Archive for February 2010

Faith By Effectual Hearing

February 11, 2010

“Before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth as crucified…” (Galatians 3:1b)
Christ has not been preached unless the cross has been preached. And the cross has not been preached unless particular redemption and imputation have been preached. You can say “blood, blood, blood”, but still not know Christ.

Most of those who did the bloody animal sacrifices did not receive Christ as crucified. The Arminians who say that Christ died for those who will perish do not believe in Christ and His precious blood.

To know Christ, you must know that God requires a righteousness that you cannot produce and that God in Christ for the elect brought in a righteousness that demands salvation for the elect. The law demands death, even the death of One who was never a sinner, but who was imputed with the sins of the elect. The death of Christ demands that the elect be justified.

There are only two kinds of people in the world -those whose works will be accepted because they were not working to get God’s blessing, and those whose works (and persons) will be condemned because their “good deeds” are wicked attempts to establish their own righteousness.

Those who thought they could do God some service also thought that killing Christ was a “good deed”. John 16:1-3. If you think you can begin, help or complete your righteousness by your good deeds, then you are as guilty and corrupt as those who killed Christ.

“Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law?” (3:2)

We receive the Spirit by the “hearing of faith”. We do not receive the Spirit by believing a lie. When Arminians tell  lies about God and about sin and about righteousness, the Spirit does not use those lies to bring people to life. The Spirit uses the word of truth.

Ephesians 1:12: “in Him, you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation…” (see also Romans 6:17, I Thess 2:12-13, II Thess 2:12-13; I Peter 1:22-23; James 1:18).

To judge by the flesh is to judge by some other standard To judge by the gospel is to examine if we and others  agree with God’s testimony.

It is the Spirit who convicts us that God requires a righteousness that we cannot produce. John 16:8-13. It is the Spirit who takes away our confidence in the flesh so that we have NO confidence that we ever did or ever will do anything (even with God’s help) to make ourselves better than anybody else. Phil 3:3. The only reason we are different from others before God is that Christ died for us and not for others.

It is the Spirit who causes us to confess the true Christ and the true gospel. (I Cor 1:23-24) Unless we are called by the Spirit, we will consider  Christ crucified to be foolishness.
I Cor 2:11-13: “No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received (antithesis) not the spirit of the world”

Not the spirit that says Christ died for everybody and now it depends on us but the Spirit who is from God, that we would know the things that have freely been given to us by God.

The righteousness is a free gift. If we say that the accepting of the free gift is something different from the free gift, and that this accepting is “MINE” and what I did (with God’s grace) to be saved, then we may CALL that “salvation by faith” . But what we call “faith”  and “grace” is really still self-righteousness.

“I am a good chooser. And the reason for that is I am a good wanter. And the reason I want what’s right ( “of course sometimes i get a cold like everybody else and of course I sin but I don’t want to and don’t really choose to and God is gracious and will overlook it…”)  is because IGod has given me  a heart that is better than that of others…”

NO! We were not saved by being in the right place at the right time and reading the right book . If we are saved, it was a SUPERNATURAL WORK OF GOD. So no excuses like ” don’t blame me for not knowing the gospel when I got saved”. What the Spirit produces is repentance to see that our “mistakes about the gospel” were motivated by our wicked hearts that wanted to condition salvation on ourselves instead of TOTALLY on the righteousness established by Christ for the elect.

“Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (3:3)

The typical Calvinist thinks that people can begin as Christian in error and then (maybe as an option) MOVE TO THE TRUTH. But here we have a different case: people who begin with the truth (Paul’s’ preaching of the gospel, Romans 1:16-17-faith is no part of the righteousness, circumcision is no part of the righteousness), but who are now in danger of being bewitched by error.

Let me make two exhortations here:

1. Let us examine our calling. Is it really true that you can be saved by believing a lie? Is it really true that God the Spirit teaches the sheep that Jesus died for everybody but that they are themselves the condition of salvation? Is it really the Spirit that teaches people that Jesus waits for their decision?

2. For those of us who are convinced that we do believe the true gospel, why do we fellowship with and hear the preaching of those who do not know the gospel? Why do we think we will grow by listening to a false gospel? Why do we think that we can learn something from a false gospel about how to raise our children and love our wives? Is it because we have confidence in ourselves that WE would never be bewitched, that now we are too smart for the devil to trick? Do we worry about bad influences on our children, but have no concern for the influence of Arminians on ourselves?

Whose sins were imputed to Christ? By whom? When?

February 10, 2010

In Taste and See (Multnomah,1999, p325), John Piper endorses the conditional false gospel. “Christ died for all sinners, so that IF you will repent and believe in Christ, then the death of Jesus will become effective in your case and will take away your sins. ‘Died for you,’ means if you believe, the death of Jesus will cover your sins.  Now, as far as it goes, this is biblical teaching.”

Piper then goes on to disagree with Arminians for not teaching that Christ died to purchase faith for the elect. But he does not disagree with the Arminians about propitiation and substitution and punishment. “if you believe, the death of Jesus will cover your sins.”

Piper’s false gospel does not teach that Christ was specifically punished for the elect alone . It still only has a punishment in general, to be assigned later to those who believe.

But  he does insist that Christ also died for the elect to give them something extra that He will not be giving the non-elect.  Piper’s false gospel misses being true gospel in two important and related ways.

First, the false gospel fails to report that Christ was punished specifically for the elect, and when it does that, it will be heard every time as saying that there was enough punishment (death) done to Christ to save even people who will nevertheless end up being punished (with the second death).

Thus, even though it has punishment, this false gospel is not about punishment that replaces punishment for all whom Christ intended to justify. It has punishment without any intention of Christ to save anybody in particular at all.

Piper’s punishment- in- general gospel (with faith purchased extra for the elect) is no gospel in a second and important way.  It makes the important atonement to be something other than the punishment of Christ. It makes the real reconciliation to be the Spirit Christ purchased giving people faith to believe, even if they happen to believe a message that says Christ died for every sinner.

The alternatives here  are to either claim that people who have never heard the gospel are saved, or to claim that general punishment for nobody in particular is the gospel. In any case, it is not the good news about the real meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection.

If we jump ahead to the things Christ has bought for believers, even including their believing, without telling it straight about the punishment of Christ specifically for the elect, then we will continue to believe and teach a gospel which has no election in it and no punishment to release the elect from guilt.

If we jump ahead in that way, we jump over why God’s love for the elect is never described apart from the death of Christ.

If the death of Christ is not that which saves any specific sinner, then the death of Christ does not save sinners. If the atonement is Christ purchasing faith to give elect sinners a portion in a general punishment, then the punishment of Christ was not for salvation.

This false gospel talks about justification by the imputed righteousness, but without ever talking about God’s imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ. It won’t say whose sins were imputed to Christ.

It refuses to say anybody’s sins were imputed to Christ, because it refuses to say it was the sins of the elect alone which were imputed to Christ. Such a false gospel nullifies the love of God for the elect.

So That We Don’t Have To, Warnock’s Raised With Christ

February 10, 2010

Review of Raised With Christ, by Adrian Warnock (Crossway, 2010)

British preacher Adrian Warnock makes a very sloppy path toward his argument for the baptism with the Spirit being a second experience for Christians.  He does raise some good questions about the connection between the death and resurrection of Christ, and left me with several texts to keep pondering. For example, I Peter 1:11 tells us of the Spirit’s prediction of “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.”  I Peter 3:21 speaks of an “appeal for a good conscience, through the resurrection.”

The point is that the gospel is not the death without the resurrection, or the resurrection without the death.  The good news about one is good news about the other.  Warnock quotes Calvin to this effect:  “When in scripture death only is mentioned, everything peculiar to the resurrection is at the same time included, and that there is a like synecdoche in the term resurrection.” (Institutes 2:16:13, p 75 in Warnock).

Mr. Warnock does well to give us the Ephesians 4:8 quotation of Psalm 68: 18—“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. In saying, He ascended, what does it mean but that he also descended…?”   Warnock: “Paul explains that, in the one word ‘ascension’, the descent from heaven is implied.”   But Warnock never quotes or comes to terms with the idea of John 3:13:“ No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.”  To think about this would jeopardize his traditional assumptions about immortal souls (p243, in his very messy chapter on “our resurrection bodies”.

The Arminian-Calvinist “middle-camp” (p205) assumptions of Warnock’s gospel come into clear view in his chapter on Romans 4:24–raised because of our justification or raised in order to and for the purpose of our justification?: I do not come to this discussion as an advocate of eternal justification or of justification
at the cross (and resurrection).

Warnock begins badly by asserting that “Jesus’ resurrection was not a result of our justification” (p121) because our sin was not a result of His death. If death is a result of sin, the parallel would be to say that His resurrection is a result of the justification of the elect, even if that is a future justification.

On p 124, Warnock writes: “The answer is that God was displeased
with the sin (imputed) that Christ was bearing but remained pleased
with Jesus’ infinite goodness, which was greater than the sin.” This
is NOT how the apostle Paul explains the requirements of justice.

The sins demand not some philosophical (and non-biblical) idea of some “infinity” or “equivalent”. The sins demand death. The death of Christ was God’s justice, God’s wages for all the sins of the elect.

On p 126, Warnock writes: “The resurrection was necessary to allow the credit of Jesus’ righteousness to be shared with us, for it
demonstrated that the credit was greater than the debt.” But to glory in the cross is to see that the death of Christ cancels the debt for all the elect when they are placed into that death. Romans 6:9-10 are RESURRECTION VERSES: “We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has any dominon over him. For the death he died , he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. “

The reason that the debt of the sins of elect cannot hold Christ is
not some “greater credit”. The reason that the debt of the sins of the elect cannot hold Christ is Christ’s death. Christ died to sin. This does not mean that Christ was born again. And Romans 6 is not talking about our being born again either.

The Triune God caused Christ to die because the Triune God by legal
imputation already did or did not lay the sins of each sinner on
Christ. And this in turn means ONE that Christ is no longer imputed
with those sins, because He has died once for them and will not die
again. It means TWO that it is not sinners (nor their faith nor
their apology) who give their sins to Christ. God gave the sins of
the elect to Christ already, and God already did not give the sins of
the non-elect to Christ.

And you may say— this is all well and good, and I don’t disagree, but we don’t need to say it. The Bible doesn’t say it that way, and we can understand the Bible well enough without saying it that way.  Let us see. Think of a parallel text to Romans 6:9-10. Think of II Corinthians 5:15, which is a text Warnock references on p128. “One has died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” 

Now Warnock has made a very good point about these verses earlier on p 75:  one time Paul writes “died for all” but then at the end he writes “for their sake died and was raised” and so this means that when one is mentioned, the other is implied. I agree.

So what’s my problem with p 124? Am I just another “watch blogger” (p66)? No doubt I will report Warnock on his (p59) one-sided deal in which he “offered God his sinful heart and God gave me His righteousness.  No doubt I will report his confusion about if it’s two or three things being imputed as the righteousness: sometimes it’s the death and the life, sometimes it’s the greater credit of the life, and then finally it’s three things, including a Piper (but not a Bible) quotation to the effect that the resurrection itself is imputed. (see p126).   And I could ask: so perhaps also the intercession is imputed? Is the birth also imputed?  And maybe even is it the person, and not only his work, which is imputed, even if not in the context of what God’s law requires? 

But see Romans 8:3—“What the law could not do, God did by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin-he condemned sin in the flesh.”

Back to II Corinthians 5:15 and the gospel about Christ’s death being the death of those who will be justified.  This is the thing that Warnock does not say, and cannot say. And the reason he cannot say it? He cannot say it because he says something else, and this becomes clear in the next chapter on union with Christ (resurrected with Jesus).  Already on p 124, he has written “so that our guilt COULD now be taken away, and we COULD be counted righteous.”  This “might or might not be” continues in the chapter on union.  On p141, Warnock explains: “Jesus suffered the penalty due our sins so that we do not have to.”


That’s the same false gospel I have been hearing all my life.  All our lives we have been hearing Arminianism, and most people who profess to be Christians profess that what Jesus did (in death and resurrection) sets up a plan which makes it possible for you to give him your sins and then for Him to save you.  And this is the false gospel Warnock proclaims also, even though he boasts of being on the cutting edge of the young, restless and reformed.   He not only professes to have been saved because he believed the (Arminian) gospel.  He still teaches that same Arminian gospel. Or, as Piper has explained it, these people believe not only Arminianism but more!

II Corinthians 5:15 does not teach that Christ died for our sins so that we don’t have to; it says that those for whom Christ died also died with him.  That is substitution, and you cannot teach substitution without confusion unless you describe which sinners Christ died for.

If Christ died for every sinner but some of these sinners will perish,  then that may be a substitution but it not a saving substitution.  II Corinthians 5:15 does not use the word “elect”, but the only other way to understand the identity of the “for” and the “with” is to teach an universalism in which every sinner has died to sin and will be justified.

I think most “middle-camp” tolerant Calvinists would rather live as practical de facto universalists then  dare talk about election in connection with II Corinthians 5.  They want a future judgment for  the elect, even while they quibble with NT Wright about that not being a future justification.   They fear as antinomian any good news which teaches that the elect have already died to judgment when Christ died for them. (See John Fesko’s wonderful book on Justification).  

Another advantage for most “middle camp” evangelicals in not talking about election in II Cor 5 is that they can take the phrase “live for Him who died for them” and use it to lay duties on every sinner they meet. But there is no point in talking about any such duties until a sinner has obeyed the true gospel and repented from the dead works of the false gospel.

Warnock tells us (p141) that “we are saved not only by believing the fact that Christ died for our sins, but by union with the crucified and risen Savour.”  But it is NOT a fact of the gospel tells any particular sinner that Christ died for their sins.  The gospel  does not tell sinners who the elect are; the gospel tells sinners about the elect.   It IS a fact that there was one kind of “union” of the elect in Christ so that already at the cross, long before (or after) they are justified, Christ paid by death for their sins. Faith does not make this aspect of the union happen.

Warnock seems to assume  that God-given faith does make this aspect of the union to happen. That’s why he thinks of giving Jesus his sins. On p 217, when he argues for the giving of the Spirit as a second blessing to be experienced after believing the gospel,  he writes: “ it would be circular to interpret ‘believe and you will receive a work of the Spirit automatically without you being aware of it’, the main effect of which is to cause you to believe.”

His unquestioned assumption is that God-given  faith is the cause of the first salvation.  But the answer to  expose his assumption we read in Galatians 3:13 (which he quotes on p 219)—“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that they would receive the Spirit through faith.”   As Bruce McCormack has so ably pointed out ( What’s At Stake in Justification), regeneration does not precede justification in this redemptive-historical text.  If union is by legal imputation, the forensic  is the cause of the life and efficacy of faith connected with justification.

The Galatians 3 text does not start with believing to get justified, and it does not end with believing more to get the Spirit more.  Galatians 3 starts with “before your eyes Christ publicly portrayed as crucified.”  The opposition between works of the law and hearing by faith has everything to do with the object of faith legally constituting those who then hear.   Yes, there is a promise of the Spirit through faith, but that is because first “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law” SO THAT this will happen. Not so that it might happen, if conditionally….

I run long, and I wanted to briefly describe Warnock’s brief for the Lloyd-Jones view of the experience of the Spirit.  I will not critique that view here, but glimpse at some of the John Piper quotations he strings together. On p 218, “If you assume we believed, why don’t you assume we received the Holy Spirit? ….You talk as if there is a way to know we’ve received the Holy Spirit different from believing… A person who has received the Spirit knows it not just because it’s an inference from his faith in Christ.”

On the Galatians 3 text, Warnock argues: “the Spirit is received by faith. THEREFORE, Paul can’t simply be referring to the Spirit’s role in bringing in faith.” (p219) As we have seen, Paul is referencing Christ crucified and redemption from the law, and not simply faith and receiving the Spirit.  The “therefore” does not therefore really make a coherent argument.  Piper again: “for the NT people, the Holy Spirit was a fact of experience. For many Christians today it is fact of doctrine….Don’t expect to notice any difference; just believe that you have experienced the Spirit.”    There are lots of other soundbites, but I will spare you “it” in this review.

One last thing, which you would think that I as an adventist who teaches “conferred immortality” would have majored on—Warnock’s assumption that all “souls” are immortal. He even has a terrible Spurgeon soundbite for support. P 243: “The resurrection of the dead is something different from the immortality of the soul: that every Christian believes with the heathen, who believe it too… Every mortal man who ever existed shall not only live by the immortality of his soul but… the very flesh in which he walks on earth is as eternal as the soul…”  Spurgeon seems to contradict his own idea of “mortal man”. For sure, he has no clue  that the soul that sins shall die.  He has no idea that the body and the spirit together make up the “soul”. (Genesis 2:7)

When Warnock attacks those who teach “Soul sleep”, he seems not to recognize that his label is a question-begging libel against those who  with the Bible define the soul as the person who “sleeps”. Though at one point he contrasts David who stayed dead with Christ who didn’t  (Acts 2), Warnock assumes what he needs to prove and that is that “raised with Christ” in Ephesians 2 (and Colossians 3) means that immortal spirits are now in heaven. Instead of glorying in the Resurrected One who has Gone ahead as our “public person” (as the old “federal theology” put it), Warnock settles for an over-realised (and Platonic, Roman Catholic, pagan) eschatology.

But that’s enough name-calling from this old “watch blogger”!

Mark McCulley

Third blizzard, winter, 2010

Abrahamic Covenants Now Terminated

February 8, 2010

Collateral Covenants Fulfilled and Terminated

By R.B.C. Howell

In Genesis 12, we have the original promise made to Abraham: “In you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” In this simple narrative, we have the pledge that the Messiah shall come of his family.  Abraham was seventy-five and received the promise with faith, and promptly complied with the command which the promise was associated. “Into the land of Canaan they came. And Abraham passed through the land to the plain of Moreh” and built an altar unto the Lord, who there again appeared to him, and said, “To you will I give this land.”  Paul explains in Galatians 3:8-9; “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to your seed, which is Christ.”

Promises of the land of Canaan were indeed (so important was the separate national existence of Israel regarded) included also  in the Genesis 15 covenant and also, as we shall see, in the subsequent “covenant of circumcision”. The land covenant was inaugurated. The family of Abraham was separated from all others, and made a distinct nation. A specified territory was prescribed, where they were to remain under the divine government and protection. In that land they were to reside, a peculiar people and an isolated people, until Christ would come and establish His claims, and by one offering perfect forever all them that are sanctified.

The second collateral covenant was also made with Abraham, and is known as “the covenant of circumcision”. The first covenant separated Israel as a nation from every other people. This second covenant distinguished them as individuals. The covenant of circumcision was made with Abraham when he was ninety-nine years old;   eighteen  years after the covenant of the land, and twenty four years after the “the covenant of promise in Christ.”

Genesis 17. “This is my covenant which ye shall keep between me and you, and your seed after you; every man child shall be circumcised.” “And my covenant shall be in your flesh, for an everlasting covenant”. “And the uncircumcised man shall be cut off from his people.”

This covenant excludes from that family everyone who shall be found uncircumcised. Its general bearing is explained by Paul, who says: “I testify again, to every man who is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. “ This rite was observed by his descendents until the object which is proposed, had been effectually secured. Christ came; its design was accomplished; the covenant, as all the others of like temporary character, ceased to exist.  The gospel now reigns, under which “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God.”

The third and last of the collateral covenants is known as the covenant of Sinai. This covenant gave to the people of Israel their peculiar national government. It was not made with Abraham, but “with the fathers, when God took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt.”

The basic Calvinism-free gospel

February 4, 2010

Universalists always say: nothing stops God from saving everybody. In other words, even though God has revealed what He promises to do, nothing keeps a sovereign God from breaking that promise and doing something else. Another way the neo-orthodox universalists say it: God speaks in baby talk, so that we can never articulate who God is or what the gospel is anyway. So we will articulate a possibility which the fundies exclude!

The truth of God stops God from saving people with a lie. The glory of God stops God from denying the sufficiency of the propitiation for sins by the God-man: if even one of those sins is further punished, then neither Jesus is God or the Father is God. The glory of God is the revelation of God, not only God being God, but God showing Himself by the gospel to be God!

John 5:36 “the works which the Father has given me to finish–the very works that I do–bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent me.”

Is it true that nothing keeps God from saving those who say that Jesus worked for all but did not finish the work for any? What if they say that the “finished work” depends on the creature? Will that stop God from saving them? Is there nothing about “bad theology” to keep God from saving somebody who is still an idolater?

I say that nothing keeps God from saving such an idolater, because I WAS SUCH AN IDOLATER and the way He saved me was by teaching me the gospel and that my idol god was no god and that my idol gospel was no gospel.

Almost all “mainstream” Calvinists like to hedge: sometimes they say that God saves folks and leaves them for a while in idolatry” but that God will not keep the sheep in such darkness, but makes sure that sooner or later somebody will bring them the better and more reformed explanation and that if they don’t accept it (after x amount of trying) then MAYBE (they withhold judgment) but maybe they are an idolater!

If a “barebones gospel” tries to talk about Christ’s priesthood without talking about the God-man reigning and the God-man revealing the glory of God, then it denies the purpose of the gospel being proclaimed. (Eph 3:21; I Cor 2:7-14).

The wisdom of God does not remain “inarticulate”. Understanding of and judgment by the gospel is given by the Spirit of God, for the glory of God.

Acts 17:30 says that religious people need to repent: they need to turn from their false theologies, and are commanded to turn to the specific one who is revealed and who was raised and who will judge by righteousness. He will not judge by bare sovereignty.

The God-man WILL judge by what He has said is right. What God says is right because of the revealed nature of the God who said it. The God-man will judge by “righteousness”, and that means this one specific sacrifice and no other sacrifice.

Yes, both pagans and Jews are quick to shed blood. (Rom 3) But no other blood is the gospel. Only the blood of the human who is also God, only the blood of that one person who came to save a specific people, will count for anything at the judgment. Jesus will not suddenly reverse Himself and say “nothing prevents me from repenting now”. He will say “I never knew you” to all who are ignorant of the gospel.

(John 7:24) Judge not by appearance. Jesus will judge by the gospel: Romans 2:16. There are many who sing “Nothing but the blood” who sincerely believe “nothing but the blood and my faith”.

Not by our standards: not “though he signed up with Arminians, he didn’t sign with ECT”, not “though he signed up with Catholics, he didn’t sign with “open theism”. Not “he spoke some truth” so I better call him brother. Rather, he did not submit to the gospel, and remains in debt to do all the law.

Since God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, we need to “think God’s thoughts after Him”, and to do that we need to study the gospel. None of us yet perfectly knows and understands the gospel: to know all about the work, we would need to know all about the person; to know all about the person, we would need to know all about the work. Instead of saying “I know it all”, let us say instead: I need to know more. The reason we lack full assurance in the gospel is that we are not yet as skilled in the gospel as we need to
be, nor are we as committed to LOVE IT as we need to.

II Thess 2:9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all powers, signs, and lying, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they DID NOT RECEIVE THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH, that THEY MAY BE SAVED and for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie.

For some, the no-foresight god of the general baptists is a strong
delusion; the strongest delusion I know is the Calvinist who speaks peace to the idolatry of the Arminian god.

“Barebones” may sound good. But it is a terrible thing to have people name the name of Jesus Christ and think they are saved when they do not yet even know anything about the rightousness of God. It is a severe thing to claim that Philip baptised the Ethiopian after explaining Isaiah 53 with no mention of effectual atonement.

“He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper His hand. He shall see the travail of His soul, and be satisfied. by His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many For he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great…

The “barebones gospel” leaves out the glory of the God-man bringing to freedom all those for whom He was punished. It says that nothing stops God from denying His own justice/pleasure and submitting to the
justice/pleasure of the creature. It says that justification depends not only on the travail of the Son but on the faith of some of the sinners for whom the Son was in travail.

Shame on us, they posture, beating their chests to pose as the publican, we “doctrinal experts” do “growth by transfer” but those good old Arminians they sure can make a lot of Christians with their gospel! These Calvinists are adamant that the “nonlordship” gospel preached these days results in lots of false converts, but they think that the good old “gospel” preached by good old Arminians like Moody and Tozer and Wesley produced more converts to the true Christ than Calvinism ever did.

And my question: unless you are proud of your humility, why do you waste time on the “Calvinist” explanation when you could still be preaching the same Jesus you believed in when you got saved? If the “Calvinist” explanation is not about Jesus, then why does your pride insist on quibbling about it?

John Murray’s Mono-Covenantalism

February 2, 2010

John Murray’s Mono-Covenantalism, by David Gordon, in By Faith Alone, edited by Gary Johnson and Guy Waters (Crossway,2006, p121

I am perfectly happy with retaining the covenant of works, by any label, because it was a historic covenant; what I am less happy with is the language of the covenant of grace, because this is a genuinely unbiblical use of biblical language; biblically, covenant is always a historic arrangement, inaugurated in space and time.

Once covenant refers to an over-arching divine decree or purpose to redeem the elect in Christ, confusion Is sure to follow.  In my opinion, Murray kept what ought to be discarded and discarded what ought to be kept.

John Murray despised dispensationalism. We all disagree with it, but few of us with the passion of John Murray. Indeed, some of the historic premillenialists who left Westminster Seminary complained that Murray’s attack on dispensationalism made them feel  attacked also.

What Murray jettisoned was the notion of distinctions of kind between the covenants. He wrote that was not “any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic.” Murray believed that the only relation God sustains to people is that of Redeemer.  I would argue, by contrast, that God was just as surely Israel’s God when He cursed the nation as when He blessed it.

The first generation of the magisterial Reformers would have emphasized discontinuity; they believed that Rome retained too much continuity with the levitical aspects of the Sinai administration. But the Auburn theology cannot describe covenant theology without reference to dispensationalism, despite the historical reality that covenant theology was here for several centuries before dispensationalism appeared.

My own way of discerning whether a person really has an understanding of covenant theology is to see whether he can describe it without reference to dispensationalism.

When Paul and the other NT writers use the word covenant, there is almost always an immediate contextual clue to which biblical covenant is being referred to, such as “the covenant of circumcision” (Acts 7:8)  The New Testament writers were not mono-covenantal regarding the Old Testament (see Rom 9:4, Eph 2:12; Gal 4:24).

Those for whom Christ Died will be Spared

February 1, 2010

Gen 17:9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.”

Gen 18:19 “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”

Will all in the new covenant know the Lord, or only those who keep the covenant? Will all in the new covenant keep that covenant? Will all in the new covenant be the people of God despite their sins?

When Jeremiah contrasts the new covenant with the one made with the fathers, the contrast is to the Mosaic covenant and not to the Abraham covenant. But neither is it accurate to say that the new covenant is only a renewal of the Abrahamic covenant. As Genesis 17 and 18 suggest, the Abrahamic covenant also had its “conditional” aspects.

One way some people put this all together is to say that the unconditional aspect of covenants only refers to God’s promise to save a people, but that which INDIVIDUALS are part of the people is conditioned on covenant obedience.

I speak not only of Arminians, who say that Jesus died for everybody and that the difference is their faith and obedience.
Instead of saying that all blessing is conditioned only on the imputed righteousness, many Calvinists bring into the picture the sovereign grace of God which enables the elect to meet the conditions of the covenant.

This failure to glory only in the cross is supported by a view of the new covenant which separates “covenant” from election and particular redemption. Abraham stayed in because he was enabled to obey, but some who are in get broken off because they do not obey.

The “state” of those in the new covenant does not depend on our conduct and walk. Those who try to walk to life will never arrive there. The Christian walk is a fruit of life and a guaranteed “stand in grace”. (Romans 5:1-2).

In this essay, I want to think about a “Reformed” discussion of covenant keeping, Meredith Kline’s By Oath Consigned (Eerdmans, 1968). Despite Kline’s use of new information about extra-biblical treaties to talk about “covenant”, his conclusions are more traditional than many Reformed writers who are now distancing themselves from ANY conditional/unconditional distinctions.

I interact with Kline because I agree with his holding the line on the law/gospel antithesis, but I will argue that his reading of the covenants makes it difficult for him to talk about God meeting all the conditions for the salvation of an INDIVIDUAL.

Ultimately of course Kline’s book is about infant baptism. Unlike the confessions which speak of the water as a means of assurance, Kline says that the water only puts individuals into a conditional covenant, and introduces them to potential curse as well as potential blessing. But my focus in this short essay is not baptism, but Kline’s view of covenants.

Is the new covenant ONLY about the gospel, or does it have a secondary law-aspect as well, so that blessing is conditioned on keeping it? If so, what are these other “covenant” blessings which are not gospel blessings found in Christ?

If there is such a thing as being in the new covenant but not being in Christ, what are the blessings of being in covenant for those for whom Jesus did not die? Is there a  “common grace” of being in the new covenant, if one assumes that the reprobate can be included for a time in the covenant?

Kline cautions that “we are not to reduce the redemptive covenant to that proper purpose.” Those who don’t continue to believe the gospel are condemned. (John 3:18).  But this is something different from saying that the non-elect are in the new covenant, and will be cursed and broken off if they don’t continue to believe..

All in the new covenant know the Lord. When we baptize with water , we cannot know for sure if people know the Lord. But this does not eliminate our duty to judge by the gospel. Those who do not confess with their mouth the gospel we should not presume to baptize. Those we do baptize we do so not to put into a conditional covenant but on their confession of bankruptcy which rules out past and future covenant keeping as a basis for blessing.

But Kline resists the “bent toward such a reduction of covenant to election. To do so is to substitute a logical abstraction for the historical reality…”

The historical reality for Kline is the reality of covenant threats and “actual divine vengeance against the disobedience as covenantal elements”. I agree about divine vengeance but my question is if this wrath is “covenantal”.

Do those who are never initiated into the new covenant experience wrath? I am sure Kline would agree with me that they do. But this is something different from saying that those who experience the wrath of God were once members of the new covenant.

Those who hear the gospel and reject it face greater condemnation but this does not prove that they EVER knew the Lord covenantally. Matthew 7 teaches us that there are those who never knew the Lord. There is no category of new covenant people who knew the Lord who then stopped knowing the Lord.

I agree that the blessing of the new covenant comes through covenant curse on Jesus Christ. But if Christ has kept the covenant for all those in the new covenant, then how can Kline speak of “dual sanctions” for those in the new covenant?

Kline thinks that those who were never elected and those for whom Jesus never died can be initiated into the new covenant. And his pattern for this is not only the Mosaic covenant but the Abrahamic covenant. Not all the children of Abraham are children of Abraham. It was possible to be in that covenant but not be justified like Abraham was.

Kline agrees that Jeremiah 31 sounds like “discontinuity” with earlier covenants. “Jeremiah speaks, to be sure, only of a consummation of grace; he does not mention a consummation of curses in the new Covenant.” p76. But Kline maintains this is only a matter of focus: the emphasis is on eschatological blessing but curse is not denied. “But the theologian of today ought not to impose on himself the visionary limitations of an Old Testament prophet.”

But why should we take this (Marcionite? to turn the tables!) attitude to Jeremiah? Perhaps the prophet really is seeing a new covenant which has no “dual sanctions” because it is altogether conditioned on the obedience of Christ.

Yes, there is anathema and excommunication in the New Testament. But what Kline needs to show is that those judgments are exclusions of those who are in the new covenant. Otherwise we simply assume the paradigm with which we begin. I John 2:19 says that those who sent out “were not of us.”

But John 15 says that those who do not abide in the vine are thrown away. Is the right exegesis here that those who began to abide were later broken off from “the covenant”?

As for me, I don’t see how saying that the vine is the covenant fits with Christ saying He is the true vine. Certainly there is such a thing as a false profession and assurance about Christ, but does it really answer any questions to introduce into John 15 a covenant with dual sanctions?

But Kline argues that the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 is ultimately not about now but about after the second coming. Thus he says that we who say that only the elect are now in the new covenant “prematurely precipitate the age to come.” (p77, footnote about Jewett). In other words, Kline does the already/ not yet number, with an emphasis on the not yet. The new covenant is really not yet, he thinks, because now there are those in it who do not know the Lord.

Kline argues from the covenant breaking of Israelites in Romans 11:17-21. If gentiles in the new covenant are grafted into the Abrahamic covenant, then we must not say that the new convent is unconditional because the Abrahamic covenant was not unconditional.  Verse 21: “he may not spare you either”.

Of course we have the promise of Romans 8:32 that all those for whom God did not spare His Son will be spared. The condition of this blessing is Christ’s obedience (even to death) . So I think it is possible to warn and threaten folks ( he may not spare you either) without telling them that they have been initiated into the new covenant. I think Kline would agree: not all are in the new covenant, we have to be initiated.

But are there some in the new covenant who will not be spared? What good would it do to warn people in the new covenant about this if it were not possible for them to be broken off? Then again, what good would it do to warn people about any disobedience if they are so reckless as to put all their hope in Christ as the only condition of blessing?

Since I reject the theology of paradox, I seek reconciliation of all the biblical data. I don’t want a reduction which leave out the warnings. But I would argue that the issue in Romans 9 to 11 is not about our covenant keeping but about continued faith in the righteousness of Christ.

When Romans 9:32 complains that some of the children of Abraham did not seek righteousness by faith, this does not mean that they did not work in the right way. Israelites who rejected Jesus were perfectly willing to give God credit for their works. They were just not ready to be told by Jesus that their works were evil .

And the reason the works of the Israelites who stumbled were evil was not simply a lack of sincerity or moral effort. Their works were evil because they were done without faith in the gospel Abraham believed.

That gospel says that God justifies the ungodly who do not work (Romans 4:5). It was not a situation of being in a covenant but failing to meet certain legal conditions. The problem was people not believing the promise of the gospel.

Romans 10:3 “for they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. “

A person who has not submitted to the righteousness of Christ has not yet had the law written on his heart, and there are none like that in the new covenant.

This is not a “premature” anticipation of the age to come. ALREADY in Romans 9-11, Paul makes two points:

1. Not every Jew is elect or justified: one could be in the Abrahamic covenant but not justified by God as an individual. So far, with this even the Jew who stumbled could agree. Yes,  we are elect because God has made us able to keep the covenant. Thus we teach grace but also conditional covenant.

2. Paul has a second point to make in Romans 9:11, and this is the one many stumble upon. Paul claims that we cannot establish our own righteousness, not even if we do so zealously and with sincerity. Not even if we give God the credit for us and our doing.

The claim of Romans 11:32 is finally that “God has committed them all to disobedience, to have mercy on all.”.This is not a claim that every individual will be justified. All for whom Christ kept all conditions will be justified. But this gospel hope is not founded on the obedience of those who will be justified.

Though I agree that there is a law-aspect to the Abrahamic covenant so that we can speak of some Israel being broken off,  but I cannot agree that anything we might be enabled to do can add to what Christ did as the condition of blessing.

Those for whom Christ died will be spared. To tell a person that “you may not be spared either” is to warn him that he may not yet be in the new covenant.