L. Berkhof: No Union before Justification

The next time you hear that same old Calvin quotation (as long as outside us, 3:11:10), please read L Berhof back to the quoter. (from his systematic, p452)

“It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation could be reasonable. But this view fails to distinguish between our legal unity with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely, of the doctrine of justification. ”

“Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing (or future) condition, but on that of a gracious imputation–a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. The judicial ground for all the grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us.”

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8 Comments on “L. Berkhof: No Union before Justification”


    unless the atonement can be left out of the gospel, then neither can election be left out of the gospel

    Lewis Sperry Chafer. ST, 3, p187—-”The highway of divine election is quite apart from the highway of redemption.”

    Herman Bavinck, Sin and Salvation, volume 3, Reformed Dogmatics, 2006, p 469—-”The center of gravity has been shifted from Christ and located in the Christian. Faith (not the atonement) has become the reconciliation with God.”

    Jonathan Gibson, From heaven, p 358—-Election and the Atonement do not operate on separate theological tracks. What God has joined together, let no theologian separate. Affirming union with Christ before the moment of redemption accomplished counters any disjunction between the effect of Christ’s death and the effect of His resurrection. (Those who put union later) sound as if Christ’s death might lead to the death of some sinners, but not also to their resurrection. This is not only analogy. if one, then the other. if death with, then resurrection with.

    Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his.

    mark: Being united with Christ before the moment of redemption means that the atonement is both substitutionary and representative. The death is not only representative, not only “on behalf of”, as if there could be other deaths along side the one death. But also the death is not only substitutionary, as if Christ were some arbitrary individual who died for no one in particular because he had no covenantal relationship with those for whom He died, as only some “available substitute”. Christ was already united by election to those for whom He died.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Gospel Reformation Network Affirmations and Denials

    Article IV – Union with Christ and Sanctification
    • We affirm that both justification and sanctification are distinct, necessary, inseparable and simultaneous graces of union with Christ though faith.
    • We deny that sanctification flows DIRECTLY from justification, or that the transformative elements of salvation are MERE consequences of the forensic elements.

    my questions

    1. Who is the Gospel Reformation Network? Is it a conference of friends who think alike, or does it agree to certain confessions, and does it have ecclesiastical and sacramental authority?

    2. Why is it a problem to deny that “sanctification” flows from justification, as long as “sanctification” result (flows)?

    3. Is the problem that “justification” is defined, but that “sanctification” and “union” are not?

    4. What does “sanctification” mean in Hebrews 10:10-14?

    5. What does “union” mean? Is “union” non-forensic? Is “union” both forensic and non-forensic?

    6. Once you have defined “union”, will you consistently use the word “union” in the way you defined it? Will you be thinking of “union” only as a result “flowing from” faith?

    7. If “faith-union” is a result of faith, and if faith is a result of regeneration, where do faith and regeneration come from?

    8. Is the problem with saying that “sanctification” results from “justification” the fact that we are either justified or we are not? Are we not also either “united to Christ” or not? (Please define “union”. Do you mean “in Christ”? Or do you mean “Christ in us”? Is there a difference in those two phrases? Why do you say “union” when you could be saying “in Christ” and “Christ in us”?)

    9.When you deny that “sanctification” is a “mere consequence” of the forensic, did you mean to deny that “sanctification” is a consequence of the “merely forensic”? What do you have against “merely” or any “sola” which points to Christ’s earned outside righteousness imputed to the elect?

    10. Is the point of the Gospel Reformation Network denial that “union” is not forensic or is the point that it is not “merely forensic”? Is this a question-begging point?

    11. If “sanctification” is “more than” than a “mere consequence”, does that mean that “sanctification” is also more than a result of “union”, so that “sanctification” is in someway identical to “union”, or at least a necessary “condition” for “union”?

    12. Does “union” flow from merely the transformative elements? If union is transformation, and union must come before justification, how is it that God is still justifying the ungodly?

    13. If becoming children of God only means being born again so that we are freed from the power of corruption, what is the need for those who are no longer ungodly to be justified or adopted?

    14. Is “union” a cause or a result of sacramental efficacy? It’s too late now to tell us that the order of application does not matter so much, since you insisted on denying that “justification” was a result of “sanctification”.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Karlberg— “The priority for Gaffin is union with Christ, what is the “absolutely necessary, indispensable context for justification. Gaffin contends that union with Christ must be kept central and controlling.,,, Contrary to Gaffin’s teaching, justification is not contingent upon sanctification, perseverence in holiness, or any of the other benefits accruing from union with Christ. The reformers were right in speaking of good works as the fruit of saving faith. Justification rests exclusively on the
    finished work of Christ. Gaffin prefers to speak of the ongoing work of Christ.”

    MK–”For someone to rely wholly on Christ’s finished work at the cross, Gaffin warns, he has then cut himself off from the ‘whole Christ’ from the Christ who now is working out the benefits of atonement. What is obscured in Gaffin’s formulation is the fact that the application of salvation has already and completely been secured by Christ in his work of reconciliation. There is nothing future to be attained by Christ.”

    MK–”Gaffin speaks repeatedly of the irreducible benefits of union with Christ. What does this mean? I take it that the point Gaffin is wanting to make is this: We are not to isolate (i.e., discriminate) one benefit among others, nor are we to give one benefit special weight in the application of redemption. (Of course, Gaffin does give special weight to the benefit of union with Christ. And he is free to do so because matters of ordo ­ are “indifferent theologically” to him…

  4. markmcculley Says:

    i certainly take sides with Scott Clark vs Evans on this

    Evans: Thus Bruce McCormack takes Calvin to task for saying that justification flows from mystical union with Christ. This, according to McCormack “would seem to make justification the effect of a logically prior ‘participation’ in Christ that has been effected by the uniting action of the Holy Spirit.” This, he says, is a problem from a truly Reformational standpoint in that “the work of God ‘in us’ is, once again (and now on the soil of the Reformation!) made to be the ground of the divine forgiveness of sins.” (Bruce McCormack, “What’s At Stake in the Current Debates over Justification,” in Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates, ed. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier [IVP, 2004], pp. 101-102, 113-117).

    Evans: It is this effort to protect the doctrine of forensic justification by means of an extrinsic soteriology that ,,,Scott Clark espouses. It also helps to account for the use that Clark’s colleague Mike Horton is now making of McCormack’s Barthian theological ontology, though Horton does not endorse McCormack’s indictment of Calvin (see Michael Horton, Covenant and Salvation [WJK, 2007], pp. 200-204). For Scott Clark, the crux of the matter is his conviction that the doctrine of forensic justification demands the sort of extrinsic relationship between Christ and the Christian that he advocates.

    Scott Clark: On what basis does God accept us? Who earned that righteousness? How does a sinner come into possession of that righteousness? Where is that righteousness to be found relative to the sinner, within us or without? Evans may scoff at the doctrine of an “extrinsic” doctrine of justification but Paul himself asked these questions and historically the only alternative to extrinsic (alien) righteousness is a “proper” or “intrinsic” ground of divine acceptance and in that case we’re right back in the medieval soup or, to switch metaphors, moving in with Andreas Osiander.


  5. markmcculley Says:

    if you ask most “calvinists” (Reformed or baptists) about order, they would say regeneration-faith-justification

    and they would not put God’s imputation of Christ’s merits (righteousness, death) anywhere on the line

    part of this is lack of distinction between a. the righteousness itself, the merit of Christ’s work and b. God’s transferring (legally sharing) this righteousness, so that it belongs now to both Christ and His bride and c. on the basis of this transfer, then God declaring (constituting) them as “justified”

    so by default, most would agree with Jones that imputation is after new birth

    the other distinction which tends to go not noticed is between Christ being imputed by God with the sins of the elect, and the elect (at different times) being joined to Christ’s death

    I hear preachers all the time sound like they are saying—” if you believe, then at that point God will exchange your sins to Christ”

    of course the union people are very dogmatic about faith before “union” and “union” before any legal imputation

    God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Paperback)
    An Australian Amyraldian (p151), Cole tells us that God may have more than one design for the cross. Using the formula of Lombard (and Dordt), he explains how the death of Christ is sufficient for those for whom it will not be enough to save. At least he is honest enough not to claim to believe in particular atonement.
    At two places in the book (p 178 196), he rejoices in the idea that he “has been died for”, but he rejects any kind of “logical completeness” which would point out that his false gospel says that even those who perish have been died for. Cole makes the imputation of Christ’s death and resurrection a second blessing, subsequent to “union with Christ”. (p158) He assumes what almost everybody assumes, that a “real” union (with the Spirit) precedes any legal imputation of the benefits of Christ’s death.
    To this end, Cole twice (p 168, 158) uses the same Calvin quotation from 3:11:10 which is pushed on us by Torrance and Gaffin. “As long as Christ is outside us…” The priority of the Spirit in applying election and the atonement functions as an unexamined given.

    Bruce Mccormack in What’s at Stake in Justification (p104-116), asks us to considered the alternative that Christ is outside us as long as we are outside Christ forensically, ie, that God’s imputation of Christ’s death results in Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit, because Christ’s death has purchased that Spirit’s work in the elect. Berkhof does also!

    p 110, “What’s At Stake in Current Debates Over Justification?”, Bruce McCormack, Princeton Seminary—“The early church thought of an ontological union of a ‘person” in whom being is mixed with non-being (that’s us) with a ‘person’ in whom being is pure from non-being (Jesus). Where that occurs, the life communicated from the vine to the branches flows organically…But the difference between the relation between a vine and a branch and the relation between Christ and the believer is that the first relation is impersonal and the second is personal. The flow of nutrients from the vine to the branches take place automatically.But in the case of Christ and the individual believer,the ‘bearing of fruit’ takes place on the foundation of justification.” That Paul in Romans 11 would preface his use of the horticultural image with the affirmation that the adoption belonged to the Israelites before the Gentiles suggests that the image of ‘ingrafting’ is used as a synonym for adoption. The horticultural image is subordinated to the legal.”

    from Horton’s Covenant and Salvation

    p 201–“John Murray’s notion of regeneration (as a new habit infused or implanted) before effectual calling (through the gospel’s forensic announcement) is what keeps justification (for John Murray) from being constitutive across the entire order of application….I share McCormack’s concern to see justification as that declarative Word that simultaneously creates the new status and the new being of those who are in Christ. Justification is not to be confused with regeneration or sanctification, but is to be regarded as their Word-constituting source.

    p 202, McCormack—Regeneration, which flows from justification as its consequence, is the initiation of a work that is completed only in the eschaton, only in the glorification of the saints.

  6. John Owen—“No blessing can be given us for Christ’s sake, unless, in order of nature, Christ be first reckoned unto us… God’s reckoning Christ, in our present sense, is the imputing of Christ unto ungodly, unbelieving sinners for whom he died, so far as to account him theirs, and to bestow faith and grace upon them for his sake. This, then, I say, at the accomplishment of the appointed time, the Lord reckons, and accounts, and makes out his Son Christ, to such and such sinners, and for his sake gives them faith.”. 10:26

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Charles Hodge “The question therefore, does not, in the first place, concern the nature of Christ’s work.”

    Louis Berkhof affirms that there is a real sense in which the atonement can be objectively considered in itself apart from the redemptive purpose for which God provided it. “The question with which we are concerned at this point is not whether the satisfaction rendered by Christ was in itself sufficient for the salvation of all men, since this is admitted by all.”

    A.A. Hodge, “there was no need for him to obey or to suffer an iota more nor a moment longer in order to secure, if God so willed, the salvation of every man, woman, and child that ever lived.

    So it’s not death but “suffering” which is the satisfaction?

    Canons of Dort –This death of God’s Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.4
    Unpacking this statement,

    Charles Hodge points out that it would be a gross misrepresentation of the Reformed doctrine to say that Christ only suffered “so much for so many” so that he would have needed to suffer more than he did, if there were more sinners included in the purpose of salvation.

    Charles Hodge– What was sufficient for one was sufficient for all. All that Christ did and suffered would have been necessary had only one human soul been the object of redemption; and nothing different and nothing more would have been required, had every child of Adam been saved through his blood.

    R.L. Dabney –We must absolutely get rid of the mistake that expiation is an aggregate of gifts to be divided and distributed out, one piece to each receiver, like pieces of money out of a bag to a multitude of paupers. Were the crowd of paupers greater, the bottom of the bag would be reached before every pauper got his alms, and more money would have to be provided. I repeat, this notion is utterly false as applied to Christ’s expiation, because it is a divine act. It is indivisible, inexhaustible, sufficient in itself to cover the guilt of all the sins that will ever be committed on earth.6
    Furthermore, when we speak about the value of Christ’s satisfaction in quantitative terms we make it sound as if redemption is pecuniary (commercial) in nature rather than penal (judicial). But this is wrong for at least three reasons:


    Mason–First, the Bible teaches that the true nature of sin is crime and not debt. This is why the sentence for sin is capital punishment rather than indentured servitude. So when the Bible describes our salvation as having been “bought” or “purchased” it is speaking metaphorically. According to Peter, we were “not redeemed with silver or gold… but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

    Mason–Second, if the satisfaction of Christ was pecuniary, our liberation ceases to be a matter of grace, and redemption loses the element of personal forgiveness. Why? Because in pecuniary violations the claim is always upon the price and not the person, the debt and not the debtor. For this reason every creditor is bound to accept the payment of a debt – regardless of who provides it. On the other hand, criminal cases are inherently personal (Ezk. 18:4) so that the judge is neither required to allow, nor bound to accept, a substitutionary satisfaction (Ezk. 18:20). If He chooses to do so however (Isa. 53:4-6; 1 Pet. 3:18) it is a matter of sovereign grace (Isa. 53:10; Rom. 8:32) and personal forgiveness obtains.

    Charles Hodge —Another important difference between pecuniary and penal satisfaction is that the one “ipso facto” liberates. The moment the debt is paid the debtor is free, and that completely. No delay can be admitted, and no conditions can be attached to his deliverance. But in the case of a criminal, as he has no claim to have a substitute take his place, if one be provided, the terms on which the benefits of that substitution shall accrue [to him], are matters of agreement, or covenant between the substitute and the magistrate who represents justice.

    The point here is that if the death of Christ was a pecuniary transaction, then sinners were saved at the cross and all of God’s elect are born regenerate, and in a justified state. But this is false. Ephesians 2:3 clearly teaches that at birth God’s elect are “by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”

    the merits of Jesus Christ do not avail to the benefit of his people immediately. To the contrary, the rights and benefits acquired by his death all accrue to Jesus Christ himself (Acts 2:33). These benefits only accrue to the designed beneficiaries at such times (Lk. 24:49; 1 Pet. 1:3-5) and on such conditions (Eph. 1:13) as have been determined by the will of the Judge (John 3:16).

    Berkhof —It is not true that, when Christ rendered full satisfaction to the Father for all His people, their guilt naturally terminated. A penal debt is not like a pecuniary debt in this respect. Even after the payment of a ransom, the removal of guilt may depend on certain conditions, and does not follow as a matter of course. The elect are not personally justified in the Scriptural sense until they accept Christ by faith and thus appropriate His merits.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Karlberg–”For someone to rely wholly on Christ’s finished work at the cross, Gaffin warns, he has then cut himself off from the ‘whole Christ’ —the Christ who now is working out the benefits of atonement. What is obscured in Gaffin’s formulation is the fact that the application of salvation has already and completely been secured by Christ in his work of reconciliation. There is nothing future to be attained by Christ.”



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