I Have Been Waiting For This!

Announcing the Festschrift for Richard Gaffin! It is edited by two very good friends of mine at WTS, Lane Tipton and Jeff Waddington. It is a veritable feast of biblical-theological reflections. You can see its table of contents here.

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Mark Horne’s Essay, part 1

In this post I aim to take up Mark Horne’s essay in the book A Faith That Is Never Alone. The article is entitled “Reformed Covenant Theology and Its Discontents.” This article is a response to Michael Horton’s essay “Which Covenant Theology?” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry. I aim to address Mark’s article in three parts, corresponding roughly to the sections on Ursinus, Turretin, and the more direct response to Horton.

Horne states that this essay is “about the whole of mainstream covenant theology” (p. 74, emphasis original). The thesis of the article can fairly be stated in this way: the Federal Vision’s view of covenant theology fits into the Reformed mainstream, and has antecedents in Ursinus, Turretin, and the Westminster Standards (see p. 74). The impression that the first part of the article gives is that it is not a direct response to Horton (at least not right away; the latter part of the article deals more directly with Horton’s arguments), but is rather claiming that Horton portrays a somewhat reduced view of Reformed covenant theology, the gaps of which Horne intends to fill. This is an important point to consider, as the intention of the author is not (right away, at least) to answer Horton directly.

Horne starts the bulk of his article with some quotations from the Shorter Catechism, Larger Catechism, and John Owen’s “lesser catechism.” These quotations are intended to prove that there are necessary requirements that humans must fulfill in order to escape judgment on the Final Day. This is further clear in Horne’s section on Ursinus, where the conditions are those “conditions that members of the covenant of grace, not their mediator, must meet” (p. 78, emphasis original). The consequence of these conditions not being met is that “the person will fail to ‘escape’ God’s ‘wrath and curse due to us by reason of the transgression of the law'” (p. 77). It would be simplistic to urge that the conditions are to be met by us, that therefore Horne is legalistic (in other words, I would argue it on other grounds). Horne qualifies his statement by saying

But when mainstream Reformed Covenant theology refers to the “conditions of the covenant,” it is not referring to those unique and essential works done by Jesus. The term is used for those who are saved by grace alone- a grace that is precisely the only reason why anyone fulfills the conditions of faith and the commencement of new obedience and thus benefits from Christ’s (sic) mediatorial office (p. 78).

So, Horne would probably agree that the conditions are to be met in humans, but can only be met by grace.

My criticism of Horne’s position here lies not so much in the nature of conditions. Of course there are conditions for salvation. Without faith being present, no one will be justified. Without works faith is dead. But the definitions of salvation and justification are slippery here. For instance, Horne states, in relation to the LC and SC and Owen’s catechism that “faith is only one of several other requirements” (p. 77). But for what? Justification? Salvation meant as the turning from darkness to light? Salvation as meaning the entire course of the Christian life? What? The ambiguity is not relieved by mentioning God’s wrath, since justification is an escape from God’s wrath. Indeed, the ambiguity allows for the possibility that holiness is a requirement for justification. I would hope that Horne does not mean that. So, if these things are required of us, and I agree that they are, the question is “For what are they required?” This is the whole question. Some are required for one thing, and others are required for something else, even if all these things are part of salvation as defined as the entirety of the Christian life. Faith only is required for justification. But justification is part of the larger whole of salvation as defined as the entirety of the Christian life, in which case works are said to be necessary (as a consequent of justification). This ambiguity threads its way through virtually the entire article.  

In the same manner, when we come to Ursinus on the question of the necessity of good works, we can level the same criticism against Horne. Plainly, Ursinus means justification when he excludes works from justification. He says rather that they are necessarily present in those who are justified. When Ursinus says that good works are an antecedent to the consequent of being saved, he is saying that they are a necessary part of the Christian life, if the Christian is to be saved (future tense). Salvation here has the whole encompassing reference of the entirety of the Christian life. Good works are a sine qua non, but not the cause of salvation. Indeed, as Ursinus says (and Horne seems to have missed the significance of this), they are part of salvation itself. In other words, one of the benefits of regeneration (which exists in inseperable connection with justification) is good works. But Ursinus clearly does NOT say that good works are necessary in order to be justified. Horne leaves out the clarifying part of the sentence, when he quotes Ursinus as saying, “In the same way we may also say, that good works are necessary to righteousness or justification, with which regeneration is inseparably connected” (Ursinus, p. 485). This is absolutely inexcusable neglect of context here. Ursinus goes on to say, “viz: as a consequence of justification, with which regeneration is inseperably connected” (emphasis added) as an explanation of what Horne quoted him as saying. The explanation is essential, since Ursinus is not saying that good works are necessary as an antecedent condition in order to be justified. Rather, as Turretin will also say, good works are necessary as a consequent (following) condition. And this, in turn, does not mean that God justifies us as long as we promise afterwards to obey. It means that good works will simply always follow justification. The further qualification is also necessary, viz., that God produces those good works in us. Now, to be fair to Horne, he does go on to quote the section dealing with Ursinus’ rejection of works as being required before justification.

I do not think that Horne has understood Ursinus when he speaks about good works being done to escape temporal and eternal punishment. The blessings in mind for doing good works are NOT salvation. They are the rewards over and above salvation which God gives to us. This is evident in the plural “rewards.” The escape from judgment is qualified in the context by the statement that our faith is exercised, nourished, strengthened and increased by good works (p. 484 of Ursinus’ commentary). In other words, we do good works to make sure that our faith is a live faith.

It is difficult to see the relevance of Ursinus’ teaching on sin to the above points. It is not good works (unless Horne is calling repentance a work) that lead us back into a consciousness of God’s acceptance of us, but rather the grace of God in turning us around in repentance through the use of warnings and promises.

Finally, Horne’s discussion of merit is flawed (as it always is) by his consistent rejection of the term pactum merit, which to Horne is a contradiction in terms. He defines merit roughly closely to what I would call condign merit, and then says that everything else that even has the word “merit” in it must be defined by this definition of merit. Hence, there can be no such thing as pactum merit, since it isn’t “merit.” Neither I, nor anyone else on the TR side of the debate, would have the slightest trouble saying what Ursinus says on page 335 of the commentary.