to be helpful at this point, but I will check out Scott Clark on this, even though I do not agree with Clark on many things.
It sounds like Jeff, by saying the law of Sinai “imitated” the covenant of works as a nation, that it acts only as a reminiscence of its original intent at creation. The blessing-cursing dynamic is the lingering residue that remains from the covenant of works. It is now more shadow, than substance. It is not salvific, due to the priority of grace in the promise. But, as it comes under the rubric of the old covenant economy, it (cow) is now part of law’s function and capacity as tutor (or guardian) until Christ, yet to drive us to Christ. In that sense, are you mean it is “re-published”? That is, it’s active only in this typological sense throughout Scripture until the NT and Christ’s humiliation. I am just trying to see how such passages (Leviticus 18:5 = Galatians 3:12) that say, “The one who does them, shall live by them” fits into that modified understanding.
Your view of republication will probably be shaped by your view of the Law-Gospel distinction.
If you believe the law-gospel distinction is: “Do this and live versus done for you” then you will probably support republication.
However, if you believe that the law-gospel distinction is “keep the commandments and earn eternal life versus receive eternal life and keep the commandments” then it is probable you will reject republication and will interpret versus such as “do this and live” as a command for holy living.
Hm. Interesting questions, and probably above my pay grade, since I’m not purely on Kline’s side of this question (as, say, Drs. Clark, Hart, and Muether might be).
By “imitate”, I meant that certain features in the Mosaic Law were parallel to features in the COW. The most obvious is the “do this and live; disobey and die” feature.
But this feature was imitative. In the Garden, doing was the condition of eternal life, while in Israel, doing was the condition for continued physical life and national “life” — that is, salvation from destruction. This is prominent in Deuteronomy, Judges, and Kings.
There is more to be said, however. The Law also acted as a lens through which our sins were flagged (“that transgressions might increase”) as worthy of eternal death.
And when Christ took the “curse of the Law”, it was (obviously!) not merely the curse of physical death or national death on Himself, but of God’s wrath.
So … rather than allow me to speak for the authors, go buy the book! My only point in #12 was to assure Stephen that we aren’t talking about salvation by works through the Mosaic Law.
Yes, agreed. As this post is about the book to be released, we best wait and see, pick up and read. Does anyone have a gage as to where WTS-West comes out on this one? This remains, more or less, a fascinating and perplexing conundrum within Reformed views of law and promise, the law-gospel distinction, old and new covenants, law and Christian ethics, and even first and last Adam. I remember pondering these questions anew when preaching through Galatians, especially 3-5.
FTH: if Vos says no to republication, then why did he write: “At Sinai it was not the ‘bare’ law that was given, but a reflection of the covenant of works revived, as it were, in the interests of the covenant of grace continued at Sinai.” Shorter Writings, 255. What did they teach you at WTS?
I recall Bahnsen writing a “NO” to the view that the Mosaic law, law at Sinai, is in any way a republication of the covenent of works. (He also mentioned that to me over such a question in a personal letter in the 1990s.) This placed the law under the old covenant as the way of holy living under grace.
Eager to read the book. Granting that the Mosaic Covenant was a republication of the Covenant of Works, wouldn’t it be best to say that it would be such only if it were modified to be compatible with the Covenant of Grace?
I find Paul’s explanation of the Mosaic Law’s pedagogical role determinative. Under this principle the Law has at its heart a gospel oriented instructional function. In saying “do this and live,” it served to point OT Israel to their need for a Savior, for they could not do this and live. Even the penitent aspects (sacrifices) taught this.
In this sense then, the Law was a republication of the CoW – it was not a re-release of the original edition (pre-fall). Rather it was distinctly new edition in which the Law was republished in light of the Fall , Gn 3:15, and the ensuing development of the Abrahamic covenant.
I’ll be responding to the book in the next Confessional Pres. Journal; so, we could have an interesting exchange! But, just so we’re aware, the majority opinion of the Reformed orthodox is that Sinai belongs to the CoG, even though it is contrasted with the New Covenant! That doesn’t rule out talking about it as a “revival” of the CoW, however. Owen represents the minority position, and even his own position is not the same as Cameron’s, who called Sinai a foedus subserviens. And, of course, this debate is wrapped up in law-gospel distinctions and ANE Suzerain treaties! See Horton’s “Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ” (ch. 2). My own two cents: Turretin probably speaks closest to the truth!
Would someone advocating the “republication” hypothesis care to state what the significance of such a view is for our individual walk with the Lord and/or for the life of the gathered people of God? For the laymen who don’t know who Vos, Cameron, Owen, Bahnsen, Kline, or Clark are…
I’m still somewhat surprised to see people treat the doctrine of Republication as being such a highly controversial or at least strange and exotic idea. WCF uses Galatians 3:10 and 3:12, verses referring to the Mosaic law, as prooftexts for the Covenant of Works.
Perhaps we should see the Sermon on the Mount as a republication of the covenant of works. After all, Jesus commands us to be perfect and says that only the one who does the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matt Beatty, here’s an initial answer to your request for a statement on the significance of the republication (with modifications)” view for our Christian walk, individually and corporately.
Christ fulfilled the Law as a covenant of works, and so believers are no longer under the yoke of the Law (Gal 5:1, 18), but under the yoke of grace (Matt 11:28-30; Rom 6:14-15; Gal 5:18). This yoke of grace is not antinomian, however. Instead, it uses the Law lawfully according to the Gospel (Promise) (1 Tim 1:8), namely, for instruction in righteous character and conduct (e.g., Galatians 6:7-8; Matthew 6:33).
(Matt Beatty, some of this may speak to your question as well)
You got me there, with that quote. I read very widely in Vos years back, (Pauline Eschatology, Teaching of Hebrews, Biblical Theology, Kingdom of God and Church, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation [collection of his essays edited by Gaffin], Grace and Glory, Eschatology of the Old Testament, Self-Disclosure of Jesus…I think that is it). I list all these works I read because I want to come across as even more arrogant than I really am : )…or so you know I have actually read Vos…or both? His Shorter Writings were not published back then and I was unaware of this quote you brought up.
This all said, I have trouble seeing in Vos the type of (“typological”) republication of the COW (Covenant Of Works) taught by, for example, Lane Tipton at WTS and seen in the writings of Kline. Perhaps what he says in what is published in his Shorter Writings and Letters contradicts my understanding of all those other writings? Or perhaps my understanding of Vos remains faulty (very very possible) or Vos lacked consistency in his writings throughout his career (also very possible)…
Kline, Tipton, etc., charge the “real” significance of Sinai [sorry, “typological” significance : ) ] with the works-principle and the CoW. They thus make the fundamental dynamic of Sinai “works” and not “grace.” The Law carries, for Israel, a primarily works-principle charge. All the blessing-for-obedience of Deuteronomic theology is (for Israel) works-principle-obedience…fundamentally distinguished from anything have to do with (the Covenant of) Grace.
I find this at odds with how I have understood various strands of historical-Reformed teachings on the Law. I mean here primarily (you will love this hodge-podge of figures) Calvin, Vos, Murray, Ferguson, O.P. Robertson, Gaffin, Berkhof, the WCF!, etc. I would cite more names but all of my Reformed Theology books are in boxes in the basement or closet right now and I cannot think of the others I read relating to this off the top of my head.
From my understanding, such (non Klinian) strands of Reformed Theology understand a blessing-for-obedience dynamic within the context of the Covenant of Grace. Such obedience lacks ultimate-salvific significance; i.e., it is not works-obedience that merits salvation. Rather such obedience functions within basic covenantlogic: promise and obligation. Deuteronomy and Sinai, for example, reflect this basic Covenant of Grace blessing-for-obedience covenant logic. YHWH delivered the Law to Israel in the context of a gracious relationship he already established with them (i.e., the Exodus!). The Law thus functions as the (gracious) imperative to the prior gracious indicative of God’s deliverance of Israel and establishment of a relationship with them. As best I can tell much historic Reformed Theology understands the indicative-imperative dynamic in Deuteronomy, for example, as fundamentally the same gracious indicative-imperative dynamic found in Paul’s “ethical” exhortations to the church in his letters. The Law of Sinai and Deuteronomy, for example, thus functions in the context of the Covenant of Grace. This, by the way, is exactly how Vos unpacks things in Biblical Theology, for one example off the top of my head.
Kline, Tipton, etc., introduce some distinctions into all this and, again, relocate the “typological” (read: real!) significance of the Law/Sinai/etc (for Israel) in the context of the COW and not the Covenant of Grace. All obedience-with-significance becomes works-principle-obedience. This is exactly what Tipton did with Deuteronomy when I asked him about all this in class once.
Yet again, I see this approach to Sinai and Law as at odds with how Calvin, the WCF?, Vos, Murray, Ferguson, O.P. Robertson, Gaffin, etc., approach these issues. If I remember correctly, Gaffin agreed with me on this analysis when I asked him about all this in his office once.
Quickly, from my point of view, this distinction between how Deuteronomy, for example, speaks to YHWH’s relationship with Israel (typological republication of the CoW) versus YHWH’s relationship with individual people (Covenant of Grace) is baseless and specious from the point of view of the texts of the Hebrew Bible themselves. Sure some texts discuss how to deal with specific and individual sinners within Israel, but they addresses such issues along the lines of broader legislation for Israel, so I do not see how such instances establish this important distinction for Kline. I do not think “progressive Revelation” changes this either. But, this is because I read Paul differently than Kline, Tipton, et al…but apparently not differently than Calvin, the WCF, Vos, Murray, Ferguson, Robertson, and Gaffin on these points.
Though I am definitely not a Historical-Theologian, it still seems to me some of the work from WSCal, Tipton, etc., engages in revisionist readings of key parts of Reformed Historical-Theology on these points. Time and again in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, for example, the authors give the impression that this Klinian view of the Law and “typological” republication of the COW is THE historic Reformed view. This strikes me as doubly-ironic since R. Scott Clark eschews doing Historical Theology for normative Systematic-Theological purposes (perhaps he does not do such revisionist readings here and I am simply wrong). I discuss this a bit in my not-so-well-written summary/review of that book, which I wrote years back when I was still at WTS (http://www.thepaulpage.com/Covenant.pdf , pg. 14). Just as I indicated in that review, I lack the Historical-Theological expertise of many who promote this Klinian republication of the CoW idea and thus am not necessarily to be trusted on these points. Perhaps my no longer holding to each of these aspects of Reformed Theology—at least in the same way I used to—stands as another reason I should not be trusted, but that is for another day… ; )
Yes, Patrick, good point! I, for one, would like people to express themselves with more clarity on this, though John Ball says this was a problem in the seventeenth century among Reformed divines.
The issue is not whether the law was “revived” in a way similar to the CoW. I think pretty much all sides would agree with that. But, is the Sinaitic covenant an administration of the GoG or is it a distinct covenant altogether? Is it, as Cameron and Goodwin argued, a foedus subserviens to the CoG (the standard trichotomist position). Then you throw Owen in who makes distinctions between theological covenants (CoG and CoW) and biblical covenants (Old and New, as per Heb. 8) and things get more complicated. Turretin rejects the Salmurian position and Owen’s position. But he makes a number of careful distinctions that Calvin didn’t make, though they both view the old covenant as belonging to the CoG.
Kline was influenced by George Mendenhall; Kline’s covenant theology is *in part* determined by his understanding of ANE suzerain treaties. Horton has adopted this basic framework (pardon the pun), too. According to this schema, some covenants are promise covenants (e.g. Abrahamic), some covenants are law covenants (Sinai). There’s a strong law-gospel distinction present in this understanding of covenant theology!
But, as I have said, the majority of Reformed theologians, from the 16thC onwards, have placed Sinai within the rubric of the CoG. However, some in the past (e.g. Owen) and in the present do not! They say, rather, that Sinai operated concurrently with the CoG, that is, they are distinct covenants! Is this semantic? I don’t think it is!
For a critique of Kline’s (and Mendenhall’s) view of ANE suzerain treaties, see Noel Weeks’ excellent work, “Admonition and Curse” (T&T Clark). On this issue it is hard to say “this is THE Reformed position” – but I think it is acceptable to say this is what the majority of Reformed theologians have taught …
From my understanding, such (non Klinian) strands of Reformed Theology understand a blessing-for-obedience dynamic within the context of the Covenant of Grace. Such obedience lacks ultimate-salvific significance; i.e., it is not works-obedience that merits salvation.
I would see a spectrum of thought on this issue. So for example, Calvin argues that the Law requires complete obedience in order to obtain blessing. But, no-one can be obedient completely. Therefore, all of our blessings actually come to us through Christ. God views our imperfect works through the lens of pardon (viz. Inst. 3.17), so that justification must precede any blessings, and the works themselves do not merit reward per se (condignly?) but are considered righteous by grace.
A similar issue came up in the Wisdom Lit class with Dr. Futato. His thesis was that Proverbs presents the worldview that God has ordered the universe morally, such that wisdom carries its own reward and foolishness, its own punishment.
This led immediately to a discussion of the Law as a means of blessings and cursings — does it still function this way, or no?
The conclusion to the discussion was very similar to the Calvin quote above: that God purposes to bless us *because* we are in Christ and not *because* of the merit of our works. And yet, He often uses the moral structure of the universe as the means of blessing.
So you can see that this position is neither pure republication, nor yet pure blessing-for-obedience.
Instead, our blessings are grounded in the covenant of grace; yet our works are often the means by which they are acquired.
In passing, this passage from Calvin is worthy of meditation:
Hence, also, we see the error of those who, in comparing the Law with the Gospel, represent it merely as a comparison between the merit of works, and the gratuitous imputation of righteousness. The contrast thus made is by no means to be rejected, because, by the term Law, Paul frequently understands that rule of holy living in which God exacts what is his due, giving no hope of life unless we obey in every respect; and, on the other hand, denouncing a curse for the slightest failure. This Paul does when showing that we are freely accepted of God, and accounted righteous by being pardoned, because that obedience of the Law to which the reward is promised is nowhere to be found. Hence he appropriately represents the righteousness of the Law and the Gospel as opposed to each other. But the Gospel has not succeeded the whole Law in such a sense as to introduce a different method of salvation. It rather confirms the Law, and proves that every thing which it promised is fulfilled. What was shadow, it has made substance. When Christ says that the Law and the Prophets were until John, he does not consign the fathers to the curse, which, as the slaves of the Law, they could not escape. He intimates that they were only imbued with the rudiments, and remained far beneath the height of the Gospel doctrine. Accordingly Paul, after calling the Gospel “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,” shortly after adds, that it was “witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,” (Rom. 1: 16; 3: 21.) And in the end of the same Epistle, though he describes “the preaching of Jesus Christ” as “the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began,” he modifies the expression by adding, that it is “now made manifest” “by the scriptures of the prophets,” (Rom. 16: 25, 26.) Hence we infer, that when the whole Law is spoken of, the Gospel differs from it only in respect of clearness of manifestation. Still, on account of the inestimable riches of grace set before us in Christ, there is good reason for saying, that by his advent the kingdom of heaven was erected on the earth, (Matth. 12: 28.)
To rfwhite: Well, the fact that Bahnsen and Kline can look at the same OT texts and come away with different conclusions on the COW within the Reformed orthodox tradition, in mind comes about by whether one has a predisposition towards elevating law as a moral standard or gospel as a redemptive power going into the investigation. The dialogue resembles a teeter-totter in terms of what is emphasized and how through your hermeneutic. Of course, most of us here I think are exploring some kind of middle ground where the Reformed confessions promote a degree of continuity and discontinuity with the covenant of works, as republished at Sinai, and then fulfilled in the new covenant. When Paul warns us of “works of the law” in Galatians or Romans he has the Mosaic tradition in mind. That speaks to some application of the COW to the Sinai covenant arrangement.
ECH, when you comment about predisposition to elevate law or gospel, I think you at least hint at, if not hit onm what Kline himself drove at when he discussed the question of which has priority, law or grace.
On questions of the history of Reformed thought, Jeong Koo Jeon’s work, Covenant Theology: John Murray’s and Meredith G. Kline’s Response to the Historical Development of Federal Theology in Reformed Thought, contains one account.
I’ve always found this comment from Bavinck particularly helpful:
“Before the fall Adam had the law written upon his heart. With the believer it is again written upon the tablets of his heart by the Holy Spirit. And all those in heaven will walk according to the law of the Lord. The Gospel is temporary, but the law is eternal and is restored precisely through the Gospel. Freedom from the law consists, then, not in the fact that the Christian has nothing more to do with the law, but lies in the fact that the law demands nothing more from the Christian as a condition of salvation.”
rfwhite: That is interesting, I mean your comment about Kline and predisposition. In also keeping with the quote afterwards in #35, since the gospel is “temporary” until sin is eliminated it may seem to some to be finally of less permanent significance in the cosmic scheme of things. This would explain the predisposition of law and thus the tendency to read law too optimistically into finding solutions to man’s moral and cultural problems. If the law-orientation remains the constant focus of our religious framework, even so in the midst of our salvific framework, then this predisportion will color such debated areas as what is being discussed right now between the CoW and the Sinai covenant. I think the gospel is more radical than that in determining our life vision and consequence. The goal of man in Christ is NOT “to get back to the garden” as the ole’ Crosby, Stills Nash and Young song goes. It is not to get back to the garden and hook up with the law rightly this time. Rather, it is to become fulfilled as fully adopted and sanctificed heirs through Christ who will never leave us or forsake us. Only then, through the gospel, will the law be written on our hearts as it was intended. Yet, we will be much more than just what was intended originally. We will be transformed and new in a way that transcends Adam best day in the garden before the Fall. Does that not make the gospel throughout the determiner of the framework of the saint? Does that not make the gospel the priority in our theology, the center from which we work out all other facets of the Christian life? That does not mean we are free from the law, as it will invariably accompany the gospel, but rather that we are aware that the foundation of our sanctified life is not the law, but forgiveness of sins unto eternal life.
ECH, in referring to Kline’s discussion of the priority of law vs. gospel, I had in mind what he says in By Oath Consigned. He refers to the *historical* priority of covenant of law over covenant of grace (guaranteed promise). It seems to me, however, that there is a clue to the question of priority in that, according to the gospel, God is both just and the justifier of the ungodly. As Kline says, “Herein is the depth of [God's] redemptive wisdom revealed, that in the very process of securing for his chosen the covenant’s blessing of life, God honors his original covenant of law in its abiding demand for obedience as the condition of life and with its curse of death for the covenant breakers” (BOC, p. 30).
rfwight. Thanks for the specific quotation. I recall something like that back when I reviewed that book during my doctoral studies. Indeed, I can see the historical priority of the covenant of law as Adam’s framework for obedience, at least in his probationary setting. But is that the final determiner of the priority? His obedience at that point is yet to be fulfilled. so perhaps we would expect law to be front and center. But as to your clue, God as both just and justifier (which is a good reference), though He clearly honors His law that reflects His holy character, it is not by virtue of the law that God extends Himself to stoop to justify the ungodly. Rather, in my mind at least, it would take covenantal grace as the priority, flowing finally through His nature of love, for that to occur. In one sense, too, God honors equally His holy and loving character by being the just One who nevertheless justifies.
ECH, I would agree that it’s fair enuf to ask if historical priority is the final determiner of the priority of law or grace. In that connection, wouldn’t we be right to say that God’s justice toward Christ is that by virtue of which God is gracious to Christ’s elect seed?
If the Mosiac covenant was a CoW, then why did God, not only allow, but reveal to Moses in great detail how to prepare sacrifices for atonement? Why was there guilt offerings, sin offerings, and the Day of Atonement?
It seems whenever the Mosiac covenant is presented as a CoW, the sacrifices prescribed by God in this covenant, are largely ignored. It is as if the Lord gave Moses the Moral Law, and then later revealed to Moses how to make atonement for sin because Israel failed to keep the Law.
Many would contest your above statement that “repentance is part of the gospel message”. The goodnews we are given, and hear about, is not that we get to do something like repent or even believe, for that matter. If the gospel is about what GOD has done for us in utter grace to the undeserved, and that quite apart from what we must do, or have done, or can do, then how can repentance be shoe-horned into the equation?
Maybe at this point you are speaking broadly over ther whole gospel event, but strictly speaking what we do is not the goodnews. What we proclaim is not that we get to repent, as if at bottom the gospel is a transaction. That can easily translate into a person struggling constantly with doubt that that he has not repented enough, believed enough, received enough, to be loved by God. That easily intrudes and mangles the grace of God and creates conditions that render grace less than grace. It is not a mere quibble to insist that repentance and faith come as our response to the goodnews, as a demand to the Lord’s gift of goodnews, but not made a part of the objective presentation. That is how the gospel subtly is seduced and reduced to works. Perhaps you are not wanting to imply that, but this point is a key obstacle in helping people get people grasp and find true rest in the gospel of grace. Then repentance and faith arise out of profound gratitude, not the need to perform to seal the deal.
(cont’) Sorry for the awkward phrasing above at the end of the post.
It should read, “…this point is a key obstacle in helping people, or to get people to grasp and find true rest in the gispel of grace.” (In other words, it is not our repentance that sets us free, any more then the law, but the power of God’s love given as a gift to the sinner that then prompts the response, which even then is still done imperfectly).
So, do you disagree with Ursinus who, against the Lutherans, placed repentance in the category of gospel? I think Scripture has to take precedence over systematic categories that can be unhelpful.
I think Paul had in mind something different than the law-gospel categories many today use; and, for that reason, these discussions always prove to be unhelpful. Maybe we can talk about indicatives and imperatives; but, to my mind, repentance clearly belongs to the gospel, both in the writings of our forefathers and, more importantly, the Scriptures.
Dale Olzer, as I understand your comment, it describes part of the reason why many who say that the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of works would also add that it is a covenant of works *with modifications to make it compatible with the covenant of grace.* Specifically, the covenant of works was modified in the Mosaic covenant by limiting the application of the principle of works to the retention of earthly and temporal (i.e., typological) blessings. Granted the disobedience of both Adam and Israel, they ought to have learned the common lesson that, if they were ever to receive and retain the heavenly and eternal blessings, they must find them through that one Seed of Abraham, born under the Law, who would render to God the active and passive obedience that satisfied His Law’s requirements.
Daniel Ritchie and E. C. Hock, I’m reminded of Mark 1:14-15, “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” An arresting summary of Jesus’ preaching.
Dale Olzer: One amendation to 48, first paragraph: Granted the disobedience of both Adam and Israel, they ought to have learned the common lesson that, if they were ever to receive and retain the heavenly and eternal blessings, they must find them through that one Seed of the woman, born under God’s Law, who would render to God the active and passive obedience that satisfied His Law’s requirements.
Hmmm. I am still not satisfied with the re-packaging of the point in #47.
By your logic about the gospel, and by gospel, I am meaning the God-initiated MESSAGE of the gospel in Jesus, not its effect nor what results from it, nor what instrumentation exists for such turning to take effect. Jesus called us to repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel. But my repentance is not the gospel, nor somehow factored into it. I respond to the truth of “message of the gospel”. But you speak of “category.” What’s that? What are you putting into the category? I am not sure what Ursinus meant as you use his language here. Is “category” the message? Is “category” the larger gospel event than encompasses my response? Is category the terms as well? Jesus did not come first to preach a gospel category, but a message of goodnews to sinners, a dynamic life-giving message they do not deserve to hear, even before repentance takes place. Peter at Pentecost preached about Jesus death and resurrection as at the heart of the gospel, this Jesus who is now Lord and Christ. Then what? “Now when they heard this (i.e., God’s work) they were cut to the heart…brothers, what shall WE DO?” The “WE DO” comes after the gospel of “HE DID” is given.
How solid is our repentance? How whimsical it might be, yes? How we need to keep on repenting as sin is exposed even after we are converted. But let’s not confuse something so wonderful as the gospel of God with the meagre additive (and sneaky merit?) of my repentance. God stoops down in the Savior to draw me to repentance, the law provokes repentance as the Spirit applies it effectually, but let us not confuse law’s work with with gospel ‘s work. The gospel is indicative and comes as such, stands alone as such. The indicatives of gospel-grace prompts the imperative of response by virtue of who it is that speaks that word.
Joel 2 exhorts, “Return to me with all of your heart…return to the Lord your God”. Then he gives the reason: “…FOR he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (2:12-13).
Where in this is the gospel? Where is the motivation and power to “return” (repent)? Not in the returning, as part of a category, but in the indicatives of God’s pity and merciful character as revealed (again) in the promises of what HE will be and do for for His people, ergo, the gospel already anticipated.
Thus, I find “category” unhelpful here and dangerously confusing unless you give whatever disclaimers as needed so people DO NOT TURN TO REST IN THEIR REPENTANCE, as the way to understand the reality of the gospel message. That invariably shifts the focus to the navel-gazing, inward dynamic (…am I doing enough for it?) of self before they grasp the God-given gift bestowed in all its beautifying sufficiency.
I really don’t have time to get into this (which is why I shouldn’t have in the first place – my fault), but Ursinus writes:
“Objection. There is no precept, or commandment belonging to the gospel, but to the law. The preaching of repentance is a precept. Therefore the preaching of repentance does not belong to the gospel, but to the law.
Answer. We deny the major, if it is taken generally; for this precept is peculiar to the gospel, which commands us to believe, to embrace the benefits of Christ, and to commence new obedience, or that righteousness which the law requires. If it be objected that the law also commands us to believe in God, we reply that it does this only in general, by requiring us to give credit to all the divine promises, precepts and denunciations, and that with a threatening of punishment, unless we do it. But the gospel commands us expressly and particularly to embrace, by faith, the promise of grace; and also exhorts us by the Holy Spirit, and by the Word, to walk worthy of our heavenly calling. This however it does only in general, not specifying any duty in particular, saying thou shalt do this, or that, but it leaves this to the law; as, on the contrary, it does not say in general, believe all the promises of God, leaving this to the law; but it says in particular, Believe this promise; fly to Christ, and thy sins shall be forgiven thee.”
On a personal note, I don’t think your definition of “gospel” can sustain the exegetical weight that you make it to bear.
For consideration, John Calvin on the relationship between repentance and faith. As a teaser:
Though all this is true, yet the term repentance (in so far as I can ascertain from Scripture) must be differently taken. For in comprehending faith under repentance, they are at variance with what Paul says in the Acts, as to his “testifying both to the Jews and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 20: 21.) Here he mentions faith and repentance as two different things. What then? Can true repentance exist without faith? By no means. But although they cannot be separated, they ought to be distinguished. As there is no faith without hope, and yet faith and hope are different, so repentance and faith, though constantly linked together, are only to be united, not confounded.
The Covenant of Sinai has seemed to many to wear such an aspect of legality, that they have supposed themselves constrained to regard it as a species of Covenant of Works and, therefore, a recession from the Abrahamic Covenant, which, we are expressly told (John 8:56; Gal. 3:8) contained the gospel. Now, it is one objection, that this view, making two distinct dispensations between Adam and Christ, and the first a dispensation of the Covenant of Grace, and the one which came after, of the Covenant of Works, is a priori, unreasonable. For, it is unreasonable in this, that it is a recession, instead of a progress, whereas every consistent idea of the plan of Revelation makes it progressive. It is unreasonable because both the Old and New Testaments represent the Sinai Covenant as a signal honor and privilege to Israel. But they also represent the Covenant of Works as inevitably a covenant of death to man after the Fall, so that had the transactions of Sinai been a regression from the “Gospel preached before unto Abraham,” to a Covenant of Works, it would have been a most signal curse poured out on the chosen people. The attempt is made to evade this, by saying that, while eternal life to the Hebrews was now suspended on a covenant of works, they were ritual works only, in which an exact formal compliance was all that was required. This is untenable because it is inconsistent with God’s spiritual and unchangeable character, and with His honor; and because the Mosaic Scriptures are as plain as the New Testament in disclaiming the sufficiency of an exact ritual righteousness, as the term of eternal life, and in requiring a perfect, spiritual obedience. If a ritual obedience was accepted instead of a spiritual one, that was an act of grace—a remission of the claims of laws—so that the Mosaic turns out a dispensation of grace, after all. But grace was preached to Abel, Noah, Abraham, in a prior dispensation, through a Mediator to come. Now, through what medium was this gracious remission of law given to Israel, at Sinai? The answer we give is so consistent, that it appears self evident, almost: That it was through the same Christ to come, already preached to the Patriarchs, and now typified in the Levitical sacrifices. So that the theory I combat resolves itself, in spite of itself, as it were, into the correct theory, viz. That the promise contained in the Covenant of Sinai was through the Mediator, typified in the Levitical sacrifices, and that the term for enjoying that promise was not legal, not an exact ritual obedience, but gospel faith in the antitype.
The French divines, Camero and Amgraut, proposed an ingenious modification of the legal theory of Moses’ covenant: That in it a certain kind of life was proposed (as in the Covenant of Works,) as a reward for an exact obedience. But that the life was temporal, in a prosperous Canaan, and the obedience was ritual. This is true, so far as a visible church standing turned on a ritual obedience. But to the Hebrew, that temporal life in happy Canaan was a type of heaven, which was not promised to an exact moral obedience, but to faith. Were this theory modified, so as to represent this dependence of the Hebrew’s church standing on his ritual obedience, as a mere type and emblem of the law’s spiritual work as a “schoolmaster to lead us to Christ,” it might stand.
I’m wondering if a better question would be; is repentance better described as a duel instrument with faith of justification, or as the first act of sanctification? Both sides agree that repentance is necessary for true salvation, and is somehow connected to faith. But shouldn’t we always say repentance is the result of faith? How can a person repent who has first not believed the gospel? Couldn’t he repent only when he has heard and believed that his sins cost the Son his life, and that he is now forgiven and loved unconditionally in the gospel? If not, why not then think his repentant heart and commitment is what saved him from judgment, or, why think his repentance means anything to God at all? I think both Calvin and Spurgeon express this in the quotes below.
“We must first note the distinction of faith and repentance, which some do falsely and unskillfully confound, saying, that repentance is a part of faith. I grant, indeed, that they cannot be separate; because God doth illuminate no man with the Spirit of faith whom he doth not also regenerate unto newness of life. Yet they must needs be distinguished, as Paul doth in this place. For repentance is a turning unto God, when we frame ourselves and all our life to obey him; but faith is a receiving of the grace offered us in Christ. For all religion tendeth to this end, that, embracing holiness and righteousness, we serve the Lord purely, also that we seek no part of our salvation anywhere else save only at his hands, and that we seek salvation in Christ alone. Therefore, the doctrine of repentance containeth a rule of good life; it requireth the denial of ourselves, the mortifying of our flesh, and meditating upon the heavenly life. But because we be all naturally corrupt, strangers from righteousness, and turned away from God himself. Again, because we fly from God, because we know that he is displeased with us, the means, as well to obtain free reconciliation as newness of life, must be set before us.
(Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. XIX, pg 246-247)
“The repentance which is here commanded is the result of faith; it is born at the same time with faith—they are twins, and to say which is the elder-born passes my knowledge. It is a great mystery; faith is before repentance in some of its acts, and repentance before faith in another view of it; the fact being that they come into the soul together. Now, a repentance which makes me weep and abhor my past life because of the love of Christ which has pardoned it, is the right repentance. When I can say, “My sin is washed away by Jesu’s blood,” and then repent because I so sinned as to make it necessary that Christ should die—that dove-eyed repentance which looks at his bleeding wounds, and feels that her heart must bleed because she wounded Christ—that broken heart that breaks because Christ was nailed to the cross for it—that is the repentance which bringeth us salvation.
Again, the repentance which makes us avoid present sin because of the love of God who died for us, this also is saving repentance. If I avoid sin to-day because I am afraid of being lost if I commit it, I have not the repentance of a child of God; but when I avoid it and seek to lead a holy life because Christ loved me and gave himself up for me, and because I am not my own, but am bought with a price, this is the work of the Spirit of God. ”
(Spurgeon’s sermon on Mark 1:15)
Thomasgoodwin: The phrase of Ursinus:”…if taken in general” may have something to do with how we are at odds over this question. Maybe we are talking at different points of view, one being a more systematic answer that examines categories, the other looking biblical at the historical flow of the message in the text. In Mark 1:14-15, “the gospel of God” is declared. We therefore repent and believe in the gospel…not to complete the gospel. We see this echoed in Peter’s early preaching (Acts 2). The gospel is given about Jesus’ death and resuurection in the plan of God as presented with OT support. Then we see what follows where they were “cut to the heart,” i.e., the penetrating work of the Spirit in us to provoke a real sorrow unto repentance. They THEREFORE ask: “What shall WE DO?” Yes, faith and repentance are peculiar to the gospel message as the goal is peculiar, a saving relationship and true standing with Jesus Christ. But let’s not fail to make the necessary distinction. The gospel stands as a sufficient gospel (Christ’s completed work for us – died and raised for us) whether I repent or not, believe or not. People reject the gospel also, but that rejection does not minimize its reality as a message. This is not one of those things where we say, “It’s a distinction without a difference.” It is a vital distinction that makes a great difference. It is not my repenting that adds “more” to the gospel, or makes the gospel a better gospel. Rather, in my repenting I recognize the gospel because, in its content and authority, it shakes me to the core, lifts my hope, and drives me to respond. But my response is not the gospel! If it is, then we in our pride will start looking to our act of repentance, and not to Christ, for our power and assurance.
Paul’s word of justification to define the heart of the gospel message is a helpful and clarifying angle. The sole ground of being justified is the sufficient and finished work of Christ (i.e., Todd’s contribution above). That, in turn, forms the sufficient message of the gospel to declare as the good news. God loves sinners with that language. The ground is not our faith and repentance, or repentance as the fruit of faith, that justifies us, but God’s grace alone in accordance with that truth.
Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens; Justification, by John Fesko; The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan; Recovering the Reformed Confessions, by Scott Clark; Brief Outline of Theology, by Friedrich Schleiermacher; Principles of Sacred Theology, by Abraham Kuyper
Books I am now reading
Exodus commentaries; Matthew commentaries; Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology; Baker's new history of the church
Books for future reading
Turretin's Institutes; Joseph Caryl on Job, German encyclopedias of theology