Archive for September 2013

Carl Trueman’s Essay on John Owen and the Timing of Justification

September 30, 2013

I quote from Carl Truman’s essay on John Owen and the timing of justification in the Westminster Seminary collection Justified in Christ.(ed by Oliphant, 2007)

Carl Trueman, p 91–“The Protestant doctrine of justification by imputation was always going to be criticized as tending toward eternal justification. Late medieval theologians (nominalists, occasionalists) had used the distinction between God’s absolute power and God’s ordained power to break the necessary connection between the priority of actual righteousness and God’s declaration that a particular person is justified. In placing the declaration in God’s will, not in the intrinsic qualities of the one justified, it would be argued that any necessary connection between justification and any chronological factors had been decisively abolished”.

mark: In other words, since “synthetic” (the imputation of another extrinsic factor) justification is not about what’s happening in the sinner now, why not say that all the elect were justified at one time, either at the cross, or before the beginning of the ages? This is what Baxter accused John Owen of doing, of simply “announcing in the gospel” that the elect had already all been justified. That’s not what Owen did, but Baxter said he should do that to be consistent. Baxter wanted to get “chronological factors” into the equation, because Baxter wanted to make “intrinsic conditions” a factor in justification.

mark: The assumption of Baxter, and even of most Protestants, is that if you remove the chronological changes (inner transformation), then you only have an appeal to God’s bare sovereignty, and then you might as well say that God justified all the elect at the same time, or even all of them before the beginning of time. But justification is NOT a matter of God’s bare sovereignty but also a revelation of God’s righteousness, and God’s justice demands that God impute in time to the elect the death which Christ earned in time for the elect. If all you have is bare sovereignty, then there is no need for imputation in time, and also there is really no need for Christ to die to satisfy justice.

John Owen used to agree with the nominalists (John Calvin on this particular question) that the death of Christ was not strictly necessary, but then John Owen changed his mind. Owen concluded that justification is not only a matter of God’s declaring the elect to be just (while yet sinners). But neither does justice demand that “justification be imputed” to all the elect at one time, either when Christ’s righteousness is actually accomplished, or when God decrees the death of Christ. Owen concluded that justice demands a connection between Christ’s death and the imputation of that death, but it does not demand that the death be imputed at the same time to all the elect. It’s not “justification” which is imputed. It’s Christ’s righteousness which is imputed.

Carl Trueman, p 92—Samuel Rutherford saw eternal justification as the foundation of an antinomian trajectory in English Puritan thought which was also connected to the sinister calls for the most un-Presbyterian tenet, liberty of conscience in religious matters. Others were quick to say that eternal justification subverted the need for the moral imperatives.”

mark: while I also oppose eternal justification (as did John Owen), it’s not because of the two reasons given above. First, I am for voluntary churches and religious liberty. Second, even though I oppose any notion of justification by “bare sovereignty” unrelated to law-satisfaction and Christ’s righteousness, I do oppose justification based on what God does intrinsically in the sinner, so any affirmation of justification by imputation (such as mine) is going to be accused of “cutting the nerve that leads to morality”. My response to that is that the motive for obedience to moral commands should not and cannot be to make justification “fitting” ( as Jonathan Edwards and his contemporary followers would have it). The motive for obedience is gratitude for a present justification and a faith that every blessing will be given to those who are already in Christ.

Carl Trueman, p 93–“Baxter claims that if Christ has paid the actual price for our sins, as Owen argues in The Death of Death (1647), then this payment is not refusable by God, nor is it possible that there could be a chronological delay between payment of the debt and the dissolution of the debt, since it is either paid or not paid, thus all the elect are already justified in Christ, and thus faith can only fulfill a mere epistemological function whereby the elect come to acknowledge that which they are already, namely, justified.”

mark: Notice that this is not what Baxter himself advocates. It’s what Baxter is accusing Owen of believing, or needing to believe, if Owen were consistent. This is really rich in a way, because Baxter is saying that Owen would not be following strict justice if Owen allows a time lag between Christ’s death as payment for sins and the actual forgiveness of sins, but Baxter himself has rejected any notion of strict justice, substituting a”new law” (neo-nomian) whereby God accepts something less than strict justice, namely, the chronological changes of moral improvement in the life of the one to be justified. It’s as if Baxter is saying, let me show you that not even Owen is being strictly just, so strict justice is not the issue. Baxter accuses Owen of not being just, while at the same time Baxter makes no claim that his own view is strict justice.

Owen would agree that justice demands that “the payment is not refusable” but would not agree that this demands the justification of the elect sinner at the very same time payment is made.

Carl Trueman, p 95–“Owen argues that it is crucial to understand that God’s desire to save is prior to the establishment of the covenant of redemption, and thus to any consideration of Christ’s satisfaction. Thus Owen precludes any notion that Christ’s death in any way changes the Father’s mind or buys his favor. Owen calls attention to the fact that Christ’s death, considered in abstraction from its covenantal context, has no meaning as a payment. The force of this is to focus attention on the will of God as teh determining factor in the economy of salvation. The positive relationship of Owen’s theology to voluntarist/Scotist trajectories of medieval thought is here evident.”

mark: so yes, Owen is “nominalist” in that Owen does affirm the sovereignty of God, and does make a distinction between Christ’s death and the imputation of Christ’s death chronologically. But Owen never appeals to “bare sovereignty” without any righteousness. Owen teaches that Christ’s death is not merely one possible way that God could in sovereignty save, but the only way, the necessary way, the just way. And, even though Owen makes a distinction between Christ’s death and the imputation of that death, Owen is clear that God must in justice impute (in time) Christ’s death to all for whom Christ died. The payment is not “refusable”. This is not a matter of arbitrary law-less sovereignty, because it’s a question of righteous sovereignty. Baxter thinks the only thing that can make justification of sinners just is intrinsic change (not perfect, not strict justice) in the sinner. Owen thinks the only thing that can make the justification of sinners just is Christ’s death and the imputation of that death.

Carl Trueman, p 96—“Owen claims that that the union of Christ with the elect in his atonement is not actual direct participation but that it must be understood in terms of federal representation. The imputation of sin to Christ is thus not strictly parallel to the imputation of Christ’s death to sinners. This is because it is not simply incarnation which is the foundation of salvation, but the covenant which lies behind the incarnation and which gives gives the incarnation meaning to salvation.”

mark: yes, but let me change one word, for the sake of clarity. It it is not simply incarnation which is the foundation, but the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God which lies behind the incarnation and which gives the incarnation meaning to salvation. God does not save simply by might and sovereignty. God also saves by God’s justice. Christ became incarnate under God’s law. Christ’s righteousness was Christ’s just payment to God’s law for the sins of the elect imputed. And justification in time is God’s just counting of this just payment by Christ.

The “Personal Presence” Priority of Marcus Johnson

September 29, 2013

One With Christ (Crossway, 2013) by Moody Bible Institute professor Marcus Johnson, is a very question-begging book. It starts with an attack on “the merely forensic” and continually assumes that the forensic is based on the “reality of union.”. The phrase “more than merely” is repeated many many times.

Johnson has no place for the justification of the UNGODLY. He has a “the person priority”. He’s a Lutheran who teaches that “faith unites” because “faith is the presence of Christ”.

But there are no new exegetical arguments, simply “union priority” asserted over and over again. It’s interesting for me to take these statements and simply reverse them, flip them, without me doing any less (or more) exegetical homework than Johnson has done.

Johnson: Many have assumed that justification is a synthetic declaration that takes into account no prior relationship of the believer to the person of Christ. p 92

mark: The “unionists” assume that justification is a legal fiction (as if) unless it’s an analytic declaration that takes into account an already existing personal relationship to Christ. They don’t talk about justification of the ungodly, but only about a justification of those united to Christ.

Johnson: It is because of this union that the believer is justified.

mark: it is because of God’s imputation that the believer is united to Christ. A bride is not legally married because another person is already “really” in her. Rather, a bride becomes really married because she is legally married.

I need to review to see how many times Johnson uses the Calvin quotation (as long as he remains outside of us) but the entire book is meant to lead to a Lutheran sacramental view (unless you eat my flesh taken in a literal fashion) with almost not mention of election, and no mention of some human individuals not being elect.

Johnson: The benefits of Christ’s saving work are received only insofar as Christ Himself is received. p 93

mark: Christ Himself is received by the ungodly elect only insofar as these ungodly elect are imputed with Christ’s righteousness.

Johnson: Justification is a legal benefit of a personal reality.

mark: The personal indwelling of Christ is a benefit of the legal reality of God’s imputation.

Johnson: God justifies us because we are joined to Christ.

mark: God joins us to Christ when God imputes to us (while we are ungodly) the righteousness of Christ. God joins us to Christ because God imputes to us the death of Christ.

Johnson: In Philippians 3, we are only imputed with righteousness because we are found in Christ. p 95

mark: In Philippians 3, we are only found in Christ because of the righteousness imputed.

Johnson: Berkhof thinks that justification cannot be the result of any existing condition in the sinner, not even an intimate, vital, spiritual, person union with Christ. This strikes me as enormously confusing. p 97

mark: Johnson thinks that both the atonement and justification are fictions unless the incarnation means that all sinners are already in some kind of union with Christ before legal imputation. This strikes me as an universalism which removes the reality of God’s justice in giving Christ as a propitiation for sins legally imputed.

Johnson: What exactly is this union which can be REDUCED to either justification or the results of justification? p 98

mark: What is the reality of God’s imputation of righteousness to the ungodly elect if it’s not real apart from some other previous (and more than merely legal) connection?

Johnson: William Evans argues that Berkhof’s soteriology is the logical conclusion of a federal theological trajectory, epitomized by Charles Hodge, in which union ceases to function as an umbrella category unifying all of salvation.

mark: Johnson rejects “imputation priority” because he has already rejected the federal imputation of Adam’s guilt (see his chapter 2 on incarnation) and because he has already rejected what he calls a “mechanical transfer” of sins to Christ. I would say “the sins of the elect” but Johnson does not consider the doctrine of election in his discussion of imputation and justification. Election for him seems to be only an “apologetic doctrine” which he does not deny but which plays no part in his soteriology. (This is his accusation against those of us with “justification priority”, that the incarnation and the Trinity are no part of our gospel., p 41)

Johnson: Both Horton and Fesko subordinate union with Christ to justification, indicating that they see union with Christ as reducible to sanctification.

mark: Johnson denies the reality of legal imputation, and subordinates imputation as merely one benefit of “union”, and then he defines “union” as the personal presence of Christ in us because of our faith (given to us by the Holy Spirit). So Johnson subordinates the work of Christ to the person of Christ, and then accuses those who disagree with him of dividing person and work. And then Johnson subordinates the imputation of Christ’s work to the work of the Holy Spirit, who he thinks is the one who unites us to Christ’s person by creating faith in us.

Johnson does not deny “union with Christ in election” (p 35) but he never ever says that any human is not elect and his doctrine of “union with Christ in the incarnation” (p 36) ignores election and focuses on the human nature of Christ as the human nature of every sinner. Having ignored any notion of Christ having died for the elect alone, Johnson announces that “the normal referent of the phrase union with Christ in this book is to subjectively realized EXPERIENTIAL union by the power of the Holy Spirit.” p 39

Not denying the eternal election in Christ, Johnson insists that there is only one :union” (not two, as he describes the position of Horton, Fesko, and Berkhof), but then he takes his “one union” and agrees that it has different “aspects” of which election is one, and then he takes the “application of the union” as being his working definition of “the union”. This of course fits with the Barth/Torrance notion of actualist election and of the atonement as that which the Holy Spirit does in creating faith (and thus creating a real union, so that imputation won’t be “merely” “synthetic”).

But let’s get back to the fun of copying Johnson’s assertions and then reversing them.

Johnson: A truncated reading of John 14-17 where the sending of the Holy Spirit is interpreted as something other than Christ’s presence by the Spirit. This is reinforced by notions of Spirit baptism that fail to stress that the Spirit baptizes believers into Christ,” p 44

mark: give me one Bible text that says that the Spirit is the baptizer. Romans 6 does not teach that. I Cor 12:13 does not teach that. Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Christ is the baptizer (not with water but with the Spirit). In Romans 6, there is no Holy Spirit, and the one who baptizes the elect into Christ’s death is God (not the Holy Spirit apart from the Father or the Son).

Johnson: Faith justifies only because faith unites us. p 99

mark: faith is a gift given to the elect because of Christ’s purchase of faith by His work. Therefore, faith is not a condition for God’s imputation but a result of God’s imputation. Therefore, no elect person is ever justified apart from faith in the gospel, but no elect person has this faith before regeneration and no elect person has this regeneration before God’s imputation of Christ’s merits earned by Christ’s death.

Johnson: Saving faith engrafts us to Christ

mark: Since faith is a benefit of Christ’s work, how can we have this faith unless we are first engrafted into Christ by God’s legal imputation? II Peter 1:1— “a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ”

Johnson: Faith is nearly synonymous with life in Christ. p 100

mark: Romans 8:10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. The righteousness of Christ is not imputed because of the personal presence of Christ mediated by the Holy Spirit. Life in Christ and the Spirit is because of God’s imputation of the righteousness.

Johnson: Christ died FOR US, in our place, but he also crucified US WITH HIM. There is a convergance of the “for us” with the “with us”. Believers participate in Christ’s death. p 102.

mark: Although I don’t know anything about Johnson except what I have read in his book, my guess is that his presuppositions about the nature of the atonement are the biggest reasons for the moves he makes in this book about “union”. Without denying the forensic nature of Christ’s death, he wants to continue to use the words “penal substitution” but without that meaning that Christ really (actually) bore the specific sins of the elect. It’s not “merely” semantics . The Torrance view of the nature and intent of Christ’s death is an intentionally deceptive account of legal representation. Volf, for example, calls it “inclusive substitution”, but what it really means is that legal imputation is not allowed to explain the “died with”.

The idea of “in our place, instead of us. so we don’t die, because Christ’s death is our legal death” is dismissed as a fiction, and something supposedly more just (and more “real) and more mysterious (ineffable) is put in the place of “federalist” accounts of substitution for the elect alone.

“Union with Christ” does not matter if we miss out on what Christ’s death does.In his book, Free of Charge (Zondervan, 2005, p 147), Volf writes: “Since Christ is our substitute, after reading ‘one has died for all,’ we’d expect him to continue, ‘therefore none of them needs to die.’ Had he written that, he would have expressed the idea that theologians call EXCLUSIVE SUBSTITUTION. According to this view, Christ’s death makes ours unnecessary. As a third party, he is our substitute, and his death is his alone and no one else’s. But that’s not how the Apostle thought. Christ’s death does not replace our death. It enacts it. That’s what theologians call INCLUSIVE SUBSTITUTION.”

What does Johnson (or Torrance, or Volf) mean by substitution? The problem here cannot be fixed by simply noticing that Christ died only for the elect. Torrance is not an Arminian who conditions the salvation of a sinner on the sinner. Torrance is an universalist who say that God (not wants to, which would be bad enough, but has already) saved everybody because Christ was united by incarnation to all humanity.

We need to think about the nature of substitution.If Christ’s death replaces people’s death, why does II Corinthinas 5:14 teach that the all died? My answer is that “all died” is how the text tells us that the death of Christ replaces the death of the all. Since the death of Christ comes to count as the death of the elect, once the elect have been legally joined to that death, this tells us that another death is not necessary.

If Christ’s death gets counted as the death of the elect, the death of the elect is a death like Christ’s death because it IS Christ’s death. It is not some other death. Romans 6 teaches that it is one death, counted as the death of all the elect.

II Corinthians 5:14 “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.”

Romans 6:7 “For one who has died has been justified from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”

Johnson: The way we conceive of justification is predicated on how we think of the nature of our union with Christ.

mark: The way we conceive of being “in Christ” is predicated on how we think of God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Why was Christ’s death necessary? Why do the ungodly elect need to be credited with Christ’s death? Why do the ungodly elect need to be placed into Christ’s death? Is that “legal placement” merely one benefit based on some more important and real personal indwelling of Christ (in an ungodly person?)

Johnson: If we conceive of union in merely or primarily legal terms, we face the ever present danger of reducing the penal substitutionary vicarious humanity of Christ to a merely mechanical forensic transaction. p 103

mark: If Johnson denies the reality of legal sharing of sins or the merits of Christ’s death without some kind of synthetic basis in an already existing personal presence, then Johnson gives evidence that he has already decided that it would be unjust for God to say that all humans are guilty by mere imputation. It’s also evidence (again, see his chapter two) that Johnson has already decided that it would be unjust for God to impute righteousness to a person unless that person first already has Christ personally present in them.

Johnson: We risk reading the Romans 6 assertions (we died with Christ) as mere “as ifs”. p 103

mark: Having already decided that the legal is not real unless it’s based on actual corruption or on the actual presence of Christ in the person, Johnson follows Augustine and Osiander into a misreading of Romans 6 that ignores the redemptive-historical reality that Christ Himself was under the law (by the imputation of the sins of the elect) and that Christ Himself was justified (not under law anymore) not by grace but by His death as real legal satisfaction of the law.

Johnson: A great deal rests on how we conceive of the word substitution. If we understand this to mean that Christ acts outside of us in a merely representative way, so that our sin is somehow mechanically transferred from us to us, then we have a doctrine of penal substitution that flounders in unreality. p 84

mark: Johnson wants us to say first –“because he assumed our human nature”, but I don’t know anybody who is denying that Christ assumed our human nature. The problem for Johnson is that he thinks the incarnation means that Christ is in someway already “united” to all sinners. Therefore he has all sinners dying with Christ. But where does Johnson locate the ‘reality” of “union”? He locates it in the work of the Spirit creating faith in us, which faith then “unites” us by experience to the humanity of Christ in heaven.

What does this say about the “reality” of federal election in Christ? If the atonement is nothing but “mechanical” and not yet real until “personal union” becomes real, then it seems that the reality of salvation comes to depend not on what Christ did but on what the Spirit will do in us, or WITH us…

Johnson quoting Torrance: It will not do to think of what Christ has done for us only in terms of representation. If Jesus is a substitute in detachment from us, who simply acts in our stead in an external, formal or forensic way, then his response has no ontological bearing upon us but is an empty transaction above our heads. p 84

mark: Don’t you love that imperial “it will not do”? It’s good for assertions, based on personal authority. In other words, I know what “union” means, and I am telling you, without argument or exegesis. I am telling you that Fesko and Horton are wrong, and Torrance is correct. And Torrance says the ontological is more important than your mere imputation or Christ’s death apart from Christ’s personal indwelling in us. But who has decided that God’s legal imputation alone is an “empty transaction”? Johnson already decided that before he wrote the book.

Indeed, if Christ died with some vicarious intention, but without God legally imputing the sins of the elect to Christ, the efficacy of that death would have been empty and made to depend on something more “real”, something brought about or created by the Holy Spirit.

But because those for whom Christ died were in Christ by election before the ages, then the death of Christ was legally significant. \ That death really causes Christ and the Holy Spirit and the Father to live in those to whom that death is imputed. Nothing is more basic that the atonement or the effect of that atonement when the elect receive it by God’s imputation (Romans 5;11, 17, receive in these two verses is not by faith but by imputation)

Johnson: The righteousness of Christ is alien to us in the sense that it is not an achievement of ours. But Christ Himself is not alien to us. p 110

mark. This is merely more priority question begging. If we are all elect (Johnson never says), then when was Christ ever alien to anybody? Since Christ was incarnated with the same humanity, has Christ since His incarnation ever been alien to anybody? Johnson is simply reasserting his beginning assumption that God cannot impute righteousness to us unless we first have Christ within us. So let me counter-assert. Christ cannot and does not indwell the ungodly until God has imputed them with Christ’s righteousness. I have no more proven that proposition (in this short essay) than has Johnson proven His assertion (in his long book)

Johnson quotes Packer: God reckons righteousness to them, not because God accounts them to have kept the law, but because God account them to be united to the one who kept the law representatively…

mark: God reckons righteousness to the elect, not because Christ is already personally present in them, not because they are personally included in Christ by experience or by regeneration, but because God has elected them in Christ and they need a legal share in Christ’s work before they can be joined personally to Christ, the righteous one.

Johnson: Salvation in its essence is Christ, not one of his benefits.

mark: Sounds very pious, doesn’t it? But do you know who Christ is apart from doctrines about who He is and what He Did? Is not “faith-union” one of the benefits of Christ’s work? Is not “union” one of the benefits of Christ, or is “union” something that exists prior to and apart from the redemptive work of Christ? Is not ‘faith” one of the benefits of Christ, a gift given by the Holy Spirit, who is Himself a gift given by Christ based on Christ’s death under the law (see Galatians 3:12-13, 4:4-6).

So what is Johnson saying with his “person priority”? He is not merely saying Christ is other than, and more important to glory in, than the benefits we receive from Christ. Johnson is saying that “union with Christ” (the personal presence of Christ with us) is salvation. To be consistent, then, Johnson would have to say that this “union with” (personal presence) is not a benefit, or at the very least not a benefit of Christ’s presence. But if we ungodly sinners can have Christ the person with us apart from God’s imputation of the merits of Christ’s work, then why do we ever really need the “benefit” of imputation? I mean, if Christ himself is “salvation”, then what He did and its imputation to us is not salvation.

Of course that is a silly distinction, and not what Johnson “really” meant. But if my caricature is not what he meant, then why all this fuss against Hodge and Berkhof and their “reductionistic” (mechanical) forensic priority? Why is it that Johnson’s emphasis on the “ontological” presence of Christ is not also “reductionistic”. Well, he doesn’t deny imputation, and some folks (NT Wright, Seifrid, Garlington) do. But then again, people like Hodge and Berkhof (and Horton and Fesko) don’t deny the personal presence of Christ either. But they get called confusing and reductionistic because they don’t agree with the priority being emphasized by Johnson, Torrance, Gaffin, and Evans.

Sudden Death is not Sudden Glory

September 23, 2013

Al Martin’s little book Grieving, Hope, and Solace (Cruciform, 2011) teaches an instant consciousness after death for Christians and a trip to heaven, all without a body. From the phrase in James, “the body apart from the spirit is dead”, Martin infers that “the spirit apart from the body is alive.”

John 5: 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, as many as hear my word and believe him who sent me has the life of the age to come.. They do not come into judgment, but have passed from death to life. 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice 29 and come out…

Al Martin sounds very much like the Roman Catholic tradition in his reading of the intermediate state. Instead of recognizing from Genesis 2 that “souls” are “living beings”, he begins with the idea that “souls” are non-material spirits with consciousness that can nevertheless be seen and heard (Martin becomes “literal” when he gets to “souls under the altar” in Revelation 6). Thus he reads John 5 as saying that it’s only the bodies which will come out the graves. It can’t be the persons, he thinks, because he thinks he already knows that the “souls” went straight to heaven.

I Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

We will not precede them. They will rise first. This is NOT about “never-dying souls” of dead Christians getting into heaven before we do. Leave your dead body behind. Do not pass go. Get a new body in heaven now, as soon as you die, and before they even bury your old body. No, none of that is the hope. Nor is our hope some experience of disembodied consciousness (like The Matrix) where we can engage in uninterrupted worship. That is a stoic hope for those who fear human emotions so much that they think mainly of control. Duty and law become so important to them that they entertain a gnostic hope for a triumphal worship before and without
1 Christ’s second coming
2 the resurrection
3 the judgement
4 the old body raised and given immortality

I Thessalonians 4: We will not precede them because they will be raised first. Not because they go to heaven first, but because they will be raised first.

Human persons, elect and non-elect, justified and condemned, will not be left in the graves. But now they wait in the graves, and then the elect will be changed in the twinkling of an eye and clothed with immortality. Then “the dead in Christ will rise first. Only then, at His coming will those saints who are alive and remain be caught up together with dead saints [all at one time, at the same time)] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air as He comes to earth. This meeting is not to go back to heaven, but the coming of heaven to earth. Thus “we shall always be with the Lord.”

The non-elect will also be raised on that day but only to come into judgment, and then to perish in the second death. But the justified elect will be raised and “shall not come into judgment” but will from then on, in the age to come, be with the risen Christ with bodies like his glorious body.

Al Martin’s Roman Catholic anthropology causes him to translate “those who have fallen asleep” as “those bodies which sleep”, because he thinks he already knows that “perfected souls” are already ascended to heaven and now worship 24/7 without sleep. Martin makes no reference to John 3:13

John 3: 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that as many as believe in him shall have the life OF THE AGE TO COME. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that as many as believe in him should not perish but have the life of the age to come.

Al Martin presumes that all the saints who have died the first death have only died in their bodies and that their “souls” have already ascended to heaven. ( He does not teach that these “souls” were pre-existent and descended from heaven.) So presumably the promise of “not perish” is only about the bodies, because presumably “souls” can never perish, no matter what God did in giving His Son, no matter what Christ did in being lifted up on the cross.

Of course Al Martin does agree that this hope for instant bliss in heaven is not the primary hope taught by the Bible. p 24–“The Christian’s hope is always used in reference to the ultimate state of glorification, when our souls will be joined permanently to new deathless bodies.”

But what Al Martin (along with Calvin and the pope) refuses to see is that his idea of a secondary intermediate hope of conscious souls in heaven immediately at death is not taught by the Bible, but is indeed contradicted by what the Bible teaches in defining “living being” (Genesis 2:7) or describing the death of Christ (“pouring out his soul, Isaiah 53).

One paragraph after agreeing that the Bible only refers to the resurrection as the Christian’s hope of glorification, Al Martin takes it all back by informing us that “it is this information about the intermediate state that largely accounts for our ability to grieve unlike those who have no hope.” (p 25)

So even though he knows that the Bible speaks of the hope of resurrection, Al Martin continues to insist that his false ideas about “an immediate sequel” are “largely” the difference between despair and courage. The Bible says, wait and be patient. Al Martin says instead: the people left living behind wait, but the dead Christians don’t want, but get right away to conscious worship (until presumably all that is interrupted by them needing to go with Christ to earth for earthly things, like resurrection, judgment, other Christians, and bodies.)

Al Martin builds his doctrine of “immediate perfection of souls” on a phrase taken out of context from Hebrews 12–“the spirits of just men made perfect”. Of course he has not defined “souls” in reference to what the Bible says about “spirits”, but he needs to presume that identity and does so.

Hebrews 12: 18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 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.
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Al Martin ignores the “ye have come” for the sake of what he thinks will happen in the future as soon as we die. p 32–“first comes the perfecting of our souls when we die”. Martin ignores the “enrolled in heaven” for the sake of his tradition that says that “souls” never die but can be seen and heard now in heaven. I doubt that he thinks the “blood that speaks” (be it that of Abel or Christ) is literal, but Martin seems sure that disembodied “souls” are now not only conscious but already perfected and glorified. I doubt that Martin takes “consuming fire” in a literal way, but one wonders if he thinks a “soul” is not a “thing that has been made”. Does this mean that our bodies can be shaken (being created) but that our “spirits” (souls) cannot be shaken?

p 34–“God will put forth upon that soul that has left the body a concentration of his sanctifying grace and power that will immediately complete the work of conforming the soul to the moral likeness of Christ.” This conclusion is based on Martin’s previous reading of Romans 6, in which he ignores the forensic (Christ died under the law, we died with Him, we are not under the law) meaning of that chapter and displaces it with his own idea of some “definitive” regeneration in which we don’t sin (much) anymore (like we used to). Besides having to be read into Romans 6, that view cannot account for the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ had no need for the Spirit to conform him to the pattern of Christ. And our death with Christ to the guilt of the law is also not brought about by our conformity to Christ.

But Martin does not allow Bible texts to get in the way of his theology: “In an instant, her spirit was purged of every last vestige of remaining sin, and she was endowed with the moral perfection of Christ.” (p 36) I certainly agree that dead people do not sin anymore. Indeed, I doubt very much that even the non-elect will continue to sin after their second death, even though they most certainly will sin as they gnash their teeth at the judgment which has not yet come. But agreeing that dead Christians no longer sin has nothing to do with proving that their conscious spirits are now in worship in heaven. This Martin wants to assume.

One very much unanswered question—who is the dead person? Presumably, the dead person is not the body, because according to tradition the body is merely only something the person has. Is the “immortal conscious soul” the person? Or does the person also “have a soul”? If so, what is the person who “has a soul”? And where is that person, when the body sleeps and the “soul” worships?

In a book filled with unbiblical and stoic nonsense, the most foolish quotation in the book (p 46) is from Spurgeon talking about John 17: “You bend your knee in prayer and say ‘Father I will that thy saints be with me where I am.’ Christ says, ‘Father I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.’ Thus the disciple is at cross-purposes with His Lord. The soul cannot be at both places; the beloved cannot be with Christ and with you too….You would give up your prayer for your loved one’s life, if you could realize the thoughts that Christ is praying in the opposite direction.”

One barely knows where to start in refutation! What does “realize the thoughts” mean? If we could only agree with the logic of what Spurgeon is saying, even though it has no logic? We would stop taking our children to the doctor, because that might be in “cross-purposes” with what Jesus wants? Or should we only think this way, after our loved ones die, but not before they die? Why? Why would that timing matter? And to repeat my previous question–are we praying for their “souls” to be with us, or is it our desire for them as persons to be with us? Is Christ praying for their persons or only for their “souls”?

I suppose the most basic falsehood about the Spurgeon soundbite is its presumption that the way to be “with Christ” is “instantly at death”. Certainly Al Martin evades any sense of the resurrection being the hope which is “far better” in Philippians 1 or II Corinthians 5. He rejects any idea of a time-lag between “departure” and conscious life with Christ at the resurrection. Even though Martin knows that “nakedness” is not the way that the Bible speaks of glorification, he still assures us that our comfort is “largely” based on a desire for instant conscious nakedness before God as soon as we die.

Christ said: “to be with me where I am”. Al Martin presumes that means heaven, and ignores the hope of Christ coming to earth to be with His (then resurrected) people. Al Martin also ignores the wait involved in hope, so that no Christian gets to glory before another Christian, so that we not precede each other. Al Martin presumes that the “sleep” of I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4 is not about the real us (our persons), but only about the “bodies we have”.

Martin assumes that Stephen’s prayer (Acts 7) to “receive my spirit” means that Stephen the person never really died. Martin does concede, however, that “we have no biblical ground to expect that we shall be given a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God”, p 47, but for Martin this only means that vision won’t happen before we die, while “our bodies” are dying. But Martin expects to have that vision after he dies, and argues for this based on a vision Stephen had before Stephen died. Why this expectation? Because Stephen prayed, “receive my spirit”. And this Martin assumes means that Stephen had a never dying spirit. Stephen the person didn’t really die. Only his body did.

The Lord Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. (Luke 23:46, Psalm 31:5). Does this mean that Jesus the real Divine-human person never died either, but only his “human body”? I certainly do not begin to understand the incarnation or the mystery of Christ’s death, which is why I am not about to explain it on the basis of a “never-dying soul” so as to prove that Christ didn’t really die.

Al Martin writes (p 56): ” I do not know how disembodied spirits recognize and communicate with each other. It seems to me that Scripture is virtually silent on this matter. ” Since the Bible is silent in even claiming that disembodied human spirits communicate with each other, one only wonders what the difference between “virtual silence” and “silence” is. But Al Martin has not let something like biblical silence stop him up to this point. He takes certain phrases of Revelation 6 as literal and therefore “hints”. Presumably when the “souls under the altar” are told to “rest for a while yet”, that does not mean sleep or lack of consciousness, because despite their instant perfection at death, and despite their 24/7 conscious worship, nevertheless these souls are not yet at peace or at rest, and still have much more growing to do yet. Does this mean that heaven itself is a capitalist colony, in which there will always be “more and more” work and progress? How long before we ultimately become patient?

Make me patient. Today. Right now.

Al Martin does indicate that he doesn’t think the “marriage supper of the lamb” will happen until Jesus comes to earth again, but in the meanwhile, he thinks of death as the enemy of only the non-elect, and acts as if death is the friend of Christ and His elect, doing instantly for us what can never be done on earth in our bodies. Martin favors this anthem: ” Thou hast made death glorious and triumphant/ For through its portals we enter into the presence of the living God.”

But that cannot be, because we have not yet put on immortality and shall not until Resurrection day, and if that day does not come, we will perish. This is what I Corinthians 15 teaches. Also I Timothy 6

13 “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and lasting dominion. Amen.”

Justification has Priority over the New Birth, by Geoffrey Paxton

September 21, 2013

For many evangelicals the new birth is the distinguishing mark of true Christianity. With them it has uncontested centrality. Raising any questions about the centrality of the new birth is regarded as virtually denying it. This view teaches that a good thing is the best thing, that the work of the Spirit is greater than that of the Son. This robs Christ of His glory by putting the Spirit’s work in the believer above and therefore against what Christ has done for the believer in His doing and dying.

The Reformers charged Rome, and in particular the pope, with being the antichrist. Calvin knew that this judgment seemed to be slander and railing. Nevertheless he maintained his position. It was clear that the Roman pontiff had shamelessly transferred to himself what belonged to God alone, and especially to Christ. For Calvin the tyranny of the Roman pontiff was all the more serious because it did “not wipe out . . . the name of Christ or of the church but rather misuses a semblance of Christ and lurks under the name of the church as under a mask.”.

Regarding the new birth as the greatest news in the world is anti-christ. Antichrist puts something good in place of the best. “The ultimate evil is not the denial but the corruption of the truth. This is the point which the Protestant Reformation made in leveling the charge of Antichrist against the church itself. Many modern-day evangelicals equate gospel and new birth. “Ye must be born again” is their gospel. They see the doing and dying of Christ as subordinate to the inner life of the Spirit. Reconciliation of the sinner for them is “but the beginning of the story.”

While some would not formally equate gospel and new birth, they fall into this error on the level of piety. They refer to the new birth as the authentic sign of true religion. “Are you a born-again Christian?” But why point to the new birth as the authenticating sign? Regarding the new birth as the great saving act of God places the emphasis on the internal rather than the external. It elevates the subjective to the status of the objective.

Making the new birth our emphasis elevates what God does in us to the level of what He does for us. It subordinates what God does for us to what He does in us. Faith always points away from the believing subject to Christ, the Object of faith. Instead of saying, “I am born again,” faith says, “Christ lived and died for me.” Rather than saying, “He is a born-again believer,” why not say “He trusts in the doing and dying of Christ”?

Faith is not directed to what has happened in the believer but what has happened for the believer. Faith looks out and not in, up and not down (Col. 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory)

Much evangelicalism gives the impression that God accepts a person on the ground that he is born again. But this is not biblical. Evangelicals desperately need to properly relate the doing and dying of Christ to the work of the Spirit. The subordination of the work of Christ to the work of the Spirit is all too common. Much of our teaching here has more affinity with Rome than with the Reformation. The sole ground of acceptance with God is the doing and dying of Jesus Christ alone.

Does God give His Holy Spirit to one who is not yet justified, or does God justify before He gives His Holy Spirit? Further, what is the nature of the change which regeneration brings? Is it a “physical” change? First, the sovereignty of God in the matter of regeneration is incontestable. Both Mary and Nicodemus ask, “How can this be?” Both Gabriel and Jesus point to the sovereign operation of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35; John 3:5-8). Mary’s song recognizes the sovereignty of God in the miracle of the new creation in Jesus Christ (Luke 1:46-55).

Second, neither Gabriel nor Jesus gives psychological descriptions of what happens in regeneration. Gabriel does not explain to Mary how God is going to pneumatically impregnate her. Mary is simply and tastefully informed, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). Jesus promptly refers Nicodemus to the ineffable and mysterious operations of the Holy Spirit: “The wind blows where ever it pleases . . . You cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The focus is on the mighty acts of God and not on physiological or psychological processes.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). This language is anything but internalistic. Mary’s song concentrates on the historical perspective of God’s operations (esp. Luke 1:55). The focus of John 3 is not on the internals of Nicodemus but on the serpent of Moses and the lifting up of the Son of Man (John 3:13-15). Internalism in the matter of regeneration is another instance of evangelical fixation with “gracious infusion” over against the “Christ alone” of the gospel.

Only Christ Was Justified by Producing Righteousness

September 11, 2013

There are two kinds of justification, but only one kind of righteousness that God will accept. God justifies Christ not because of His resurrection, but because of Christ’s full satisfaction of divine law. Christ’s resurrection is God’s justification based on Christ’s obedience even unto death. We call this satisfaction of law Christ’s righteousness.

Christ’s righteousness is the only kind God accepts. So the second kind of justification is the kind in which God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the elect.

I Timothy 3:16 is a very interesting verse to think about. Christ was justified. Now, how was Christ justified? Certainly NOT by the work of the work of the Holy Spirit. Christ was NOT justified after becoming born again. Christ was justified by satisfying the righteous requirement of the law for the sins imputed to Christ. Christ was justified by His death. Christ needed to be justified because Christ legally shared the guilt of His elect, and this guilt demanded His death. Christ was not justified because of His resurrection. Christ’s resurrection was Christ’s justification, and that judicial declaration was because of Christ’s death.

Romans 6:9–”We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”

So Christ was justified by His own righteousness. Christ was declared to be just, not simply by who He was as an incarnate person, but by what He had done in satisfaction to the law. No righteousness was imputed or shared from somebody else to Christ, because Christ had earned His own righteousness by His own death.

God’s declaration (in the resurrection) that Christ (God the Son) is righteous is on the basis of what Christ did in His death..

Romans 4:24-25 –Righteousness will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up because of our trespasses and raised because of our justification.

The justification of the elect sinner is different from the justification of Christ. The legal value and merit of Christ’s death is shared by God with the elect sinner, as Romans 6 says, when they are placed/baptized into that death. This is NOT the Holy Spirit baptizing us into Christ. Nor is it Christ baptizing with the Holy Spirit.

So only one righteousness. In Christ’s case, no legal sharing. In the case of the justified elect, that same one death is legally shared, and this one death is enough, because counted to them it completely satisfies the law for righteousness. (Romans 10:4)

Romans 6:7–”For one who has died has been justified from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”

Fesko is correct in thinking of resurrection not as the basis but as God’s declaration of justification. The Norman Shepherd (“federal vision”) problem creeps in when people begin to think that since Christ was justified by what He did, then the elect also must be justified by what they are enabled to do.

But there is only kind of justification for sinners like us, and it’s by imputation. It’s not in the future. And we will never be justified the same way Christ was.

We are ONLY justified by what Christ did, and NOT by what Christ is now doing in us. Christ alone was justified by what He did. Only Christ could be (and was) justified by producing righteousness.

Lane Tipton: Is It the Work of the Holy Spirit which Gives Reality to Imputation?

September 11, 2013

Lane Tipton, Biblical Theology and the Westminster standards, is one more attempt at talking about the “location of justification relative to union with Christ” (p 5, Westminster Theological Journal, 2013)

Tipon wants to put faith before God’s imputation of righteousness. Tipton also wants to put faith before “union with Christ”. Using confessional language( 11:4—“the Holy Spirit doth in due time apply Christ to them”), Tipton reasons that the Holy Spirit has priority over Christ in the event of imputation, since it’s faith that precedes both justification and “union”, and since the Holy Spirit is the one who gives faith.

On the way to his conclusuon, Lane Tipton uses the phrase “faith-union” which of course is NOT confessional. Instead of exploring any definition or distinction between Christ being in us or us being in Christ, Tipton simply stipulates that “union” is preceded by faith. First, this eliminates the alternative that God’s imputation precedes “union”. Second, it decides in advance what “union” is. For Tipton, “union” is assumed to be “union conditioned on faith” and this means there can be no union by imputation (even though he does not deny that Christ’s work is the basis for effectual calling). Thus Tipton begins with his conclusion, which is that effectual calling is not an immediate result of imputation but instead an immediate condition for God’s imputation.

Tipton then goes on to discuss Berkhof’s idea that something called ” active justification” precedes effectual calling and faith. I do not agree with either “eternal justification” or even the idea of some objective “active justification”. I don’t think we should equivocate with the word “justify”, so that sometimes we read it as “before our conscience” and other times we read it as “legally real before the tribunal of God”. When God imputed Christ’s righteousness to Abraham before Abraham was circumcised, that thought/imputation of God was not a “fiction” but a legal sharing at that time which immediately resulted in effectual calling, believing the gospel, and justification.

I anticipate my conclusion. Tipton does not completely think though the distinction between imputation and justification.

Tipton rightly criticizes the idea of justification before and without faith, but he doesn’t seem to have even heard the idea of an imputation that results in faith and justification. Tipton does not even consider the idea of an imputation before faith, despite what Mike Horton and Bruce McCormack have written about this issue.

But, remember the Westminster Confession! It doesn’t say “imputation before faith”. The Confession says “the Holy Spirit does in due time apply Christ to them”. Of course we should still think about what this ” apply Christ” means. If it means that the Holy Spirit gives the effectual calling and faith, without which there is no justification, then I agree. But Tipton seems to think the “Spirit applies Christ” rules out any idea of God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness before this work of the Spirit. It does not.

Tipton does know about a difference between imputation and justification. Tipton correctly speaks of justification as “God’s legal declaration”, and knows this is something different from God’s “constitutive act” which is the basis for the declaration. But even so, Tipton argues that if the declaration “did not bring into view faith, by which alone righteousness is imputed, we would be left with a legal fiction.” (p 9)

I disagree that faith is that which imputes righteousness. We are not the one who make the imputation (the constitutive act). Our faith is not that which imputes. And Tipton does not say either of these things. He writes—“faith, by which righteousness is imputed”. I understand this to mean that God waits to impute, until the Holy Spirit gives faith. If that’s not what Tipton means, I would like to be shown what he did mean. But how can God be justifying the ungodly, if God only imputes righteousness to persons who are already effectually called and who are now believing the gospel?

Yes, the effectual call is not the same as “justification”, and we should not use the word “salvation” in an undefined way so as to confuse calling and justification. But Tipton has not shown that calling must precede imputation. Tipton has not shown that God’s imputation can’t be the real cause of calling.

But how could any of this “order stuff” be so important? First, it must be important to Tipton, because his entire essay is an exercise in talking about the Holy Spirit and faith being first, even to the extent that he assumes that “union” is “faith-union”. Second, it must be important because Tipton says that other readings of the Confession would result in a “legal fiction”. In other words, if I were to say that “union” is caused by God’s imputation, that would be “legal fiction” to Tipton. If I were to say that imputation is first, and not conditioned on effectual calling, that too would be “legal fiction” to Tipton. He insists that it’s work of the Spirit which is the conditional location of the real (non-fiction) and which must precede God’s imputation.

But to pay attention to Tipton’s notice of the difference between imputation and declaration, I quote from p 11—“The declaration of righteousness is not prior to the imputation of righteousness. either logically or temporally, because the declaration takes into account the constitutive act of imputation….” exactly so. You can make a declaration about God being just without any prior constitutive act, because analytically God is just. But you cannot make a declaration about an ungodly sinner being just without the prior act of God’s imputation of righteousness to that sinner.

But then Tipton continues to insist that effectual calling must precede the imputation: “and the transaction of imputation is situated within the broader reality of union by Christ by Spirit-wrought faith.” Notice the use of the word “reality”. Would God’s imputation not be real if it came before and resulted in the Spirit’s work? Is the Spirit’s work more real than Christ’s work? Is the Spirit’s work more real than God’s imputation of the merits of Christ’s work? Tipton is simply begging the question all over again, by assuming that there can be no “imputation-union” but only a ‘faith-union”.

Notice the language—“situated within the broader reality of union”. This is the old cake and eat it also. On the one hand, if you keep the notion “broad” (and undefined) enough, then you can say the order of application doesn’t matter so much (Barth, Anthony Hoekema, Sinclair Ferguson). But then on the other hand, it turns our that the order is important, because “union” has to come after faith and before imputation. It also turns out that “union” needs to be ‘concrete” and that turns out to mean that “union” is by the Holy Spirit, and according to Tipton, dogmatically not “union by imputation”.

And then we come to the inevitable conclusion, which began with John Murray’s idea about divine righteousness and which continued into Gaffin’s dogma about Christ being justified by His resurrection and us being justified also by Christ’s resurrection. As you read the quotation from Tipton, ask yourself two questions about his grand conclusion. First, is this Confessional language? Is this the way the Confession says it? We have moved well past the reference to “the Spirit applies Christ”. Second, is saying it this way the best way to say it, the only way to say it? Is it so important to say it this way that we need to be dogmatic in the way Tipton has been about faith being before “union” or ‘faith-union” being the meaning of “union”

Tipton, p 11—“If we want to locate the judicial ground for the believer’s union with Christ, we do not need to look to the forensic benefit of the believer’s justification.”

mark: Of course not, but we do need to look at Christ’s righteousness as the “judicial ground” . We do need to look to God’s imputation of that righteousness as the basis for “union”, indeed as that which is the real legal cause for calling and faith. Tipton knows the difference between imputation and declaration, knows the difference between the righteousness of Christ and justification as the benefit of that righteousness. But here he ignores the distinction. But there’s NO need to make the benefit of justification be the cause of the imputation of the righteousness. There IS every reason to say that God’s imputation is the “judicial ground” by which the elect are identified with Christ and by which Christ comes to indwell the elect.

Tipton, p 11—“It is not MERELY in the atoning death of Christ that we find the judicial ground for the believer’s justification (by faith alone in union with Christ). It is ALSO FOUND IN THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST AS JUSTIFIED. IT IS THE GOD-APPROVED RESURRECTION RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST ALONE, imputed to me by faith alone, that stands at the tribunal of God.”

I must repeat. The righteousness is NOT imputed by faith. My faith does not impute the righteousness. Nor does God wait for my faith before God can impute Christ’s righteousness. But to the main question. What is imputed? The answer of Gaffin and Tipton ( I leave aside for now the question of John Murray) is that it’s not “merely’ the finished work which is imputed. It’s not “merely” the merits of Christ’s past obedience. According to them, the justified status of Christ is imputed.

But they have kept “within the bounds of the confession”. They have not denied the imputation of Christ’s finished work. When they say “not merely that”, they are also saying “that’s included also”. Unlike the federal visionists (or Michael Bird or N T Wright) who do deny imputation, the “unionists” are catholic enough not to deny it, but also catholic enough to include other “concrete realities” like the work of the Spirit transforming and renovating (“definitively”!) us so that we can one day be justified the same way Christ was, which also was by the reality of the Holy Spirit’s work

I ask again, is this the way Confession says it? If so, perhaps there’s nothing new or important to learn from the Gaffin/Tipton way of saying it. But IS IT the way the Confession says it?

Engelsma on Psalm 73

September 7, 2013

Prosperous Wicked and Plagued Saints: An exposition of Psalm 73, by David Engelsma (Reformed Free Presbyterian, 2007)

It’s a good book, well argued, and I am going to find it perhaps even more useful to give to people than Engelsma’s Common Grace Revisited debate with Mouw, because it starts with the biblical text and stays with it in detail. Of course it’s a polemic, but not in reaction to the passing ideas of one or two preachers.

The thesis is clearly stated: If the prosperity of the non-elect is some kind of “grace”, then the troubles of the elect must be not-grace. This antithesis is carefully argued again and again.

My favorite paragraph in the book is the second one on p 9. Here Engelsma writes about God’s justice in the gospel. God is both sovereign and just. God is not only just to the non-elect. God is also just in saving the ungodly elect, because God in Christ has a righteousness for these elect. “God blesses the elect on the ground of the righteousness of the atoning death of Christ.” Since Christ did not die for the non-elect, God has no righteous basis for blessing the non-elect.

Engelsma asks: “On what basis would God bless the ungodly, who are outside the elect church of Christ by God’s own decree of reprobation? The only explanation by those who confess the biblical doctrine that Christ died only for the elect church is that God’s grace ignores and conflicts with His righteousness….If God can bless guilty sinners apart from the cross of Christ in earthly things, why cannnot God also extend …eternal life to them apart from the righteousness of the death of Christ?”

I think this is the very heart of the issue, of the problem with most who profess to be “Calvinists”. First, many of them want to say that God has “multiple-purposes” (many intents) for the cross, and thus they say one of the reasons for the cross was to obtain “common grace” for the non-elect. In fact, God has one purpose in Christ. Everything Christ does is for the glory of Christ, and we need to be more simple about that.. We need antithesis. God’s love is not nearly “difficult” and complicated as most would have it.

Second, and even more importantly, these folks don’t see the justice of the cross—they see only sovereignty, they see only many purposes. It’s not only that they don’t see the effectiveness, the success of the cross. They don’t see the nature of the cross as a substitutionary satisfaction of divine law. Righteousness obtained and imputed demands life. Where there has been no righteousness, no satisfaction of the law, then God has no basis to give life (or any grace). Christ has not satisfied justice for the non-elect. Therefore God has no kind of salvation or blessing for the non-elect.

I was glad to see Engelsma come back to this theme on p 30. God despises the non-elect. “The Bible is clear that, apart from the basis of righteousness, there is no blessing of sinful humans.” Romans 1 teaches that the wrath of God is already being revealed to the non-elect, as sinner is being “handed over” to sinner. The non-elect are not being handed over to the elect (no theocracy for those who are not elect, no Christendom where the supposed elect govern the non-elect). But God is not only always in control, but also already in some intermediate ways, displaying His wrath to the non-elect.

4 For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;

And as Engelsma makes clear (p 20), this prosperity of the non-elect is not random. Their prosperity is God’s doing. Sometimes (not always, since non-elect Syrians are starving and being killed every day) the non-elect have no pangs of conscience, and then die without much trouble–often an “easy death”. On one level, we can say that they are deeply unhappy on the inside, and that they know enough by ‘general revelation” to know that God exists and that they are in trouble (and will be). But on another level, some of these non-elect boldly ask: How can God know?

In other words, they think there is no god, or if there is a god, then this god “has no clue”. On the one hand, many of these non-elect are Kantians who claim that being moral should never be contaminated by any thought of blessing or reward. The only way to be completely self-less, they say, is to be atheist and to deny any future beatitude ((or condemnation). But on the other hand, they say, well those who believe the gospel are not getting paid for it. Like Satan’s comment to God about Job, these atheists say—nobody really is moral, because everybody does what they do to get paid, so take away Job’s blessing and he won’t be moral anymore. Thus the atheist conclusion: nobody really is moral. But some of us are getting paid, and it’s not those who are trying to be moral!

They have not considered the idea that God is on purpose INCREASING THEIR PROSPERITY ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR SIN, which is the opposite of what you would expect. Less sin, more prosperity, we tend to think, when we are not trusting God. But Psalm 73 teaches a “double bind”. God increases the prosperity of the non-elect not only because of their sin but also in order to make them more sinful and hard. What a fearful thing this is. As Engelsma points out on p 31, “God uses the “no troubles” as a means to increase their sin.

Engelsma rightly asks— what kind of “grace” is this, that is used as means to increase sin? It’s not a “strange grace” (p 32) it’s NOT grace at all! I think of Romans 6, which teaches that the justified elect are not under the dominion of sin BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT UNDER LAW BUT UNDER GRACE. Nobody understands this who does not believe the gospel. All who are not justified are still under law, and this means that God has no grace for them (unless they are elect, in which case they will be placed into Christ’s death and justified). This means that all the not-justified do is nothing but sin. It also means that that there is no kind of grace for the non-justified. They are still “under law”. Therefore sin has dominion over them. Therefore, God uses prosperity as a means to increase their sin.

I don’t think Engelsma directly referenced Job. But as I was reading his book, I kept thinking of Job. p 39–“God sent the troubles which plagued the psalmist, but the troubles were not direct judgments upon specific sins. If that were the case, the psalmist would not have had a problem with the troubles.”

I also like very much his discussion of the “wakening of God” (p 66, also with a reference to Psalm 44:23) It looks that way to us when we are not trusting God. But God is not slumbering. God is controlling every detail in the lives of the non-elect. God is not “allowing” or “permitting” anything. Thus Engelsma quotes the misguided approach of Martin Lloyd Jones (p 58) who wrote: “We have to remember God’s permissive will..He has allowed sin to develop and reveal itself for what it is.” As Engelsma very firmly points out, God’s purpose is that they slide into destruction.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.

I also think Engelsma is correct to see the being “pricked in heart” of verse 21 as being about the godly sorrow that the psalmist experiences (when he understands again the truth, when he comes to the sanctuary). This pricking of heart is NOT the sinful thinking he was doing before, because it is not that envy but rather it is his present repentance about that envy. He confesses: “I was like an animal”. It’s important for us to see that he doesn’t dismiss knowledge and rationalism as so many do today. He doesn’t excuse his ignorance, or blame it on other people (his preachers, his parents etc). As Engelsma concludes on p 73, foolish thinking is sin. And it’s a sin for humans to think like an animal.

One point I would stress here. I guess it depends on a distinction between indicative and imperative. If we say– well real Christians don’t ever think like that, what we mean is—Christians should not think like that. Neither Engelsma nor the psalmist is denying that Christians do sometimes think like that. But the point is that we should not think like that. We can sin, we should not sin. But our hope is not that we keep ourselves from sinning, or that we keep holding on. Our hope is that when we do sin in this way, with foolish thinking, with lack of trust, God is continually with us, holding us, keeping us from falling.

And then Engelsma writes about the “afterward”, the glory to come. Kant was wrong about the idea of future blessing contaminating morality. To the extent we Christian sinners are moral, our motive is gratitude for both the past and for the future which is come. Since that future glory is certain for the elect, the “thankful” category is not out of order. Faith is not something else than assurance, and therefore faith is not something else than gratitude for all that will be given in Christ. Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”