An Amazing Thought

In Genesis 49-50, we see the brothers still fearful of Joseph’s retaliation. But we also have Jacob giving blessings. What is most conspicuous by its absence is any mention of how Joseph was taken by the brothers into slavery. Since Jacob had mentioned Reuben’s sin, Simeon’s and Levi’s sin, etc., it is unthinkable that Jacob would have left unmentioned something which threatened to take him down into the grave. Therefore, Jacob must not have known about what the brothers did! This is not so amazing in and of itself. Nor is the fact that brothers did not mention it. What is so amazing is that Joseph did not mention it to Jacob either! And there was no lack of opportunity, since Jacob was in Egypt for 17 years communing with Joseph before he died. That is not only amazing love for his brothers on Joseph’s part, but also an amazingly forgiving spirit. “As far as the East is from the West…”

Why is the Federal Vision Heresy?- part 2

The issue I wish to address here is the issue of assurance. Rome, in the person of Cardinal Bellarmine said of the Reformation that its foremost error was the error of assurance, that the Reformers said that we can know whether we are saved. In many ways, the Reformation was about assurance. That was the “cash value” of the Reformation. Look at the formal principle of sole Scriptura. How can we know whether we are saved? The Bible tells us what is necessary for salvation. If we have that, then we can hav assurance. Look also at the material principle of the Reformation. If we are justified, and therefore have now no condemnation (Rom 8:1), then we can have rock solid assurance, because our assurance is based on Christ. The WCF says that we can have certain assurance of our faith (WCF 18.1). That whole chapter, by the way, is worth quoting: “1. Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes, and carnal presumptions of being in the favour of God, and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish: yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed. 2. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God: which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. 3. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure; that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance: so far is it from inclining men to looseness. 4. Tru believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair.

Further statements of assurance can be found in WCF 3.8 (election is a ground of assurance), and in LC 80 (the presence of true faith and the endeavor to walk in all good conscience before God). Nowhere is baptism explicity said to be a ground of assurance.

Contrast this with what Steve Wilkins says (I just keep on picking on him, don’t I!): “It makes our standing before God and that of our children plain, and yet it prevents presumption….We belong to Christ. Baptism is the infallible sign and seal of this…And in regard to our assurance, we are pointed away from ourselves and what we think we perceive to be true of us inwardly, which no one can know, and pointed to Christ, the only ground of our assurance.” Wilkins (as I showed before) equates baptism with covenant membership with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Wilkins further denies that there is any inward possibility of assurance. Everything must be outward. But the WCF explicitly says “the inward evidence of those graces” as a ground of our assurance. The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God. How would we know that except by looking inward? The word “morbid introspectionism” is bandied about quite a bit as one of the very chiefest of all dangers which we should avoid. And if we look to ourselves, we will have problems, since we are weak. However, to look inside ourselves in order to see God’s working there is explicitly commanded by the Scripture just quoted, and approved by the WCF. I think it revealing that nowhere does the WCF mention assurance in connection with baptism.

Do I think that baptism can play no part in our assurance? No, I don’t think that. However, baptism is not the most rock solid ground of our assurance. It is *one* of the grounds of assurance. and how can it be infallible, as Steve Wilkins says? How in the world can baptism give the assurance about which the WCF is talking, when people apostatize from their baptisms all the time? What assurance is there in that? The FV will probably answer that we can assurance that we are in covenant now. Fair enough. But that is not the same kind of assurance about which the WCF is talking. The assurance there is absolute assurance of eternal salvation. It’s been my pastoral experience that people don’t want to know if they are part of the visible church. That should be rather obviousif they faithfully attend. What they want to know is whether they are going to heaven, however some of us might cringe at that phrase. We’ll phrase it as the assurance that they will be part of the new heavens and the new earth. I have one simple question for the FV: how can anyone have this kind of assurance (of eternal life), if one can lose justification, sanctification, redemption, adoption, etc.? And then I will follow that up with my biggest criticism of the FV: if the FV doesn’t mean the same things by justification, sanctification, redemption, atonement, etc., if they mean by it some form of “covenantal” saving benefit, then why aren’t the FV proponents carefully delineating the difference in every term, every time it’s used? When I use the term “justification,” for instance, I mean the Reformers’ definition of it as found in Scripture. I use it as shorthand. All of Reformed theology uses it as shorthand in some context or other. They mean one thing by it. If the FV means something else, then they should jolly well define the term every time it’s different. Steve Wilkins falls woefully short here, as do many others. Steve Schlissel carefully defines his definition of justification, an shows himself to be a complete Wright-ite in the process. I give him kudos, however, for carefully defining his terms.

To this already long post, I will add one more thought, about systematic theology. I noticed that Todd quoted what he thought was the most important section of the book _Federal Vision_ as one of the later comments on the previous post about Federal Vision. That quote drove a huge wedge between systematic theology and biblical theology. I think that if Richard Gaffin, for instance, were to hold to that wedge, he would have to become a schizophrenic. And yet, I don’t see him doing so. I utterly reject the FV’s separation (bifurcation, really) between ST and BT. ST has a necessary and important place in exegesis, precisely because, ultimately, the Bible is God’s one book, however much diversity there may be among the different human authors. Ultimately, the Bible is one book given to us by God. Therefore ST belongs in exegesis irrevocably.