On Scripture

The fourth paragraph of the FV statement has to do with Scripture. It is sufficiently vague to be acceptable to most people. It begs a few questions however: what hermeneutical grids are not derived from Scripture itself? I would suspect that the TR “grid” falls into their target here. Obviously, every TR would agree that a hermeneutical grid not derived from Scripture itself is not valid. But what constitutes such an invalid grid? Furthermore, what about good and necessary consequence? Given the FV’s reluctance to engage in practising systematic theology (and some advocates’ obvious downplaying of systematic theology in supposed favor of biblical theology), it would have been good had this statement affirmed the place in our theologizing for good and necessary consequence in systematic theology. The WCF, for instance, states very clearly that good and necessary consequence has the same authority that the explicit statements of Scripture have. That is, good and necessary consequence is part of the whole counsel of God (WCF 1.6). In other words, I agree with what is put down here in the FV statement, as far as it goes. But I don’t know if they have here dealt with critics’ concerns regarding the FV’s methodology. It is a general statement that does not go as far as the WS go in defining the material for our theologizing.

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WCF 28.6

Since these are the relevant sections which I am accused of denying, let’s look at them, line by line, and as a whole, to determine what they mean. I am merely going to comment on it as a rebuttal to Wilson’s position. This is my final statement on it. Wilson can have the last word on it if he wants.

WCF 28.6

The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered…

Contrary to Jeff Meyers, et al, this does not mean that the efficacy of baptism starts at its administration necessarily, and is not limited to that moment, but continues on during one’s lifetime, much like a mathematical limit from the right. That Meyers’s interpretation is wrong is proved from the last phrase “in His appointed time.” That is, the grace of baptism occurs in God’s appointed time. That is, the thing signified occurs when God has appointed, to the elect only, according to the counsel of God’s own will. The WCF is saying that the efficacy of baptism as a sign and seal can be a delayed reaction. That is, the meaning of baptism is that just as water cleanses dirt, so Christ’s blood cleanses sin. Baptism means that for the elect, God will effect salvation. It is that promise. Signs and seals are promises of what they signify. To go back to the analogy of the road sign, the sign to Bismarck promises that if you go a certain number of miles, you will get to Bismarck. So, when that person comes to faith, promise becomes fulfillment. Baptism has its full effect as sign and seal when a person comes to faith. That does not prejudge when the person can come to faith, which, as I have said many times now, can be before, during, or after baptism, no matter what the age of the person being baptized. In the case of faith coming before, the fulfillment is there before the promise. Being careful about how we use (and whether we use) sacramental language is crucial here. WCF 27.2 is crucial here, and is something about which the FV doesn’t usually demonstrate understanding. The names and effects of the one are attributed to the other. This is not equivalent to “equal to the other.” This is how the divines understand Titus 3:5, for instance, where the “laver” is understood as sacramental language for the thing signified (Christ’s blood). However close the union between the sign (water) and the thing signified (Christ’s blood), still they must be understood to be distinct. They are distinct, yet inseperable (for the elect). There is, of course, a razor thin ledge on which we must walk when it comes to this. There are those who stress the inseperability at the expense of the distinctness (Roman Catholics, and those with Catholicizing tendencies), and there are those who stress the distinctness, at the expense of the inseperability (Anabaptists, etc.). The WCF threads this line very carefully. If we say that the efficacy of baptism consists in salvation itself, then there is no guard against a sacramentarian view (ex opere operato) of the sacrament. Baptism, however connected it is to faith, is not faith itself. We are not justified by baptism. We are justified by faith alone.

yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred, by the Holy Ghost,

Really, the question here is what happens when baptism is administered. I would argue that what happens is that a sign and seal is given to the person. The grace to which the sign and seal points is salvation. But that is given “in His appointed time.” That is not necessarily the time of baptism. It can be. But it doesn’t have to be.

to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto,

This limits the efficacy of baptism to the elect. The grace to which baptism points belongs only to the elect.

according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

So, let’s say we have the case of someone who receives baptism, but does not come to faith until later. What does he have? He has the promise that God will save him. When that promise becomes fulfillment, the promise has its full meaning. It is not as if he has nothing between baptism and faith. He has the sign and seal. But the sign and seal do not have their full efficacy until faith comes. In the case of someone who believes already, baptism functions like a stamp upon that faith, saying that God does save.

I would be extremely interested in Wilson’s reactions to the baby-driven theology claims evident here and here. I would also be interested in Wilson’s not dismissing the Warfield quotations that I adduced, but actually dealing with them. I find it highly ironic that FV guys will say “we believe in the WCF,” and take us to task for not believing them. But when it comes to Warfield, who gives an unequivocally Confessional position in the Shorter Writings, Wilson will not take Warfield at his word, but instead claims that what Warfield gives with his right hand, he takes away with his left. The Plan of Salvation is not Warfield’s exposition of the Sacraments. The articles in the Shorter Writings are. Therefore, those should be the starting place, not The Plan of Salvation. I’m absolutely sure that Gary Johnson will agree with me here, who is not only one of the world’s experts on Warfield, but is also related to Warfield. I think Johnson is more of an authority on Warfield than Wilson is.