Archive for August 2013

Andrew Fuller: Begging the Question About “Covenantal Union” and The Nature of Atonement Imputation

August 23, 2013

Nathan Finn–“Chun agrees with scholars who emphasize greater continuity than discontinuity between Edwards’s understanding of the atonement and the moral government view of the New Divinity theologians. Fuller embraced governmental language and was actually much closer to Edwards, who also allowed for a governmental aspect . Both men combined a universal sufficiency with a particular efficacy, the limitation being in God’s covenantal design rather than in the nature of propitiation itself.”

Romans 3:25–”Christ Jesus, whom God put forth as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith…”
Andrew Fuller (Reply to Philanthropos, Complete Works,II, p499) comments: “There would be no propriety in saying of Christ that He is set forth to be an expiatory sacrifice THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD, because He was a sacrifice for sin prior to the consideration of our believing in Him. The text does not express what Christ WAS as laying down His life , but what He IS in consequence of it.”

Andrew Fuller makes a distinction between “covenantal intent” and “the nature of the atonement itself”. While Abraham Booth is today often accused of saying that Christ “became literally a sinner”, that is a distraction from the important debate about the nature of God’s imputation of the elect’s sins to Christ.

Abraham Booth did not use the careless language of Tobias Crisp (or of Luther) about Christ becoming a sinner. Booth rejected any idea of Christ having a fallen human nature. But Booth did teach that “imputation” has two aspects. First, and always, God counts and declares the truth about a person. But second, and sometimes, God puts into effect a legal solidarity between persons. Thus God counted the sins of the elect to Christ, and then counts the death of Christ to the elect.

Using the word “literal” here is not helpful, because it begs the question of what is “actual”. The righteousness of Christ is His death and that death is real, so why would it be a fiction for God to count that death as the death of the elect? Thus the two senses of “imputation”. First, a legal “transfer” (although I prefer sharing, since it’s still Christ’s death). Second, on the basis of that REAL TRUTH, God then declares the justified elect sinner to be righteous, to be justified.

But of course many like Fuller (and Edwards) dismiss this account, and say it doesn’t matter because in the end it’s all based on “union” anyway. But this only begs the question by moving their assumptions about the legal not being “real” enough into the “union question”. Their assumption is always that “union” is not legal. The not yet argued presupposition is that “union” is something (they can’t exactly say what) which is “more than legal”. This is why we need to examine Fuller’s controversy with Abraham Booth, and take sides with Abraham Booth.

This is NOT a question about the duty of the non-elect to have faith in the gospel, and the related question of “two kinds of ability” (as argued by Edwards and Fuller). That is another distraction from the greater question about the nature of the atonement. While I don’t see much in the Bible about the “duty” of unbelievers to believe the gospel, I don’t deny that all sinners are commanded to believe the gospel. And (unlike Edwards) I don’t need to connect that command to some philosophical account of “ability”.

This is not even a question about the optimism of the post-millennial fantasies of Edwards and Andrew Fuller. It’s a question about the justice of God, and about the justice of God in Christ dying for the sins of the elect imputed to Christ by God. If the sins of the elect are not “really” justly imputed to Christ, then the death of Christ itself is not that which “really” makes God both just and the justifier of the ungodly. Instead we would have to look away from the cross itself, and look to what God is now doing in terms of some kind of “covenantal intent”.

Though Andrew Fuller affirmed a particular atonement in a certain sense– in that the atonement will procure faith for only the elect–he is not willing to say that Christ was only the propitiation for the elect alone. Instead of telling that plain truth, that Christ either already died for a sinner or already did not, Andrew Fuller wanted to say that Christ died for all sinners in some sense. This universal sense advocated by Andrew Fuller has to do with the nature of propitiation. He denies that Christ in the past propitiated the Trinity for the sins of any specific person. Rather, Andrew Fuller teaches that Christ died to make an offer of propitiation to every sinner.

According to Andrew Fuller, what’s important is the “covenantal design and intent” of what Christ did, that there could be propitiation now if the Holy Spirit were to cause a sinner to accept the offer of propitiation and thus join themselves to Christ through faith .

Fuller asserted an universal conditional sufficiency in Christ’s death for all sinners. It is an old and subtle doctrine, but Andrew Fuller was a very subtle man, much like John Wesley, using words like “imputation” in ways meant to mislead those who had a different meaning for the words.

What does Andrew Fuller accomplish by shifting from what Christ DID back then over there to who Christ Is and what He “Can” do here and now if the Spirit helps a sinner to take up the “offer”?

Andrew Fuller changes the meaning of the propitiatory death of Christ. With the Arminians, he makes the propitiation to be dependent on the sinner having faith. The subtle “hybrid” part though is that (with the Calvinists) Andrew Fuller also makes the having faith be dependent on what God obtained by means of Christ’s death.

Andrew Fuller ends up putting the emphasis on grace as opposed to justice. God is sovereign now to give faith to elect sinners because of Christ’s death. The idea that God has already been JUSTLY propitiated for a sinner (or not) is no longer in the picture. Andrew Fuller’s notion of “sovereign grace” is opposing the gospel of God being justified in justifying the ungodly. He is opposing justice in the name of grace.

Two comments. First, even though Fullerites want to say that the only way to be consistent in teaching a definite propitiation (what Christ WAS as laying down his life) is to teach an eternal justification, where the elect only subjectively find out that they were always justified, I do not (and Abraham Booth did not) teach that any unbeliever is justified.

All the justified elect are people who believe the gospel. Belief in the gospel is an immediate consequence (not a condition) of God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect (not of God’s imputation of the elect’s sins to Christ).

“Through faith” in Romans 3:25 does not mean “conditioned on faith”. Faith for the elect is what justice demands AFTER righteousness is imputed to them. I do not say it “their right” but it is Christ’s right because of what Christ WAS AND DID. Once sins were imputed to Christ, then Christ died by the law because of these sins, and now Christ is free and justified before the law.

So I can and do say to any unbeliever, unless you believe the gospel, you are not yet justified. But I also say to those unbelievers: your believing is not something you can or will do unless Christ died for you, and you will never know if Christ did until you believe the gospel.

Second comment. Look at what Andrew Fuller is saying with his distinction between what Christ is as opposed to what Christ was. Fuller is teaching that God is governmentally sovereign and therefore God can do whatever God wants to do now with what Christ did then.

If so, why did Christ die? To make it possible? So that propitiation “might” happen? To ask such questions leads to another question. If God is so sovereignly superior to justice in His government, why did Christ need to die at all? If the meaning and effectiveness of the propitiation was only to be assigned later, is that meaning a matter of justice or only arbitrary?

Romans 5:11 “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the atonement.”

Galatians 4:5-6 –”to redeem those who were under the law, so that we would receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Edwards and Andrew Fuller use the concept of “covenantal union” to say that the atonement which really matters is the application of Christ’s death. They deny that the “union” is legal. They insist that the legal is “based on the union”. The logic leads to the “atonement” not being what Christ did to satisfy the law, but instead the application of “the covenantal intent”.

It’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice.

Although the gospel teaches that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, the gospel does not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Romans 6 explains how the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are “placed into” that death, they remain under the wrath of God.

But folks like Andrew Fuller use “union” talk to change the meaning of the atonement and accuse the rest with thinking there is no need for faith. If the substitution for sins has already been made, they say, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it.

There is no justification apart from faith. Faith in the gospel is NOT a mere recognition that we were already justified. But those who follow Andrew Fuller tend to deny any distinction between the atonement and the legal application of the atonement.

At the end of the day, these folks locate the efficacy of the atonement not in Christ’s propitiation itself but only in the efficacy of regeneration and faith to “covenantally unite” people with that propitiation. Though they may formally agree to some “legal aspect” to “union”, for all practical purposes they ignore or deny the reality that God already imputed the sins of only the elect to Christ.

In this way, the followers of Andrew Fuller make way for the idea of some “universal sufficiency” in Christ’s propitiation. And when it turns out that this ‘sufficiency” is not enough to save the non-elect, they answer: “well, you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by faith. Then, and only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice.”

The followers of Andrew Fuller teach universal sufficiency and an offer (to everybody I guess who is not already dead) . They claim that we can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to Andrew Fuller, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the specific sins of sinners. God did not really impute specific sins, according to Fuller, Edwards and the New England Theology.

Death Is Suffered

August 18, 2013

If we were to ever become dead
It would not have been us who did it
God will have done us to death

We would count ourselves new and raised
Not suspending our future
On a life found in us

If we were ever to become dead
We would count as garbage and loss
What we used to count good worship

Death is suffered
Death does not depend on God causing us to obey
Being Really Dead Means Needing a Real Resurrection.

We do not hope for righteousness
We hope because of righteousness
We have passed from death through a death imputed

Died with Christ” means Christ died instead of the justified elect, but the result is that the person the elect used to be, that person is dead, over with, done trying to help build their own righteousness. That old person is not here now anymore.

We didn’t die personally. Jesus died as our substitute, but this death counts as our death.
The justified elect person has nothing to gain by their works. And nothing to lose.

No more pressure!

Acts 20:24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

Jesus did not die the way Socrates did and there’s no need for us to die like Socrates did either

But also, there’s no need for the justified elect to die in the very same manner as Jesus did

1. “Trust Him who judges justly” is our example. I Peter 2: But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

2. “My God, why have you forsaken me” is not our example

Jesus did NOT bear our sins in his body on the tree, so that we “might” sometime in the future die to sin. Jesus did not bear our sins in his body on the tree, so that we “might” daily die. Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree, so united to that death, WE HAVE DIED to sin.

What’s the Basic Difference of The New Covenant?

August 10, 2013

Richard Gaffin and Sinclair Ferguson teach that those in the old covenants were not “united to Christ”. Of course we need to define “union with Christ” and then be consistent to our definition with the rest of what we write. But I am asking now if the most basic difference which the new covenant brings is “regeneration”, which is what many folks tend to think of as “union with Christ”. Of course some would define “union with Christ” as the indwelling of the Person of Christ in us.

But if regeneration is not the most basic change brought by the new covenant, what is the most important distinctive of the new covenant. My answer would be about Christ having satisfied all the terms of the new covenant.

1 Corinthians 11:25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Hebrews 9:15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Hebrews 12:24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Josh Moody, pastor of Wheaton College Church , No Other Gospel, Crossway, p 170–” trying to live under Moses, when Christ has arrived, is legalism…. Christ now says, ‘with me you can’ and we find that by His Spirit we do and we want to do.”

Part of the problem here is using a word like “legalism” which can mean almost anything. Moody says that in the Old Covenant there were godly folks who did not live “legalistically”, even though “the operation of” justification by faith had not been revealed. If Moody wants to say that new revelation has now (potentially) released the justified elect from “legalism”, how does he think that the justified elect in the old covenant were also free from “legalism”?

In Galatians 3, when Paul is writing about “before faith came, the law was our cop”, he was not only revealing a change in covenants in redemptive history. In these same verses, Paul is concerned with individuals “getting justified” by Christ, concerned about individuals being baptized by God into Christ. Even during the time of the new covenant, there are many non-elect folks for whom Christ never died and who have never been baptized into Christ.

Even though Moody says often that he doesn’t want to assume that everybody is a Christian, he doesn’t seem to be able to keep from telling his readers that God loves them and that Christ died for them. p 42–“Christ was cursed for me and you.” p 100–“The only way to realize that you’re okay is to realize that God loves you and that Christ died for you as you are.” p 160–

Not everybody who talks about Jesus believes in the Jesus revealed in the Bible. I quote Moody: “if I believe something wrong and teach others to believe something wrong, I am under God’s judgment. That is a thought so strange to modern ears that it feels like, with this passage, we are entering an alien world.” (p 39)

Moody rightly asks why the Galatians were tempted to add their works to Christ’s righteousness (which is the object of faith). Moody rightly answers that this temptation does not come from the faith but comes instead from the fear which does not trust the cross to be enough to justify us.

But if it’s a false Jesus who died for everybody, and not everybody is justified, then those who trust this false Jesus should be afraid. They will need to be careful to complete their faith with works, and thus we will need to stress on the “now in the AD we can and want to”.

If you can’t go by train (because the train doesn’t go there), you have to go by car, and you can’t go by train and by car at the same time. If the only kind of atonement revealed in the Bible is definite and effectual (for the sheep, and not for those who will not believe, John 10), then there is no atonement revealed in the Bible for everybody, and you can’t have it both ways, no matter what clergy attempt to say or imply.

You can say all matter of true things about the difference between law and gospel (and I have no doubt that the false teachers in Galatia did so), but you have no legitimate right to say them, if you avoid the offense of the cross being A. for the elect alone and B. being alone effectual, being the difference, since Christ’s death was not for everybody.

And the true things you say about the cross, or about law and gospel, end up not being true things, just like the doctrine of the false teachers in Galatians.
If Christ’s death was the righteousness intended for everybody, then it’s not His death but our faith which must make the difference. And if that is so, we need to be very afraid.

Let me end with one more quotation from Moody: “Nobody comes along and says that you don’t need faith. They just say it’s not faith alone. But if it’s not faith alone, then it is faith plus law; and if it is by law, then it is no longer by promise; then it is no longer by faith. The message of faith and works is really a message of work; it is simply legalism” (p 157)

Let me say something different.

Nobody comes along and says that Jesus didn’t need to die. They just say that Jesus died for everybody but that it doesn’t work unless the Holy Spirit causes you to consent to it. They just say that, even if you are not elect and even if the Spirit doesn’t cause you to consent to it, Jesus loves you and died for you and offers to save you. They say that Christ’s death didn’t take away your guilt and it doesn’t work, because you didn’t have faith in it.

But if Jesus died for everybody, then it is that death PLUS you being changed so that you want to “accept it” which is the real basic difference. And if the only difference of the new covenant is our regeneration, then the promise is not about Christ alone or His death alone.

If the basic new covenant difference is about your being changed (so that grace is not cheap and Jesus is King), then salvation is not by Christ’s death. The message of His death plus your regeneration is really at the end a message about your regeneration.

Those With Another View Castrate Themselves?

August 4, 2013

There was a need for compromise in the Galatian congregations. If some people wanted to do an external thing like circumcision in order to get themselves more internally pious , why are they not free to do so? Circumcision is nothing, un-circumcision is nothing.

Paul had his own distinctive vision, but so do some of the rest of us, and if we want to stay together, and keep the pension funds and institutions intact, then others should be free to circumcise externally if they want, just so they don’t make us do it. Whatever floats your boat, even if it’s patriotic flags on national holidays, all these external things are not only indifferent but also helpful for some of us. We can have different points of view.

If we skip Galatians 3:10-13, we can skip the fact that Christ died by the law to save Christians.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Deuteronomy 27:26)

11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall LIVE by faith.” (Habbakuk 2:4)

12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall LIVE by them.” (Leviticus 18:5)

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— (Deuteronomy 21:23)
See also Galatians 4:4 God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law.

Notice that ‘the atonement” is before the giving of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 3:13-14 3 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree)— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith

Notice also that “the legal adoption” is before the giving of the Spirit.

Galatians 4:5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba Father!”

But don’t the following three texts deny that life and salvation is by law (by legal atonement or legal adoption)? No, they deny that we ourselves can satisfy the law to get life. They don’t deny that Christ can and has satisfied the law to get life for Christians.

Galatians 2:21 for IF righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Galatians 3:18 For IF the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise

Galatians 3:21 For IF a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

Of course a “pastoral way” to get smoothly past this, is not to say “for Christians”, but to say that God loves everybody and that Christ has done “whatever” for everybody, and so nothing more needs to be done, not by us, externally or internally.

And then you wait five seconds, and then say: except we do need to do something both internal and external to accept it, so we will be changed. Christ has changed everything, yes, but five seconds later, it doesn’t work, unless we change and to jump-start that there’s either circumcision or water baptism or even infant baptism (as I said, whatever floats your boat).
You are free to circumcise if you like even though it’s not what my distinctive vision would suggest

Because in the end it’s not only about what Christ did, or even about what we have done, but about what we have done lately.

Galatians 3: 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Somebody else might have baptized you in (by water of course, by the church externally), but you yourselves were the ones who put on Christ. And now you need to keep doing it, and whatever external thing causes you to do so.

Galatians 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Sure, Christ has changed everything and loves everybody and everybody belongs to Christ, but you yourselves were the ones who crucified the flesh. And you got to keep doing that. And of course flesh is morality. Flesh is not the option to add circumcision or do some other religious external thing. You are free in this church to have your distinctive vision about how to keep your own personal pietism lively.

Galatians 5:2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ,you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

mark: If you don’t think you are justified by Christ’s satisfaction of law, but want to ignore that or add to that your own laws, well that’s fine, since in the end it depends really on your attitude, and of course if you are willing to live in a big tent with others who have different laws.

Philippians 3: 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews…but I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as DUNG, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law.

Paul could not compromise, because he was not capable of holding together perspectives in paradox. This is why he ended up saying mean and “fleshly” things. And I don’t just mean saying words like “dung”.

Philippians I have confidence in the Lord that you will take NO OTHER VIEW…. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!

Does Penal Satisfaction Mean that God’s Law Gets the Last Word?

August 2, 2013

From my experience in most Reformed churches, there is so little attention to election (especially when talking about covenant and baptism), they would have no problem with clergy assurances of “for you”. So I appreciate any sensitivity to “safeguard the particularity”. In many Reformed congregations, it seems that the only safeguarding is the exclusion of infants without one professing parent from the first “sacrament”.

So I won’t say that denial of penal satisfaction is “not Reformed”. Rather I will say it is not the gospel. If the gospel is about what the clergyman (and the Holy Spirit) do with it, there was no need for Christ to have died. You worry about law having the last word, but you need to see that the gospel is about Christ having satisfied the law. If you make Christ’s death anything other than that, Christ died to no purpose. (Galatians 2:21). If atonement were by means of preaching, justification is not by the bloody death of Christ. When the Bible denies that salvation is by the law, that denial is that salvation is by the Holy Spirit enabling us to keep the law. It is not being denied that the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ and that Christ died to satisfy the law.

No alliance with Lutherans should keep us silent about Jesus dying for the sheep and not the goats. Why then do so many Reformed preachers talk about the “indicative done” in the context of “you” and never in terms of the Westminster Confession: “for all those whom the Father has given the Son” ?

The problem cannot be a “sectarian” sociology which thinks of the church as only those who profess to be justified. Reformed Confessions teach that “the covenant” community must by nature and should include some of the non-elect for whom Jesus did not die and who will not believe the gospel. We also know good and well that not every baptized member even of a “sectarian” community is one for whom Christ died. Of course Norman Shepherd insists that we not talk about election, because every baptized person in church is a Christian. But why is it that so many who oppose Shepherd, and who make a distinction between substance and administration, why is it that they don’t talk about election either?

Being “pastoral” does not give “special priests” the right to assure their hearers that Christ will not be a judge to them. Only the bloody death of Jesus Christ (not the sermon or the sacrament) has for the elect silenced the accusations of God’s law. Of course there is a distinction (in time and otherwise) between that death and the imputation of that death to the elect so that they are justified, but that imputation is not effected by sermon or sacrament.

Obeying the gospel is not the condition of salvation, but a blessing made certain for the elect by the righteousness of Christ. It is not for sure that “you” who are in attendance will be saved. Salvation is promised to all who believe the gospel of salvation conditioned on the blood alone.

The law-gospel antithesis (not by our law-keeping) will do no good if we “flinch at this one point”. If we do not talk about particular atonement, then the people who hear will NOT look outside themselves for the righteous difference which pleases God. If Jesus Christ died for everybody but only “enabled God” to save (in the preaching event) a fraction of these people , then these people will certainly look to themselves for the difference between lost and saved.

The only way you can tell people that the gospel is “outside of you” is to tell them that the gospel they must believe to be saved EXCLUDES even their believing as the condition of salvation. The only condition of salvation for the elect is Christ’s death for the elect. Unless you preach that Christ died only for the elect, you encourage people to make their faith into that “little something” which makes the difference between life and death! They must believe that their believing is not the righteousness that satisfies God’s law.

Do we believe that the glory of God in the gospel means that all for whom Christ died will certainly be saved? Or has that truth become too “rationalistic” for us? Or is it not our job to be that zealous for God’s glory in this manner?

Would this kind of preaching take the grace of God out of the hands of those who hand out the sacrament and who say there is no salvation outside the church as they define it? The gospel itself is God’s power of salvation. No Holy Spirit, no efficacy. No gospel, no efficacy.

The glory of God does not depend on human decisions, and the gospel must not become a victim of alliances or coalitions or hybrids which agree not to talk about the extent of the atonement. Because to do that is to also agree to disagree about the nature of the atonement, and that leaves room for a false gospel in which salvation becomes what God does in the sinner. And I don’t care if you say that’s Christ in the sinner, or grace in the sinner, it does not follow the rule of Galatians 6, which is to glory in the cross alone

Is Hebrews Ten Warning Us To Obey the Law?

August 1, 2013

Hebrews 10: 8 If anyone disregards Moses’ law, he dies without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, regarded as profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

Reformed: the people of God in the new covenant are both believers and unbelievers because some of the people of God end up in hell. The future tensed in Greek indicates that this will in fact happen and so this passage can’t be taken hypothetically. So you have got a problem here the covenant people of God end up in hell…. You haven’t even attempted yet to deal with the fact the God’s people are being sent to hell in verses 30-31 you have merely ignored this issue.

Thanks for reminding me of your questions. I am sure I can’t answer everything to your (or my) satisfaction, but let me quickly rehearse some things I know about Hebrews chapter 10.

1. The particular sin being warned against is the sin of going back to the Mosaic law and the Levitical economy for salvation. And there is (and never was) any salvation to be found in the Mosaic law or the Levitical economy. I am not denying that some people living during the Mosaic economy were justified by grace through hearing and believing the gospel of Christ, the seed of Abraham. I am saying that there is no salvation ever to be found in our law-keeping, nor was there ever any salvation to be found in the old ceremonies. Those ceremonies pointed to Jesus, and the way Jesus opened for the elect through His flesh. In context, it seems we have some people who have professed to have believed in the gospel, to trust in Christ, and yet some of them have, or are tempted to, go back to that Judiasm which has rejected the blood of Jesus.

2. There is nothing “hypothetical” about this warning (or the others in Hebrews). The logic of “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin” is not that Christ died for every sinner, and that every sinner had a “chance” or an “opportunity” to be saved, if they accepted “the offer”. No. The logic rather is that now and always there has been only sacrifice that really takes away sin, and that’s the sacrifice of Christ. The old economies had their place because their ceremonies pointed to this one sacrifice of Christ. Now that Christ has come, now that the new covenant has arrived, not only in promise, but in fulfillment, still there remains one (and only one) sacrifice for sins.

Put it this way— for every sinner, for any sinner, there is only one sacrifice that can take away sins, and it’s Christ’s propitiatory death. This does not at all mean that Christ has died for every sinner. It means every sinner needs Christ’s death. But only the sins of the elect the Father has given the Son were imputed to the Son, and the Son has only made a propitiation for those sins. Christ’s death is not enough for every sinner, because it was never intended for every sinner. But the point is—Christ is the only propitiation there is, and if you don’t trust Christ, then there can be no propitiation for you. Go back to Judiasm, (and without getting into the longish question about if apostates can come back to the gospel), and don’t come to Christ, then there “remains no other sacrifice”.

3. And you might read this, and say, well there you have it, it’s the supralapsarians who can’t make a distinction between covenant and election. And the guy denies “common grace” also!

It’s true that I say “providence” instead of ‘common grace”. It’s even true that I am supralapsarian, but I would insist that what I have indicated in the paragraph above is true even on an infralapsarian understanding, unless one is an Amyraldian who thinks Christ obtained some kind of “general fund” of atonement, and then somehow the elect get applied the efficacy of it. In other words, if you believe in definite atonement, this is a fair reading of the warning: no hope but in Christ’s grace, no mercy except in Christ’s bloody death. (I do of course disagree with the sufficient/efficient formula as used in Dordt.)

4. But to repeat, there is nothing hypothetical about these warnings. Yes, there are some contrary “feelings”: Hebrews 6:9–”yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things, that belong to salvation”. But in principle, the Hebrew warnings are no different from those found in places like Galatians and Philippians. It’s not a warning about immorality, but about going back to another gospel, about not trusting Christ, but instead trusting Christ and also your “covenantal nomism” (for which nomists as non-Pelagians thank their god!).

Because if you trust Christ and your Spirit enabled obedience, then you don’t trust Christ! Galatians 2: 21–”If justification were through the law, then Christ died for NO purpose. (not for some purpose, not to provide a “plan” to get started!). Galatians 5:2–If you accept circumcision, Christ will be of NO advantage to you. (Of course, Nanos and Doug Wilson think this only applies to gentiles) So this is a serious real, life or death warning. Although Paul does not tell the Galatians that he thinks most of them are lost judiasers, he does not discount the possibility that some who profess to trust Christ are in reality still in their sins, without grace, without propitiation.

5. It was not hypothetical then, and the danger is not hypothetical now. “Legal preaching” does not mean not preaching the law and the seriousness of sin and the wrath of God. It means confusing the law of God with the gospel of God which is about Christ’s satisfaction of the law for the elect. Christ preached this gospel in John 5: 24. “As many as hear my word and believe him who sent me has eternal (lasting quality) life! HE DOES NOT COME INTO JUDGMENT

And this warning to trust this gospel and not going back into “works and ceremonies” is not at all hypothetical. Let me give you an example from my personal experience, which is NOT from the “federal visionists”, to show that I know that they are not the only legalist heretics in town. This was in a rather large “Reformed Baptist” congregation, quite some time ago. The clergyman took this Hebrews 10 text and attempted to put us all in the “sweat-box” for about 50 minutes one night before the Lord’s Supper. I suppose the idea was to prepare us for the gospel by smiting the sheep with the law. (What else could a shepherd do with his stick?)

Don’t you know, he asked us, that most of the threats of hell are not to those outside the church? Most of the language about hell is directed to God’s people, not only to motivate them, but to make them examine themselves if they are really are trusting Christ. So back to the OT, a couple examples of no mercy in the Mosaic economy, and then on to Hebrews 10, you think that covenant was pretty bad, will it be worse for you if you don’t start living and not merely professing to be Christians! The “Lord will judge His people”

Deuteronomy 32: 35
Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
and their doom comes swiftly.’
36 For the Lord will judge/vindicate his people
and have compassion on his servants,
39 “‘See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

45 And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”

The basic strategy of the Reformed Baptist preacher was to say–since God is going to condemn some of his people, what we need to do now is have a dress rehearsal of that, and let me judge you for what you are doing and what you are not doing.

I could elaborate, but I think you get the point. One, I am not saying that this kind of thing is true of most Reformed Baptists. I bring it up because I myself am baptist, and don’t want to be seen as only picking on federal visionists. (After all, I am told, their problem is the same as baptists, since they can’t tell the difference between election and covenant, although they do talk about becoming non-elect, and baptists who know the gospel don’t say “become non-elect” but say something about those who did not belong having professed faith visibly)

….Two, I am not saying that my example of what this clergyman did wrong is an excuse or a substitute for doing all the exegetical work on the details of the text, or for not dealing with questions about “the substance of the covenant of grace”.

But before I get to those questions, I do want to emphasize one point. Not only did the Reformed Baptist get chapter 10 of Hebrews wrong, but he really turned it upside down. He ended up doing the very thing that the writer to the Hebrews was warning against. The writer is saying—don’t look to your own obedience, not to the Mosaic economy, not to any other system but Christ’s death as the only answer for sins. Because Christ’s death (which has now happened!) IS the only hope we have for escaping God’s wrath against sins.

The preacher wasn’t saying to go back to Judiasm, and since he was a baptist, he wasn’t even saying –obey to stay in “the covenant of grace”, but he was saying that assurance of salvation depended on the Holy Spirit enabling us to obey God’s law. (No more law-gospel antithesis once you are in God’s house?).

What number am I on? 6. The word “covenant” is in verse 29. Don’t let me forget about. The phrases “old covenant” or “Mosaic covenant” are not in verse 26, which says the “law of Moses”, but I think we could agree that the thought is about the old covenant economy. The reference is to the covenantal curses on folks who are Abraham’s sons but not Abraham’s sons (Ishmael, Esau, Judas, etc).

So which covenant is it in “profaned the blood of the covenant”?
How can there be a new covenant if there is but one covenant of grace?

I think Reformed people tend to have three answers at once here:

answer one: the new covenant is “substantially” the “one covenant of grace”

answer two: because of the contrast with Moses, the covenant here is “the new covenant” (which of course has always existed along side the old covenant, since the gospel has always existed)

answer three: it’s not really the “new covenant” which the apostates were in but only the “administration” of the new covenant

I am not sure how you can have all three different answers at the same time, but maybe it’s best to use only one or two as needed.

Since my confession (First London Baptist, 1644) does not have all the answers on this either, let me jump to Hebrews 13:20 — the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal (permanent lasting quality!) covenant….

This takes me back to the gospel Jesus preached in John 5:25—He who believes….does not come into judgment, but HAS passed from death to life.

Does this guy have no shame, reading John’s (or Paul’s) categories into Hebrews? Not much. Not that “analogy of Scripture” answers everything, but I begin with what I know, and not what I don’t.

7. John Owen makes sense to me on it being Christ who is sanctified. I know that category exists in John 17. But if Owen is not correct, I don’t need to say that nobody except sovereign grace baptists understand “eternal security” or perseverance/ preservation. Owen was not baptist. And Mike Horton was wrong to imply only his kind of “covenant theology” can make sense of warning texts. Even if it turns out that “the covenant by which he was sanctified” is in reference to those who professed and left but never belonged, this does not prove any of the three answers above.

a It does not prove that there is “one covenant of grace”. (The covenant in question is not the Mosaic covenant, which is also supposed to be included –in some sense–in the “one covenant of grace”, is it not?)

b. Even if “the covenant by which he was set apart” is phenomenological, by appearance, this does not prove that the new covenant includes the infants born of one professing parent (as opposed to all infants to all ethnic Abrahamic seed, professing or not professing).

c. Instead of contracting “the one covenant of grace” to one professing parent, why not expand it to all sinners, all who need the blood of Christ, and who will be saved if they only believe it? In other words, Hebrews 10 does not in any way prove that the “genealogical principle” continues in this “covenant”. Assuming that “his people” that the Lord will judge is the visible congregation of professors does not in any way tell us who is and is not to be admitted to that visible congregation.

Perhaps it is only those you would admit to the Lord’s table. But of course not all who are admitted to the Lord’s table are the justified elect, and no baptist denies that there is “judgment” involved in the Lord’s Supper. We don’t have to say God is doing it “sacramentally” to get there. But some Reformed folks assume that baptists can’t make a distinction between visible and invisible. We can, and we don’t have to admit (only some) infants to do so.

We don’t have to have “two kinds of water baptism” to get there either. Of course there are different kinds of baptism, such by Christ with the Holy Spirit, such as “into Christ’s death”, but we don’t see how can you have one water baptism but with two meanings, without confusing a lot of people about what God is doing.

Let me repeat– as serious as our questions about the nature of “covenants” are, I think some of us can agree that the larger more important warning in Hebrews 10 (not hypothetical) is the danger of people being distracted from the gospel by the idea of a grace which enables them to enter into the holy by the Spirit causing them to do works of faith. That “faith” is not in the gospel, because it is not trust in Christ the great Shepherd who kept the covenant (for the elect alone) by His obedience even unto death.