Archive for May 2012

Is the Holy Spirit the Source of Our Justification and Sanctification?

May 26, 2012

I will begin with the part with which I very much agree, in which Mike Horton warns against calling “sanctification” a cooperation.

Horton: “It is inappropriate to import the monergism-synergism
antithesis (typically belonging to the debate over the new birth and
justification) into sanctification. It is better simply to say that we are working out that salvation that has Christ has already won for us and given to us by his Spirit through the gospel. Though in
sanctification (unlike justification) faith is active in good works,
the gospel is always the ground and the Spirit is always the source of our sanctification as well as our justification.”

Mark McCulley: The Holy Spirit does give us what Christ has already won. But we also need to say that the Son gives us the Holy Spirt, and that the Son is given to us by legal imputation. Galatians 4:6– because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit into your hearts.”

Of course this raises many questions about order and the word “union” and Horton has done a good job of borrowing from Bruce McCormack on the priority of imputation as a performative act. (See both his book on Covenant Union and his essay in Tributes to Calvin).

I know the Westminster Confession uses “applied by the Spirit”
language but we need to account for the order in Galatians 3:13-14.
Redemption/ justification is the basis for the promise of the Spirit,
the blessing of Abraham. As Ephesians 4:8 quotes Psalm 68: “when he
ascended on high, he gave gifts to men.” Every reference to “baptism
with the Spirit” (including I Cor 12:13) has Christ as the one who
gives the Spirit, not the Spirit as the one who gives us Christ.
Effectual calling by God the Father does not assume that it’s the Spirit who includes us into Christ.

It’s a reduction (not the entire truth) to say tha the Holy Spirit gives us the salvation which Christ won. Even though I agree that there is no imputation and calling apart from the Spirit, I worry about the leaving out forensic imputation or making the legal only one of the results of some “more basic” union.

The thing I would most fundamentally question in Horton’s paragraph
above is the conclusion—“the Spirit is always the the source of our
sanctification as well as our justification.” One, the Father is
forgotten. Two, in what sense is the Spirit the source of our
justification? In the sense that Christ did His work by the Spirit? In the sense that the Spirit gives us the faith which has as its object what Christ won for the elect?

We need to make sure that we keep saying that Christ’s righteousness is not what the Spirit does in us. This is why I don’t think we should even talk about a “twofold righteousness” or an “imparted righteousness”. In any case, we need to make a distinction (not identify) the work of Christ outside us and the work of the Spirit in us.

Three, we need to define “sanctification” and make a distinction
between our traditional use of the word and the Bible use of the word. The Bible has different senses of “sanctification”, both by the Spirit (II Thess 2:13) and “set apart and perfected by the blood” (Hebrews 10). David Petersen’s book Possessed by God is a good place to start to think about this.

Of course, in our common language, when we say ‘sanctification”, we tend not to be talking about Christ’s death or about the Spirit causing us to hear the gospel. We tend to think of the new birth as creating in us a new disposition which causes us to gradually get better.

Horton in his good book on covenant union has a very good discussion
of the problems with traditional accounts of “regeneration”, and I
know that none of us can talk about everything at one time. But my
specific point is to ask how the Spirit is the source of
“sanctification”. If we are talking about “sanctification by the
blood” (Hebrews 10) then it is very right to notice the parallel to
Christ’s death as the source of justification.

But if we are talking about the Spirit causing us to understand and believe the gospel, then we cannot identify the source of justification as the Holy Spirit.

The gospel is about the law, because the gospel tells us how Christ
satisfied the law for the elect. The gospel demands a faith that
repents from the old life of trusting ourselves (even with grace and help) to satisfy the law. To hear the gospel is to turn from the sin of trusting ourselves (with grace and help) to ever become acceptable to God. We learn to take sides against ourselves. It is Christ’s death which not only justifies us but also sanctifies us.

We believe and we repent, and the Holy Spirit causes us to do
both, but these things that the Spirit works in us are not our righteousness. The Holy Spirit’s work in us is not the source of either our justification nor our sanctification.

While we are still sinners, we are already sanctified.

Horton’s remarks can be found at:

Different Purposes for the Atonement?, by John Kennedy

May 25, 2012

There are some who, Calvinists in their vows and Arminians in their tendencies, teach the doctrine of a double reference of the atonement; representing the atonement as offered in one sense for the elect, and in another sense for all. These maintain that there was a special atonement securing a certainty of salvation to some, and universal atonement securing a possibility of salvation to all.

Those who advocate the double reference of the atonement, profess to believe that Christ died in a sense for the elect, in which He died for none besides—that He died because He was their surety—that their sins alone were imputed to Him—that it is His relation to the elect which accounts for His death—that for them alone redemption was purchased—and that to none besides shall redemption be applied.

How can they then consistently hold that Christ died for all? It may be said that the call of the gospel must involve the salvability of those to whom it is addressed. This is traced to the death of Christ as an atonement of infinite value; and on that ground and to that effect it may be insisted that Christ died for all.

But how can this consist with this other doctrine, which they profess to believe—that no one is salvable without atonement. No atonement can make my salvation possible if it did not satisfy divine justice for my sins. How can the possibility of my salvation be before the mind of God, unless He sees my sins atoned for in the death of Christ? How could they be atoned for unless they were imputed to Him? And how could they be imputed to Him unless He was my surety?

If it be objected, that unless the salvation of all who are called is possible there is no hope for them, it is enough to reply, that just as surely as salvation is not possible without atonement, neither is it so without faith; and that instead of tracing the possibility of a universal salvation to a universal reference of the atonement, the wise and the right thing would be, to insist on the ability of Christ to save all who come to Him; on the certainty of salvation through faith; and on the impossibility of salvation without it.

But there is no atonement that is not satisfaction to divine justice. There was no satisfaction of justice that did not avail to the purchase of redemption. To say that the atonement, being of infinite value, is sufficient for all, is beside the mark, for the question is as to the divine intention.

Christ has power over all flesh but this was given to Him in order that He would give eternal life to as many as the Father gave Him. This power Christ has in reward of His death, but He has it for the salvation of His chosen. He died to procure all good for them.

The doctrine of the double reference is an oil and water mixture. It is opposed to Scripture. Those who hold it are in a transition state, and occupy no fixed dogmatic ground. Sometimes they seem staunch Calvinists, and at other times utter Arminians. They try to move on the boundary line between the two systems, and would fain keep a foot on either side. But the fence is too high to admit of this. They therefore display their agility in leaps from side to side.

To insist on a reference of the death of Christ to any who were not loved by God, whose sins were not imputed to, and atoned for by Christ, and who shall not be saved, is utterly opposed to Scripture. The way to conceal the manifest unscripturalness of this position is, to raise the dust of a double reference around it, by saying that it is not in the same sense Christ died for the elect, as for others. The special reference is not denied; it is so plainly taught in Scripture.

But where in Scripture is the other universal sense taught? A reference to 1 John 2:2 has been given as an answer to this question. But if there is a passage more conclusive than any other against the doctrine of a double reference it is that very one. It teaches that in the self-same sense in which Christ is the propitiation for the sins of those whose cause He pleads as Advocate, He is so “for the sins of the whole world”—of all to whom His atonement refers.

In all those passages which seem to some to teach the doctrine of a universal reference of the death of Christ, the death is seen connected either with love, or suretyship, or redemption.

Some remain professing Calvinists, that they might keep hold of their creed, and become de facto Arminians that they might get hold of their hearers. And there are preachers not a few, who seem to think that, though their speculations must be conformed to the system of Calvinism, they must be Arminians when they deal with the consciences of sinners. The consequence is, that so far as a practical presentation of doctrine is concerned, they are Arminians if they are anything. To tell men that Christ died for all, and that this is the basis on which the call to all is founded, is to quit hold of all that is distinctive to the true gospel in order to command the sympathies of unrenewed hearts.

By such a form of doctrine many teach more than they intend. Its phrases suggest to many minds the idea of universal grace, and encourage them in a Christless hope. Any protest against universal grace which are mingled with a double reference and to different purposes for the cross can be easily separated. The two elements are so incongruous that they will not combine; and in the hands of unconverted men it is not difficult to tell which shall be removed.

It is impossible to account satisfactorily for the death of Christ, except by ascribing it to His bearing imputed sin, with a view to His making atonement for it. It is impossible to account for His being “made sin,” but by His substitution for a guilty people. But if men believe that Christ died for many whose sin He did not bear, whose surety He was not, and whose redemption he did not purchase, they are adrift on a current which will carry them down to Socinianism.

Does Finding Assurance in the Mirror of Christ Mean Don’t Think About Election?

May 23, 2012

Calvin—“The persons, therefore, whom God has adopted as his children, he is said to have chosen, not in themselves, but in Christ; because it was impossible for him to love them, except in him … if we are chosen in him, we shall find no assurance of our election in ourselves; nor even in God the Father, considered alone, abstractly from the Son. Christ therefore, is the mirror, in which it behooves us to contemplate our election; and here we may do it with safety…. Thus we have a testimony sufficiently clear and strong, that if we have communion with Christ, we are written in the Book of Life” (3/24/5).

The sins of the elect 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.

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: “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 “equivalent” of suffering and torture. 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 the elect 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 individual 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.

Let’s think about a text parallel to Romans 6:9-10. Think of II Corinthians 5:15: “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.”

Even so called Calvinists talk about one-sided deals in which the ony thing they “contributed” was their sins. “I offered God my sinful heart and God gave me His righteousness.” But God is the only imputed, and God already imputed your sins to Christ or not. 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.”

II Corinthians 5:15 teaches us the gospel about Christ’s death being the death of all those who will be justified. Those who attempt to find assurance in Christ but without thinking about election have a false Christ, a false Christ who did not die only for the elect, a false Christ whose death does not save. The false gospel can only tell us that Christ died “so that our guilt COULD now be taken away, and we COULD be counted righteous.” This “might or might not be” false gospel always conditions the imputation of sins to Christ on the faith of the sinner. The false gospel says: “Jesus suffered the penalty due our sins so that we do not have to.”


In a few words that’s the same false gospel I have been hearing all my life. 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. Most so called Calvinists not only professes to have been saved because they believed this false (Arminian) gospel. Most so called Calvinists continue to teach that same “so that we don’t have to” false gospel.

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. You cannot teach biblical substitution without teaching about election.

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.

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.

The false gospel is a “but” gospel. It says 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 the true gospel does NOT tell any particular sinner that Christ died for their sins. The gospel does NOT tell sinners who the elect are; the gospel tells sinners about election and substitution.

It is a gospel fact that there was one kind of “union” of the elect in Christ already at the cross. Before (or after) the elect are justified, Christ paid by death for their sins. Faith does not make this election happen. Faith in a false Christ is not a mirror to give us assurance that we belong to the true Christ. Only faith in the Bible revealed Christ gives us assurance that we are elect.

Galatians 3 does not start with believing to get justified, and it does not end with believing more to get more of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 3 starts with “before your eyes Christ publicly portrayed as crucified.” T 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 COULD OR MIGHT happen.

Not Only Sovereignty—Justice Demanded the Death of Christ

May 11, 2012

John Owen, A Dissertation on Divine Justice, chapter 13 (book 10, 587) answers Twisse who wrote “it cannot be maintained that God cannot forgive sins by his power, without a satisfaction.”

“For,” says Twisse, “if God by his might or absolute power cannot pardon sin, then it is absolutely impossible for sin to be pardoned, or not…it is evident that man not only can pardon, but that it is his duty to pardon his enemies when they transgress against him.”

Owen’s Answer: “The non-punishment of sin implies that God is the Lord of mankind by a natural and indispensable right, but that mankind are not subject to him, neither as to obedience nor as to punishment, which would be the direct case if sin should pass with impunity. To hate sin, that is, to will to punish it, and not to hate sin, to will to let it pass unpunished, are manifestly contradictory.

“If you say that God hath it in his power not to hate sin, you say that he hath the contrary in his power, — that is, that he can love sin; for if he hate sin of his free will, he may will the contrary. This Scotus maintains, and Twisse agrees with him. But to will good and to love justice are not less natural to God than to be himself. ”

“But it is manifest,” says Twisse, “that man not only can pardon, but
that it is his duty to pardon his enemies; and, therefore, this does
not imply a contradiction.”

Owen’s Answer: The supposition is denied, that God may do what man may do. Divine and human forgiveness are plainly of a different kind. The forgiveness of man only respects the hurt; the forgiveness of God respects the guilt. Man pardons sins so far as any particular injury hath been done himself; God pardons sin as the good of the universe is injured.

Neither is it in the power of every man to let sins pass unpunished, yea, of none absolutely to whom the right of punishing is competent; for although a private person may recede from his right, which for the most part is of charity, yet it is by no means allowed to a public person to renounce his right, which is a right of government, especially if that renunciation should in any way turn out to the hurt of the public. Although a private person may, at certain times, renounce his right and dominion in certain cases, and ought to
do so, it doth not follow from that that God, whose right and dominion is natural and indispensable, and which he cannot renounce unless he deny himself, can do the same.

“But neither,” says Twisse, “can it be consistently said that God
cannot do this because of his justice, if it be supposed that he can
do it by his power. But Scotus reasons with more judgment and accuracy on this point. ‘The divine will is not so inclined towards any secondary object by any thing in itself,’ says he, ‘that can oppose its being justly inclined towards its opposite.”

Owen’s Answer: “We maintain that God from his nature cannot do this,
and, therefore, that he cannot either by his power or his justice. To Scotus we answer: The divine will may incline to things opposite, in respect of those attributes which constitute objects to themselves, but not in respect of those attributes which suppose a condition of God’s character.

For instance: God may justly speak or not speak with man; but it
being supposed that he wills to speak, the divine will cannot be
indifferent whether he speak truth or not.

God could not but create the world; but God did not create the world from an absolute necessity. It is necessary that God should speak truly, but he doth not speak from an absolute necessity; but it being supposed that he wills to speak, it is impossible that he should not speak truly. We say, therefore, that God necessarily punishes sin.

“But that necessity,” you will say, “of what kind soever it be, flows
from the nature of God, not his will or decree; but all necessity of
nature seems to be absolute.” “If, then,” says Twisse, “God must punish sin from a natural necessity, he must necessarily punish it to the extent of his power”.

Owen’s Answer: “That necessity from which God punisheth sin does not
require that he should punish it to the extent of his power, but so
far as is just. We do not conceive God to be a senseless, inanimate
agent, as if he acted from principles of nature, after a natural
manner, without a concomitant liberty. For God does all things freely, with understanding and by volition, even those things which by supposition he doth necessarily, according to what his most holy
nature requires. T

“God appointed a surety, and this surety being appointed, and
all the sins of the elect laid upon him, he in their room and stead is the proper object of this vindicatory justice,so far as relates to their sins. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” 2 Cor5:21.

But Twisse thus replies, “If God punish as far as he can with justice, — that is, as far as sin deserves, — then it must be either as far as sin deserves according to the free constitution of God, or without any regard to the divine constitution. If according to the divine constitution, this is nothing else but to assert that God punishes not so far as he can, but so far as he wills. If without any regard to the divine constitution, then without the divine constitution sin so deserves punishment that God ought to punish sin because of his justice. If disobedience deserve punishment in this manner, obedience will also, deserve a merited reward without the divine constitution.”

Owen’s answer: “God is brought under an obligation to no one for any kind of obedience; for ‘after we have done all, we are still unprofitable servants.’ But God’s right that rational creatures should be subject to him, either by obedience or a vicarious punishment, is indispensable. Obedience is due to God in such a manner, that from the nature of the thing he can be debtor to
none in conferring rewards; but disobedience would destroy all
dependence of the creature upon God, unless a recompense be made by

“The question is not,” writes Vossius, “whether it be just that a
satisfaction be received? but whether it be unjust that it should not
be received? for it doth not follow that if God be merciful in doing
one thing or another, that he would be unmerciful in not doing it.” Although mercy be natural to God as to the habit, yet because there is no natural obligation between it and its proper object, it is as to all its acts entirely free; for the nature of the thing about which it is employed is not indispensable, as we have shown before to be the case with regard to justice.”