Union, Imputation, and Seals

Doug continues our conversation here. I have been on vacation all last week for some strange reason, so haven’t been able to get back to him on this. I will follow the same format as previously, and take a new section of the joint statement, followed by a reply to Doug’s post. My previous handling of the union/imputation section of the joint statement is here. I would say that I have changed in a much more strongly IAOC direction, affirming that it is essential to the WS and the 3FU. I would direct people’s attention to Jeff Jue’s fabulous contribution in Justified in Christ, and to Alan Strange’s equally important article in the 2008 Confessional Presbyterian Journal, both of which articles together completely kabosh the canard that the Westminster Standards do not teach the Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ (IAOC). No one can responsibly take the position that the WS do not teach the IAOC without dealing with Jue and Strange.

The statement on union and imputation puzzles me for two reasons. The first is that the section seems to affirm the IAOC by saying that Christ is all in all for us, and that everything He has done is credited to us (His life, suffering, and resurrection). This would seem to affirm the IAOC. However, the second paragraph contradicts such an understanding (confirmed by the section entitled “Some Points of Intramural Disagreement,” which clearly states that the IAOC is not essential one way or the other to the FV). Exactly what relationship, then, does the statement of the first two sentences of this section have with the IAOC? How close is it supposed to be? The most important question here is not whether Christ’s righteousness becomes ours. All agree (Roman Catholics included!) that Christ’s righteousness becomes ours. The question is how does this occur? Does it occur in justification by infusion or imputation? If the latter, then how does the first paragraph stop short of the IAOC? The statement seems to give with one hand what it takes with the other. If one states that Christ’s perfect life, death and resurrection becomes ours by imputation, one is saying the IAOC. Incidentally, one of the most helpful discussions of the IAOC is in Hodge’s Systematic Theology, volume 3, pp. 142-150. The upshot of Hodge’s discussion is that Christ’s entire obedience fulfills all the demands of the law for us. I hope that the issue is clear here. Is the statement intended to express the IAOC but allow for loopholes for the other signers?

Secondly, I reiterate my concern (spelled out more fully in my previous handling of the section) with the term “union.” What precisely is meant by union with Christ in these two paragraphs? Absolute saving faith-union that is irrevocable? Or baptismal union that is losable?

Lastly, to answer three questions Doug thinks I have not yet answered: 1. What is a seal? A. A seal is a guarantee of benefit for worthy receivers. It is no guarantee if a nonbeliever breaks the seal by his unbelief. Then the seal becomes a non-seal (unless one wants to say that it seals condemnation). It still says that if the nonbeliever becomes a believer, it seals benefits again. God only can work this faith in a person. If Doug wants to say that baptism seals condemnation to unworthy receivers, I am not sure I would disagree with that.

2. Is baptism a seal of anything for the nonbeliever? A. It should be noted that Doug seems to think that signs and seals do different things. I am not so sure. A sign that says “Bismarck 20 miles” is supposed to be a guarantee that if one continues on that road in that direction, one will come to Bismarck, not to Minneapolis. A seal guarantees that no one has tampered with the letter sealed. A sign is a guarantee just as a seal is a guarantee.  But the promise of benefit is only to worthy receivers (which are only made worthy by the grace of God that comes in the gift of faith). Therefore, if the seal seals anything to unbelievers, it seals condemnation, not salvific benefits.

3. What is the relation of the seal to the thing sealed? A. Is the thing sealed understood to be salvific benefits for believers, or does it also include the condemnation for unbelievers? At any rate, the relation of the seal to the thing sealed is a relationship that the Holy Spirit has forged. And if the the thing sealed is present along with the seal, thus completing the loop, that means that the Holy Spirit has improved the baptism, adding faith by the seed of the Word.



  1. Roy said,

    December 29, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    It most defintely does seal the condemnation signified. How I wish more pastors took the time to declare that reality in language children understand. Treat ’em like members of the church rather than kids at a baptist church, heh. “Get something dirty, it needs a real washing. Maybe Tide and an two cycles in the washing machine. You won’t see that here. No soap. Not even a dunking much less a submerging. That’s because this baptism pictures a washing no person can do, that only God can do. It pictures what happens when God the Spirit makes a person clean. It also tells you in sign language something else. You kids that have been baptized should know about this. Your baptism tells about a terrible judgement that God promises you if you do not love Jesus, if you do not say to God and his people, people like those you see sitting around you, that you are not what God wants, that you have not done what God wants, that you have done lots that God does not like, that you need to be cleaned by God. Think about Noah and the great flood that covered the earth and destroyed all who did not love God. Those people were baptized. That’s like the idea baptism pictures. But it does not picture a boat and a flood of water. It pictures a Savior who preserves people from going under not water but wrath, the firey judgement of the holy God. Baptism promises that fire will come to all who do not love Jesus. You can fool people. But you cannot fool God. He knows who have been really cleaned inside, and those who have only had water on the outside.

  2. Pete Myers said,

    December 30, 2008 at 6:21 am

    Lane, 3 things…

    1) Welcome back, hope you had a nice holiday.

    2) It feels to me that this IAOC thing, is an example of where the FV are using the term in a more specific sense than the non-FV are. So, in the main I think you’re right in the many places where you point out that Doug is using – say – “faith” in a much broader sense than you, and, you would like some clarity. On the IAOC, however, I think it’s the other way around.

    If you distinguish “imputation” from “infusion”, then, all of the FV are going to say they’re in the “imputation” camp, … but be slightly annoyed that the antithesis doesn’t even allow room for explaining their position.

    Leithart seems to me to be saying that the righteousness we have from Christ works like this: Being in Christ, God looks at us, sees Christ, and therefore sees Christ’s righteousness rather than ours.

    When he denies imputation, he’s denying the idea that Christ “gives” his righteousness to us. That the righteousness “floats” across the courtroom (to use the NPP/FV illustration).

    Now – I’m not sure that this articulates the way things work in the 3FU, or the WS – but it’s not inconsistent with it. After all Leithart’s explanation of how justification does work does indeed exclude infusion.

    I can understand how you may want to say that his theology works itself out as infusion rather than imputation… but actually the way he states justification itself does indeed fall on the right side of things.

    3) On your points at the end 1 and 2 make a lot of sense, I thought you’d say that. 3 on the other hand, doesn’t feel like an actual answer. So, I would say (and I think Doug would too) that the sacrament curses those who don’t take it by faith… therefore the sacrament is always doing something. Throughout scripture the sacraments have resulted in real things happening.

    Adam eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge – the actual eating of the fruit is what opened his eyes (Gen 3v6-7). Adam is cast out of the Garden, because the implication is that by eating the fruit of the tree of life he could have life (Gen 3v22). Here the sacraments really are doing something.

    Moses nearly faced death for not circumcising his children (Exodus 4v24-26); the actual blood on the doorpost really did save the Israelites from the angel of the Lord (Exodus 12); Nadab and Abihu really are burnt up for offering unauthorized fire (Lev 10v1-3); The Spirit really does come upon David when he’s anointed with oil (1 Sam 16v13).

    And so, when the unfaithful take the Lord’s supper on the one hand they’re not really taking the Lord’s supper (1 Cor 11v20), but in the same breath, Paul can say that they really are profaning the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 11v27), and brings real judgment upon himself (1 Cor 11v29).

    Unsurprisingly, then, baptism does actually save (1 Peter 3v21) – of course, not apart from faith, and not necessarily tied to the moment of baptism.

  3. natrimony said,

    December 30, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Speaking as one who lived like a reprobate for a good chunk of his teens and early manhood; I must confess that the baptism of my infancy was most definitely a seal by which God marked me. This was a curative mark which pledged the forbearance of God and foreshadowed his active redemption to the praise of his glorious grace. This baptism was also a sign, like you mentioned, a sign pointing me home. The identification with the covenant community is completed in baptism. In this way, I was always aware of being an alien in the world of debauchery which I so vigorously pursued. No matter. My citizenship was of another country. The road marker for this country was always before me, whether I had eyes to see or not. Even so, it was FAITH which opened my eyes to the way of covenant heritage. It was FAITH which initialized and actualized the full blessing of sacramental union. It was FAITH which brought the seal and sign together in my cognizance as a graceful means of transportation into relationship with my loving Father. The gift of FAITH–not any act of faithfulness–transformed the significance of water baptism from an indictment against me to an endorsement of God’s preserving power in my life.

    Green Baggins, thank you for all of your careful attention to these matters. Your dialogue with Doug Wilson has been extremely informative to me and I am impressed with the amount of time and thought that you put into all of your posts, responses, and critiques. Be blessed sir this advent season.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    December 31, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Pete, a couple of points in response.

    1. Responding to your 2, Leithart argues that definitive sanctification (as defined by Murray) should be included as part of justification. See his article in _The Federal Vision_ entitled “Judge Me, O God,” pp. 203-235. For a complete refutation of his exegesis, methodology, and conclusions, see this index of my posts: https://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2007/10/22/index-to-leithart-posts/

    There is no limit to what parts of sanctification may be included in justification if definitive sanctification may be included, since there is an organic connection between definitive sanctification and progressive sanctification (both are concerned with deliverance from sin’s power). This IS the Roman Catholic position. In my opinion, this puts Leithart firmly outside confessional orthodoxy. Leithart therefore believes that it is not just imputation, but also infusion in justification. How else can one be delivered from sin’s power? The Reformed have always said that deliverance from sin’s power occurs in sanctification, NOT in justification. See WCF 11 and 13 compared, HC 60 (which certainly DOES use the language of “grant” as a gift, referring to the righteousness of justification, the unnecessarily pejorative language of “floats” notwithstanding). Imputation means judicial reckoning, a crediting of righteousness to someone who does not inherently possess it. The book-keeping metaphor is clearly present in Romans 4, even on N.T. Wright’s reading (who downplays it by saying that it shouldn’t control everything else that is said about justification). Imputation as a granting of something to someone that they do not inherently own, but receive by faith is a non-negotiable part of the Reformation. It is THE issue with Roman Catholicism when it comes to justification. Leithart does not exclude infusion, on a careful reading. Rather, he includes it.

    On 1 Peter 3:21, there are a myriad of interpretive issues that need to be addressed before one can say what that passage means. See Rick Phillips’s article in the O. Palmer Robertson Festschrift, as well as this post:

  5. Jonathan T said,

    December 31, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Roy (#1) said- “How I wish more pastors took the time to declare that reality in language children understand. Treat ‘em like members of the church rather than kids at a baptist church … Think about Noah and the great flood that covered the earth and destroyed all who did not love God. Those people were baptized. That’s like the idea baptism pictures.”

    Just curious, would sprinkling / pouring / immersion best picture your illustration of the Noahic flood that “destroyed all who did not love God”, yet “those people were baptized”. Just wondering? :)

  6. David Gadbois said,

    January 2, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    The one time Scripture uses the term “sign and seal”, in Romans 4 in connection with circumcision, it is said to be a sign and seal of the righteousness Abraham had by faith. So I find the attempt to make the sacraments seals of judgment to be highly manufactured.

  7. Roy said,

    January 2, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Jonathan (#5), if the Noahic story were the entire Bible and if the Ark had no occupants (sprinkled, btw), you might have a case.

    David (#6), if Rom 4 were the only data we had, you might have a case. Ro 4 says circ = sign, seal. In symbols, circumcision said: You’re polluted. You cannot clean yourself. The cleansing requires bloodshed. Those not cleansed shall be cut off (per repeated OT curse of no decendents, no longer remembered). No hope in reproduction. As seal, circ declares: “Yep. All true. God guarantees it.”

    This content, btw, is exactly The Faith (article and noun) ref’d by Ro 4, exactly the content of what Ab believed. Circ not sign and seal of Ab believing, no point at all to him. Instead, pointed to God, signed and sealed the Gospel as known by Ab, his righteousness per that which he believed.

  8. Reed Here said,

    January 2, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    David: I’m inclined to consider this via the angle of judgment in 1Co 11 for those who profaned the Lord’s Supper. I’d be interested in you take on that.

  9. David Gadbois said,

    January 2, 2009 at 11:53 pm


    I understand what you are getting at, in regard to the Lord’s Supper being, in some way, an instrument of judgment upon unworthy partakers. We can all agree that the sacrament does act in this capacity, but I’m not sure how we can make the connection that this is part of the sacrament’s ‘sealing’ nature or function. We would need some additional premises to get to that conclusion.

    The idea it seems to me would not be necessarily unbiblical, but it certainly would be extra-biblical and extra-confessional. In other words, speculative. Nothing wrong with exploring speculative questions that push the limits (and even beyond) of what the biblical data can decisively provide, as long as we are not driving our dogmatics with it. That would be my beef with the FV on this matter.

  10. Jeff Cagle said,

    January 3, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Lane (#4):

    A question: Rom. 5.19-20 says, “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

    What strikes me here, and I think what motivates Leithart with his terminology “deliverdict”, is that justification is attributed to more than forensic declarations, but also [i]life[/i]. That “life” then becomes the motivator in chap. 6: Since we have received new life, we are freed from the power of sin.

    Now, you wish, rightly, to affirm that the sealing of the Holy Spirit is properly a part of sanctification and not justification.

    But could it be reasonable to say that justification, the declaration of righteousness, includes [i]the promise[/i] of the Holy Spirit so that we will become or approach in action what we already are in status?

    In other words, justification is declaratory; sanctification is actual.

    Jeff Cagle

  11. Reed Here said,

    January 3, 2009 at 10:06 am


    Carets , not brackets [x]. (Did you just forget?)

    I agree with your relational observation, although I think Rom 5:20 mitigates your reading. Note the parallel use of “made”.

    The first use, made sinners, is a reference to the initiation of original sin at the Fall. It cannot be understood in a developmental sense, in that what is in view is that moment of the event which constituted the changed in our being.

    Accordingly, the second use, necessarily following the parallel, must be referring to that moment of the event (the atonement) which consistuted to change in our post-Fall being.

    Further, unless we want to end up in some sort of liberal times-shifting of the application of the atonement to the elect, we must remove all temporal notions. In view is merely a parallel between that which consistutes our difference in being, fall to post-fall. There is no developmental aspect in view.

    (At least I think I got this here ;-) ).

  12. greenbaggins said,

    January 3, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Jeff, life in Romans 5 is seen as parallel to the state of rectitude. It is not seen as an ontological category, but as a legal category there. Hence, to be declared not guilty is to have life, just as someone waiting for a declaration from the jury on a charged capital crime has life if the jury pronounces him innocent. The transformational does not come into Paul’s purview until chapter 6. This is the essential ingredient missing in Leithart’s analysis.

  13. Roy said,

    January 4, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    David (#9),
    try out this way of seeing the connection beween Communion and condemnation.

    All 4 sacraments (2 OT, 2 NT) preach the Gospel in sign language. Two (circ and bapt) focus on aspects of the Gospel having to do with justification. The other two (Passover and Supper) focus on aspects of the Gospel having to do with sanctification. But all 4 hinge upon the work of Christ, specifically as presented in the message of the Gospel.

    The Gospel itself declares condemnation. Not merely a savor of life unto life, it also pronounces curse upon all who refuse its call. The Gospel is never not effective; it always brings results. It brings either submission and life or rebellion and death.

    The Supper declares in sign language what the Gospel does in words. It tells of the awfulness of sin, proclaiming the bloodshed and death which the penalty of not only sins, but also of a sin nature demands.

    The Supper also serves as Seal. It provides a visible stamp given by God that not only declares a message, but declares God backs, stands behind, guarantees, seals the message.

  14. June 25, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    […] Baggins continues our discussion, for which I am grateful. This installment, at least from me, will not be very long. […]

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