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).



  1. Chris Hutchinson said,

    July 27, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    I always find Edwards sermon, “A Divine and Supernatural Light” helpful on such things, in which he posits that grace is given by God through means, but still immediately; i.e. the Word conveys doctrine to our head, but it does not cause the *sense* of their divine excellency in our hearts. That is an immediate work of God directly upon the sinner, though it accompanies the means.

    I remember thinking in Ft. Lauderdale at the Colloquium that it would have been useful to probe the FV guys to see if they believed in the IMmediate work of God upon men. I think many of them would have problems with it.

    In his addendum to the Colloquium book, Lusk appears to tie saving grace instrumentally to the elements of the sacraments, as well as to the passing of sperm from husband to wife. No joke. Page 147. But I am sure I am missing something here. It just seems like one more over-reaction to what they consider “gnosticizing tendencies.”

  2. July 28, 2007 at 7:55 am

    I am left speechless at Wilson’s reading of Warfield and the convoluted ‘reasoning’ that he employs in arriving at his description of Warfield’s position as ‘refried gnosticism’.But, given Wilson’s overt pattern of using cliches and hyperbole ad nauseam to carry his thought I have come to expect this kind of thing from him

  3. barlow said,

    July 28, 2007 at 8:56 am

    “Does the Sacrament do what it is supposed to do by the power of the Holy Spirit, or by the mediation of the minister?”

    Does wood-chopping do what it is supposed to do by the power of the axeman or by the mediation of the axe?

  4. Andrew Duggan said,

    July 28, 2007 at 10:01 am

    WSC 91:
    The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.

    Please note:
    “…not by any virtue … or in him that doth administer them…”

    but especially note the use of the word “only” :
    “…but only by the blessing of Christ and the working of his Spirit…”

  5. barlow said,

    July 28, 2007 at 10:07 am

    Right, but him that doth administer them is part of the sacrament. How can they hear without a preacher (Rom 10)? How can they get the bread unless someone breaks it for them? Wilson isn’t saying that the minister’s mojo contributes to the efficacy of the sacrament. He’s just saying that God normally works only through various means – the molecules of air moved by a pastor’s voice, the molecules of bread broken by a pastor’s hands, etc. Saying that a sacrament is a means of grace explains how “the blessing of Christ and the working of the Spirit” does its work on a sinner, it doesn’t explain who does its work on a sinner. All Christians agree that God does the work except for those who don’t recognize that any work is being done in a sacrament.

    Saying that the means of grace do not depend upon the minister for their efficacy is no different than saying that the means of grace do not depend upon the use of bread and wine for their efficacy. It is a trivial point, except that when you remove eating and drinking from communion, you no longer have communion.

  6. joshua olson said,

    July 28, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    a qualification may helpful in this discussion: the means (water, bread, wine) of grace (of a particular grace signified) are not absolutely necessary for that particular grace to be conferred. This is especially evident with the category of regeneration and salvation proper: Article 28.5. The man crucified next to our Lord never received the waters of baptism and yet was obviously born again of the Spirit and was received into Paradise that day. Baptism is, however, the usual (ordinary) means of the grace of regeneration.

  7. July 28, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    […] Warfield Vindicated Wilson has responded (somewhat) to my Warfield posts. Basically, Wilson’s point is this: God’s grace is […] […]

  8. Andrew Duggan said,

    July 30, 2007 at 10:19 am

    Mr. Barlow,

    Its really more about the word mediation.

    For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; (1 Tim 2:5).

    How does one, that is the minister as in your #3, mediate anything in a means of grace, when he is NOT a mediator, since Christ is the only mediator between God and man?

    What is insufficient about Jesus, that you feel you need the mediation of a minister in addition to the mediation of Christ?

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