Genesis 15:6 in Paul and James

As one my commenters noticed, I forgot to come back to the issue of Genesis 15:6 as it has been used in Paul and in James. So, let’s deal with that here. First, a brief look at Genesis 15:6.

וְהֶאֱמִן בַּיהוָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה׃

“And he believed in YHWH, and He credited it for him righteousness.”

In the original context, Abram believed God’s promises, specifically concerning those of the (S)seed. Abram wondered about a few things (particularly concerning his heir, which at the time appeared to be Eliezer of Damascus). But finally the Lord told him that it would be an heir from his own body that would initialize the multiplication of the seed into a number too great to count, as great as the number of the stars. Therefore, we cannot separate the faith of Abram from the promise of the (S)seed. Abram not only believed the Lord’s Word, but he also believed in the promised Seed, Jesus Christ, the ultimate fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham. Of course, there was a near fulfillment in the person of Isaac, and the multiplication of Israel. However, this is not the climactic fulfillment that Jesus Christ was. This will do for a basic understanding of the passage in its original context.

We need to raise the problem of Paul and James in its acutest sense so that we can get a feel for the issues involved. Paul and James seem to contradict each other right at this point. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 in order to prove that justification is by faith and not by works of any kind (the relevant passage here is Romans 4:1-8).  James quotes Genesis 15:6 in order to say that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” As many people have noted (somewhat gleefully, I might add), the phrase “by faith alone” technically appears only in here in James 2, and that to be denied! What are we to make of this?

The road that Shepherd takes us on is the Arminian interpretation of imputation with regard to Genesis 15:6, which is that it is faith itself that is reckoned to take the place of righteousness (see Way of Righteousness, p. 30). This is  what Shepherd says: “What is credited or imputed to Abraham? The answer is his faith. The faith he had was reckoned to his account as righteousness. Faith and the obedience flowing from faith are of a piece with one another and together they constitute the righteousness of Abraham” (emphasis original). Notice here that it is not Christ’s righteousness that is here imputed, according to Shepherd, but rather the believer’s own faith plus the obedience that comes from faith. This misunderstands the nature of faith. Faith is not a thing in itself. It has no substance that could stand in for righteousness. Instead, we could call the expression a metonymy of the adjunct. Faith is an instrument that lays hold of Christ. Faith is an adjunct, or it lays hold of, Christ’s righteousness. The only reason faith can be said to be imputed is that faith lays hold of what is technically imputed: Christ’s righteousness. So faith’s instrumental character is here put to the fore when it is said to be counted for (or towards) righteousness.

Now, let it be known here that Shepherd and I agree on one point at least: justifying faith always results in obedience. We can both say that. Where we disagree is on the place of that righteousness within the structure of justification. He argues most definitely that the obedience of faith lies within the structure of justification. I argue most vociferously that it lies outside the structure of justification. How is that shown from James?

The justification by works of which James speaks is Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac in Genesis 22, NOT Abram’s belief as recorded in Genesis 15:6. The way James quotes Genesis 15:6 is as fulfillment of promise. The fulfillment language (καὶ ἐπληρώθη γραφὴ) indicates that Genesis 22 is what we would expect from Genesis 15:6. Faith results in obedience. This is NOT saying that obedience (even Spirit-filled obedience) is part of the structure of salvific justification. When one combines this analysis with what I said previously, arguing that “justify” in James refers NOT to salvific justification, but to demonstration of true faith, then all becomes clear. When James in verse 24 says that a man is not justified by faith alone, he is saying that a man is not justified demonstrably (shown to be unhypocritical, shown to have a true faith, shown to be a true child of the King) by faith alone. His works prove that he is genuine.

The only way to get around this is to argue that Paul does not deny all works when it comes to salvific justification. This cannot be done. It would make no sense whatsoever for Paul to say that unbelieving works cannot be counted as part of justification. That is rather obvious, isn’t it? In Romans 3, Paul has been concerned to prove that all alike are under sin. Every mouth must be stopped, and the whole world must become guilty (3:19). Therefore, the law here is concerned about morality, obedience to God. It is in that context that “deeds of the law” first makes its appearance in the passage about justification (3:20). Deeds of the law here cannot possibly refer exclusively or even primarily to those works that separate Jew from Gentile. Rather it has to refer to works that might give someone a ground upon which to boast before God.

Then, in verses 27-31, Paul proves his point by saying that since the law was the primary possession of the Jews, if justification were by these deeds of the law, then Gentiles would not be able to be justified ever. N.T. Wright makes a huge deal about verse 29 and the little word “or” that starts this verse. However, the verse does not say what he thinks it says. The sweep of the passage has to do with obedience to the whole law, and how all have fallen short. But the law as a whole has been specially revealed to the Jews. So, it is not just part of law-keeping that is excluded from Paul’s structure of justification. Rather, all law-keeping is excluded. There can be no ground of boasting. See Simon Gathercole’s outstanding treatment of this theme in Romans 1-5. Boasting would still be possible if any works of any kind (obedient or non-obedient) could form part of the structure of justification. They form the necessary result of justification and sanctification, and therefore cannot be separated from saving faith. But they are distinct from saving faith.

One of the main problems here is that all too often “living” has been equated with “obedient.” Those who disagree with me will undoubtedly point to James again and say “well, living is equated with obedient there.” No one is saying that we are justified (even in a Pauline sense!) by a dead faith. But the living aspect of faith with regard to justification is not obedience but the fact that it truly grasps hold of Christ. The living aspect of faith with regard to sanctification is that it will really result in good works. The second aspect of the aliveness of faith is the necessary result of the first aspect of the aliveness of faith. They are inseparable, yet distinct. The first aspect of the aliveness of faith is the sole province of the realm of justification. The second aspect is solely within sanctification. These things must be kept distinct, or all sorts of problems will result.

On Ministering to the Dying and Bereaved

Most of what I have learned about this topic I learned from other people, but I have tested it against Scripture, and have also put it to the test in ministry (16 funerals in almost 4 years), and I find it extremely helpful.

To the Bereaved:

1. While it is true to say that the dead Christian is in a better place, that is not the most helpful thing to say. I mean, it’s great for the dead person that he’s in another better place, but what about the people left behind mourning? In a very real sense, it is a physical bereavement. The bereaved miss the physical presence of the one who has died. They miss the touch, the personality, the talking, the eye contact. This is where it hurts most. Therefore, talking about the resurrection should have a focus not only on the new body that the dead believer will have, but also on the reunion with the bereaved that will occur. This reunion can also be a great gateway into the Gospel message: “How do you know you will see this person again? Only if you trust in Jesus and then have the hope of the same resurrection to eternal life.”

2. Going along with the first point: do not underestimate the power of touch in ministry at this point. Great care must be taken such that touching will always be appropriate. However, I have yet to have anyone misinterpret a hug at such a time. It is a great ease of the sharpness of physical bereavement to have physical contact.

3. Resurrection texts I find are the most appopriate for funerals, even at the funeral of an unbeliever. No other texts in the Bible show us so clearly that death is not the end. No other texts show us so clearly that death is a homegoing and that it is temporary. No other texts offer such hope in the midst of grief. Going right along with this is preaching that death is UNnatural, not natural. Death is an intruder into the created order. We lose sight of this sometimes, especially when we say that death are taxes are inevitable. Make a strong connection between death and sin, as the former is the full flower of the latter. Funerals are the best opportunities to share the Gospel. Nowhere else will people have the results of sin staring them right in the face. Nowhere else can we so legitimately face people with their own mortality and uttermost need of Jesus.

4. Do not advise people to seek to avoid grief. The only way to deal with grief is to go through it, pain and all, recognizing (and 1 Thessalonians 4 is essential here) that the grief of a believer mourning the death of a believer is of a fundamentally different sort than the grief of a non-believer. It is a grief laced with hope. That tempers grief, though it does not eliminate it. Encourage people to take their grief in all honesty to God. The Psalms are important here. We cannot escape grief. The problem with trying to avoid it is that we will bury it, and it will fester, quite possibly into bitterness. It is much better to deal with it immediately and thoroughly, for healing and a measure of peace will come much more quickly that way.

To the Dying:

5. People who are dying want to know about the afterlife. Tell them about where the soul goes, and where the body stays until the Resurrection. It is surprising how many people think that souls sleep after death.

6. People who are dying and know that they are going to heaven will want to know if they can still know things and recognize people. Point to Hebrews 12 in this regard and the passage in Revelation of the souls crying out to God “How long?”

7. People who are dying and do not know where they are going obviously need the Gospel, especially a Gospel of grace. Such people are usually worried about whether their lives have been good enough for God. This is an especially dangerous time for them. They need the full grace of justification by faith alone at this time more than anything else. Machen’s deathbed quotation about the active righteousness of Christ imputed is appropriate also.

8. Ask the dying person about their regrets. Tell them that their past misdeeds and lack of positive deeds can be forgiven in Christ.

Good Works in Assurance and Perseverance

Posted by Bob Mattes

In comments late in this discussion, Federal Visionists are seen to confuse the doctrines of assurance and perseverance. Specifically, in discussing the doctrine of the perseverance (or preferably, preservation) of the saints, they introduced 2 Peter 1:10 as evidence that human works play a part in our preservation.

At issue is the difference between these two constructs eloquently delineated by Anne Ivy:

IOW, it’s not “those who persevere to the end will be saved”, but rather “those who are saved will persevere to the end.”

Big, big difference.

How right she is. The first phrase “those who persevere to the end will be saved” implies that we somehow contribute to our perseverance. Yet a Federal Visionist replied:

You are claiming that your calling and election are already sure, so there is a real conflict of doctrine here between you and Dort, not to mention the Lord. This is one of the things the FV is drawing your attention to – that you have to make your calling and election sure, not presume that that is the case already.

2Pet. 1:10: Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble

I assume that there’s some level of “covenantal faithfulness”, a continuing Federal Vision theme, embedded in that comment. Let’s put this verse in context. 2 Peter 2:8-11 says:

8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (ESV)

What are these verses about? Two things primarily: sanctification and assurance. Verses 8 and 9 clearly sum up the reasons for our display of the fruit of the Spirit listed in the preceding verses–that they are evidence of our sanctification. So Calvin says in his comments on verse 9:

This he also confirms by adding this reason, because such have forgotten that through the benefit of Christ they had been cleansed from sin, and yet this is the beginning of our Christianity. It then follows, that those who do not strive for a pure and holy life, do not understand even the first rudiments of faith.

But Peter takes this for granted, that they who were still rolling in the filth of the flesh had forgotten their own purgation. For the blood of Christ has not become a washing bath to us, that it may be fouled by our filth. He, therefore, calls them old sins, by which he means, that our life ought to be otherwise formed, because we have been cleansed from our sins; not that any one can be pure from every sin while he lives in this world, or that the cleansing we obtain through Christ consists of pardon only, but that we ought to differ from the unbelieving, as God has separated us for himself. Though, then, we daily sin, and God daily forgives us, and the blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins, yet sin ought not to rule in us, but the sanctification of the Spirit ought to prevail in us; for so Paul teaches us in1 Corinthians 6:11, “And such were some of you; but ye are washed,” etc. [my bold]

Thus Calvin confirms that the fruit of the Spirit are simply the evidence of our faith and ongoing sanctification in cooperation with the Spirit. It is in that light in which verse 10 appears. The Westminster Annotations comment on verse 10 says:

brethren] By regeneration and adoption, and union with Christ by faith, we are made the children of God, and brethren spiritually, Phil 4:1….Here it is used in the fourth sense for fellow Christians.

Thus the Divines and other Reformers saw 2 Peter as being written to those elected from before the foundation of the world, members of the invisible church, as Peter clearly says at the beginning of the letter:

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

That is an important distinction to keep in mind relative for this letter as we move on to the annotators further comments on 2 Peter 1:10:

to make your calling and election sure] To get good grounds to assure you that ye were elected before the world, and are called out of the world. For it is sure enough in itself, by God’s decree and immutability, 2 Tim 2.19. Mal. 3.6. John 6.40. and 13.1. Rom. 11.29.
for if you do these things] Continuance then is well doing, is the way to get and keep assurance of salvation.
ye shall never fall] Jude verse 4. Our life is likened to a race, 1 Cor.9.24. we must take heed lest we fall, and come short of the prize set before us. The children of God may fall into some sins by weakness; but never so as to lose the goal. verse 11. [my bold]

Clearly the Reformers saw these verses as models both for sanctification and assurance. None of the Federal Vision’s “morbid introspection” is necessary for assurance. Also embedded in the annotators last sentence is the glorious truth that assurance unto perseverance is solely by the grace of God. Our good works performed in cooperation with the Holy Spirit are evidence, not the cause, of our assurance of election and unto perseverance.

Driving yet another nail into the Federal Vision coffin, Calvin says about verse 10:

Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence. He draws this conclusion, that it is one proof that we have been really elected, and not in vain called by the Lord, if a good conscience and integrity of life correspond with our profession of faith. And he infers, that there ought to be more labor and diligence, because he had said before, that faith ought not to be barren.

Some copies have, “by good works;” but these words make no change in the sense, for they are to be understood though not expressed.

He mentions calling first, though the last in order. The reason is, because election is of greater weight or importance; and it is a right arrangement of a sentence to subjoin what preponderates. The meaning then is, labor that you may have it really proved that you have not been called nor elected in vain. At the same time he speaks here of calling as the effect and evidence of election. If any one prefers to regard the two words as meaning the same thing, I do not object; for the Scripture sometimes merges the difference which exists between two terms. I have, however, stated what seems to me more probable. [my bold]

And what about Federal Vision’s “covenantal faithfulness”?

Now a question arises, Whether the stability of our calling and election depends on good works, for if it be so, it follows that it depends on us. But the whole Scripture teaches us, first, that God’s election is founded on his eternal purpose; and secondly, that calling begins and is completed through his gratuitous goodness. The Sophists, in order to transfer what is peculiar to God’s grace to ourselves, usually pervert this evidence. But their evasions may be easily refuted. For if any one thinks that calling is rendered sure by men, there is nothing absurd in that; we may however, go still farther, that every one confirms his calling by leading a holy and pious life. But it is very foolish to infer from this what the Sophists contend for; for this is a proof not taken from the cause, but on the contrary from the sign or the effect. Moreover, this does not prevent election from being gratuitous, nor does it shew that it is in our own hand or power to confirm election. For the matter stands thus, — God effectually calls whom he has preordained to life in his secret counsel before the foundation of the world; and he also carries on the perpetual course of calling through grace alone. But as he has chosen us, and calls us for this end, that we may be pure and spotless in his presence; purity of life is not improperly called the evidence and proof of election, by which the faithful may not only testify to others that they are the children of God, but also confirm themselves in this confidence, in such a manner, however, that they fix their solid foundation on something else.

Calvin could hardly be clearer that the perseverance of the saints relies on God’s grace alone. Again, our good works merely serve as evidence of our lively faith and hence provide us with confidence in and assurance of our election unto eternal life.

What about 2 Peter 1:11? According to the Westminster Annotations:

an entrance] A large passage into the Kingdom of glory in the life to come.
abundantly] John 10.10. If ye be full of good works, ye shall have abundant reward, 1 Cor. 9.9. and 15.58. 2 John verse 8.

Consistent with the rest of Scripture, we see here that our good works decide our reward, not our “final justification”, the latter being another Federal Vision theme.

Note, also, that the reprobate in the visible church are no where in view in this passage. The reprobate in the visible church have no assurance of salvation whatsoever, at any time or in any way. We’ve argued elsewhere on this site that baptism can only contribute to the assurance for the elect, the reprobate have no assurance from their baptism. Quite the contrary, it will be an instrument in their condemnation for trampling on the blood of Christ (Hebrews 6:4; 10:29).

I think that to offer the reprobate pew sitters any assurance, as Federal Visionists do with their mythical “objective covenant”, represents a massive pastoral failure on their part. As Scripture and the Westminster Standards clearly state, assurance of election can only ever belong to those elected to eternal life from before the foundation of the world. All others should be on their knees trembling, not feeling comfortable in pews and at pot lucks.

So, 2 Peter 1:10 clearly supports the orthodox Reformed statement that “those who are saved will persevere to the end” and not the other way around; not “in some sense” but absolutely. Our good works provide us with assurance of our election, but are excluded as a player in either our justification on the one end or our perseverance on the other. And that because our perseverance depends solely on God’s infinite grace and faithfulness, not by our “covenantal faithfulness” or anything else that we do or do not do. Anything else is not Good News.

Posted by Bob Mattes

“Wer Singt Mit Mir”

Posted by Dr. Jeff Hutchinson

Church historian Mark Noll writes in his recent article for Christianity Today, “Praise the Lord” (found at

An old German proverb runs: “Wer spricht mit mir ist mein Mitmensch; wer singt mit mir ist mein Bruder” (the one who speaks with me is my fellow human; the one who sings with me is my brother)….Believers who together sang the same hymns in the same way came to experience very strong ties with each other and even stronger rooting in Christianity….(But) as much as hymn singing has always been one of the most effective builders of Christian community, it has also always been one of the strongest dividers of Christian communities.

The one who sings with me is my brother.  Now, this is just a German proverb (not to be confused with the divinely inspired sort), but it does speak to a deep truth.  The one who is troubled by the hymns that sing of the gospel is, well, troubled.

One of Bob’s recent posts here at Green Bagginses reminded me of these unfortunate words from the Anglican scholar N. T. Wright, part of his lecture at the August 2003 Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference.  Wright says that Paul “looks ahead to the coming day of judgment and sees God’s favourable verdict not on the basis of the merits and death of Christ, not because like Lord Hailsham he simply casts himself on the mercy of the judge, but on the basis of his apostolic work.  ‘What is our hope and joy and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus Christ as his royal appearing?  Is it not you?  For you are our glory and our joy.’ (1 Thess. 3.19f [sic]; cp. Phil. 2.15f)  I suspect that if you or I were to say such a thing, we could expect a quick rebuke of ‘nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.’ “

Well, I’m not sure that if N. T. Wright were to “say such a thing” in conversation with me that I would bring a “quick rebuke,” but I might see if he’d let me encourage him in the gospel.  Then maybe he would want to sing “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling” with me, in praise and thanksgiving to the Triune God.  My great-grandfather (the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the 1920’s) would be thrilled to see such brotherly unity across the Anglican-Presbyterian divide.

Posted by Jeff Hutchinson


Chapter 13 was reviewed here (just for DW’s convenience, as he has not replied to that one just yet). Some other posts of mine on assurance can be found here. This post is a review of chapter 14 of “Reformed” Is Not Enough, by Douglas Wilson.

Wilson’s chapter on assurance has many fine things in it. I especially appreciate the fact that he didn’t just say, “Look to your baptism for assurance.” The following are the main characteristics of someone who is assured of their salvation: he is holding fast to Jesus Christ, he has the gift of the Holy Spirit, he loves his brothers, is humble in mind, delights in the means of grace, understands spiritual things, is obedient, and is chastened for disobedience. These are the “bullet points” of the chapter. A few other comments of his require some comment. He defines “morbid introspection” as something which “holds up the mirror of self and spews forth doubts” (p. 125). This is contrasted with true self-examination, which “holds up the mirror of the Word and asks honest questions” (ibid.). Questions have answers, whereas doubts exclude answers (pp. 125-126). I believe that this contrast is intended to help people avoid wallowing in themselves, which I think Wilson would argue (and I would agree with him) is one of the main problems of modern “evangelicalism,” especially as it is a function of the Enlightenment (or, as my brother is fond of saying, the Endarkenment) synergizing with Christianity.

A few points of criticism are necessary, however. One of them involves a somewhat ambiguous statement of Wilson’s: “Objective assurance is never found through trying to peer into the secret counsels of God, or into the murky recesses of one’s own heart” (p. 130). Now, with regard to the first part of that sentence, ambiguity exists: does “peer(ing) into the secret counsels of God” imply trying to see into the Book of Life to see if one’s name is in fact written there? Or does it mean that we should not use the doctrine of decretal election as part of our assurance? Nowhere in this chapter does Wilson argue that the doctrine of election plays any part in our assurance. Without answering the direction of ambiguity, I will say this: the doctrine of decretal election provides assurance for the doubting Christian (although it provides no assurance for the backslidden Christian). Election says that nothing can take the believer out of God’s hand. Now, election is not the only thing that provides assurance. The things that Wilson has listed contribute, as do all the means of grace (some of which Wilson listed, though not all). Assurance, in other words, is the result of many, many things working together in the believer’s life.

The second point of question that I have concerns this statement: “And so a Christian searching for biblical assurance should take these passages of Scripture, see how they are all fulfilled in the font and Table, and then rest in his salvation” (p. 130). Surely we do not want to say that all the promises that Wilson listed in Scripture passages quoted are fulfilled only in the font and Table. Of course, they are primarily fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in Whom all promises are yes and amen. Wilson does say in this context that the Word always accompanies Sacrament. That helps, but does not quite fully alleviate the limitation Wilson has put on those promises. Secondly, even in the Sacraments, the promises are fulfilled when one has the thing signified by the font and Table, not primarily when one receives the sign. They can and often do happen at the same time (especially at the Table). But they do not have to occur at the same time.

I think Wilson and I would both agree that our primary means of assurance is looking to Jesus Christ. At least, I would hope we would agree on that. The differences can be chalked up to a difference in our views of how Christ is appropriated. I don’t know if Wilson would deny that election is a source of assurance. Maybe he just forgot to mention it. A lot depends on how the ambiguity mentioned above on the “secret counsels” statement is resolved.

Assurance, Apostasy, and Areas of Alternate Assertions

The last three sections of the document have to do with assurance of salvation, the nature of apostasy, and the nature of the intramural disagreements.

The first section is not objectionable in what it affirms. There is one thing that it leaves out, however, and that is the place of election in assurance. If one is generous, one can read into “the Word” the promises of election as feeding into assurance. I have hopes that they meant to include that, in which case, if they did, I have no problem at all with this section. (I especially appreciate the fact that they do not make assurance dependent on baptism alone. I agree that baptism is a means of assurance. Many things feed into assurance.) I believe that assurance of salvation is the main reason why we are told about election in Scripture. Assurance is most certainly dependent on our walk with the Lord, as the WCF 18.1 clearly states (“endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him”). Notice how careful the statement is. Those who truly believe in Jesus, love Him in sincerity, and endeavor to walk a godly life may be certainly assured. The three conditions are necessary but not sufficient conditions. As it says in section 2, it is really the Holy Spirit that testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God. That is the sufficient condition of assurance. We also agree with the FV statement when it says that those who live in open rebellion against God may have no assurance that they are saved. Assurance does not belong to those people.

The section on apostasy is much more problematic. Now, it is important to note that they use the term “Christian” of someone who is baptized, not of someone who is decretally elect. We do use the term this way when we say that a certain percentage of the world is “Christian.” Usually those figures that we use are quite a bit higher than we would allow if we were talking about just the decretally elect. Nevertheless, the statement does not make it easy here to distinguish among the various uses of the term. One gets the distinct impression that that use is the only use they want to use. But in evangelicalism, surely the more common use of the term is of someone who is born again.

The real problem (the above paragraph is only a small quibble about a term) is with what is ascribed to the apostate before he apostatizes. They say that such people were united to Christ in His covenantal life, that they fall from real grace, and that the connection to Christ is not merely external. Let’s break this down, claim by claim.

Such people were united to Christ in His covenantal life. Almost certainly they have their interpretation of John 15 in view here, especially as they use the branch metaphor in this very paragraph. So, whatever the NECM has, he has life. Chapter 14 of John is usually ignored in FV discussions of John 15. There is not only no mention of apostasy in John 14, but the life that Jesus speaks of is clearly eternal life (look at verses 3, 4, 6, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19-20 (!), 27). Therefore, the non-fruit-bearing branches do not have the kind of life that Jesus speaks of in verse 14. They have an external connection only (contra the FV statement). Particularly, they have the “cut off” kind of life. They are already as good as dead. Plainly, verse 1 of John 15 is speaking of the visible church, not of the invisible church. It is only in that sense that Jesus speaks of the branches being “in me.” FV advocates really front-end load that phrase. They want to read covenantal life into that phrase. But if Christ is talking about true life, then the FV understanding is Arminian, even if they affirm decretal election. You cannot have a little bit of salvation. You cannot be a geep or a shoat. You are either a sheep or a goat. Period. There is no mutation or tertium quids. What is the difference between a fruit-bearing branch and a non-fruit-bearing branch? It is that they do not sustain the same relationship to the vine. The non-fruit-bearing branch is a sucker, a parasite. He is only externally related to the vine. The fruit-bearing branch sustains an ordo salutis relationship to Christ, and the other does not. The FV stresses that these branches are not stuck onto the vine by scotch tape. No, they are not. But the vine is not salvation, either. It is the visible church. It is not covenantal salvation, either. These branches never bear any fruit. I think I have dealt with the external thing as well.

No one can fall from saving grace. You cannot simply say that apostates fall from real grace, without defining what that grace is from which they have fallen. This is the same kind of ambiguity that has plagued FV teaching from the start. What kind of grace is it? Is it common grace, special grace, or a tertium quid? I suspect they would call it covenantal grace. That’s a big help. What does it do? Does it save or not? Wilkins says yes in his article in the Federal Vision. It just doesn’t save permanently. This is still Arminian, and it doesn’t matter in the least that he affirms decretal election also. To say that anyone has temporary saving grace and then loses it is Arminian. Leave decretal election out of the picture for a moment. Let’s just talk about those who will fall away. If you define what they fall away from as real salvific benefits, then it is an Arminian scheme, however much it may be juxtaposed with a more Calvinistic scheme. Affirming Calvinism in one spot isn’t enough. It has to be thorough-going. I suspect that there is division in the ranks of FV here, although Wilson was willing to put his name on this horribly ambiguous statement.

I will briefly note the areas of intramural disagreement. They are important, and this section is helpful in some ways. The first area is the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. The question I would like for us to debate on this is whether one can hold to the imputation of the active obedience of Christ without holding to the idea that Christ has merited eternal life for us. In other words, what is the relationship of the idea of Christ’s merit to the imputation of Christ’s active obedience? I have found no FV proponents who are comfortable with the idea that Christ merited eternal life for us. Wilson was reluctant in his admission that we could possibly use the term “merit” to describe Christ’s righteousness. He certainly viewed other terms as better qualifiers. So this raises the question as to whether any FV proponent holds to the IAOC. The regeneration question has certainly not been high on the radar screens of the critics. The renewal liturgy needs a whole lot more attention from the critics. They mentioned that the FV agrees on whether there should be a covenantal renewal liturgy, but they disagree on how high it should be. Tim Wilder has pointed out in several comments the importance of the liturgy for the FV. I believe he thinks that it is the key to understanding the movement. Here is another question for our readers, then: does the covenant renewal liturgy fall foul of the Regulative Principle? I am curious as to who in the FV robustly affirms the unique merit of Christ as the answer to our demerit? I thought all the FV guys hated Kline’s guts. Some clarification here would be helpful.

Why is the Federal Vision Heresy?- part 2

The issue I wish to address here is the issue of assurance. Rome, in the person of Cardinal Bellarmine said of the Reformation that its foremost error was the error of assurance, that the Reformers said that we can know whether we are saved. In many ways, the Reformation was about assurance. That was the “cash value” of the Reformation. Look at the formal principle of sole Scriptura. How can we know whether we are saved? The Bible tells us what is necessary for salvation. If we have that, then we can hav assurance. Look also at the material principle of the Reformation. If we are justified, and therefore have now no condemnation (Rom 8:1), then we can have rock solid assurance, because our assurance is based on Christ. The WCF says that we can have certain assurance of our faith (WCF 18.1). That whole chapter, by the way, is worth quoting: “1. Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes, and carnal presumptions of being in the favour of God, and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish: yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed. 2. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God: which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. 3. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure; that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance: so far is it from inclining men to looseness. 4. Tru believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair.

Further statements of assurance can be found in WCF 3.8 (election is a ground of assurance), and in LC 80 (the presence of true faith and the endeavor to walk in all good conscience before God). Nowhere is baptism explicity said to be a ground of assurance.

Contrast this with what Steve Wilkins says (I just keep on picking on him, don’t I!): “It makes our standing before God and that of our children plain, and yet it prevents presumption….We belong to Christ. Baptism is the infallible sign and seal of this…And in regard to our assurance, we are pointed away from ourselves and what we think we perceive to be true of us inwardly, which no one can know, and pointed to Christ, the only ground of our assurance.” Wilkins (as I showed before) equates baptism with covenant membership with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Wilkins further denies that there is any inward possibility of assurance. Everything must be outward. But the WCF explicitly says “the inward evidence of those graces” as a ground of our assurance. The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God. How would we know that except by looking inward? The word “morbid introspectionism” is bandied about quite a bit as one of the very chiefest of all dangers which we should avoid. And if we look to ourselves, we will have problems, since we are weak. However, to look inside ourselves in order to see God’s working there is explicitly commanded by the Scripture just quoted, and approved by the WCF. I think it revealing that nowhere does the WCF mention assurance in connection with baptism.

Do I think that baptism can play no part in our assurance? No, I don’t think that. However, baptism is not the most rock solid ground of our assurance. It is *one* of the grounds of assurance. and how can it be infallible, as Steve Wilkins says? How in the world can baptism give the assurance about which the WCF is talking, when people apostatize from their baptisms all the time? What assurance is there in that? The FV will probably answer that we can assurance that we are in covenant now. Fair enough. But that is not the same kind of assurance about which the WCF is talking. The assurance there is absolute assurance of eternal salvation. It’s been my pastoral experience that people don’t want to know if they are part of the visible church. That should be rather obviousif they faithfully attend. What they want to know is whether they are going to heaven, however some of us might cringe at that phrase. We’ll phrase it as the assurance that they will be part of the new heavens and the new earth. I have one simple question for the FV: how can anyone have this kind of assurance (of eternal life), if one can lose justification, sanctification, redemption, adoption, etc.? And then I will follow that up with my biggest criticism of the FV: if the FV doesn’t mean the same things by justification, sanctification, redemption, atonement, etc., if they mean by it some form of “covenantal” saving benefit, then why aren’t the FV proponents carefully delineating the difference in every term, every time it’s used? When I use the term “justification,” for instance, I mean the Reformers’ definition of it as found in Scripture. I use it as shorthand. All of Reformed theology uses it as shorthand in some context or other. They mean one thing by it. If the FV means something else, then they should jolly well define the term every time it’s different. Steve Wilkins falls woefully short here, as do many others. Steve Schlissel carefully defines his definition of justification, an shows himself to be a complete Wright-ite in the process. I give him kudos, however, for carefully defining his terms.

To this already long post, I will add one more thought, about systematic theology. I noticed that Todd quoted what he thought was the most important section of the book _Federal Vision_ as one of the later comments on the previous post about Federal Vision. That quote drove a huge wedge between systematic theology and biblical theology. I think that if Richard Gaffin, for instance, were to hold to that wedge, he would have to become a schizophrenic. And yet, I don’t see him doing so. I utterly reject the FV’s separation (bifurcation, really) between ST and BT. ST has a necessary and important place in exegesis, precisely because, ultimately, the Bible is God’s one book, however much diversity there may be among the different human authors. Ultimately, the Bible is one book given to us by God. Therefore ST belongs in exegesis irrevocably.

The Beauty of a Dying Christian

We don’t like to think about death. However, not only should we, but it is healthy that we should. It all depends on how we think about death. Do we shake our fist at God when dying? Or do we see death as the threshold to glory? Here are two utterly contrasting views of death before our eyes. An example of the first: Mark Twain, became morose and weary of life. Shortly before his death, he wrote, “A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;…they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; …those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last–the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them–and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence,…a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.”

An example of the second: the dying words of Edward Payson: “The celestial city is full in my view. Its glories beam upon me, its breezes fan me, its odours are wafted to me, its sounds strike upon my ears, and its spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing separates me from it but the river of death, which now appears but as an insignificant rill, that may be crossed at a single step, whenever God shall give permission. The Sun of Righteousness has been gradually drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as he approached, and now he fills the whole hemisphere; pouring forth a flood of glory, in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the sun; exulting, yet almost trembling, while I gaze on this excessive brightness, and wondering, with unutterable wonder, why god should deign thus to shine upon a sinful worm.”

Satan’s Work

Thomas Brooks wrote a wonderful book entitled Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. The whole is eminently worth our attention. One of Satan’s devices is to suggest to Christians that their graces are not true, but counterfeit. “Satan doth not labour more mightily to persuade hypocrites that their graces are true when they are counterfeit, than he doth to persuade precious souls that their graces are counterfeit, when indeed they are true” (pg. 99). Brooks goes on to define various kinds of grace, reckoning that knowledge of such graces (and reception from God of such grace) is the best remedy against Satan’s device.

“All” and 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Here is the text:

 1 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” ESV

Arminians will yank this passage out of its context in order to say, “See God desires that all be saved, therefore Jesus’ atonement cannot be limited.” Arminians never seem to acknowledge that Reformed folk might possibly have considered this possibility, and read the passage.

Verse 4 is part of a longer sentence that begins in verse 3. Well, verse 3, in turn begins with “This.” To what does that “this” refer? Well, it refers to the prayers made for all people in verse 1. So we see that the “all” in verse 4, must be the “all” in verse 1. To whom does the “all” in verse 1 refer? Well, it has primary reference to the kings and all who are in high places in verse 2. Paul’s concern here, then, is that God does not restrict salvation to only one social class. Rulers can be saved just as common people can be saved. It is easy, when one is in a particular social class, to look down on all other social classes. This can happen whether one is high up on the social ladder, or lower down. This interpretation is confirmed by verse 5, which goes on to note that there is only one Mediator. Someone lower down does not need someone socially higher up in order to be a Christian. He does not need a fallible human mediator, but a divine-human infallible Mediator.

The other aspect of this passage has to do with the will of God. Traditional Reformed theology has always distinguished between the written revealed will of God in the Bible, which can be disobeyed, and the decretal will of God, which cannot be thwarted. If God desired all to be saved in the decretal sense, then all would be saved. But it is quite possible that we are talking about the revealed will of God, where God does indeed call on all to repent and turn from their ways. God does not take delight in the death of the wicked, though it does serve a noble and laudable purpose in God’s will.

« Older entries Newer entries »