Wilkins’s exam, part 7

Now we get to the doctrine of perseverance (pp. 12-17).

First problem is the rhetoric on page 13: “It seems to me that the Presbytery’s argument would also have to be made against Paul, Peter, and Jesus as well since all apply the language of salvation to those whom they say are in danger ultimately of falling short of the grace of God.” He then lists the following passages in his defense: 1 Cor 10:4-5, Heb 6:4ff, 10:29, 12:22ff, 2 Peter 1:9, 2:1, 20, and Rev 3:5, 22:19. He hasn’t proved in the remotest that his exegesis of these passages supports the weight that he us putting on them. I wish to point out just a few problems with his exegesis: Rev 3:5 does not say that it is even theoretically possible for someone’s name to be removed from the book of life. This is merely an assurance that “by no means” will the name be removed. It is extra assurance for the believer. Furthermore, there isn’t even a hint in this verse of describing “those who fail to persevere.” That category of people is not in view at all. Rather it is the one who conquers.

And on 22:19, all that is necessary is to quote Beale’s commentary on the passage: “Does v 19 refer to loss of a salvation previously possessed or to a denial of final salvific reward for thos who have claimed outwardly to be Christians but have never had true faith? The latter is most plausible because the repeated characteristic highlighted in the closing portion of the book is not that of genuine believers losing their redeemed status but of the counterfeit, double-dealing nature of people in the Christian community who will not receive the final reward” (pg. 1153). And on the other passages, I have already given rather extensive commentary.

He reveals his historical ignorance on the Reformed view of justification when he says, “Nearly every Presbyterian and evangelical minister understands the word ‘justification’ differently depending upon its context and he does so without feeling compelled to charge Paul or James with being confusing in their terminology!” Now, the word “to justify” is used in a different sense in Paul from James. But to imply, as Wilkins does, that every Presbyterian minister has his own definition of justification is absurd. It certainly does not jibe with what Buchanan says on the doctrine: “Few things in the history of the Church are more remarkable than the entire unanimity of the Reformers on the subject of a sinner’s Justification before God.” You know, it wouldn’t even matter whether the Reformers were unanimous on justification. What we do have is the WCF’s definition.

What he says later on down the page is very facile: “If the Presbytery disagrees with my understanding they should simply say so and show where I am wrong. But to pretend that I am utilizing words with certain stipulated definitions when I have explicitly said I am not doing so, is simply misleading. I affirm the Westminster Confession of Faith and its statements as true and the statements made in my article in no way require a rejection of these truths.” Several things need to be pointed out here. First of all, the Presbytery obviously knows what Wilkins is saying about the non-elect members of the covenant. The Memorial explicitly states “In Wilkins’s teaching, all church members share all the benefits of union with Christ, but only provisionally.” Wilkins then states that he was talking about what is true of all members of the church. Is this not the same group of people being discussed? Was not the Presbytery correctly stating what Wilkins was talking about? What has happened is what Rick Phillips is talking about: Wilkins is pitting the WCF against Scripture.

Secondly, the Memorial has in detail pointed out not only where Wilkins goes wrong, but the relevant sections of the WCF that contradict Wilkins’s teaching.

Thirdly, when Wilkins uses language against the WCF, such as “our understanding of salvation from a systematic (Westminsterian) theology standpoint has difficulty accommodating these passages…better way to deal with these statements,” it is facile for him to say that his statement about his upholding the standards should be enough all by itself. Again, the issue is not whether he claims to uphold the Standards, but whether his theology actually does.


Rick Phillips’s critique of Wilkins’s exam

While I having been trudging along through the exam, TE Phillips has done a very good job simply comparing and contrasting Wilkins with the WCF. Read it.

The Greeting in Ephesians 1:1-2

This greeting is often used by FV advocates to say that all the members of the visible church are saints, since Paul addressed this letter to the entire church. See, for instance, Wilkins in Federal Vision, pg. 56, where his reading of 1:3-5 requires said reading of 1:1-2. But does this passage really say that the blessings of eternal election (“from before the foundation of the world”) and all the spiritual blessings in Christ (vs. 3) are all attributed to everyone who might read this document? I am going to argue that this is a misreading of Paul’s intention. Here is the passage in English (my translation):

“Paul, an apostle by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, who are faithful in Christ Jesus; grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Greek:

1Παῦλος ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ τοῖς ἁγίοις τοῖς οὖσιν [ἐν Ἐφέσῳ] καὶ πιστοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ: 2χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.


1. dia plus genitive is an instrumental genitive. It is by the instrumentality of God’s will that Paul is an apostle.

2. Given that there is no article before pistois, and also given the kai in the construction, the phrase “faithful in Christ Jesus” may be considered to be epexegetical (explanatory) of the previous phrase. “The saints in Ephesus, that is, the faithful in Christ Jesus.” I realize that this is somewhat disputed by scholars (though the majority hold this view). However, I do think that the Greek supports this interpretation very well. John Calvin notes on this passage that all saints are faithful, and all the faithful are saints. This is not to say that the two phrases must say exactly the same thing. Lange, in his commentary, notes that, though the two phrases do refer to the same group of people, head for head, the first phrase refers to the outward “setting apart” of Christians from the world, whereas the second phrase refers to their inner condition.

3. Although there be no verb for wishing in verse 2, it seems fairly reasonable to supply a verb of wishing there: “May grace and peace come to you.” However, I will not dispute if someone wishes to translate this verse in a more indicative manner: “Grace is to you and peace.”

4. “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” does not refer to the respective givers of grace and peace, as if one gave the one, and the other gave the other. Rather, both the Father and the Lord Jesus give both grace and peace.

Contextual Considerations:

1. The people to whom Paul is writing have every spiritual blessing right now in Christ Jesus (verse 3), including (one would presume) incipient perseverance. Perseverance cannot be isolated away from these statements, especially given the guarantee of the Holy Spirit in verses 13-14. The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of perseverance, since He is the ἀρραβὼν of the inheritance, the down payment.

2. The election spoken of in verses 4-5 is to “holiness and blamelessness” (vs. 4). It is to an adoption in Him (vs. 5). It results in the very real forgiveness of sins (vs. 7). This forgiveness is in accordance with the riches of His grace (vs. 7). In other words, this is not a half-hearted temporary forgiveness, but a full forgiveness, one that is in accord with the full riches of God’s grace. In fact, that phrase κατὰ τὸ πλοῦτος τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ ices it for me: this is not temporary salvation, but permanent salvation of which Paul speaks.

3. There do seem to be separate indications in chapter 2 that Paul hasn’t forgotten about the visible church, even those who will apostatize.

Therefore, it becomes necessary to formulate a precise and careful statement regarding the recipients of this letter. I would say that Paul’s primary audience is the elect, faithful saints in Ephesus. I reject Wilkins’s interpretation based on the exegetical and contextual considerations listed above. Paul is not saying that this is true for everyone at Ephesus connected with the church. The nature of the benefits described precludes that interpretation. That Paul addresses Ephesus means that the judgment of charity interpretation comes into play here as a logical solution. Nevertheless, the indications in chapter 2 require us to qualify our statement by saying that Paul, though not directly including the non-elect covenant members in chapter 1, does address them as part of the visible church in parts of the rest of the letter. Chapter 1 describes permanent ordo salutis benefits.