Continuation of the Debate with Xon

This is a continuation of the discussion that Xon and I are having here. Since I believe that the comments will probably augment to quite a few more, I have decided to refresh the post by continuing in a new post. Also, since I believe that this has been quite the most fruitful discussion about the FV ever on my blog, I want it to have a bit more attention. So, for those who wish to understand what we’re talking about here, please read the comments in the post linked above.

But it’s all about being “in Christ”, and the question is whether it is possible to be “in Christ” for a time, or whether being “in Christ” is something that only happens to someone for keeps.

This is the nub of the issue, as I see it. It deeply affects how we interpret Romans 8:1. For the elect, we would have to say that they are united to Christ for keeps. This is the clear implication of LC 66: “The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.” Emphasis mine. Obviously, if nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, as Romans 8 says, then we are inseparably united to Christ. It is the clear implication of Scripture and of the LC. However, what of the NECM (again, that’s “non-elect covenant member”)? Question 68 deals with them directly (I think this is crystal clear): “others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.” Several points are of interest here. Firstly, we are dealing here with NECM’s. That is clear when one looks at the proof-texts used in support of the phrase “common operations of the Spirit.” The Westminster divines reference Matt 7:22, 13:20-21, and Heb 6:4-6. Secondly, the LC speaks of such NECM”s as unbelievers (“being justly left in their unbelief”). Thirdly, they are never truly united to Christ (“do never truly come to Jesus Christ”). Now, I can hear (or see) what Xon will do with this: plug in the “usage definitions” of “unbelief,” “truly come to Jesus Christ,” etc., and thereby limit the language of the WS to the description of the decretal understanding of NECM’s. Thereby he will probably say that such language does not say anything about non-decretal benefits that such NECM’s might receive. I am not saying this to slight Xon. I merely note that this has been his pattern of argumentation. I will respond in advance by saying that the WS are here treating of NECM’s. Period. Full stop. The subject of LC 68 is the NECM’s. They never truly believe, and they never truly come to Christ. That is (I think the WS would say), they never trust in Christ for salvation, and they are never truly united to Christ. Period. My point here is that the WS exclude any kind of temporary true faith, or temporary true union. I think the WS would view those categories as contradictions in terms. A temporary faith is not a true faith, by definition. A temporary union is not a true union, by definition. Wilkins wants to say that it is a true faith, a true union, only they are temporary. I simply don’t see the WS allowing for that category.

“No condemnation” doesn’t have to mean, as I see it, that I stand right now forgiven for all future sins.

However, I think the context does point in this direction. Here are some indicators: verse 2 says that are set free from the law of sin and death. We are no longer under its power. If we are no longer under its power, then sin has no more power to condemn us. That means that we are judicially forgiven of all our future sins. Secondly, we are heirs (verses 14-17). Being an heir means being a child. Being a child means that we are no longer under the judicial wrath of God. We call God “Father,” not “Judge.” This distinction in the various wraths of God is what you are missing here, Xon. There is God’s judicial wrath, and there is God’s fatherly displeasure. God’s judicial wrath is utterly appeased when we come to Christ in faith (by God’s grace). There is no judicial wrath left. God will never stop being our Father to again become our Judge of condemnation. That is a fundamental category mistake to say so. If God is our Father, then the only “wrath” left is God’s Fatherly displeasure. Our future sins need forgiveness in the sense of receiving God’s fatherly forgiveness. However, we are set free from the law of sin and death. That means that our future sin does not need the judicial wrath kind of forgiveness. We are never under God’s judicial wrath again, if we are God’s heirs. I think it is quite possible for Satan to deceive us into thinking that we have again come under God’s judicial wrath, when in fact we are only under God’s Fatherly displeasure. He loves nothing better than to try to convince us that we have sinned ourselves out of the kingdom. But it is a lie for the true child of God. The true child of God cannot sin himself out of he kingdom. That, of course, is not to be seen as any kind of an excuse for license to sin. Romans 6:1 “if we have died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?” If we are set free from the law’s judicial wrath, then we are also set free from sin’s ultimate rule over our lives. This is only saying that if we have been justified, then we are also being sanctified.

XW-justification is not the same thing as WS-justification!

Yes, I think you are forced to this conclusion if you are going to be consistent. However, I still think this runs foul of what I said here: : “WCF 15.1-3 says that no one may expect pardon of sins without true repentance and faith. The statement is explicitly unlimited by the “all sinners” right before the last phrase. In other words, for all sinners, no pardon may be expected without repentance unto life. The WCF had defined repentance unto life as an evangelical grace, namely, a saving grace of the Gospel. That is an absolutely essential condition for any pardon to come to a sinner. In other words, for your position to be correct, you must assume that the repentance of a NECM is a repentance unto life, the evangelical grace of WCF 15. Therefore, you must also assume that there is no difference except time between the NECM and the elect.”

Now, to deal with your claims about this section. You claim is that

There is actually a subtle slip in meaning when you go from (1) “WCF 15.1-3 says that no one may expect pardon of sins without true repentance and faith.” and then re-explain it as(2) “In other words, for all sinners, no pardon may be expected without repentance unto life. …That is an absolutely essential condition for any pardon to come to a sinner.”

You define this slip as the difference between “Saying that ‘no sinner may find pardon without x’ ((1), which is what WCF 15.3 actually says) is not the same as saying that a sinner may find no pardon without x’ ((2), which is not quite what it says).” Let me try to rephrase this: You are saying that the word “no” has a different connotation when placed before “sinner” as opposed to being placed before “pardon.” I readily grant this point. It is different to say that “no sinner receives pardon without x,” versus “a sinner receives no pardon without x.” I think I have your argument summarized here. You further conclusion would be that there is a kind of pardon that a NECM could receive that would not conflict with this section of the WS. Correct?

My answer is this: I believe that the WCF 15 includes both statements. I think we would both agree (and actually, you have already said this) that WCF 15 teaches the first statement “no sinner may find pardon without repentance.” But I would also argue that the WS teach the second statement: “a sinner may find no pardon without repentance.” To prove this, we need to go back to the definition of sin. The WS define sin as being two-fold: original sin and actual sin. This distinction is clear in chapter 6 of the WCF. Furthermore, 6.4 defines actual sins as having their source in the original sin, or original corruption. It is a categorical statement: “From this original corruption…do proceed all actual transgressions.” To put it negatively, there is no sin that does not proceed from original corruption. 6.6 further states that both original and actual sins are transgressions that bring guilt upon the sinner, making him subject to eternal death. Furthermore, 6.5 says that the original corruption is pardoned in those that are regenerated. Plainly, there can be no pardon of original corruption without regeneration. Regeneration, by definition, reverses original corruption (though not completely freeing us from it, as 6.5 indicates). To be more specific, regeneration means a new heart. Through Christ, those who are regenerated have their original corruption pardoned and mortified (6.5). That is what I mean by “reversal.” I am on safe ground, therefore, in saying that only the regenerate have their original corruption pardoned and mortified. The categories of regenerated and original-corruption-pardoned-and-mortified are the same in 6.5.

I would then argue that actual sin cannot be forgiven unless original corruption is also forgiven. If one needs to put it temporally, original sin is forgiven first, then actual sins. I actually believe that the forgiveness is simultaneous, but that’s another debate. The reason I argue this is Romans 5. The foundational issue for sin in Romans 5 is the sin of Adam imputed to us. That is original sin. In the architectonic importance of that passage, Christ’s work reverses original sin. Verse 19 “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” This interpretation is confirmed by the following context, where our being dead to sin means that we should not live in actual sins any longer. The logic goes from original to actual.

So, in propositional form, it would look like this: 1. There is no pardon of actual sins without pardon of original sin. 2. There is no pardon of original sin without regeneration. 3. Only the elect are regenerated. Therefore. 4. Only the elect have pardon. 5. No non-elect person can have any kind of pardon, since pardon involves pardon of original sin, which can only happen if regeneration is present.