The Preface

Apparently, this Federal Vision statement is going to be printed in hard copy in Credenda/Agenda. So says Doug Wilson. It is being given out early because of Jordan’s reference to this document in a letter he sent to Christian Renewal.

That is by way of background to this document. Now, we will examine the preface. The preface makes several important claims. The document claims that the views it espouses are not in conflict with either the 3FU or the WS. Of course, this is not a new claim on the part of the FV. However, for them to say that if we understand it to be in conflict with these confessional documents means that we have misunderstood the document is an example of assuming that which needs to be proved. They don’t say this explicitly. I hope they do not mean it. Always, for those who have taken vows to uphold the standards of the church, their teachings need to be demonstrated to be in conformity with the standards. So, the FV will forgive us, I’m sure, if we do not take them at their word, but instead examine the document to see if it is compatible with the standards. This is not an unreasonable undertaking. And, contrary to what some FV proponents say, we the critics are not automatically assuming them to be out of accord with the standards. Members in good standing of presbyteries are assumed to be in accord with the standards until they prove otherwise. This is the approach I will take here.  

Secondly, the document limits its own scope to certain issues that are a significant part of the FV discussion. In other words, this document should not be understood to be an exhaustive dealing with all the various books, articles, etc. Furthermore, we should not understand this document to be an official confession of faith. The provisional nature of the document is clear from the document itself (“at this stage of the conversation,” “given our circumstances”). These statements are the views of these men at this time on these issues, and we should interpret the document with this in mind.

Thirdly, this document is presented in a spirit of teachableness. The document explicitly says that the authors desire to be teachable, and are willing to stand corrected. They desire to state their views as clearly as they can in order to facilitate further conversation, as it includes discussion of possible ambiguities and errors. One should certainly laud such a statement. The desire to be teachable is rather important in this whole discussion. I fear that too many on both sides have not exhibited much of a teachable spirit. I certainly include myself in such an indictment. Humility seems the correct (and only!) path to me here, and I think the Bible would agree. So, I am going to take them at their word here. I am not going to assume that past behavior dictates future response. If I did, I would not have excessively good reason to deem FV authors teachable. Be that as it may, I think believing this statement of humility on their part is the best way forward.

Update: this post was written independently of Scott Clark’s points, available here. He has some thoughtful points that deserve careful consideration.

Hugely Important Federal Vision Document

Most of the big names in the FV have put their name to this document. It is a series of affirmations and denials. Despite their claims, however, they have not succeeded in formulating their view in such a way as to demonstrate continuity with the Reformed Confessions. I will demonstrate this in future posts.

Sign and Seal

This will be one post reacting to all of Wilson’s recent posts. We’ll start with Sanctions and the Sacraments.

First, it is good to see more careful definitions flowing from our discussions. Wilson acknowledges that sacraments are not to be identified with the sanctions proper. However, the way in which he answers the question about what kind of union leaves vagueness. Covenantal union seems to be the union of a branch to a tree, according to Wilson. But that still doesn’t answer the question of the branch’s relationship to various benefits described in ordo salutis categories. Of course the covenants are redemptive historical in administration. However, it does not follow from that that we cannot relate ordo salutis categories to people in the covenant. We can. The elect participate in the ordo salutis and the non-elect don’t, even if they are all participants in the administration of the covenant of grace. I’m not sure that Wilson would disagree with this. At least, I hope he doesn’t. What has always disturbed critics of the FV is the blurring of terms that describe the benefits. FV authors will sometimes use terms that are usually related to the ordo, and they will instead use them of NECM’s. They say that they are not using the terms in the same way (the critics understand this point, by the way!). However, when it comes right down to defining the differences between “covenantal justification” and “decretal justification” I have yet to see ANY clear definitions. Why not keep justification as the term describing the decretal ordo salutis reality, and use completely different terms for what the non-elect participants in the administration of the covenant of grace receive? That is what the WS do. There are common operations common to all, and there are special operations that are exclusive to the elect. This is clear. This is non-confusing. The goal of teaching is to be clear and non-confusing. This is one thing that most FV writers have utterly failed to do. So, again I ask, what precisely is covenantal union? How is it related to the ordo salutis? One thing I promise the FV writers: the critics will never be satisfied unless a clear, unequivocally Reformed answer is given to this question. It is not enough to distinguish between covenantal union and saving decretal union, just saying that there is a distinction without enumerating the ways in which they are distinct. One must also prove that the “covenantal union” does not encroach upon the territory of election. In order to be Reformed, the FV would have to prove that “covenantal union” confers zero ordo salutis benefits. The ordo is unbreakable: if you have one benefit, you have them all. It is an unbreakable whole. That is non-negotiable territory. If covenantal union confers one single ordo salutis benefit on a non-elect person, then the system is Arminian, no matter what other qualifiers are attached, since the person will lose that ordo salutis benefit when he apostatizes. At best, Steve Wilkins, for instance, has been extremely unclear about this. At worst, he has actually ascribed ordo benefits to covenantal union (pp. 58ff of Federal Vision).

The second question I have for Wilson is this: if the covenant is Christ offered, then isn’t there a real sense in which unbelievers never participate in the covenant? See, I would say that, in terms of the breaking of the covenant, the unbeliever has broken the administration of it, not the substance of it. Would Wilson agree that the Covenant of Grace is made with Christ and with the elect seed in Him (LC 31)? This statement of the WS implies that the Covenant of Grace, ultimately speaking, is not made with the non-elect. That is simply the logical corollary of the statement. Does Wilson agree with the correlative negative? I am glad to see that he affirms a narrow and broad sense of covenant here.

Okay, on to the next post, which is “What It Must Have Meant.” I already answered “Green Baggins Takes an Exception,” and so will answer rather “Green Baggins Does Too Take an Exception.”

I am going to quote this paragraph in full, as it has numerous important points:

“You make it sound like you’re boys playing king of the dirt pile. Say uncle! A lot of theologizing is like that, isn’t it?”

Yes, it does sound like that if all we were doing is talking. But we are in a situation where the ministries of friends of mine are under assault, and not just verbal assault. The FV guys are bringing charges against no one, challenging the ordinations of no one, and we are not trying to get anybody removed from their pulpit. The same cannot be said in the other direction. In other words, this is not a neener neener debate. Ministries and livelihoods are on the line. Yes, the reply might come, but this is what confessional faithfulness to the truth requires. But that is where we encounter the kick in the teeth. As I showed in the previous post, the people who are bringing accusations that we are out of accord with the Westminster Confession are in fact themselves out of accord with the Confession. And they are accusing us of being out of accord with the Confession at just the place where we hold to the Confession and they do not. In such a situation, that anomaly should be pointed out.

In this quotation, Wilson is responding to a comment in a previous post of his. The short answer to Wilson’s point is that yes, there are people’s jobs on the line. And yes, the critics are trying to get FV men removed from the PCA. That should be rather transparently obvious, as a matter of fact. We have made no attempt to hide it. But what is the motive of the critics? Personal vendetta? Satanic maliciousness? Such have been accusations of the critics in the past (I have not seen Wilson utter such accusations). It is a good thing that such accusations see so clearly into the hearts and minds of other PCA (and other denominations) men, reading motives that are manufactured out of thin air. The motive of the critics is just this: the purity and peace of the PCA, and other denominations. Every last critic I know will say this, and mean it. That’s my motive, and anyone who says differently is lying through their teeth (or tooth, if a red-neck). They cannot read my heart. Of course, I cannot always read my own heart. But I know I am right on this one. I would also like to say on this point that if the FV is heresy, then it is our duty to remove such men from their pulpits. So, the FV cannot maintain some sort of moral high ground on this issue simply by saying that the FV is some sort of innocent victim, and that because they are not seeking the eradication of alternative views, that therefore they are the peace-loving ones.

The second point that needs to be addressed is the refreshing honesty of Wilson on the Confession here. He is right in this: the FV interpretation and the critics’ interpretation of the Confession CANNOT both be right and allowable. Wilson is of course specifically applying this idea to the issue of baptismal efficacy, which is the topic under discussion. However, Wilson’s statement seems to have a broader application. In other words, the FV should drop the facade that the Reformed world is just one big umbrella that can house many different views, and that the Confession allows both FV views and TR’s to exist simultaneously. No, it cannot. The FV interpretation and the TR interpretation contradict one another. That is what the TR’s have been saying all along. It is refreshing to see an FV guy say so. Let’s have none of this postmodern “everyone-can-get-along-we’re-just-one-big-happy-family” kind of thing. Why else do we have different denominations? We have them so that the greater unity of the church can actually be preserved. The TR’s have always said that the FV guys are quite free to teach their views. They aren’t any worse than Roman Catholic teaching, and most of the time much better. But don’t teach them in a WS context. The issue, then, is this: which interpretation of the Confession is correct?

BOQ: for any one to whom the grace of regeneration belongs, the Holy Spirit exhibits and confers that grace through a right use of the baptismal water. EOQ The problem with this is that it still begs the question of the nature of the grace conferred. It is not the grace of regeneration that is spoken of in that section. It is not the thing signified that is automatically conferred, even for the elect. It is the grace of baptism as a sign and seal of regeneration, not regeneration itself. Why use the language of sign and seal if the sign and seal are equal to the thing signed and sealed? There is no attempt here by Wilson to distinguish between the sign and the thing signified. Christ is what is signified. But He is not automatically conferred. That happens at the time-point of faith. This is not baptistic, since those of us who hold to this baptize our infants. Nor do we espouse a Baptistic hermeneutic, since we hold to one Covenant of Grace since Genesis 3:15. We also reject dispensationalism. It is hardly fair to state that the critics are Baptistic just because we don’t go to the same place the FV goes. I think our Baptist brothers would quite protest that.

Here is an analogy that explains the significance of the “sign” term: there are signs to any major city that say something like this: Bismarck 23, meaning 23 miles to Bismarck. Is the sign equal to Bismarck? No. It is distinguished from Bismarck. It is connected to Bismarck, because, if you follow the road to get there, you will arrive at Bismarck. The road between the sign and Bismarck functions like the sacramental union connecting the sign to the thing signified. This analogy would work even if the sign were within the city limits. Anyone can distinguish the sign that says “Welcome to Bismarck” from the city itself, even if the sign stands within the city limits. They are simply not the same thing. So, if one receives the sign in faith, one will be going on the road to Bismarck. The only problem with the analogy is that a person can actually start out in Bismarck, and travel to the sign. In that case, the sign functions to remind the person that he is still on the right road. He is not on the road that leads to Tokyo.

The “seal” term is a bit more difficult to analogize. Perhaps we can say that a seal that closes the letter is not the letter itself. A seal (stone) that closes a tomb is not the tomb itself, whether or not the tomb be empty. A seal is a mark of authenticity that is not the item itself but points towards the item as being genuine. It only functions this way for the elect, of course. The letter can be written before the seal is put on it. The tomb can be occupied before the tomb is set on it. The item can be obtained before the mark of authenticity is put upon it. But the seal itself does not have to be present for the thing itself to be possessed. But in each of these three instances of “seal,” we can see that the seal of a letter does not enclose a package, but rather a letter. The seal has a relationship to the letter. The stone has a relationship to that particular tomb. The sign of authenticity belongs to a particular item, and no other. That is what we call the sacramental union between the seal and the thing sealed. But a letter, a tomb, and an authentic item can all function perfectly well without the seal. Similarly, the seal can be possessed before or without the thing sealed. It should therefore be obvious here that neither I nor Warfield (I have been basically expounding his two pieces on the Sacraments in the SW) believe in “empty sign” theology. Empty sign theology should be carefully distinguished from the view that says there is a distinction between the sign and the thing signified. I wish the FV guys would get this straight. They seem to think that unless we believe that baptism confers the grace of regeneration to the elect, that therefore we believe in an empty sign. Does the sign that says “Bismarck 23” have no meaning or significance? Should we conclude that if one follows the road to Bismarck that we should end up in Tokyo? The sign has great significance, especially if one is afraid that one is lost, or on the wrong road. How often has just such a sign cheered up the anxious motorist? There’s how baptism can function as a source of assurance. No empty sign theology here. No exception to the WS, either.

On to the last post, “Green Baggins Does Too Take An Exception.”

Actually, I haven’t forgotten this section of the confession, and I agree with it whole-heartedly. But Lane doesn’t — notice how he modifies the straight reading of this portion also. The premises stated don’t yield the conclusion that “regeneration is not dependent on baptism.” Rather, they yield the conclusion that regeneration is not necessarily or absolutely dependent upon baptism.

I already answered this objection: BOQ FV guys are fond of pointing out that the norm appears to be that the sign and thing signified are normally annexed one to the other. But the grace promised in 28.6 is the efficacy of baptism as a sign and seal. This must be distinguished (however closely one wants to tie the sacramental union) from the thing signified. EOQ

I am really quite at a loss to know how regeneration can be even normally dependent on baptism if baptism does not confer regeneration for the non-elect. If it does “confer regeneration” for the elect, then it is rather the element that distinguishes the non-elect from the elect that is the thing upon which regeneration is normally dependent, not baptism itself. If baptism confers regeneration upon the elect only, and not on the non-elect, then it does not confer regeneration for the elect either, since such a position requires that regeneration be located within baptism itself. And if it is located within baptism itself, then regeneration would also be conferred on the non-elect, as indeed some say. No, it is the thing signified: Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who confers regeneration. See, Wilson is trapped by his infant baptism mentality. What about the vast majority of adult conversions? None of them are baptismally regenerated. So, for them regeneration is the direct result of the Holy Spirit on the heart. I would argue that it is the same for infants who are regenerated. It is a direct act of the Holy Spirit putting a new heart within that infant. Baptism signs and seals that, but is not the thing itself. Baptism can be the occasion for it happening. But to say that regeneration is normally dependent on baptism ignores adult conversions, and identifies too closely the sign and the thing signified.

But in the section of the Confession that Lane differs with, we were not talking about an unbaptized regenerate soul or a baptized unregenerate soul. We are talking about a baptized regenerate soul. Now, in that circumstance, does Lane agree or disagree that in the right use of the sacrament of water baptism that saving grace is really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Spirit at the appointed time?

I would say that in the case of the baptized regenerate soul, the sacrament of water baptism really exhibits and confers the grace of baptism as sign and seal at the appointed time. The WS nowhere state that the grace of baptism is saving grace. Rather, it is the grace of baptism as sign and seal that is set forth there.

Lane says that potential efficacy of baptism is limited to the time of administration and, even then, baptism isn’t really doing anything.

I don’t recognize my position in this statement in any way, shape or form. I am the author of my statements, and I am quite sure I know what I am saying, and this isn’t it. Wilson has badly garbled my position here. Wilson doesn’t normally garble my position (I am not saying that he misunderstands me on a regular basis: it is this instance only). The efficacy of baptism is not limited to the time point of its administration. I have always said, and will always say this. What Wilson seems to think is that if I say it is the Word which regenerates at the time-point of baptism (assuming that regeneration happens to occur at that point in time: this is the point he missed), then the efficacy of baptism is tied to the point of its administration. But if the Word does not apply regeneration to the person at that time, but waits, then regeneration comes at some other point in time. Baptism signs and seals truly when faith comes. The sign can be present without the thing signified. But its efficacy occurs at the time-point of faith, whenever that is.

For the elect, the sign seals the thing signified. That’s why we can say that the thing signified is really exhibited and conferred.

This doesn’t follow at all. Notice the subtle shift between saying that the grace of sign and seal is really exhibited and conferred, versus saying that the thing signified and sealed is conferred. This is not what sacramental union means. The statements in the WS do not say that the thing signified is really exhibited and conferred. They say the grace of baptism is really exhibited and conferred on the elect at the appointed time. The grace of baptism has already been defined as the grace of sign and seal, not to be identified with the grace of salvation (the thing signified and sealed). These distinctions are absolutely crucial to maintain.

Lane and Warfield have the same kind of “workaround” for the confessional language. Notice how Lane says that that baptism does something — but before his trigger-happy brethren empty their clips into him, he hastens to add this this is okay because he doesn’t really believe it. The Word does it, not baptism. I understand something very similar to this being what Warfield means by the immediacy of God’s grace in salvation, which goes back to my original point in my book.

This should now be answered, if the reader be attentive. I do really believe that baptism does something. For the elect, it confers the grace of baptism as sign and seal. But it is the Word which regenerates (the Holy Spirit implanting it in our hearts).  

Walk Worthy of the Calling

Ephesians 4:1-3

Audio Version

Telemachus was a monk who lived in the 5th century. He felt God calling to him, “Go to Rome.” He put his possessions in a sack and set out for Rome. When he arrived in the city, people were thronging in the streets. He asked why all the excitement and was told that this was the day that the gladiators would be fighting and killing each other in the coliseum, the day of the games, the circus. He thought to himself, “Four centuries after Christ and they are still killing each other for enjoyment?” He ran to the coliseum and heard the gladiators saying, “Hail to Caesar, we die for Caesar!” and he thought, “this isn’t right.” He jumped over the railing and went out into the middle of the field, got between two gladiators, held up his hands and said “In the name of Christ, forbear!” The crowd protested and began to shout, “Stone him! Stone him!” A gladiator came over and hit him in the stomach with the back of his sword. It sent him sprawling in the sand. He got up and ran back and again said, “In the name of Christ, forbear!” The crowd continued to chant, “Stone him!” Then the crowd itself started to stone him. One last time, he cried out, “In the name of Christ forbear!” The emperor Honorius was so disturbed by the death of the monk, and the brutality of the people, who wanted only their own entertainment, no matter what the cost, that he ordered the coliseum emptied. It was the last known gladiatorial contest in the history of Rome. There was peace between gladiators after the noble deed of Telemachus. Sometimes I wonder whether church members feel themselves to be gladiators for their own point of view. They will cut down anyone who disagrees with them. They will cast stones at those poor unfortunate Christians who are on the other side of the fence. Is this living a walk worthy of the calling which we have received? Is it keeping the unity of the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace? I think not. We should rather be more like Telemachus, willing to sacrifice his own interests, and even his own life, for the sake of the peace of Christ.

As we saw last week, Paul has finished the more doctrinal part of his letter, and is now proceeding to apply that doctrine to the Christian life. We saw that the accomplishment of salvation in history is the basis not only for its application in history to our lives, but also to the Christian life as a whole. The motivation for the Christian life is gratitude for what God has done for us. God has saved you: therefore live for Him. We saw that to avoid legalism and antinomianism, we have to remember that what God has done is always the foundation for what we do. The indicative, or the statement of what God has done, is the foundation for the imperative, what God commands us to do. That is why Paul starts our verse 1 of this chapter with the word “Therefore.” We saw that the word “therefore” means that all of the doctrine in the first three chapters has this practical implication: that we should walk worthy of the calling which we have received. Notice here that Paul adds an additional motivation. He says that he is a prisoner in the Lord. In other words, for Paul this is a big deal. He was willing to go to prison for what he has just been writing to the Ephesians in chapters 1-3. It raises the stakes.

The doctrine which Paul has been teaching is that the church consists of those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Again, the entire letter is really about the church. So we can expect that the first applications that come to us in chapter 4 will be about church life as a whole. How are we to treat one another? First of all our treatment of one another must always have reference to God first. After all, the calling which we have received is a calling we have received from God. In other words, how we treat one another is always something that concerns God greatly. That is, God is deeply concerned about how we treat one another. We need to remember that, since we are often tempted to think that what we say about someone else in the church really only stays on the horizontal level, and that God is not really listening, or that He doesn’t really care. No, we are to walk worthy of the calling we have received. We are called to be one body in Christ Jesus. That is the specific calling that Paul is talking about here, since that is what he has been talking about in chapters 1-3.

Well, if verse 1 is a summary of what we are to do, verses 2-3 start to spell out exactly what Paul means. Important words like humility, meekness, long-suffering (or patience), bearing with one another, and guarding are the words Paul uses. They are words which have all been used at some point to describe Jesus Christ Himself. He was humble. We can see that in the very fact of the Incarnation. As Philippians 2 tells us, Jesus cloaked His glory in human form, taking upon Himself the form of a servant. The Lord of Glory a servant??! It is impossible to conceive of just how much humiliation that was for Him. And meekness! Jesus was like a lamb that before its shearers is silent. Jesus was patient, especially with His disciples, who had a hard time grasping what Jesus was really doing. And, in the High Priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prays for the same kind of unity to exist among His followers as what exists between the Father and the Son: “May they be one even as you and I are one,” He says.

So Paul is telling us to be like Jesus. Well, that is all very well and good. But how are we to be like this? And what does it mean practically speaking? Well, to answer the first question, we should always remember that we become more holy because God lives in us. This is not the same thing as “Let go and let God.” Not the same thing one bit. Rather, it is the balance of which Philippians speaks: “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do.” The power to do good comes from God. We must rely on His strength. And so we become more holy by making use of the means of grace. Prayer, Bible reading, fellowship with other believers, the Sacraments. These are all things that God uses to impart more of His Holy Spirit to us. That is how we are to live this way.

But what does it look like? Well, first of all you have to walk. Walking is a metaphor for all of life in the Scriptures. A walk can be in accordance with Scripture, or it can be rebellious. But none of us are standing still. We are all walking to some destination… or other. So what path are you taking? Are you taking the path worthy of the calling? Or is your life in accordance with the rebellion that the world so desperately tries to teach anyone it can? There are only two ways to walk, ultimately, and you cannot mix them. You cannot serve both God and money, as Jesus says. So, a walk worthy of the calling is exclusive. It doesn’t allow a parallel track to go alongside the real track.

Secondly, a worthy walk is humble. Humility means that you don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought to think. It means that you will not approach another Christian and say (or imply!) that your walk with the Lord is all finished, or nearly all finished. I like to think of every Christian being a beggar trying to tell other beggars where to find food. Maybe, by God’s grace, you have found more solid meat somewhere. In telling someone else, you need to make it plain that you do not view yourself as being a better Christian than someone else. Humility also means being able to admit your own mistakes, and not just the small ones. Maybe you haven’t been as good a spouse, parent or child as you thought you were. If you are humble, then you will be willing not only to admit it, but also be willing to listen to other people’s wisdom. We don’t stop from being discerning when we listen. We always have to be discerning. But that is quite different from taking a stance of superiority.

Thirdly, a worthy walk is meek. Meekness, of course, is not weakness. Jesus was meek, and yet drove out the money-changers from the temple. Meekness means that I don’t stand up for my rights. Rather, I stand up for other people’s rights. Out culture today is very concerned with protecting people’s rights. The problem is that someone else’s rights are usually left out. In the interests of protecting a mother’s rights, for instance, the baby’s rights might be ignored. Meekness means that you don’t view your own rights as rights at all. Instead, you realize that what you have is actually privileges. And privileges can be taken away. But meekness will fight to the death for the rights of others. In your mind then, a truly meek person will not stand up for himself with regard to “rights.” However, he will most definitely stand up for the poor and oppressed. It is important here to distinguish between right and duty. For instance, it is our duty to worship God. So if someone is forbidding us to worship our God, we must resist, even using force if necessary. We must obey God rather than men. However, your own privacy, for example, is not a right. It is a privilege given to you from God.

Fourthly, a worthy walk is patient. Patience means that we don’t flare up when things are not going our way. We keep calm. The biggest secret to patience (aside from relying on God) is to recognize that God always has a reason for what happens to us. No matter what trial comes our way, all things work together for good for those who love Christ Jesus. You really need to cling to that when the trials come thick and fast, like tidal waves. Always cling to Christ in those times, and seek earnestly for what God wants to show you in that trial. If you’ve had six years of almost no harvest, seek the Lord for what He would teach you. Don’t reproach God for sending you this trial. Shall you accept the good things from God, but not the difficult things? As Job would say, “God forbid.” Patience, of course, is most necessary when dealing with other people. If it is merely a circumstance of God’s providence, those are usually easier to accept and be patient with than other people. That is, of course, the reason why Paul includes that word here. Other people do not always have your best interests at heart, do they? How unfair of them! How dare they not consider my best interests first! But don’t you realize that they are thinking the same thing? The way to break a cycle of one-up-manship is to be patient to serve that other person. Did he just gossip about you? Go serve him. Did he just insult you to your face? Go and serve him. And do not attach any grumbling or complaining, even in your body language. You are, after all, trying to show them the love of Christ.

Fifthly, a worthy walk bears with one another in love. Love overlooks offenses. It does not store offenses up in a rich treasure house of bitterness. When someone offends you, try to forget that it happened. If you cannot forget, that is a signal that you need to talk to that person about it. When you do, make sure that you talk only about that particular offense. Do not generalize about patterns of behavior. That will only put the other person on the defensive. Speak only of that one issue, that one offense. That allows the other person to apologize without feeling like they are being attacked. That is so crucial to reconciliation. But as much as you can, bear those offenses and let them go. Don’t hang on to them. If you cannot forget and forgive, then you need to ask whether you are walking worthy of the calling you have received.

Sixthly, and lastly, a worthy walk hurries to keep unity, especially the unity of peace. Paul has some very wonderful language here. The NIV says “make every effort.” This is not a bad translation. However, there is also a sense of urgency that this word has. “Hurry,” “strive,” “run” are other good translations. The idea is that unity in the body is worth protecting. Matthew Henry says that unity is such a precious thing that he would be willing to sacrifice anything for it, except truth. Hurry to protect unity. Stop the gossip chain. Don’t let other people’s reputations become a source of speculation. Don’t let one mistake that a person makes change forever your opinion of that person.

We have really only scratched the surface of all the applications that could be made from these verses. We will fortunately have more time in coming weeks to see what this looks like, as Paul continues to spell out the practical implications of the doctrine that he has given us in the first three chapters. To conclude, I want us to see what doctrine lies underneath these applications that Paul gives us. It is quite simple really. God has reconciled us to Himself by the blood of Jesus Christ, although that is only if you trust in Him. That reconciliation implies reconciliation with one another. God has formed a new body, the church. That new body is supposed to work together. Think of your own body. Your arm and hand don’t usually try to hit each other, do they? Your arm doesn’t just go berserk, trying to kill off all the other limbs of your body. So also, members of the church of Jesus Christ work together. That is the definition of the church: Christ’s body. Be what you are. The unity of the body is worth every sacrifice, even your very life, as Telemachus showed us. After all, Christ Himself died for our peace with God.

No Exceptions

I do not take any exceptions to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Wilson conveniently forgot to mention WCF 28.5, when he argues that I need to take an exception to the Standards:

Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated. (emphasis added)

This clearly states that regeneration is not dependent on baptism. If regeneration can happen without baptism ever happening (such as the thief on the cross), then regeneration is simply not dependent on baptism. One does not have to have baptism in order for regeneration to happen. And, as the Confession equally clearly states, just because one has baptism does not mean that one is regenerated, either. So, I am in perfect conformity with the Confession in saying that regeneration is not dependent on baptism. Lack of baptism does not mean lack of regeneration, and baptism does not automatically confer regeneration. If regeneration happens at the time-point of baptism, I am willing to say that the Holy Spirit uses baptism as a means through which a sinner is regenerated, although the baptism without the Word can do nothing. And before the TR’s jump all over me for being FV, hear the rest of this out carefully. It is crystal clear it is really the Word that the Holy Spirit uses to regenerate someone. Even in baptism, I would argue that it is the Word which regenerates if regeneration happens at that time. (See chapter 10 of the WCF, which lays out the Confession’s doctrine of regeneration, or effectual calling, a synonymous term (notice that baptism is not mentioned at all, or even hinted at in that chapter)) But that will only be because the thing signified is also given, not because of the sign only being given. FV guys are fond of pointing out that the norm appears to be that the sign and thing signified are normally annexed one to the other. But the grace promised in 28.6 is the efficacy of baptism as a sign and seal. This must be distinguished (however closely one wants to tie the sacramental union) from the thing signified.

That being said, Wilson seems not to want to answer my query about Warfield. I would still appreciate it if Wilson would engage the Warfield quotations from the Shorter Writings, those books out of which Wilson forgot to read when formulating what Warfield supposedly believed about the Sacraments. In other words, I refuse to allow any kind of derailing of the discussion from Warfield’s beliefs to my beliefs. We are really talking about Warfield’s beliefs, not whether I should take an exception to the Confession. My own beliefs are tangential to this discussion.  

Was Blind, But Now I See

Matthew 9:27-31

Audio Version

On November 30, 1991 fierce winds from a freakish dust storm triggered a massive freeway pileup along Interstate 5 near Coalinga, California. At least 14 people died and dozens more were injured as topsoil whipped by 50 mile-per-hour winds reduced visibility to zero. The afternoon holocaust left a three-mile trail of twisted and burning vehicles, some stacked on top of one another 100 yards off the side of the freeway. Unable to see their way, dozens of motorists drove blindly ahead into disaster. That is a metaphor for all people on the road of life. But it is even worse with people’s spiritual lives. If you are driving a car in the middle of a dust storm, you just might be able to tell whether you can see or not. Look out your windshield. Can you see? But people are utterly blind even to the fact that they are spiritually blind. That is what sins does. As my teacher Paul Tripp once said, “Sin blinds us to our blindness.” To a great extent, the Gospel is about getting people to see. As the great hymn Amazing Grace has it, “Was blind, but now I see.” That is really what this passage is about: spiritual blindness.

Well, if the story right before this one is a resurrection story that proves that Jesus is the fountain of life, this story proves that Jesus is the fountain of light (as Matthew Henry puts it). Two blind men follow Jesus. Notice several things about these blind men. Of course, they cannot see. But to go further than that: they could not have seen the miracles that Jesus has already done. And yet they believe that Jesus can heal them. So, they ask Him. Their faith is an example of what Jesus says in John 20:29: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

It is important to realize the full meaning of how they ask. They call Jesus the Son of David. They are the first in Matthew’s Gospel to call Jesus by that name. It is a Messianic title. That is, they believe that Jesus is the one promised in the Old Testament. He would bring in the new era of good things for God’s people. They believed that Jesus was the one to fulfill Isaiah 35:5, which says this: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” Well, the first part of that verse applies to our story here, and the second part of that verse applies to the next story, which is of a deaf mute receiving the ability to communicate. So, the blind men believe not only that Jesus is the Messiah, but also that Jesus has the power to make them see. Notice that they did not actually ask specifically to be made able to see. We can infer that by good and necessary consequence from what they ask. But what they actually ask has more to it than a simple request for healing. They cry out to the living God to have mercy on them. Their blindness is not merely a physical problem. There is certainly a spiritual blindness that they can now see. Isn’t that ironic? They cannot see physically, but they can at least see that they are spiritually blind. The Pharisees can see physically, but, as we will see next week, they cannot see spiritually at all.

Notice something else about these two men. They want to be healed. They are very eager for Jesus to heal them. They want it badly. Verse 28 shows us how much they wanted it. It says that Jesus entered the house. What this implies is that Jesus did not answer them right away. Instead He delays in order to create suspense. This suspense tries the faith of the blind men. They have to keep on pursuing Jesus in order to obtain what they are seeking. As Matthew Henry tells us, this makes them more prayerful, makes the cure more valued, and taught the blind men to continue in prayer until God answers. So, the delay teaches us something as well. We are to be eager for God’s answer. God does not cast us out. Oftentimes He delays His answer in order to test our faith. How badly do they want it? One of the saddest things about modern people is they do not want to be healed. Barclay tells us the story of a man who was an alcoholic. He was asked whether he wanted to go get treatments for his addiction. He said, “I do not want to be cured.” You would think, wouldn’t you, that most people would love to be cured of their sin problem. You would think they would be as eager as these two blind men were. But it simply isn’t the case. So often, we do not want the cure. We would rather wallow in our sin, then take the few steps of faith to get to Christ. How sad is that! What is the solution for such people? How can they be told that they need Jesus? They have to be shown Jesus. They have to have their eyes opened. They are blind even to the fact of their spiritual blindness. They need eyeglasses, specifically the eyeglasses of God’s Word. They need the Gospel. You see, just as Jesus Christ is the Living Word, and He can make people see, so also the Written Word makes people see as well. Many theologians have called the Bible “a pair of spectacles” that makes us see what we could not see before. Are you blind? We all have some aspects of blindness. None of us can see as we ought to see. The solution is always to put on the spectacles of the written Word in order to see the Living Word, Jesus Christ.

Obviously, it takes faith to do that, doesn’t it? To a large extent, this miracle is about faith. It is faith in Jesus Christ, in His power that is the real point of this miracle. What does Jesus ask them? “Do you believe (that is, do you have the faith that says that) I am able to do this?” This is the faith question. Do you believe that Jesus Christ can save your life from the pit of hell, from your sin, from the spiritual death in which we all find ourselves. As Matthew Henry says, “Faith is the great condition of Christ’s favours.” Jesus Christ does not heal those who do not trust in Him. As we have seen over and over again already from Matthew’s Gospel, the miracles are each a snapshot of what salvation itself looks like. As Albert Barnes says, “It was on this simple profession of their faith that the miracle was wrought, as it is on the simple profession of our faith that our souls will be saved.” That is the message of this miracle. Do you believe that Jesus is able, because of His death and resurrection, to save you from your sins? Do you believe that He took on Himself the guilt of your sin, and that He gives you in return, His perfect righteousness?

However, it is not merely unbelievers who suffer from blindness. Even those who see can have blind spots. We might believe that Jesus is able to save us from our sins. But do we believe that Jesus has our best interests at heart in the difficult times? Maybe your fields got quite a lot of hail last week. You wonder why God would do that when it has been such a good year for rain. It seems like such a waste. Perhaps God is wanting to make you see something about his character that you didn’t see before. Look for it. Be looking for that aspect of God that you didn’t see before. Or maybe you didn’t see before how it applied in a specific situation before. You see, it is not the case that this miracle stops applying to our lives once we become Christians. Yes, we were blind, but now we see. But we don’t have perfect vision yet. The eyes of faith see but dimly, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians when he says that we see now as in a glass, darkly. Our vision is cloudy, somewhat like trying to look through a dust storm at times. Indeed, we never will see perfectly until faith actually becomes sight in the new heavens and the new earth. Then we will see Jesus face to face, and there will be no more faith. Faith is how we live here in the Shadowlands, as C.S. Lewis calls them.

But Jesus does not reproach His followers for a faith that does not see everything. Again, as Matthew Henry tells us, “It is a great comfort to true believers, that Jesus Christ knows their faith, and is well please with it.” We saw last week how Jesus healed people who had a weak faith. He does not leave us with a weak faith. He is always strengthening it by giving to us the means of grace, telling us to make use of them. However, He does not throw us out because we are imperfect. We are always imperfect in this life. If we were perfect, we would already have the resurrection body. This brings us to an immensely practical application. Do we treat one another as though they should be perfect right now? We may think to ourselves that if they were a true Christian, then they would never sin, and they would certainly never falter or have any doubts at all. And then we look down on those who seem to be struggling. But what did Jesus do? He did not cast them out. He built up their faith. And so should we. Instead of focusing on all the ways that that person has not arrived yet at full maturity, we should be encouraging people in regard to those qualities of faith that are there. Sweet encouragement goes infinitely farther than acid criticism to build up another person in the faith. If you want to exercise your wonderfully critical eye, which sees so much, then direct it back to your own heart.

One last point of interpretation needs mentioning here, and that is the disobedience of the two men after their healing. The reason for Jesus’ warning is that He does not want people to think that He is a political Messiah until the week of His crucifixion. Otherwise, they might try to make Him a king. He wants His kingdom not to be of this world. Therefore He instructs those He heals not to talk about it. This interpretation is confirmed when we recognize that when Jesus did miracles among the Gentiles, He never warned against their telling other people about His miracles. Gentiles, of course, did not have political expectations concerning a Messiah.

So these men disobey their Lord immediately after receiving this great gift. Our proper response to God’s grace is obedience, not disobedience. Obedience to what? Obedience to God’s law. And remember, we do not obey God’s law in order to obtain favor with God. Rather, we obey God’s law out of gratitude for what He has done. He has opened our spiritual eyesight in order to see Him with the eyes of faith! We need to walk in the light, and not stumble around as if we were still blind.

The last application we can glean from these verses comes from looking at Jesus’ example. As Matthew Henry again says, “It must be more our care and endeavor to be useful, than to be known and observed to be so.” Why do you do good deeds? For your own status in the Christian fellowship? So that your neighbors will think well of you? Or do you do them because they are the right thing to do, and because you want to please God? If you do it from that motive, then truly you see, and your eyes have been opened. Give God all the glory.

Quotation for Pastors

Here is Matthew Henry on Matthew 9:35-38.

Not the people only, but those who are themselves ministers, should pray for the increase of ministers. Though self-interest makes those that seek their own things desirous to be placed alone (the fewer ministers the more preferments), yet those that seek the things of Christ, desire more workmen, that more work may be done, though they be eclipsed by it (emphasis original).

Three New Books Worth Checking Out

The first is this long-awaited commentary on Matthew in the New International Commentary. This work is 1233 pages, and it is written by one of the very best Gospels scholars alive today. His commentary on Mark is already well-established as one of the best, if not the best, on that book. He has already published two earlier works on Matthew. What is interesting is the history of this spot in the NICNT series. At first, Gundry’s commentary was supposed to fill that gap. However, Gundry’s views were not so popular in the Evangelical Theological Society, and so the commentary had to be published as a stand-alone commentary. Then several other scholars were slated to contribute that volume, but for various reasons were not able to fulfill their engagement. Finally, France agreed to do it. I think that the scholarly world will agree that God’s providence worked in such a way as to give us a splendid commentary that will serve the church well.

The second work I would like to recomment is this work on the life of David. The Gospel According to the Old Testament series is establishing itself as one of the best biblical-theological series available. For preachers, especially, the series is invaluable.

The third work I would like to recommend is this work on Genesis. You can read the table of contents here, and you can read chapter 9 here (on the birth of Isaac). The work is very full (536 pages), so, as a preaching book, it goes beyond what most books on Genesis from a homiletical point of view would have.

Warfield Vindicated

Wilson has responded (somewhat) to my Warfield posts. Basically, Wilson’s point is this: God’s grace is mediated through means. Warfield denies that, and thus his view of the sacraments must be that of empty signs. Warfield (according to Wilson) not only denies the mediation of humanity with regard to God’s grace, but also he denies created mediation in the form of water, bread, and wine.

First of all, the quotations that Wilson provides say nothing about water, bread, and wine. His focus is on human intervention. Look again at the quotations provided: “this human factor indeed, is made the determining factor in salvation…has not suspended any man’s salvation upon the faithlessness or caprice of his fellows.” Warfield says, at the beginning of the quotation that the means of grace are seen (by sacerdotalists) as being mediated by human beings in such a way that the human factor is the essentially efficacious aspect of the sacrament. Logically, it looks like this (according to the sacerdotalist system): means of grace –> human factor–> salvation dependent on humans. However, it is this system *as a whole* that Warfield is rejecting. That is, it is the means of grace *seen as dependent on humanity* that Warfield rejects. Warfield is not denying here that the Sacraments have efficacy as signs and seals (distinct, of course, from what they signify and seal). Obviously, Warfield woulod be stupid if he said that human beings were not involved in the administration of the sacraments. So, it’s a good thing that he doesn’t say that. But is the efficacy of the sacrament dependent on the human being, or on the Holy Spirit? This is the vital question. Everyone will admit that the administration of the Sacraments requires an ordained minister. This is not the question. Does the Sacrament do what it is supposed to do by the power of the Holy Spirit, or by the mediation of the minister? It is the former, and not the latter. No doubt, many will accuse me of positing a false dichotomy here. But regeneration is not dependent on baptism. Regeneration is dependent on the direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the human soul (as John 3 amply demonstrates). Regeneration can happen before baptism, during baptism, or after baptism. Therefore, it is not dependent on baptism. Regeneration is the direct operation of God’s grace on a human soul such that the soul is born again to everlasting life. The means of regeneration are the Word and Spirit, as WCF 10.1 says (“by His Word and Spirit”). Now, all will also admit that the Word comes by hearing, and people hear because someone is sent to tell them about the Word. The external call is by the Word. The internal effectual call is by the Spirit. The latter is dependent for its efficacy upon nothing. This is what Warfield is trying to safeguard. But to say that Warfield denies the means of grace, or that he denigrates the means of grace simply does not accord with the facts.

I have shown quite adequately (in quotations which Wilson did not engage at all) that Warfield’s position on the sacraments is Confessional. Warfield simply does not deny that God uses means to accomplish salvation, contrary to Wilson’s assertion. He merely denies that these means are dependent for their efficacy on the whims, faithlessness, or caprice of his fellows. I would appreciate Wilson’s engagement with the quotations I provided that show beyond a shadow of a doubt that Warfield was Confessional on the Sacraments, and that he was no rationalist (as has also been shown quite thoroughly in the new Warfield book, as well).

Edmund MacLeod Keister

Edmund 1Our son Edmund MacLeod Keister was born today at 4:46 PM. He is 8lb. 10oz. He is 21 1/4.” Will update on that when we have it. Edmund is named after the character in Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe (we want him always to remember God’s grace in converting traitors to Himself by the death and resurrection of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah). MacLeod is our Scottish clan name.

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