GRACE – A Definition?

by Reed DePace

Recently preaching through Romans (yes, I’m old enough), I’ve had multiple opportunities to “define” grace for our congregation. As some of you will know, this is not as straightforward as it seems. I was wondering what y’all think. Here is the working definition I’ve used with our congregation:

Grace is God’s presence that brings God’s power so that God’s provision for redemption is made the believer’s possession.


by Reed DePace



  1. John Harutunian said,

    August 29, 2011 at 10:16 am

    I think that’s a great definition, Reed -and I’m not even Reformed! [Anglican]

  2. Eric Langborgh said,

    August 29, 2011 at 11:24 am

    I agree that the depths of this wonderful truth can never be fully plumbed, and thus warrant numerous definitions. I tend to the simpler, though: “God’s unmerited favor to undeserving sinners.”

    Or, as we teach our younger children’s Sunday School classes by way of acronym: “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”

  3. Reed Here said,

    August 29, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Thanks John.

    Yeah Eric, I’ used both of those. I actually like the second better. It seems to me though, that a key part is missing in both these definitions, that of God’s presence (e.g., the HS). I could be wrong but I suspect you won’t find one passage where grace is mentioned where God’s presence is not also mentioned. For some reason flesh tends to separate God’s gifts from God himself. This leads to not good things.

  4. rfwhite said,

    August 29, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Reed, granted this definition, what is the opposite of grace?

  5. John Harutunian said,

    August 29, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    >For some reason flesh tends to separate God’s gifts from God himself. This leads to not good things.

    Right. (Actually I’d say that’s an understatement!) Interesting that you should mention it: I just returned home from a summer ministry at a Christian camp in NH. One of my talks took as its starting point the illustration of a spoiled child -how he values the gifts his parents give him more than he values his parents. From there I made the spiritual analogy: the kids caught on!

  6. Eric Langborgh said,

    August 29, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Good point. And we must also always guard against one consequence of what you warn against: turning grace into a “substance” that is “infused” into us, a la Rome’s sacramentalism.

    I’m looking through my concordance and you are correct: “grace” is almost always accompanied with at least the suggestion of God’s presence, and is often much more explicit.

    Building off my first offering, how about: “God’s unmerited gift of himself to undeserving sinners.”

    In a word: “Immanuel.”

  7. Cris Dickason said,

    August 29, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Reed –

    Grace is God’s presence that brings God’s power so that God’s provision for redemption is made the believer’s possession.

    That’s a powerful pattern you’ve provided.

    rfw at # 4 – What’s the opposite of grace? Probably more ways to describe that than to describe grace. Perhaps it’s the presumptuous denial of the need for grace? Ignoring or denying the need for grace is probably worse that designing a “system” that thinks to control grace and dispense it as if God was under obligation to us or subject to our manipulations.


  8. Ronnie said,

    August 29, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    I don’t like it. Without capturing the essence of grace, that is unmerited favor I think you are opening up a big can of worms. Your definition would work great for Catholics though who believe grace is a supernatural thing the believe possesses.

  9. David R. said,

    August 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    A problem with the definition could be that it does not encompass common grace.

  10. Cris Dickason said,

    August 29, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Ronnie: Definitions are just a starting point, can’t say everything all at once. I would note, one unpacks “God’s provision” to indicate it is unmerited.

    Or expand it to “God’s provision of his Son” – then you can have blessed fun with declaring that God gives his Son, and through being united to Christ, we have, in him, all that we need, because God is now our Father in heaven, not our Judge.

    These are tools to put into the hands, hearts of believers so they can be ready to give account of the hope (1 Peter 3:15). That’s what I’m going to say when I share Reed’s definition to our Evangelism Committee!


  11. greenbaggins said,

    August 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Some excellent points being made here. I would only point out that it is not merely that we are “undeserving,” it is that we deserve the opposite of what God gives us in grace. So, I might modify the smaller definition to say that it is God’s favor to those who deserve the opposite. In answer to Dr. White, I would say that, strictly speaking, the opposite of grace is justice. Inherent in the idea of grace is that the recipient gets something when he deserves the opposite, whereas with justice, the recipient gets precisely what he does deserve. That would have to be qualified in terms of salvation, because the ideas of justice and grace coalesce (though without confusion) at the cross.

  12. Ronnie said,

    August 29, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Chris: I understand you can’t say everything all at once, but you must at least say the sine qua non of what grace is, unless the “tools” you put in the hands of believers are misleading. Like I said, if that is all you say about grace your believers couldn’t distinguish between Catholicism and Reformed Christianity.

  13. Reed Here said,

    August 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Dr. White, how about trying a rather strict opposing sentence:

    The opposite of grace is God’s presence that brings God’s power so that God’s justice for sin is made the unbeliever’s possession.

    (I’m picking up here on Lane’s helpful point about justice being the opposite of grace. Think that is helpful).

  14. Reed Here said,

    August 29, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    David R: first, did y’all do o.k. in Irene? Love how you governor sought to keep you all safe with his pithy wisdom about staying off the beaches. ;-)

    I am particularly defining special grace, not common grace. Accordingly, maybe an inferred (Special) could be added to the front of the sentence. At least in context (i.e., when preaching from Rom 6:14) it should be clear enough and no need for the parenthetical prefix.

  15. Reed Here said,

    August 29, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Eric, I like the additions to the shorthand, even if it ruins the acrostic.

  16. Reed Here said,

    August 29, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Ronnie, your point is taken and appreciated. I note too that Lane has emphasized that it is not simply unmerited, but that opposite is merited.

    Still, it could be argued that the word “believer” in the definition infers your concern. Of course, the definition of who is a believer would require clarification.

    Maybe a tweak?

    Grace is God’s presence that brings God’s power so that God’s provision for redemption is made the believer’s possession in spite of his punishment due.

    That still keeps some alliterative value (5 “p”s:), while addressing your concern in the direction of Lane’s emphasis.

  17. David R. said,

    August 29, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Reed, I think you’re confusing me with someone; I actually live on the west coast.

  18. Reed Here said,

    August 29, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Cris: and I agree with your emphasis on the short-hand power of this kind of definition. As long as Ronnie’s concern is a part of the “deep background” the believer is taught, then yeah, even “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense,” is a powerful statement.

  19. Reed Here said,

    August 29, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    David R: either I am, or God really did protect you and your’s. ;-)

    No, I am confusing you with another David R ministering in NJ. Sorry.

  20. Eric Langborgh said,

    August 29, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    I would just point out that sinners by definition deserve the opposite of grace.

    And to add to the good comments here, with which I agree in spirit and substance, I think the term “mercy” covers fact we aren’t getting what we deserve. Grace is the favor we receive as an unmerited and completely free gift. They are really two sides of the same coin; they go together.

  21. August 29, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    As I hear this discussion I am remined of words of my former professor Mereditth Kline as he discussed grace. It is not unmerited favor. Grace is “demerited favor.” Even God’s presence is “demerited” by us. Of course it is merited for us by our Savior. Praise God!

    I agree that all attempts at captureing these things in short phrases cannot say everything. however, in the present state of things in the evangelical world the above point needs to be emphasized

    I have begun re-reating Horton’s book “Covenant and Salvation” an thought the following quote says it well:

    “Since Israel’s calling occurs on this side of the fall, it is not only the result of God’s goodness and love, but of his mercy and grace. Not only is God’s election of Israel undeserved; it is the opposite of what is deserved.” (p. 14)

    Reed, it was nice meeting you at TL


  22. greenbaggins said,

    August 29, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Wayne, I was thinking of Kline as I wrote comment 11. Great minds, and all that. ;-)

  23. Reed Here said,

    August 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    And good meeting you Wayne. Good thoughts. Thanks!

  24. Reed Here said,

    August 29, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Fixed Eric.

  25. David R. said,

    August 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Since Kline was mentioned, I’ll post this:

    “Theologically it is of the greatest importance to recognize that the idea of demerit is an essential element in the definition of grace. In its proper theological sense as the opposite of law-works, grace is more than unmerited favor. That is, divine grace directs itself not merely to the absence of merit but to the presence of demerit. It addresses and overcomes violation of divine commandment. It is a granting of blessing, as an act of mercy, in spite of previous covenant breaking by which man has forfeited all claims to participation in the kingdom and has incurred God’s disfavor and righteous wrath. It bestows the good offered in the covenant’s blessing sanctions rather than the evil of the threatened curse even though man has done evil rather than good in terms of the covenant stipulations.”

    —M.G. Kline (Kingdom Prologue, p. 113)

  26. Randall van der Sterren said,

    August 29, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    That’s an unhelpful definition. Why am I supposed to believe that grace is a presence (or a “supernatural influence?”

    Berkhof defines grace as “the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit.” (This is better, although it strikes me as trying to shoehorn common grace into the definition of grace.)

    I should point out that even the RCC Catechism of Pius X provides a more useful definition: “Grace is an inward and supernatural gift given to us without any merit of our own, but through the merits of Jesus Christ in order to gain eternal life.”

    And the 1979 BCP: “Grace is God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved.”

  27. John Harutunian said,

    August 29, 2011 at 9:32 pm


    Re. your point no. 6,

    >we must also always guard against one consequence of what you warn against: turning grace into a “substance” that is “infused” into us, a la Rome’s sacramentalism.

    Can’t resist a couple of Anglican observations here. First, if Rome defines the human soul as a substance (or something composed of a substance), it would seem OK to define grace as a “substance” as well. But more to the point: I think all Christians would agree that grace is [ordinarily] communicated through physical channels. Or, if that’s too sacramental, “becomes effective in connection with physical means”. The physical channels/means are a)the eardrum and sound waves (if the Word is heard), or b)the pupil and ink markings on a page (if the Word is read).
    Granted, there is such a thing as direct inward illumination by the Holy Spirit -but I believe that classic Reformed theology categorizes this as an extraordinary (rather than normative) operation of the Spirit.

  28. rfwhite said,

    August 29, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Reed, would you be able to take this definition and elaborate on how it relates to justification and sanctification?

  29. johnbugay said,

    August 30, 2011 at 3:10 am

    I’ve put up a post over at Triablogue, addressing this issue: Grace in the New Testament. What follows is a slightly abbreviated form of that post.

    The only word study on the word “Grace” that I’ve seen is the one that T. F. Torrance did in his The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers.

    Torrance studies the word in its Classical and Hellenistic Greek usage, and as well, he traces the word through the Old and New Testaments. He says: “In the New Testament charis (χάρις) becomes a terminus technicus While other meanings are still current, there is a special Christian sense of the word coined under the impact of Revelation to convey something quite unique.” And tracing the word through the Gospels, through Paul, and the other New Testament writers, he says “there seems no doubt that the Pauline usage of charis became normative for the whole church”.

    For Paul, it is always described as “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”.… In Paul, there is no separation between the person and the work of Christ. … The simplest and the most profound expression of grace Paul gives is perhaps the following: δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Romans 3:24). It would be safe to say that Paul never speaks of grace, except as grounded in the self-giving of God in the person and death of Jesus, and in every instance it is the objective side of its content that predominates…

    In its primary sense in St. Paul’s epistles grace has to do with the act of divine intervention rather than with our receiving of it. … Grace is the decisive deed which makes the ground of our approach to God an act and word of His in which He irrevocably committed. It means the establishing of something quite new among men, a new relation to God, not one in which the divine command forms the basis of our relations with God, but one in which the divine self-commitment invites us to approach Him on the grounds of love, because in Christ the divine will has been perfectly fulfilled on our behalf. Grace is a colossal deed that cuts away the ground from all our [“any other”] human religion, and establishes a new religion in the Gospel, so wonderful that men are utterly overwhelmed, and so radical that it entails a complete reversal of all previous attitudes and ideas. …

    “…Grace is the will of God to constitute man’s life afresh on a wholly new basis and in a renewed world, to set him free from sin and Satan; to endue him with the Spirit, to make him the possessor of a supernatural life. It is thus the presupposition of the whole Christian life, not one principle which (along with others) works within that life.”

    Grace in the New Testament is the basic and most characteristic element of the Christian Gospel, it is the breaking into the world of the ineffable love of God in a deed of absolutely decisive significance which cuts across the whole of human life and sets it on a new basis. That is actualized in the person of Jesus Christ, with which grace is inseparably associated, and supremely exhibited on the Cross by which the believer is once and for all put right with God. This intervention of God in the world and its sin, out of sheer love, and His personal presence to men through Jesus Christ are held together in the one thought of grace. “By the Cross the believer has been put in the right with God once for all—Christ is his righteousness. He is already in Christ what he will be—to that, no striving will add one iota.”

  30. Reed Here said,

    August 30, 2011 at 6:58 am

    Randall: thanks for your comment.

    Not “a” (supernatural), but the presence of God (specifically the HS).

    Berkhof’s is a great definition. As with most technically proficient definitions, it leaves a little bit to be desired in terms of pastoral warmth, at least IMO. The response I get back when I use a definition like Berkhof’s is disengagement. It sounds like the doctor telling me about a celluar function that he is all excited about, but hardly seems real (relative) to me.

    Same criticism for your BCP reference. What is says is fine. My problem is with what it does not say.

    Read my offering again and I think you see it lines up with Berkhof’s pretty much straight down the line.

    Your RCC offering is deficient in exactly the direction my offering seeks to correct. It makes grace to be an object that is transferable between God and man. This fits perfectly the synergistic self-reliant system of religion found in this apostasy. It is hardly sufficient for describing the Bible’s expressions of grace.

  31. Reed Here said,

    August 30, 2011 at 7:04 am

    John H: we may be parting some in terms of your comments.

    Depends on what you mean by “communicating.” Up front, given the common way I’m used to seeing this word defined in these discussions, I’d say exactly the opposite. The Reformed position understands the Bible to be teaching that grace is always communicated via spiritual means. Specifically, it is always communicated via union with Christ, with the HS making up the “substance” of the bond. I.e., grace is only and always experience in the context of a personal spiritual relationship with Christ.

    Also, I may be missing your nuance, but we would hold that the Bible teaches that illumination is an ordinary work of the Spirit, something that is part of the regular warp and woof of one’s relationship with Christ.

  32. Reed Here said,

    August 30, 2011 at 7:05 am

    Dr. White: man, you keep asking questions like this and I’m going to ask for some credit for coursework ;-) Seriously, good thinking questions, ones I am not inclined to answer quickly.

    I promise a better answer later today.

  33. Reed Here said,

    August 30, 2011 at 7:06 am

    John B.: good, very good stuff. Thanks brother.

  34. Eric Langborgh said,

    August 30, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Hi John,
    re: #27 — I think you are reading more into my words there than I intended, brother. I think Reed (#31) represents my view pretty well here.
    But to add to it, while I 100% agree with you that God uses ordinary “stuff” (the spoken word and airwaves, the bread and the wine, etc.) to communicate his grace, thus setting apart/making holy this things for our benefit and his glory, these are not grace itself, but *means* of grace. And while we physically receive the Word and the elements via eyes, ears and mouth, they are made effective only as they are accompanied by the Holy Spirit and received by faith. As Mathison writes in Given for You of the Lord’s Supper:

    “For Calvin, the sacraments are not means of grace because grace somehow resides in the sacramental elements. The sacraments are means of grace, according to Calvin, because the Holy Spirit uses them as his instruments. If the Holy Spirit is not present and working in them, the sacraments accomplish nothing. If faith is not present in the recipient, the sacraments are ineffectual for that person.”

    I agree with Mathison (and Calvin). As does 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.” And with them, I would say this truth applies to the reading and preaching of the Word of God, as well. All are to our benefit, but only as we are united with Christ; the “relationship” that Reed is helpfully stressing in this thread. Without this relationship, we are merely receiving and consuming empty substance. As Jesus said, “Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?” (Mt. 15:17). Our spirits “feed” by faith on the Holy Spirit himself as he gives himself to us — yes, primarily through these ordinary means of grace you mention. But He is not bound by them, either.
    My concern, then, in my comment you quote above, was to guard against the sacramentalism that would turn the means of grace into grace itself, leading inevitably to the elements gaining some magical power, ex opere operato, irrespective of the actual faith of the recipient. But I would also guard against the empty modern-day evangelical doctrine that holds that there are in fact no real, effectual means of grace. I think what I describe here guards against both.

  35. John Harutunian said,

    August 30, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Reed, I’m sympathetic to your points. The key to my last observation is the word “directly” -that is, there may be times (such as the instance of an individual who is both aurally and visually handicapped), when God graciously illuminates his soul without any outward means. Here’s where the rubber meets the road: would any Christian, Reformed, Anglican or Baptist, deny that regular daily reading of the Bible is a means of grace in his life?
    Eric, I agree with your thrusts (I too think Mathison’s book is outstanding). I wonder if it might be profitable for all of us to re-think the question: Is there inherent salvific power in the Bible? I think there is. But of course the statement needs to be qualified in some way: otherwise all who read or heard the Bible would be automatically regenerate. This is where things get sticky, isn’t it?

  36. Eric Langborgh said,

    August 30, 2011 at 9:02 am

    John, I largely agree. See WSC #88-97.

    The Word — whether Scripture, preached, or sacrament — must be annexed to faith. And faith itself is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). But the Word in each form does have power as the Spirit uses it, according to his own purpose. So, just as the effect of our baptism is not necessarily annexed to the precise time of its administration, so the preaching and reading of the Word can work as a seed, sprouting its fruit in the life of a sinner at some much later date. But in all cases, the operation of the Word is inseparable from presence of the Holy Spirit, working through faith in the recipient.

  37. rfwhite said,

    August 30, 2011 at 11:38 am

    32 Reed:

    Let me take a stab at relating your “pastoral definition” of “grace” to justification and sanctification by narrowing the focus.

    I find it easy to relate your definition of grace to (progressive) sanctification, since sanctification is ordinarily described as a work of divine grace. To apply your definition, we might say that, in sanctification, God is present in power so that he infuses grace into the believer’s soul (inner man) and empowers the believer to exercise that grace to subdue sin, however imperfectly, in this life. (Let’s follow the Westminster divines in their use of the word “infuse” when we’re talking about God’s work of progressive sanctification.) If this application of your definition to sanctification is generally agreeable, then it seems useful too to notice that we’ve used the term “grace” in two different senses: as an attribute of God and as a virtue he creates in the soul of the believer.

    Turning to justification, it seems to me challenging to relate your pastoral definition of “grace” to justification because justification is not conceived as a work of divine grace but as an act of divine grace. As you’d appreciate, the difference between a work and an act is important, intending to distinguish what God does in us from what God does for us. That said, to apply your definition of “grace” to justification — that is, to elaborate what it means to be “justified by grace” (Rom 3.24; Titus 3.7) — we have to introduce some additional qualifications to the key terms of the definition. For example, if we think of justification in relation to God’s presence, it seems to me we’d have to allow “God’s presence” to mean not “God is present with me and in me” (as we would say about sanctification) but “I am in the presence of God.” Also, we’d have to allow “God’s power” to mean not his ability but his authority. And, further, we’d want to allow “the believer’s possession” to mean not just what (the virtues) the believer has as a result of God’s work of impartation (infusion) but also what (the verdict) the believer has as a result of God’s act of imputation.

    My point is, when it comes to applying your definition of “grace” to justification and sanctification, we have to allow that the key elements of your definition have different nuances when applied to the one and not to the other.

  38. Cris Dickason said,

    August 30, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Justifying grace is God’s undeserved presence as Father, not judge, as he gives his Son to be our righteousness.

    Justifying grace is God’s undeserved presence as Father, not judge, as he imputes our sins to the Son, and the Son’s righteousness to us.

    Sanctifying grace is God’s gift of the the resurrection power [or life] of Christ
    that breaks the power of sin in the life of his child.

    Sanctifying grace is the Father’s gift of the the resurrection power [or life] of the Son that breaks the power of sin in the life of his child by the Holy Spirit.


  39. rfwhite said,

    August 30, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    38 Cris D: I appreciate the trajectory you are on. Thanks.

    32 Reed: Cris’s comments in 38 made me want to ask: are you thinking of “grace” as a state or as an attribute? Don’t get me wrong: I’m not thinking that this has to part of your pastoral definition; I’m thinking it might help sharpen what you’re trying to express.

  40. Reed Here said,

    August 30, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Dr. White: I don’t think I have either in view. Yes grace can be described as a state or an attribute. It is a state in terms of describing the nature of our relationship with God. It is an attribute in terms of describing God’s treatment of us.

    I’m actually trying to describe grace from a combined ontological/experiential perspective. I.e., grace as an attribute is present in our lives because the One to whom the attribute belongs has united Himself to us.

    As to answering your prior question, I’ll adopt Cris’ and observe that we could further amplify what he has said. The key distinction however is between grace as a completed action (justification) vs. grace as an ongoing action (sanctification). Both are only experienced in God’s presence (union with Christ).

  41. rfwhite said,

    August 30, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    40 Reed:

    On my question about grace as state or attribute, thanks.

    Another question: why do you think it is important to describe grace in terms of God’s presence and not, say, in terms of God’s action, God’s work, God’s act?

    What do you gain, pastorally speaking, by choosing one description over the other?

    Further, is there an exegetical point or a biblical truth you’re trying to express by choosing one over the other? Perhaps you’ve already provided an answer to that last question by your #3 post, but you might have more to add. It’s interesting that the term “grace” doesn’t appear all that frequently in Romans, but, wow, are the contexts in which it appears rich.

  42. Reed Here said,

    August 30, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Dr. White: the latter question is more important, and actually answers the first.

    (Special) grace is ONLY experienced in God’s presence. I.e., it is never a substance which when handed over is our possession apart from our relationship with Christ. I.e., it is only in union that we enjoy grace’s action, work, act (all good expressions, but rooted in the one I’m emphasizing).

    This biblical point I believe is expressly stated in the Scriptures. I.e., you will not find grace referenced in a manner that divorces it from God’s presence. I was led to this by simple observation, especially now in Romans. Not simply is union referenced in the nearby context of a grace reference. Often (usually?, always?) grace is referenced in such a manner that it rests in, grows out of, in some manner expresses some benefit (act, action, work) that is ONLY experienced because God is present. Further this presence is always expressed in the most intimate of terms, to wit: spiritual union.

    Practically speaking (the rest here is only surmisal on my part) one of the reasons I think God does this is because it is his people continue to be in need of the gospel preached. The gospel proclaimed is what God uses to both save and grow his people (Col 1:5-6; 2:6-7). These grace expressions are in effect pronouncements that develop the promises inherent in the essential gospel: Christ died for sinners.

    One of my convictions is that if God’s people are not told how the Spirit provides the Christ’s provisions then they are not equipped to walk in faith. That is, not told the what/how of the gospel promises developed are present in God’s presence in their lives, they are not as able to respond to the Spirit in faith. Usually they don’t recognize this deficiency and they substitute walking by faith with walking by sight.

    Thus the Scripture is always presenting the gospel – developed in its fullest expression to the particular issues at hand. It is this gospel proclamation that is the spiritual food the Spirit uses to feed faith. With particular reference to grace, lest God’s people try to walk by sight, God always attaches his promise of provision of grace to the proclamation of his personal presence.

    I sense this needs quite a bit of tweaking. So please, give me some feedback. Thanks!

  43. Cris Dickason said,

    August 30, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    Reed: I think you are onto something here (we are having at least a 3-way chat, right?). Greetings Dr. White!

    What you lay out in terms of God’s presence fits with OT themes too. It’s in the Garden, Gen 3:8. Adam & Eve hear God and hide from his presence. It is the theme of Israel – It’s the point of Tabernacle & Temple. Think of the instructions for how to order the Exodus, around God’s presence in their midst. Throughout the OT God says, Come close, but not too close. And he finally comes as close as “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8.3; Heb 2:14ff), when he sends his Son.

    And the centrality of Union with Christ is part & parcel with this. This has enormous practical implications or applications. To the lonely and alienated presenting Christ and adoption can be the entry point of communicating the Gospel. To the tender conscience (or the hardened one) presenting Christ and his righteousness in face of God’s justice can be the point of contact. The fullness of who God is offers a variety of ways to communicate the Gospel, [begin Lane Tipton impersonation] which is nothing other than Christ himself. We proclaim the Benefactor, and in him, the benefits of union with him [/end impersonation].

    Keep at it, Reed!


  44. John Harutunian said,

    August 30, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Chris, Reed, R.F. White (and just about everyone else) -You guys know your stuff! As a church organist (and an Anglican at that), I just hope you’re not all Exclusive Psalmodists!


    >[God’s] people continue to be in need of the gospel preached. The gospel proclaimed is what God uses to both save and grow his people (Col 1:5-6; 2:6-7).

    Amen. But this was more Luther’s emphasis than Calvin’s, wasn’t it?

    John Bugay, thanks for the great quote from Torrance’s The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers. I read it a couple of years ago. (Subsequently I had the pleasure of getting to know a member of the Thomas Torrance Society, Rev. Dr. Craig Higgins of Trinity Presbyterian in Rye, NY.) As I recall, Torrance’s essential thesis was that when it came to grace, the apostolic fathers -with one or two exceptions- basically “didn’t get it.” And he made a good case for it. To which I’d then respond, “Almost thou persuadest me to become a Presbyterian.”

  45. johnbugay said,

    August 31, 2011 at 3:22 am

    Hi John H: Oscar Cullmann corroborated Torrance’s findings in his 1956 work Scripture and Tradition. The essential story is that the gnostic and other heresies at Rome in the second century gained the sway that they did precisely because of the reliance on “oral tradition”. Once the written documents were collected in a kind of a canon, then the late second and early third century “bishops” were in a position to take a stand doctrinally. Irenaeus was the first to do this, according to Cullmann.

    Some of the work being done in conservative Anglican circles tugs on my heart strings, but the story on “apostolic succession” as I understand it, both from Roman Catholic and Anglican sources, is that “bishops” were not a part of the original authority structure of the church but only “developed” during the second century as a part of a somewhat authoritarian effort to stand against the gnostics. Ignatius’s “bishop” was more akin to a senior pastor. My view is that “apostolic succession” is a nice, touchy-feely kind of connection with an earlier version of the church, but it may freely be disregarded.

    I’m a Presbyterian because I think the Reformed churches came to the best understanding of what the Scriptures are all about. (I do think that even they, sometimes, take their own notions of authority too seriously).

    The Scriptures are God’s infallible gift to us. The Scriptures are the place where we may stand without fear, and look to Christ alone, when all else around us seems to be falling apart.

  46. John Harutunian said,

    August 31, 2011 at 4:14 am

    Thanks, John Bugay. A couple of points in reply,
    First, if a certain reformer in Geneva were to impose on his congregation the edict, “No hymns will be permitted in these worship services, unless they are verbatim quotes of Scripture”, wouldn’t you think, “This individual needs some kind of ecclesiastical authority -be it located in Rome, Canterbury or Wheaton, Illinois- to bring him into line; to keep him from imposing such a Biblically unwarranted legalism on his congregation”? (Since the sole Biblical reference to the Psalms as a corpus, as a body [Psalm 72:20] categorizes them as _prayers_ [not as “hymns” or “songs”, or “sung praise”, or “songs which partake of the ‘nature’ of prayer” -the last being John Murray’s ingenious evasion], Calvin’s claim to a hard distinction between singing and praying in worship, [thereby making them separate “elements” of worship so that he could “regulate” them differently] -all this falls flat.) It does seem that some outside authority was necessary to keep Calvin from impoverishing the worship of his congregation in this way. And, as you probably know, this unfortunately remained Reformed practice for several centuries afterward.
    Second, haven’t Presbyterians in general been weak on examining the presuppositions which they bring _to_ the Bible? My impression is that the Puritans were entirely cavalier on the subject. And at the other extreme there was Cornelius Van Til, for whom -insofar as I can make out what he’s saying- the truth of the Bible was the only presupposition to be acknowledged.

  47. johnbugay said,

    August 31, 2011 at 5:08 am

    John H:


    if a certain reformer in Geneva were to impose on his congregation the edict, “No hymns will be permitted in these worship services, unless they are verbatim quotes of Scripture”, wouldn’t you think, “This individual needs some kind of ecclesiastical authority -be it located in Rome, Canterbury or Wheaton, Illinois- to bring him into line; to keep him from imposing such a Biblically unwarranted legalism on his congregation”?

    Absolutely not. First, you’re assuming Calvin was “out of line” – I’m not a fan of legalism in any sense, but Calvin was without question the finest biblical expositor of any time up to that time. And simultaneously, he found himself in a position of having to ask himself, “what do we do now?” He absolutely did not need an outside authority, which, in any event, was in less of a position to understand scriptural warrants than he was.

    He was creating a whole new thing at the time, and he was conservative in his views. That’s greatly to be respected. Even if the end result was that some folks would think his solution was not ideal.

    (Since the sole Biblical reference to the Psalms as a corpus, as a body [Psalm 72:20] categorizes them as _prayers_ [not as “hymns” or “songs”, or “sung praise”, or “songs which partake of the ‘nature’ of prayer” -the last being John Murray’s ingenious evasion], Calvin’s claim to a hard distinction between singing and praying in worship, [thereby making them separate “elements” of worship so that he could “regulate” them differently] -all this falls flat.)

    This is an issue, not because Calvin had no authority to keep him in line. Rather, this became an issue because of folks – maybe even Calvin – who took ecclesiastical authority too seriously.

    It does seem that some outside authority was necessary to keep Calvin from impoverishing the worship of his congregation in this way. And, as you probably know, this unfortunately remained Reformed practice for several centuries afterward.

    Again, that anyone was “impoverished” is merely an assumption on your part. Knox called Calvin’s Geneva: “the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles”. And he was an eyewitness to it.

    Second, haven’t Presbyterians in general been weak on examining the presuppositions which they bring _to_ the Bible? My impression is that the Puritans were entirely cavalier on the subject. And at the other extreme there was Cornelius Van Til, for whom -insofar as I can make out what he’s saying- the truth of the Bible was the only presupposition to be acknowledged.

    Sadly, I haven’t studied the Puritans as thoroughly as I’d have liked. And as for Van Til, there has to be a starting point somewhere. If God exists, then how does he communicate with us? The Jews had Moses first, but then they had the Scriptures, and an authority that was subordinate to the Scriptures. One that took itself too seriously at times, and had to be corrected on occasion.

  48. Reed Here said,

    August 31, 2011 at 7:10 am

    John H: wow dude, really off topic. But o.k.

    Calvin was under authority. Consider the elders in Geneva. As well, give the topic of the “plurality of the elders” a study. This is the heart of Presbyterian understanding of the biblical leadership structure God has put in place. The RCC/Anglican version is in some senses merely a defective application of this principle. E.g., the Archbishop of Cantebury is not without his accountability to his bishops. Same for the pope and his cardinals.

    As to examining presuppositions, it is ironic you bring up Van Til. He is the exemplar of examining presuppositions. You’ve got him 180 degrees backward.

    On the presuppositions we bring to the Bible, a simple rule applies: our presuppositions are always to be judged by the Bible, not the other way around. Isn’t this consistent with our mutual conviction that God is sovereign and has spoken sovereignly in the Bible? After all, the Bible is not a memoir by a retired Prime Minister/President, “From Creation to ReCreation, A Story of My Life, by God Almighty.”

  49. johnbugay said,

    August 31, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Excellent clarifications Reed.

  50. Cris Dickason said,

    August 31, 2011 at 9:02 am

    John H, et al: And not to be piling on John H., but Calvin was under authority to more than just the Consistory of Geneva. Remember that the City Council of Geneva called the shots on a number of issues and prevented Calvin & Consistory from implementing some desired reforms or practices, notably weekly celebration of Lord’s Supper.

    This is somewhat general knowledge of the situation in Geneva. Wonder if any Calvin experts have details on how many points he was hindered by the the City Council (that’s probably not the correct name). Who knows what Calvin would have done or attempted without governmental interference!?


  51. rfwhite said,

    August 31, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    42 Reed:

    There’s a lot to appreciate in what you are saying, especially when you mention speaking practically and about your convictions. Let me offer some thoughts perhaps to prompt some tweaks.

    From what you say in the first couple of paragraphs, “union with God” and “presence of God” seem to be interchangeable terms. Is that correct? If not, how do they relate? If so, what do you make of the idea (e.g., Horton) that “union with Christ is first of all forensic”? If you accept the priority of the forensic, how do you integrate that fact into your (pastoral) definition of grace?

    Here’s what I have in mind. Ordinarily, when we talk about God’s presence, we would say that God is only present in judgment unless he has been propitiated and has justified the ungodly. If that’s the case, then isn’t it the case that the grace that is his presence presupposes and follows (at least logically) the grace that is his justification of sinners?

    To invoke Cris’s reference to Genesis, God’s presence was accessible to sinful man only for God to punish him unless his defilement was first permanently removed. If this is correct, is it also correct to say that your definition of grace focuses on the grace involved in sanctification and does not focus on the grace involved in justification?

    Not that this makes the definition “wrong”; it’s just that it’s tweaked to say it’s limited to sanctification.

    What do you think?

  52. Reed Here said,

    August 31, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Dr. White: I think I see better what you’re getting at.

    I’m not sure I fully appreciate what Horton is trying to say in that reference you make. Hence I hesitate to affirm with him.

    Notwithstanding, yes the grace of justification is logically prior to the grace of sanctification.

    And no, I don’t think this necessarily limits my definition to speaking about sanctificatory grace alone. As you note, the matter boils down to what one means by “presence” when using the definition. I think as written the definition has a careful flexibility to it.

    If we’re speaking justifactory grace, God is present as a judge satisfied. He is indeed present but not in the same manner as in sanctification. In sanctification He is present as an acting Father. (Not to be confused with the prior adoptive grace, where we could say He is present as a adopting Father). I suspect there is a better. more nuanced word for the sanctificatory perspective.

    I think the definition I’ve offered is actually rooted more in union language than either justification or sanctification. If done adequately, one would expect the definition to be flexible enough for any specific expression of grace.

    Does this make sense?

  53. olivianus said,

    August 31, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Methinks Edwards settles the issue:Treatise on Grace by Jonathan Edwards

    Here are some important portions of this treatise:

    “SUCH phrases as common grace, and special or saving grace, may be understood as signifying either diverse kinds of influence of God’s Spirit on the hearts of men, or diverse fruits and effects of that influence….[Chapter 2] ‘Tis common for us to speak of various graces of the Spirit of God as though they were so many different principles of holiness, and to call them by distinct names as such, — repentance, humility, resignation, thankfulness, etc. But we err if we imagine that these in their first source and root in the heart are properly distinct principles. They all come from the same fountain, and are, indeed, the various exertions and conditions of the same thing, only different denominations according to the various occasions, objects, and manners, attendants and circumstances of its exercise. There is some one holy principle in the heart that is the essence and sum of all grace, the root and source of all holy acts of every kind, and the fountain of every good stream, into which all Christian virtues may ultimately be resolved, and in which all duty and [all] holiness is fulfilled.

    Thus the Scripture represents it. Grace in the soul is one fountain of water of life, (John 4:14,) and not various distinct fountains. So God, in the work of regeneration, implants one heavenly seed in the soul, and not various different seeds. 1 John 3:9–”Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him.” … The Day [that] has arisen on the soul is but one. The oil in the vessel is simple and pure, conferred by one holy anointing. All is “wrought” by one individual work of the Spirit of God. And thus it is there is a consentanation of graces. Not only is one grace in some way allied to another, and so tends to help and promote one another, but one is really implied in the other. The nature of one involves the nature of another. And the great reason of it is, that all graces have one common essence, the original principle of all, and is but one. Strip the various parts of the Christian soul of their circumstances, concomitants, appendages, means, and occasions, and consider that which is, as it were, their soul and essence, and all appears to be the same. [Chapter 1] …It is possible that natural men, without the addition of any further principle than they have by nature, may be affected with gratitude by some remarkable kindness of God to them, as that they should be so affected with some great act of kindness of a neighbour. A principle of self-love is all that is necessary to both. But Divine Love is a principle distinct from self-love, and from all that arises from it. Indeed, after a man is come to relish the sweetness of the supreme good there is in the nature of God, self-love may have a hand in an appetite after the enjoyment of that good. For self-love will necessarily make a man desire to enjoy that which is sweet to him. But God’s perfections must first savour appetite and [be] sweet to men, or they must first have a taste to relish sweetness in the perfection of God, before self-love can have any influence upon them to cause an appetite after the enjoyment of that sweetness. And therefore that divine taste or relish of the soul, wherein Divine Love doth most fundamentally consist, is prior to all influence that self-love can have to incline us to God; and so must be a principle quite distinct from it, and independent of it. [Chapter 2]…There are many things in the minds of some natural men that are from the influence of the Spirit, but yet are by no means spiritual things in the scriptural sense of the word. The Spirit of God convinces natural men of sin, (John 16:8.) Natural men may have common grace, common illuminations, and common affections that are from the Spirit of God, as appears by Hebrews 6:4. Natural men have sometimes the influences of the Spirit of God in His common operations and gifts, and therefore God’s Spirit is said to be striving with them, and they are said to resist the Spirit, (Acts 7:51;) to grieve and vex God’s Holy Spirit, (Eph. 4:30; Isaiah 63:10;) and God is said to depart from them even as the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul: 1 Sam. 16:14– “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.”… Hence also we may more easily receive and understand a doctrine that seems to be taught us in the Sacred Scripture concerning grace in the heart–viz., that it is no other than the Spirit of God itself dwelling and acting in the heart of a saint,– which the consideration of these things will make manifest:–

    (1.) That the Sacred Scriptures don’t only call grace spiritual, but “spirit.”

    (2.) That when the Sacred Scriptures call grace spirit, the Spirit of God is intended; and that grace is called “Spirit” no otherwise than as the name of the Holy Ghost, the Third Person in the Trinity is ascribed to it… This is yet more abundantly clear by the next words, which are, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Here these two things that in the preceding verse are called “flesh and spirit,” are in this verse called “the law of the Spirit of life” and “the law of sin and death,” evidently speaking still of the same law of our mind and the law of sin spoken of in the last verse of the preceding chapter. The Apostle goes on in the 8th chapter to call aversation and grace by the names of flesh and Spirit, (verses 4-9, and again verses 12,13.) These two principles are called by the same names in Matt. 26:41– “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” There can be no doubt but that the same thing is intended here by the flesh and spirit as (compare what is said of the flesh and spirit here and in these places) in the 7th and 8th chapters of Romans, and Gal. 5. Again, these two principles are called by the same words in Gal. 6:8. If this be compared with the 18th verse of the foregoing chapter, and with Romans 8:6 and 13, none can doubt but the same is meant in each place.

    2. If the Sacred Scriptures be duly observed, where grace is called by the name of “spirit,” it will appear that ’tis so called by an ascription of the Holy Ghost, even the third person in the Trinity, to that Divine principle in the hearts of the saints, as though that principle in them were no other than the Spirit of God itself, united to the soul, and living and acting in it, and exerting itself in the use and improvement of its faculties… So that true saving grace is no other than that very love of God– that is, God, in one of the persons of the Trinity, uniting Himself to the soul of a creature, as a vital principle, dwelling there and exerting Himself by the faculties of the soul of man, in His own proper nature, after the manner of a principle of nature… We often, in our common language about things of this nature, speak of a principle of grace. I suppose there is no other principle of grace in the soul than the very Holy Ghost dwelling in the soul and acting there as a vital principle. To speak of a habit of grace as a natural disposition to act grace, as begotten in the soul by the first communication of Divine light, and as the natural and necessary consequence of the first light, it seems in some respects to carry a wrong idea with it. Indeed the first exercise of grace in the first light has a tendency to future acts, as from an abiding principle, by grace and by the covenant of God; but not by any natural force. The giving one gracious discovery or act of grace, or a thousand, has no proper natural tendency to cause an abiding habit of grace for the future; nor any otherwise than by Divine constitution and covenant. But all succeeding acts of grace must be as immediately, and, to all intents and purposes, as much from the immediate acting of the Spirit of God on the soul, as the first; and if God should take away His Spirit out of the soul– all habits and acts of grace would of themselves cease as immediately as light ceases in a room when a candle is carried out. And no man has a habit of grace dwelling in him any otherwise than as he has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him in his temple, and acting in union with his natural faculties, after the manner of a vital principle. So that when they act grace, ’tis, in the language of the apostle, “not they, but Christ living in them.” Indeed the Spirit of God, united to human faculties, acts very much after the manner of a natural principle or habit… Hence the Spirit of God seems in Sacred Scripture to be spoken of as a quality of the persons in whom it resided. So that they are called spiritual persons; as when we say a virtuous man, we speak of virtue as the quality of the man.” [Chapter 3]
    In light of this Scriptural definition of grace I must deny the traditional Scholastic doctrine of created grace and the Eastern View of the Energies. The “stuff” of grace is the Holy Spirit.

  54. Reed Here said,

    August 31, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Now there is a powerful definition: the “stuff” of grace is the Holy Spirit.

  55. rfwhite said,

    August 31, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    52 Reed:

    In direct answer to your question, yes, your comments make sense provided “union with” God and “presence of” God are interchangeable terms. It just looks to me that it’s a point that needs more study and/or proof. To be sure, it’s thought provoking.

  56. rfwhite said,

    August 31, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    52 Reed:

    In light of the post from Edwards by olivianus and your couple of mentions of the Spirit, I wonder if your definition, being interpreted, means, more specifically, God the Spirit’s presence in power so that God’s (God the Son’s?) provision of redemption — or God the Father’s provision of redemption in God the Son — becomes the believer’s possession.

  57. Reed Here said,

    September 1, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Dr. White: God the Spirit’s presence, yes. God the Father’s provision through God the Son’s perfections, yes.

  58. Cris Dickason said,

    September 1, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Reed – 54 – Sure took Mr Edwards a looong time to get there!

    I like that trinitarian cast. It’s a little removed from the orignial definition, which seemed to flow so clearly from Romans. It now looks like it could stand for Ephesians.


  59. michael said,

    September 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Great article and question!!!

    Some years ago the Lord put these thoughts in my head when pondering Grace and Mercy and Peace being multiplied to my benefit, most of the time I am unaware of the benefits or protections this Salvation provides me day by day as I sojourn through this valley of the shadow of death:

    Grace, as defined is What God Gives us that we don’t deserve.
    Mercy, as defined is What God does not give us that we do deserve.
    Peace is the outcome of both Grace and Mercy from God in our daily lives.

    What about Jesus, what did He get and did not get??

    Jesus did not deserve what He got from God and was given, so hence, He was shown no Grace.
    Jesus did not deserve what He got from God and was not given, so hence, He was shown no Mercy.
    Therefore Jesus was deprived of Peace from God.

    “10 ¶ Yet it pleased the LORD to afflict him; he has put him to grief; he laid down his life as an offering for sin, that posterity may see, and his days shall be prolonged, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 He shall see the reward of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied with the knowledge; he shall justify the righteous; for he is a servant of many, and he shall bear their sins. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he has poured out his life to death; and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sins of many, and died the death of transgressors.”

    And God did not give Him Grace, Mercy or Peace so that we could receive Grace, what we don’t deserve and Mercy, what we don’t deserve and Peace with God after we leave this mortal life.

    As I plumb the depths of Grace these days, for some reason my mind focuses on John the Baptist being a living example of Grace given for the furtherance of the Gospel of the Kingdom, even to this generation and the next?

  60. John Harutunian said,

    September 1, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    First: Reed, (post #48) in one sense you’re quite right. I’m basically off topic, and my thanks to you and John B. for accomodating me. And yet, I think there is a tie-in here (see below).

    John (post #47), when I say that Calvin -or, more accurately, Calvin and the authorities he worked under in Geneva- “impoverished” worship, I grant that my reasoning is in one sense circular. Yet in another sense, it’s not. My point is that non-canonical hymns (no less that canonical hymns and Psalms) had been used in worship at least since the time of Ambrose; hence their loss represented an impoverishment.
    Unless -and this seems to be a fairly common perspective in the Reformed tradition- one assumes the following stance: The Bible is the Word of God. Hence it is “superior” to any word of man (into which category hymns must necessarily fall), in the same _way_ that one hundred dollars is “superior” to ten dollars. Believe me, I hold the same high view of Scripture as did Calvin; I just wouldn’t apply the principle in such a linear fashion.
    To put my position more positively, I’d say that the “richest” worship is that which incorporates both canonical hymns (such as the Magnificat) and non-canonical ones (such as Watts’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”).
    To return to my original point. A hymn, as you doubtless realize, is basically a sung prayer. Suppose that some within the Church were to adopt a hermeneutic which led them to the view that all non-canonical *spoken* prayers were to be abolished from worship -since they are “man-made” expressions no less than are sung hymns. Wouldn’t there be a need for some ecclesiastical authority to say, “No; if you do this, you’ll be cutting yourself off from the worship of the historic Church”? And in this respect, this nevertheless seems to be what the Presbyterian mainstream did for some 200 years.
    And Reed, here’s my tie-in with the subject under discussion. Together with my Reformed brothers in the faith, I believe that out of sheer grace, Christ uttered His final cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” _in the place of_ His covenant people. Which is not to deny that Christians may sometimes *feel* that God has forsaken them. But the suggestion that God has *commanded* His people to say -or sing- that to Him in worship is something which I find unthinkable. Christ spoke these words so that we wouldn’t have to. Yet this is what happens if one assumes the common Presbyterian view of “the Psalter” as the Church’s hymnal (see Psalm 22:1).
    Nevertheless, I’ve been told by some Presbyterians (admittedly not many) that my perspective results from a faulty hermeneutic. So I would naturally ask how they know that their hermeneutic is the right one? Isn’t an outside ecclesiastical authority necessary -or at least desirable- here?
    Does all of this make sense?

  61. Reed Here said,

    September 2, 2011 at 11:39 am

    John H.: simple way to handle the exclusive psalmody topic is to follow the presupposition tree up its branches:

    1. Does the Bible require what is called the regulative principle of worship (RPW)? If yes, go to no. 2. If no, stop here.
    2. Does the RPW, as taught in the Bible, include music used in worship? If yes, go to no. 3. If no, stop here.
    3. Does the RPW, as taught in the Bible, address itself to the lyrics used in music in worship? If yes, go to no. 4. If no, stop here.
    4. Does the RPW, as taught in the Bible, address itself to the question of inspired verses uninspired lyrics used in music in worship? If yes, go to no. 5. If no, stop here.
    5. Does the RPW, as taught in the Bible, does it require: a) inspired lyrics only, b) uninspired lyrics only, or c) inspired lyrics and uninspired lyrics? (Pick one choice only).

    A person is able to answer for themselves what they believe the Bible teaches, and stop at the appropriate branch based on inner conviction. Regardless of what branch they end up on, their functional definition of grace remains the same.

    You are assuming that your conviction (appears to be 4., possibly 5.c.) is not only the biblical position but the 5.a. position (exclusive psalmody) is a restriction on your Christian liberty. In point of fact it is not. (Quite frankly, today it is our EP brothers who face the challenge to the liberty of their conviction).

    Even in Calvin’s Geneva this would not have been the case. You could have still maintained your conviction, albeit agreeing to submit your liberty to the well being of your brothers who did not so agree. Or you could have taken appropriate action to maintain your conviction in practice. You would of had to deal with the potential disciplinary measures, but such “suffering” for conscience sake is always blessed by the Spirit. :-)

    Regardless, I fail to see how this impinges on one’s definition of grace. Sorry brother.

  62. John Harutunian said,

    September 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Thanks, Reed, for your well-thought out reply; I certainly see your point.
    I think there’s one thing which still needs to be addressed. Don’t you think that restricting sung prayers in worship to the Psalms ultimately harms the “well being” (as you put it) of the Church? In the same way, though to a lesser degree, that restricting spoken prayers to canonical ones would do? It would restrict the range of the Christian’s communication with God in worship.
    I’d be interested in your insights on this. Thanks for being willing to follow me on this detour from the topic under discussion.

  63. Reed Here said,

    September 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    John H: simple answer, yes. This is because I believe the Bible teaches 5.c.

    Yet my different here with my EP brothers is akin to my differences with my credo-baptist brothers and my vestment brothers. In both cases I believe the application in worship of their convictions are detrimental to the congregation’s well-being, simply because I believe their application in not biblically supported. As well, I fully recognize that they believe the same about me, with reference to my convictions contra their’s.

    Yet in all three cases I believe they can affirm with me a biblically sound definition of grace, AND be reasonably confident of the Spirit’s blessing of this shared understanding.

    Make any sense?

  64. olivianus said,

    September 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm


    Guys if, you believe that the Holy Spirit is the stuff of grace, then can’t you see the problems involved with Western Scholasticism, which says we have only created similitudes of God’s reality? Edwards is affirming UNCREATED GRACE. Say goodbye to Aquinas.


  65. Reed Here said,

    September 2, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Drake: if I knew Aquinas better I could. :-)

  66. John Harutunian said,

    September 2, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    (Re: #63) Yes, Reed, it makes a lot of sense. Thanks.
    (By the way, I’ve just ordered “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment” by Jeremiah Burroughs. He sounds like my kind of Puritan! And, being a church organist in an increasingly Contemporary Christian Music age, and being a musicologist in a postmodernist question-the-Western-musical-canon age, it’s a virtue which I need a lot of help with!)

  67. Reed Here said,

    September 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    John H: chuckling with sympathy.

  68. bsuden said,

    September 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    If we want to discuss whether or not 5a was the position of the WStands – it was – may I suggest a separate thread.

    As it is, John H. is out of line and grinding an axe that has nothing to do with the definition of grace.

    And I trust that even those who are not psalmsingers can easily see that; further that John H. has been given quite a bit of latitude – grace, if you will – so much so that a smidgeon can be applied to my comments above.

  69. Reed Here said,

    September 3, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Bob: nooooooooo!

    (Thanks to Dr. White for the excellent link).

  70. johnsamson01 said,

    September 3, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    We must always remind ourselves that grace is not a “thing” or “substance.” As Dr. Sinclair Ferguson said so well:

    “It is legitimate to speak of “receiving grace,” and sometimes (although I am somewhat cautious about the possibility of misuing this langauge) we speak of the preaching of the Word, prayer, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper as “means of grace.” That is fine, so long as we remember that there isn’t a thing, a substance, or a “quasi-substance” called “grace.” All there is is the person of the Lord Jesus — “Christ clothed in the gospel,” as John Calvin loved to put it. Grace is the grace of Jesus.

    If I can highlight the thought here: there is no “thing” that Jesus takes from Himself and then, as it were, hands over to me. There is only Jesus Himself. Grasping that thought can make a significant difference to a Christian’s life. So while some people might think this is just splitting hairs about different ways of saying the same thing, it can make a vital difference. It is not a thing that was crucified to give us a thing called grace. It was the person of the Lord Jesus that was crucified in order that He might give Himself to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.”

  71. John Harutunian said,

    September 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    A fine thought, John. Here’s my Anglican counterpoint. (Reed, I promise I’ll try to stay on topic this time!)
    In the liturgical/sacramental churches, the concept of grace is built into the very structure of the liturgy. No need to wait till the sermon. Although the actual partaking of the Eucharistic elements is restricted to baptized believers, everyone who is physically present is invited to join in the liturgy. Which of course begins with, “Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy.” Whether the words are spoken in Greek (Kyrie eleison), English, or any other language, the participant is [implicitly] invited to cast himself on God’s grace as revealed in Jesus Christ. (Whether he is in fact doing this from the heart or only as an empty formality is up to God to judge.) In that sense, an “invitation” is extended at every liturgical celebration of Communion -indeed (though this may be a hard pill for some to swallow!) at every Mass.
    OK, all you Presbyterians! -what are your thoughts on this?
    Thanks for considering.

  72. Eric Langborgh said,

    September 5, 2011 at 7:15 am


    Rather, we would say the participant is graciously invited by God to cast himself on Jesus.

  73. Eric Langborgh said,

    September 5, 2011 at 7:17 am

    Re: John H, #71: “the participant is [implicitly] invited to cast himself on God’s grace as revealed in Jesus Christ.”

    Rather, we would say the participant is graciously invited by God to cast himself on Jesus.

  74. John Harutunian said,

    September 5, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Which sounds fine to me. I would guess that your formulation is a guard against the belief that the grace is communicated through the consecrated elements. Perhaps I’ve read you wrong -but if not, I’d just want to add that a)Calvin would agree that it is (unless I’ve totally misread him), and b)standard Roman Catholic teaching is that if the *willingness* to receive God’s grace is present, but the communicant is for some reason prevented from actually partaking of the elements, he does nevertheless receive the grace.
    (Some decades ago, an arch-conservative priest up here in the Boston area, Father Leonard Feeny denied this -and found himself temporarily excommunicated as a result. And this was before Vatican II!)

  75. Eric Langborgh said,

    September 6, 2011 at 7:56 am

    Hi John H.,

    I humbly refer you back to my #34 and #36 above, brother.

  76. John Harutunian said,

    September 7, 2011 at 3:29 am

    Eric, thanks for the reminder; my first point did indeed go over ground which you had already covered in your two earlier posts.
    Here’s another thought which might be worth some discussion: May the Biblical doctrine of grace be appropriately emphasized in the *way* our worship services are *structured*? For example, should non-Christians be invited to join in the Prayer of Confession? If such participation is Spirit-led, and not just an empty formality, might it not serve as an occasion of regeneration?

  77. David R. said,

    September 11, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    Reed, going way back to your post #63, I would be interested, if you care to explain, what your argument is that the Bible teaches 5c (i.e., that “the RPW, as taught in the Bible,… require[s] … inspired lyrics and uninspired lyrics”). I am of course quite familiar with (and sympathetic to) the anti-EP argument that redemptive-historical progress requires that we update our hymnbook. But, what is your argument that this updating cannot be done sufficiently using the inspired New Testament Scriptures alone? Why does the RPW require that we go outside them?

  78. Reed Here said,

    September 12, 2011 at 7:23 am

    David R: its a rather simple argument: I understand the three-part reference in Eph 3:19, Col 3:16 to be about both inspired (psalms) and uninspired (hymns, spiritual songs) songs used in worship. I’m familiar with the EP exegetical arguments to the contrary. No disrespect intended, but I think they are forced and unconvincing. Hence these passages offer a positive command (the key RPW component) regarding the lyrics used in worship songs.

  79. Bob S said,

    September 12, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Mr. Here:Nooooooooo!

  80. John Harutunian said,

    September 12, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Reed, I really appreciate your willingness to continue this off-topic discussion.(In any case, it does look a bit like our thoughts on grace are now spent, at least for the time being.) I hope that what I’m about to say doesn’t get me into trouble with either you or David!


    >what is your argument that this updating [of our hymnbook] cannot be done sufficiently using the inspired New Testament Scriptures alone? Why does the RPW require that we go outside them?

    Writing as a non-RPW Anglican, I nevertheless think I can respond to
    your question in three ways. First, I don’t say that hymns should “go outside” of the Scriptures; only that they don’t need to be verbatim quotations of them. They can, and should, be biblically based.
    Second, as a matter of Biblical record: the sole reference within the canonical Psalms to the Psalms as a corpus (i.e.,as a body), doesn’t refer to them as “hymns” (nor, may I add, as “songs”, nor “sung praise”, nor as “songs which partake of the nature of prayer”, etc.). Rather, it refers to them -categorically and unequivocally- as “prayers”. The verse is Psalm 72:20, which marks the close of the second book of Psalms. And there’s nothing in the remaining three books which would warrant their insertion into a different category. From which it follows that Scripture (neither in the Old nor in the New Testament) acknowledges no hard-and-fast line of demarcation between spoken and sung prayer. Hence there is no Biblical ground for regulating them differently. And, of course, a sung prayer is a hymn.
    (A sub-point here would be that no New Testament quotations of the Psalms [I understand that there are over 40] make use of the term “sang”, “song”, “hymn” or any other musical word. The reference is always to something “spoken” or “said” [e.g., “the Holy Spirit spoke by the mouth of David, saying…”]. Hence the New Testament writers didn’t consider the presence or absence of melody to be a critical, or regulation-determining, factor.)
    Third: all Christians agree that the “prayer-designated entities” which are the Psalms were sung by the New Testament Church. Writing as a musicologist, I’d prefer to say “chanted”. I say this because the qualities which we today associate with singing which set it markedly apart from speech -metric rhythm and strong tension-resolution patterns- didn’t appear in church music until respectively the 12th and 16th centuries. (Which is why, for example, the Medieval *Chant* “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” lacks both of these.) Indeed, even Exclusive Psalmodist Michael Bushell acknowledges that for Paul, “singing” probably meant something closer to “chanting” than singing as we think of it today (“The Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody”, p.50). (This explains the [to our contemporary minds] “looseness” of the Biblical terminology involving speech and song, as above. It’s not that the Holy Spirit was being sloppy.) The question then becomes: What “warrant” do we have to assume that the *other* prayers used in New Testament worship (that is, the non-Psalmodic prayers) were spoken, rather than chanted/sung? They *may* have been, but the burden of proof lies with those who claim that they were.
    In light of all of this: if one follows the Regulative Principle, I believe that one can actually build a stronger case for the position that it’s sinful to pray in church than it is to sing hymns in church. (I am of course using the word “pray” in its normative, modern, Protestant sense; that is, -to address God as one would a fellow human being in ordinary spoken conversation rather than by chanting; and I’m assuming that in both cases the content is noncanonical,)

  81. Bob S said,

    September 13, 2011 at 12:19 am

    Noooooooo . . . .

  82. David R. said,

    September 13, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Reed, thanks. Since it seems to me to be far from self evident that the terms “hymns” and “spiritual songs” in those passages (Eph 3:19, Col 3:16) necessarily indicate uninspired lyrics, I’d be grateful if you can point me to one or more commentators on those passages that you have found to be particularly persuasive in arguing for that understanding.

    John, since we’ve been through this before at some length, I’ll just say that the argument that Scripture does not distinguish between spoken and sung prayer is not one that I find compelling.

  83. Reed Here said,

    September 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    David R.: I was not persuaded by any arguing for my position, but by those against it.

    Maybe a little more …

    If the exegesis of EP on these passages does not follow, then what else can it mean? The plainest reading is that Paul is talking about different kinds of songs used to worship God, without reference to inspired or uninspired. Therefore we have a positive command (RPW) to use these types of songs in worship, both inspired and uninspired.

    I recognize this will not convince someone who believes that the three-fold reference in these passages is controlled by the Septuagint translation of Hebrew OT psalm references. Yet if one does not believe this exegetical argument is correct, then the only other option consistent with the passages is the one I’ve outlined. Of course, just my opinion.

  84. David R. said,

    September 13, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Reed, thanks again. I appreciate the additional explanation you provided. Where I disagree with you is about the plainest reading of those passages. As I see it, the plainest reading is that “psalms” refers to inspired songs (probably the OT psalms, as you had said above), “hymns,” most likely also refers to songs from the OT book of psalms (as that term almost certainly has that reference in Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26), and “spiritual songs,” at the very least, refers to songs that originate from the Holy Spirit, and are thus inspired. (The notion that by “spiritual songs,” Paul meant something like “devotional songs” does not seem at all plain to me.)

    This seems to me to be the plainest reading wholly apart from whether or not Paul had in mind the three terms used in the LXX (though I think the variety of terms in the LXX psalm superscriptions at least suggest a plausible reason for Paul’s use of several terms rather than just “psalms”).

    I’m not sure whether I’ve given you a third exegetical option, but my understanding does not hinge necessarily on the notion that Paul was referencing LXX terms.

  85. John Harutunian said,

    September 13, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    David, re your post #82, I just checked through the blogs, and couldn’t find one in which we discussed EP. Unless, that is, you’re thinking of another website, where the exchange has escaped me. In any case, could you just let me know where Scripture distinguishes between spoken and sung prayer -and does so to the point where both (though equally prayer) must be regulated differently? If you’d prefer, that would suffice to wrap up our discussion.

  86. David R. said,

    September 14, 2011 at 9:34 am

    John, It was on another blog, and it was about a year ago. I don’t want to go over the same ground, and I’m not going to persuade you, so I’ll just say this. I think it is self-evident that the following two passages (for example) are commanding two different things:

    1. “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

    2. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16)

  87. John Harutunian said,

    September 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    David, you’re right: it was indeed on another blog around a year ago -and no, you’re not going to persuade me! But thanks for the quick and courteous reply.

  88. September 22, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Sorry that I’m so late to the discussion, but it seems to me that limiting grace to simply favor is a bit truncated, since Paul often speaks of “the measure of grace given to me,” or that we should seek to “increase in grace,” etc.

    An interesting question is, “Would Paul be more likely to say those things if grace were (at least partially) a substance, or if grace were merely divine favor?”

    Isn’t it obvious that it’s the former?

  89. Reed Here said,

    September 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Hmm Rick, it might be a weakness in the expression. I never intended to limit “presence” to “favor.” In fact I was trying to do the exact opposite.

    Contrary, I am intentionally getting away from what I perceive to be a serious deficiency in how we ordinarily approach this topic. That is, we usually end up understanding grace as a substance that can be experienced apart from the presence of Christ. This goes against the fundamental features of grace.

    I only “get” grace in my relationship with Christ. I.e., grace is a factor of spiritual intimacy. I cannot have grace without having the intimacy with Christ. I understand such prayers for increase of grace (measure) to be simply expressions calling for deeper intimacy with Christ, that I might have a fuller experience of His work in me, with the result that necessarily follows.

    It may be that some verses do speak specifically of grace as a stand alone commodity. Yet I think such would only be a reference to the results of his grace working in me. I.e., the fruit is not the grace, but is labeled by a name referencing its source.

    The key distinction my definition is striving to press home is that grace is the experience of redemptive benefits ONLY had in the ongoing experience of union with Christ. It is his presence that is the essential characteristic to be both emphasized and guarded when discussing grace.

    Make any sense?

  90. September 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Hi Reed,

    Thanks for replying. I absolutely agree that grace cannot be extrapolated from Christ himself, and that we grow in grace only insofar as we grow in our intimacy with Jesus.

    I guess what I am asking about is whether the idea that grace = divine favor, full stop, comports with the biblical data about some people seeming to have more grace than others, or that we are to seek to increase in grace, etc.

    In other words, the grace-as-favor idea seems woefully incomplete.

    PS – I have never heard anyone espouse what you call “the way we ordinarily approach this topic.” Who exactly, in your experience, teaches that grace is a substance that can be “experienced apart from the presence of Christ”?


  91. Reed Here said,

    September 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Rick: sorry I can’t respond further. I’m not familiar with the formulation of grace as “mere” favor (seems to be your emphassi). As that is not intended in what I’ve said, and at most an inference denied. I guess I need to leave it there.

    Not sure what your church affiliation is. The misunderstanding of grace as a substance appears to me to be the common default among evangelicals in general. This is more the case with folks who’ve yet to examine the topic. It is more or less an inferential assumption that gets attached to a common definition of grace, e.g., grace as unmerited gift (favor).

  92. Cris Dickason said,

    September 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Biblicist @ 88 – Grace a Substance? Never!

    NIV Romans 5:20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,

    ESV Romans 12:6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;

    ESV 2 Corinthians 4:15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

    ESV 2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

    ESV Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

    ESV Ephesians 2:7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

    ESV Eph 4:7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

    NAU 2Ti 2:1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

    ESV 1Pe 4:10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

    ESV 1Pe 1:13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

    Just a few sample verses that show “grace” might grow and increase beyond
    some “intial level.” Grace also is given by God in different measures to
    different people for His purposes. There are yet to be revealed depths of
    grace (Eph 2:7 & 1 Peter 1:13).

    All of this is to illustrate that “grace” is a circumlocution – a word that
    can stand in for a phrase. Grace is short-hand for “God’s gracious dealings
    with us” – for “God’s undeserved favor” – “God’s demerited favor”. [Hey, isn’t that how this topic started out?] The nature of many languages, especially the Indo-European ones (Greek as well as English) is to use concrete nouns for abstract ideas, nouns for verbal actions, and vice-versa. It’s normal for languages to function this way.

    Another way to reflect on this: God gives us the Scriptures, not a systematic
    theology or a doctrinal dictionary. Again, that’s how this post started out, eh? [insert smiley here]

  93. Cris Dickason said,

    September 23, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Reed – The new Gravatar picture?! What’s up with that? Has Mrs. Reed seen and approved?


  94. Reed Here said,

    September 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Cris: what? Don’t you like it? I got so many complaints about the floating space head that I decided to do a Van Gogh, and try my hand at a self-portrating, 21st century style. :-) (And no, the Mrs. hates it. I’ll probably change in a few weeks. But for now …)

  95. Cris Dickason said,

    September 24, 2011 at 5:11 am

    Reed, you should have gone “Rembrandt” – much easier on the eyes. We’re going to the “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus” exhibit at the Phila Museum of Art. Hopefully we aren’t in trouble with the session of the Presbytery. It’s art, not Liturgy.

    For my most recent mug look at this link:

  96. Reed Here said,

    September 24, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Great pic Cris. You make me look old. ;-)

  97. Cris Dickason said,

    September 24, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    The hat & puppy are hiding the gray, friend. My M.Div is almost older than you!

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