Is the law- Gospel Antithesis Boring? The Jones Book on Antinomianism

Instead of throwing together all accusations of antinomianism into one convenient “package”, so that “one idea leads to the other” . we need to look at the identifying descriptions one by one, to see which are accurate and which are not.

For example, we do not deny that the distinction between impetration and application in order to affirm application by God’s imputation and to affirm impetration for the specific sins of the elect alone, so that this propitiation must in justice be applied to the elect so that the then justified elect are justified from these sins. In short, the antithesis between law and gospel is NOT “antinomian”, because the Bible itself tells us that “law is not of faith”.

Jones (Antinomianism, 2013, P and R) does not mention the Westminster Seminary California volume “The Law Is Not of Faith”, but I think they are the ultimate target of his fury.. Jones even links John Cotton with “antinomianism” because Cotton understood God’s imputation to be before faith, and a cause of faith. (But see II Peter 1:1, Galatians 3-4, given the Spirit because of being sons, Romans 8:10, life because of righteousness.) Along the way, Jones provocatively accuses those in the “Sonship” faction as giving “boring…messages each week when they have a sort of systematic theology that they need to declare every Lord’s day”. (p 118).

Let me say that I am at least equally bored with those who make everything to be about “union with” the resurrected Christ so that we Christians “can and will” now do what Christ did. These folks who keep repeating “threefold union” always take almost no time to forget union by election or by imputation, so that they can run back to “union by faith” or “union by the Spirit” or to “Christ in us” instead of “us in Christ”, which they did not deny but which they never stop to talk about.
It’s very much like those who speak of “threefold sanctification”, in which they do not deny that, in biblicist terms, sanctification is an either or and based on being in Christ’s death or not (Hebrews 1o, sanctified by the blood), and in which they do not deny that “sanctification is by the effectual call and hearing of the gospel by the Holy Spirit in believing the gospel about what Christ did (II Thess 2:13), but then from on, nothing but a “conditional sanctification” which depends on our cooperation and effort. To believe the gospel is the same as obeying the gospel. To live by faith is to do what Jesus says to do. Some of us are doing it. You are not doing it. Yes, I am bored with moralist preaching. It doesn’t seem to me very different from Arminian preaching.

On p 6, Jones writes that “Melanchthon changed his mind and agreed that the gospel alone was able to produce evangelical repentance…He came to a ‘Reformed’ view of the gospel, which included the whole doctrine of Christ, including repentance…” For Jones, the “full gospel” is not about a distinction between law and gospel “defined narrowly as pure promise”, but instead has conditions and sanctions

Since our duty is not based on our ability, the soundbite from Augustine (give what you command, and command what you will) is wrong if it’s understand to say that Christians now CAN obey the law (or if it is used to imply that God in neonomian fashion now lowers the standard of the law to the level of what we in the new covenant are now gifted to do).

It is often the case that God does NOT give us to do what God commands. The law is not the gospel, grace is not the law, and the ability to keep the law is not grace. It’s still too late for justified sinners to keep the law in order to sanctified. Those who are already saints are commanded to obey the law.

Martin Luther’s cautions in the Heidelberg Disputations need to be heard!

The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.

Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.Although the works of God always seem unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really for good and God’s glory.

The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they are not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.

To say that works without Christ are dead, but not mortal, appears to constitute a perilous surrender of the fear of God. Indeed, it is very difficult to see how a work can be dead and at the same time not a harmful and mortal sin.

Arrogance cannot be avoided or true hope be present unless the judgment of condemnation is feared in every work.

Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does WHAT IT IS ABLE TO DO, it commits a mortal sin

Accusations of antinomianism against those of who give priority to imputation do not prove the reality of our being against the law. To say that only Christ could or has satisfied the law is to properly fear God. Neonomians turn out to be antinomians. To think that one can produce “sanctification” and other blessings by something extra infused into us in addition to what God has done in Christ is to not yet fear God as the Holy One who demands perfection. Many experimental puritans put themselves on another level because of what they thought they have been enabled to do, and thanked their god that they are not like other sinners.

Jones makes many provocative and condescending statements, as if to say that those who disagree with him have not read the historical documents in question. The most irritating claim he makes is that he’s correct because of a better Christology.

His Christology consists of equating the justification of Christ with the sanctification of a sinner. Denying the idea of a “covenant of works” in which Christ obeyed law to earn merits, Jones also denies the idea of substitution so that our works are not necessary for salvation. Jones accepts substitution FOR JUSTIFICATION ONLY, but on the other hand, like the Galatian false teachers, Jones equates “living by faith’ with obeying the law, and argues along with Richard Gaffin and Norman Shepherd that our living by faith means our works and our obeying the law.

On p 22-23, Jones argues from the fact that Christ obtained salvation “bestowed on conditions”, that we too must obtain “sanctification” in the same way, bestowed on conditions. Instead of talking about the merits of Christ, he speaks of Christ’s living by faith, which was obeying the law, to get to the idea of our also living by faith, which then comes to mean our obeying the law.

On p 24, Jones argues from the fact that Christ “was not left to His own abilities but was enabled by the Spirit” to not only question the language of “covenant of works” but to say that we Christians are enabled by the Spirit “to cooperate with God in sanctification. Except for the emphasis on sanctification instead of justification, the conclusion is no different from that of NT Wrights—don’t be so Christocentric, because the work of the Spirit in us is Christ’s work also for our final justification.

Jones wants to throw all he calls “antinomian” into one package. So if you deny that the sanctification of the Christian is progressively increased by works and obeying the law, Jones then equates that with the antinomians who deny the agency of the Christian, who say that Christ believes in us for us, or obeys in us for us. You will find that kind of language in the Arminians of the “exchanged life” view, and also occasionally in some of Tullian’s (or Steve Brown’s) language, but it is simply wrong to equate the position of what Jones calls the “imputative” view with the “mystical union” view.

Jones, even though he points out the distinction between the imputative and the mystical, still tends to collapse a distinction between law and gospel into the idea that Christians are not agents who are commanded to obey the law. The distinction between law and gospel does not deny the function of law to command, but as antithesis it also does not confuse the justification of Christ (by obeying the law, whether you say “covenant of works” or not) with the assurance of justification of Christians. The distinction between law and gospel agrees that Christians are agents commanded to obey, but it refuses the idea of “cooperation” in which we have the Spirit’s agency in us enabling our agency. Gaffin and Schreiner can call this 100% God and 100% man all they want but the math still adds up to synergism.

Jones argues those who don’t agree with him haven’t read and understood the puritans and the antinomians. But he also argues that he has a better “more robust” Christology. “Good works were necessary for Jesus if he was to be justified…. good works are likewise necessary for our salvation–though, unlike the case with Jesus, not for our justification.” (p 76) Jones claims that those of us with a “justification priority” have reduced the gospel to justification, but he has reduced substitution only to Christ’s impetration (ignoring the imputation of the substitution) and has introduced synergism and our obeying the law into the application and assurance of final salvation.

Dismissing the law-gospel antithesis for a “large commanding gospel” hermeneutic does not answer all Christological questions. The distinction between impetration and application is important, but that distinction is only as good as the definition of the two terms. In the matter of “application”, Jones puts all the focus on the agency of the Spirit (with our conditional cooperation) and none on God’s imputation of what Christ did in propitiation. In the matter of “impetration”, Jones puts all the focus on Christ’s active obedience (living by faith) but none on the idea of “sanctification by the blood”, so that holiness is a function of Christ bearing the guilt of the elect.

This is a very provocative book. When Jones reports that Gill rejects Rutherford’s claim that God loves Christians more if they obey more, Jones does not attend to the arguments of Gill, but simply rehearses Rutherford’s conclusions and calls into questions if Gill even understands what Rutherford was saying. p 84)

Jones argues from the fact that Christ learned obedience and “increased in favor with God” even as Christ was perfectly obeying the law to the idea that sinful Christians will also begin to sin less and thus be more loved by God. From this, Jones goes on to the puritan idea of sanctification by punishment in this life, purgatory now instead of after death. . Jones call this “evangelical punishment” (p 93)

Jones even argues from the propitiation (the Trinity’s wrath on the Son for imputed sins) to the idea that God loving us means that God will be angry with us. From the conclusion that “God was never happier with the Son than when God was angry with the Son” (p 95), Jones reasons that God loves us less when we obey the law less. But using Christ’s life of atonement as the analogy for the Christian life ( something Norman Shepherd and Richard Gaffin like to do) misses out on the gospel news of the Christians being legally united to Christ’s death. Romans 6:16, not under the law but under grace. Romans 7:6, you died to the law.

Jones even claims that the answer to Romans 6 proves that the antinomian question should never come up. Instead of seeing that the teaching of Romans 3-5 (the two imputations, the two headships) leads to the question of Romans 6, Jones claims that “Paul’s teaching of definitive and progressive sanctification” prove that “Paul could hardly be accused of antinomianism.” (p 121) I certainly agree that Paul was not antinomian. In Romans 3:2-8, Paul even responds to the accusation by affirming the condemnation of antinomians. But for Jones to claim that Paul had a “large commanding gospel” in which the question should not be asked is to ignore not only the context but the content of Romans 6, which teaches that Christ was ‘alive to sin” (because of imputed sins) and that Christians are justified from sin (6:7) because the power of sin is the power of the law over a person “alive to sin” (guilty before God, as Christ was by imputed sin).

Those who speak of “definitive sanctification” often assume that their own definition of sanctification is what we find taught in Romans 6. But Romans 6 shows that being united to Christ’s death sets the elect apart by means of legal identification with Christ. The reason sin shall not reign is NOT that “we will practice less and less sin”. The reason sin shall not reign over those sanctified by Christ’s death is that they are now no longer under the law.

Romans 6 is about Christ the public representative of the elect first being under condemnation, being under sin and death. Romans 6:7 “For one who has died has been justified from sin. 8 Now since 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.

We need to believe and trust on Christ, instead of merely copying “the faith of Christ” . CHRIST WAS NEVER UNDER GRACE AND IS STILL NOT UNDER GRACE. Christ was under the law because of the imputed sins of the elect. Romans 6 is about Christ’s condemnation by the law and His death as satisfaction of that law. Christ after His resurrection is no longer under law. Christ’s elect, after their legal identification with Christ’s death, are no longer under law.

The death of the justified elect is the SAME legal death that Christ died. The “definitive resurrection” of the elect in Romans 6 is the result of being set apart with Christ (and His death) from being under law.

Christ was never under the power of sin in the sense of being unable not to sin. Christ was always unable to sin. The only way Christ was ever under the power of sin is by being under the guilt of sin. The guilt of the elect’s sin was legally transferred by God to Christ. Christ’s death to sin was death to the guilt of sin, and since the elect are united with His death, the death of the elect is also a death to the guilt of sin. Romans 6:7: “For one who has died has been justified from sin.”

Yet many commentators tell us that “set free from sin” must mean the elect’s definitive transformation by the Holy Spirit so that the justified cannot habitually sin (or that their new nature cannot sin) or so that they sin less over time. They tell us that justification was in Romans chapter five but that chapter six is not about justification but about sanctification and union and final salvation.

Without questioning each other. more and more people seem to agree that Romans 6 must be about something “more than imputation and justification” if it’s to be a real answer to the question “why not sin?”. But Romans 6 does not talk about Christ or His people not habitually sinning. Romans 6 locates the cause of “sin not reigning” in “not being under the law”. Christ was never under the power of habitual sin , and the definitive death of the justified elect is His death.

Romans 6:14 does not say, For sin shall not be your master, because the Holy Spirit has changed you so that you cannot habitually sin, but only occasionally and always with repentance. Romans 6:14 says, “For sin shall not by your master, because you are not under law but under grace.”

Christ also died to purchase every blessing, including the giving of the Holy Spirit and our believing the gospel. But it is not believing which frees the elect from the guilt of sin. What’s definitive is being legally joined to Christ’s death. (Also, Romans 6 says “baptized into” not “baptized by the Spirit into….)

Bavinck—” The gospel, which really makes no demands and lays down no conditions, nevertheless comes to us in the form of a commandment, admonishing us to faith and repentance. The gospel covenant is pure grace, and nothing else, and EXCLUDES ALL WORKS. It gives what it demands, and fulfills what it prescribes. The Gospel is sheer good tidings, not demand but promise, not duty but gift.”

Jones is Augustinian in the sense that he has not much time for a distinction between what God does in us and what God already finished outside us in Christ. Even when it comes to Christ’s priestly work, the emphasis is on Christ’s present intercession and not his “death to sin” and the federal imputation of that death to those under Christ’s headship.

Augustine–“give what you command, and command what you will.” Jones—“Christians CAN answer to the demands of the law in their justificaton …AND ALSO THE GOSPEL DEMANDS OF THE LAW in their sanctification by the Spirit. (p 53) Since our duty is not based on our ability, the soundbite from Augustine is wrong if it’s understand to say that Christians now CAN obey the law ( or if it is used to imply that God in neonomian fashion now lowers the standard of the law to the level of what we in the new covenant are now gifted to do) . It is often the case that God does NOT give us to do what God commands. The law is not the gospel, grace is not the law, and the ability to keep the law is not grace. It’s still too late for justified sinners to keep the law in order to sanctified. Those who are already saints are commanded to obey the law.

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31 Comments on “Is the law- Gospel Antithesis Boring? The Jones Book on Antinomianism”


    p75, Jones—“Turretin argues that all in glory will be equally happy. However, Jonathan Edwards disagrees. In his sermon on “The Portion of the Righteous”, he argues not only for degrees of glory, but also for different degrees of happiness. Moreover, he claims that the degrees of glory will be in ‘some proportion to the saints’ eminency in holiness and good works.while on earth”

    Edwards, 2:902
    Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels larger than others.

    mark: some “full gospels” are false gospel, some “large gospels” are law, and some oceans are full of s—-


    The law is not the gospel. The gospel is not the law. The gospel, however, is about the satisfaction of God’s law for God’s elect.

    Though law and gospel are not the same thing, they are not opposed because they never claim to have the same function.

    Law says what God demands. Gospel says how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. The law never offered life off probation—only one sin would put you under its curse, no matter how many acts of obedience to the law you had.

    Hafemann (the Promise) thinks that the antithesis understands “Christ to bring the law to an end in the sense of abolishment”. But the antithesis does NOT understand Romans 10:4 only in terms of redemptive-historical abrogation. The “end of the law” is Christ completing all that the law demanded, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do. Romans 10:4 is also first about redemptive-historical fulfillment of the law by Christ.

    The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.

    Hafemann reduces the law/gospel antithesis to the abolishment of strict law, and says that what the Spirit does in us helps satisfy the law enough. This misses what the gospel says about Christ’s complete satisfaction of the law for the elect.

    Christians sin, and therefore their “fulfillment of the law” (see for example, Romans 13) cannot ever satisfy the law. But the law will not go unsatisfied.

    Hafemann’s footnote 6 on page 244: “In this view, the law itself taught a legalism that Adam and Israel failed to keep but that God continues to demand in order to drive us to the gospel”.

    Hafemann does not define this “legalism”. Is “legalism” a demand for perfection? If God demands perfection, is God therefore a “legalist”? It seems to me that the only alternative to a demand for perfection is either no law at all or a “new” softened-down demand which calls only for imperfect righteousness so that “grace” makes up the difference.

    Hafemann is following the direction of the Torrances who reject the “contract God” who demands perfection and operates by strict justice. The Barthians put “grace” and not justice into the pre-fall situation of Adam.

    Some think that even talking about law’s demand for perfection is “legalism”. But God has told us that the law is not the gospel and that it never was the gospel. Romans 11:5–”So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is not on the basis of works; otherwise grace would not be grace.”

    It is Hafemann who is the legalist, because he identifies law and gospel, and then reduces the demand to including what the Spirit does in the elect. What God does in us keeps us believing the gospel, but our believing the gospel is not what satisfies the law.

    Hafemann writes about the “obedience of faith” (p 188): “Still others consider obedience to God’s law to be the necessary evidence of faith. For them, if one believes, then obedience becomes the mandatory sign of something else, namely faith, which is the human response to God’s grace that actually saves us. Faith must lead to obedience as a sign that it is real.”

    While that it is an accurate description of many Calvinists who talk about assurance, it is not biblical assurance. We do not work to get assurance. We must have assurance before our works are acceptable to God. We must be saints before we can offer proper thanks and worship to God. We must make our calling and election sure before we take the first step of obedience in which God can delight.

    Through faith in Christ we are sanctified by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:10-14), even before we do good works. Because they do not understand the distinction between Christ’s obedience for us alone for sanctification and our works after we are saints, most folks continue to seek a way to build Spirit-wrought obedience into acts that will help sanctify them


    When it comes to the word “sanctification”, first we need to define the word, because biblically it has more to do with binary status than it does with process or progress. I would recommend Peterson’s Possessed by God on this, but in brief we need to always remember the teaching of Hebrews 10;10-14 that those individuals being sanctified in time are thus sanctified by the blood of Christ. It is election that first sets us apart. Christ died only for the elect, and it is Christ’s death which sets the elect apart when God imputes the death of Christ to them. So we need to define sanctification. Even when we say “definitive sanctification”, we need to make it clear if we are talking about the work of the Holy Spirit in initially causing us to understand and believe the gospel (II Thess 2:13) or if we are talking about a claim that Christians cannot sin as much or in the same ways as we did before conversion John Murray)

    But most importantly, we need to look at the traditional systematic theology answer that says that justification is not by synergism and works, but that sanctification IS by synergism and works Let me quote from one person who teaches “sanctification by works”— “When the preponderance of my thoughts about my daily life with God are only seen from the perspective of Christ’s substitution and my unworthiness to merit his favor, not only do I miss the joy and motivation of knowing my deeds today can actually please God, but I can be left with a distant, abstract, academic view of my relationship with him.”

    The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion and Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 (Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia), by Theodore Dwight Bozeman, p 20:

    “Penitential teaching expressly echoed and bolstered moral priorities. In contrast, again, to Luther, whose penitential teaching stressed the rueful sinner’s attainment of peace through acknowledgment of fault and trust in unconditional pardon, many puritans E included moral renewal. In unmistakable continuity with historic Catholic doctrine that tied ‘contrition, by definition, to the intention to amend,’ they required an actual change in the penitent. For them, a renewal of moral resolve was integral to the penitential experience, and a few included the manifest alteration of behavior. They agreed that moral will or effort cannot merit forgiveness, yet rang variations on the theme that repentance is ‘an inward sorrow . . . whereunto is also added a . . . desire to frame our life in all points according to the holy will of God expressed in the divine scriptures.” However qualified by
    reference to the divine initiative and by denial of efficacy to human works, such teaching also adumbrated Puritan penitential and
    preparationist teaching of later decades.”

    Stoever, A Faire and Easy Way, explains that “John Cotton professed himself unable to believe it possible for a person to maintain that grace works a condition in him, reveals it, makes a promise to it, and applies it to him, and still not trust in the work. Even if a person did not trust in the merit of the work, he still probably would not dare to trust a promise unless he could see a work…”

    “Grace and works (not only in the case of justification) but in the whole course of our salvation, are not subordinate to each other but opposite:as that whatsoever is of grace is not of works, and whatsoever is of works is not of grace.”


    Now that You Have Professed Faith, You Cannot Trust the Promise Until You See Works?
    Stoever, A Faire and Easy Way, explains that “John Cotton professed himself unable to believe it possible for a person to maintain that grace works a condition in him, reveals it, makes a promise to it, and applies it to him, and still not trust in the work. Even if a person did not trust in the merit of the work, he still probably would not dare to trust a promise unless he could see a work?”

    “Grace and works (not only in the case of justification) but in the whole course of our salvation, are not subordinate to each other but opposite:as that whatsoever is of grace is not of works, and whatsoever is of works is not of grace.”

  5. JackMiller Says:

    John Owen on sanctification:

    Wherefore, the blood of Christ, as it was the blood of his sacrifice, hath these two effects, and falls under this double consideration:-(1.) As he offered himself by the eternal Spirit unto God to make an atonement for sin, and procure eternal redemption; (2.) As it is sprinkled by the same Spirit on the consciences of believers, to purge them from dead works, as Heb. ix. 12-14. And hence it is called, with respect unto our sanctification, “The blood of sprinkling,” chap. xii. 24; for we have the “sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience through the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ,” 1 Pet. i. 2.

  6. JackMiller Says:

    More Owen: Sanctification- a work of the gospel through faith.

    This whole matter of sanctification and holiness is peculiarly joined with and limited unto the doctrine, truth, and grace of the gospel; for holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls…

    The “law,” indeed, for certain ends, “was given by Moses,” but all “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” There neither is, nor ever was, in the world, nor ever shall be, the least dram of holiness, but what, flowing from Jesus Christ, is communicated by the Spirit, according to the truth and promise of the gospel.
    (1.) He requires nothing of us (which we had all the reason in the world to expect that he would) to make atonement or satisfaction for our sins…

    (2.) He requireth nothing of us in a way of righteousness for our justification for the future. That this also he would have done we might have justly expected; for a righteousness we must have, or we cannot be accepted with him… Neither is there any mention in the whole gospel of God’s requiring a righteousness in us upon the account whereof we should be justified before him, or in his sight; for the justification by works mentioned in James consists in the evidencing and declaration of our faith by them.

    (3.) God requireth not anything of us whereby we should purchase or merit for ourselves life and salvation: for “by grace are we saved through faith; not of works, lest any man should boast,” Ephesians 2:8,9…

    God, therefore, requires nothing at our hands under this notion or consideration, nor is it possible that in our condition any such thing should be required of us; for whatever we can do is due beforehand on other accounts, and so can have no prospect to merit what is to come. Who can merit by doing his duty? Our Savior doth so plainly prove the contrary as none can farther doubt of it than of his truth and authority, Luke 17:10…

    Moreover, where sanctification is enjoined us as our duty, it is prescribed under this notion of cleansing ourselves from sin: “Wash you, make you clean,” Isaiah 1:16. “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved,” Jeremiah 4:14. “Having therefore these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God”…

    Nothing do they more earnestly labor after in their prayers and supplications than a cleansing from it by the blood of Christ, nor are any promises more precious unto them than those which express their purification and purging from it; for these are they which, next unto their interest in the atonement made by the sacrifice of Christ, give them boldness in their approaches unto God. So our apostle fully expresseth it, Hebrews 10:19-22: “Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water…”

    The foundation of all our confidence in our access unto God, the right and title we have to approach unto him, is laid in the blood of Christ, the sacrifice he offered, the atonement he made, and the remission of sins which he obtained thereby: which effect of it he declares, verse 19, “Having boldness by the blood of Jesus.” The way of our access is by pleading an interest in his death and suffering, whereby an admission and acceptance is consecrated for us: Verse 20, “By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated.” And our encouragement to make use of this foundation and to engage in this way is taken from his discharge of the office of a high priest in our behalf: ‘“Having an high priest over the house of God, let us draw near…”

    But besides all this, when we come to an actual address unto God, that we may make use of the boldness given us in the full assurance of faith, it is moreover required that “our hearts be sprinkled, and our bodies washed;” — that is, that our whole persons be purified from the defilement of sin by the sanctification of the Spirit…

    So is it in the gospel, where the blood of Christ is said to “purge” our sins with respect to guilt, and to “wash” our souls with respect to filth.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    The gospel teaches that all saving faith is the fruit of the righteousness obtained for the elect AND that justification is NOT a future act dependent on our future works or future faith or future works of faith. This is what we learned when we are taught the gospel

    But Dan Fuller argues that “Calvin’s exegesis of key passages in Romans and Galatians can be seen as positioning the law of Moses as a ‘law of works’ not based on faith at all.

    I think Calvin got this one right! Gal 2:16-3:13 are not about a “misunderstanding” of works. Galatians puts works in antithesis to faith in a way that Daniel Fuller will not allow.

    All I seem to read from some Reformed folks is that dispensationalists are wrong about law and grace. These Reformed guys have never once in their lives been accused of being “antinomian”. What bothers them most is any talk of “eternal security” or “unconditionality”.

    Of course election is unconditional, they formally agree in their confessions. BUT in the end everything DEPENDS on THE COVENANT which of course to many (but not all!) Reformed scholars is conditional, depending on God causing us to do our part.

    Instead of being dispensationalists, they have decided that the law is gospel after all. They started by talking about the “grace of law”. There is no blank page in their Bibles between the Old and New Testaments. But there seems to be a blank where Romans 6:14 reads “not under law but under grace”.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion and Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 (Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia), by Theodore Dwight Bozeman, p 20:

    “Penitential teaching expressly echoed and bolstered moral priorities. In contrast, again, to Luther, whose penitential teaching stressed the rueful sinner’s attainment of peace through acknowledgment of fault and trust in unconditional pardon, many puritans E included moral renewal. In unmistakable continuity with historic Catholic doctrine that tied ‘contrition, by definition, to the intention to amend,’ they required an actual change in the penitent. For them, a renewal of moral resolve was integral to the penitential experience, and a few included the manifest alteration of behavior. They agreed that moral will or effort cannot merit forgiveness, yet rang variations on the theme that repentance is ‘an inward sorrow . whereunto is also added a . . . desire to frame our life in all points according to the holy will of God expressed in the divine scriptures.” However qualified by reference to the divine initiative and by denial of efficacy to human works, such teaching also adumbrated Puritan penitential and preparationist teaching of later decades.”

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Stoever, A Faire and Easy Way, explains that “John Cotton professed himself unable to believe it possible for a person to maintain that grace works a condition in him, reveals it, makes a promise to it, and applies it to him, and still not trust in the work. Even if a person did not trust in the merit of the work, he still probably would not dare to trust a promise unless he could see a work…”

    “Grace and works (not only in the case of justification) but in the whole course of our salvation, are not subordinate to each other but opposite:as that whatsoever is of grace is not of works, and whatsoever is of works is not of grace.”

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones vs Barbara Duiguid:

    First, in the Preface, Duguid raises the question, “What if growing in grace is more about humility, dependence, and exalting Christ than it is about defeating sin?” (p. 18). This is a false dichotomy. Humility requires the mortification of our vicious pride. Dependence requires the mortification of our innate self-dependence. Just loving Christ is not enough; to love him we must mortify other loves (self, the world, etc.). When we love Christ we are able to mortify our sin; and as we do so we are better able to love Christ.

    Second, Duguid critiques the idea that sanctification is 100% God and 100% us. She calls this “poor math” and “poor theology” (p. 124). Why? Because God always does his 100% perfectly, which means the reason we are failing is entirely our fault! She may be right about the poor math, but her critique of the theological truth is less than compelling…. Not only Gaffin but also many Reformed luminaries from the past, such as Jonathan Edwards (“But God does all, and we do all”) and Charles Spurgeon (“paradoxes are not strange things in Scripture, but are rather the rule than the exception”), note the “mysterious math” of sanctification.

    Third, Duguid’s suggestion that God cannot be disappointed in you (p. 48) or your level of sanctification is not only unfaithful to the Bible and the Westminster Confession (11.5), but also Newton – the person who she is allegedly following (cf. Works, 2:488-89, 598, 3:625, 6:322, 467).

    There is a sort of “hyper-decretalism” that runs throughout the book (e.g., pp. 125, 205). Duguid affirms that “spiritual growth is not up to us” (p. 48) – a statement that is open to potential misunderstanding. The New Testament is filled with imperatives commanding us to “grow spiritually” (2 Peter 1:5; 3:18; Eph. 4:15; 1 Peter 2:2)…

    Her point that God cannot be angry with us (p. 210) is an idea gaining popularity in some Reformed circles. Duguid contends that the Father does not punish us for our sin, “nor is he angry with us” (211). True, God is not angry with us in the sense that he is always angry with us, or to the point of condemnation (Rom. 8:1); but that does not mean that he is never angry with his children or that he never punishes them for their sins.

    Christ was displeased with the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3, just as he was with David (2 Sam. 11:27), and also certain Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:30-32). John Flavel distinguishes between “vindictive punishments” and “paternal castigations” – the latter, not the former, are true of Christians. John Calvin speaks of God being “wondrously angry” towards his children, not because he is disposed to hate them, but because by “frightening” them he humbles his people and brings them to repentance.

    The idea running throughout the book that God is not disappointed in our sanctification rings hollow. This contention emanates from the “hyper-decretalism” mentioned above – a sort of fatalism. Indeed, God is not disappointed in our justification. And God is never frustrated in his purposes for us. But God may be disappointed in our holiness if we go through seasons whereby we presume upon his grace, neglect the ordinary means of grace, or sin willfully and grievously. When I repent I’m in a real sense disappointed in my lack of holiness – and rightly so! If God is never disappointed in his child’s lack of holiness, then he isn’t actually a very good Father (see Heb. 12), and we are not actually responsible agents in our Christian life.

    Fourth, Duguid also presents a misguided view of the Holy Spirit’s goal in our sanctification. She contends that if the Holy Spirit’s “chief work” in sanctification is making us more and more sin-free, “then he isn’t doing a very good job”; after all, she claims there are unbelievers who are “morally superior” to Christians (p. 30). This view makes a mockery of the New Testament’s teaching on the moral difference between Christians and non-Christians (see Col. 1:21-22; Eph. 2:1-10; Rom. 6; 8:1-14),

    In connection with this, the book contains some rather strange statements, particularly page 29. Consider the following: “If the sovereign God’s primary goal in sanctifying believers is simply to make us more holy, it is hard to explain why most of us make only ‘small beginnings’ on the road to personal holiness in this life” (p. 29). What, then, is the point of sanctification if it is not being made more holy (i.e., like Jesus)?

  11. markmcculley Says:

    By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation (Oakhill School of Theology Series Gaffin’s thesis is that there is a future aspect to the justification of an individual sinner. His assumption is that it is faith which unites a sinner to Christ and thus to the benefits/power to do the works necessary for this future aspect of justification. It is God who gives the faith; it is God who gives the works; therefore it seems right to him to condition a future aspect of justification on the faith and works of the sinner. Gaffin does not tell us what gospel must be the object of the faith which unites to Christ. Nor does he tell us how imperfect works would have to be to miss justification and be condemned.

    Gaffin: “Typically in the Reformation tradition the hope of salvation is expressed in terms of Christ’s righteousness, especially as imputed to the believer…however, I have to wonder if ‘Christ in you’ is not more prominent as an expression of evangelical hope…” p 110 Gaffin wants to say that both things arehis hope. Part of his hope is “sanctification” defined as power over against sin despite our “incomplete progress, flawed by our continued sinning”.

    Gaffin says many good things about imputation. For example, on p 51, he lists 3 options for the ground of justification. A. Christ’s own righteousness, complete and finished in his obedience…B. the union itself, the fact of the relationship with Christ…c. the obedience being produced by the transforming Spirit in those in union. Gaffin rightly concludes that “the current readiness to dispense with imputation” results from taking the last two options as the ground of justification.

    But Gaffin always has a but, a not yet. Though we are justified now (because he thinks faith in something, even Arminianism, unites us now to Jesus), Gaffin still teaches a justification by sight, ie by works. Instead of reading the “according to works” texts as having to do with the distinction between dead works (Hebrews 6:1,9:14) and “fruit for God” (Romans 7:4), Gaffin conditions assurance in a future aspect of justification on imperfect but habitual working. Instead of saying that works motivated by fear of missing justification are unacceptable to God, Gaffin teaches a future aspect of justification which is contingent on those works. Since Christ was justified by His works, he thinks the pattern means that the future aspect of our justification depends on our works.

  12. Brad Says:

    Hi Mark,

    Great post brother!

    Question: You wrote, “This is a very provocative book. When Jones reports that Gill rejects Rutherford’s claim that God loves Christians more if they obey more, Jones does not attend to the arguments of Gill, but simply rehearses Rutherford’s conclusions and calls into questions if Gill even understands what Rutherford was saying. p 84)” Can you direct me to where John Gill would have written this? And is it online? Jones is quite disturbing here and I’ve seen the same in David Murray here:

  13. markmcculley Says:

    The specific context of I John 5 does say “born of God” and not “justified by God”. But we cannot leave justification and atonement out of our thinking, because I John 3:6 and 9 are not saying that we have a “new nature that never sins”. It’s saying that we believe the gospel, that our minds are set on the Spirit, and not on the flesh (see Romans 8:5-8), but what do we believe? Do we only believe that we have been born again, and NOW WE ARE ABLE?

    I John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

    But read on

    Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life

    a. not only believed in the testimony of what the Spirit will do in us, but of “eternal life” in the SON.

    b. Is this “eternal life” the new birth? No, it is not. Arminians think “eternal life” is the “new birth”. Where the Bible says, believe and you will have “eternal life”, they understand that to mean believe and then you will get the new birth”. That is the way Billy Graham explains it in his book “How to Be born Again>

    c. but we know that the new birth is the cause of faith in the gospel, that the new birth is first before believing the gospel. Therefore “eternal life” has to do with justification, with the life of the age to come, the permanent final legal life which comes in being a justified saint.

  14. markmcculley Says:

    John Gill–now the persons, that belong to this church, are styled the “firstborn”; who are not the apostles only, who received the first fruits of the Spirit; nor the first converts among the Jews, who first trusted in Christ; but also the chosen of God, who are equally the sons of God, and born of him; are equally loved by him, and equally united to Christ, and interested in him: they have the same privileges, honours, and dignity, and shall enjoy the same inheritance

    I am as you are, and you are as I am with respect to things spiritual; we are both alike in Christ, chosen in him, and redeemed by him; are equally regenerated by his Spirit, and are all the children of God by faith in him, and no more servants; are all equally Christ’s free men, and have a right to the same privileges and immunities; and therefore be as I am, as free from observing the ceremonies of the law, and so from the bondage of it, since we are upon an equal foot, and upon the same foundation in Christ.

  15. markmcculley Says:

    knowing that you have no moral righteousness is a necessary (but not sufficient) part of knowing that you are forensically righteous

    there are those who know they are sinners, but don’t yet know that they are justified

    but there are none who are now justified who don’t know yet that they have no moral righteousness

    Christ’s righteousness will always be the only righteousness of the justified elect

  16. markmcculley Says:

    if being a sinner stops your prayers, then you may as well stop praying

    What does it matter how much we say we can obey the law if we still don’t? An argument about ability does not change our obligation. But neither does an argument about new ability change our need for the blessings of salvation earned by Christ’s perfect satisfaction of God’s law.

    Romans 2: 17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.

    Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

  17. markmcculley Says:

    Gospel Reformation Network Affirmations and Denials

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

    my questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • markmcculley Says:

      unionist—“On the other hand, when union with Christ is put at the center of all the benefits of redemption, like the hub of a wheel with different spokes, the result is that we are encouraged to look directly to Jesus in abiding faith as the source of every aspect of our redemption, which is esp. important I think for our ongoing sanctification.”

      mark: so on the one hand, you are going to accuse us of saying that regeneration is forensic because we say regeneration is an effect of God’s forensic imputation, even though we know the difference between regeneration and imputation, but on the other hand, you are going to mix up what you call “ongoing sanctifcation” into the mix of “salvation” and not make any distinction between justification and sanctification (so that faith becomes “active response”, and so that “ongoing assurance” of justification depends on ongoing synergism in “active sanctification”, and so that “ongoing sanctification” also means “ongoing justification”.)..?

      unionist–“regeneration is most definitely not forensic. It is an actual transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer. In fact it is the first step in our sanctification, the final step being resurrection. So on either view, the Classical Reformed ordo salutis, or Calvin/Westminster’s union with Christ ordo salutis, the application of our redemption is grounded in the actual transforming work of the Spirit.”

      mark: “SO on either view”. No . The “so” is not proven. Folks on both sides agree that regeneration is not forensic. Some of us (Berkhof) say that regeneration is a result of imputation, which means we say that they are two different matters. But in either case, saying that regeneration is transforming (not forensic) does NOT prove that regeneration is BEFORE the imputation. That order has to be argued, but the priority is not proven from the nature of regeneration.
      This is question begging. You begin with your mind made up that transformation is the “ground”, and then you say that if you put imputation first, then the transformation is not the “ground”. Well, sure, but transformation is not the ground.

      an “unionist” writes—the classical Reformed ordo salutis can be detrimental. It can give the impression that the outworking of our salvation is a deistic process that God sets in motion when he gives us faith.

      mark: 1, can be, or inherently is detrimental? 2 Detrimental to what? Christ’s finished work getting all the credit? 3. are you denying that all who are justified will be glorified as Romans 8:30 teaches? 4. Is the problem having an order, or is the problem that you want a different order where our present communion with the risen Christ decides if our sins are imputed to Christ? .

      the “unionist”— That is, God gives us faith and the rest (justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification) just happens in series one after the other sort of automatically without any active response or involvement on the part of the believer.

      mark: 1. so unless there’s synergism at some place, then the alternative is “automatic” and “deistic”? 2. is “faith alone” not “active response” for you? 3. For faith to be active enough for you, must faith also be works, and must have faith as its object our “active response”?

      When Berkhof puts God’s imputation first, he is saying that Christ’s death (His finished righteousness) is the “ground”. But that in no way says that all thee results of the imputation are forensic. The new birth by God the Holy Spirit is one of the results of the imputation, because the Spirit is Christ’s gift. Christ is not the Spirit’s gift. The Spirit transforms, and that result is not forensic, but the first cause is God’s forensic imputation.

      II Peter 1:1 –To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours BY THE RIGHTEOUSNESS of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

      Galatians 4 teaches us that we are given the Holy Spirit because we are legally adopted. We are not adopted because we have been given the Holy Spirit. 4:5, “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we would receive ADOPTION as sons. 6 And BECAUSE YOU ARE SONS, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” The Holy Spirit of Adoption does not cause the children to be adopted. Christ’s adoption of children results in Christ giving them the Holy Spirit.

  18. markmcculley Says:

    Cavanaugh sounds like Gaffin “God can perform an act which is both mine and God’s at the same time. ‘To be moved voluntarily, is to be moved from within, that is, by an interior principle: yet this interior principle may be caused by an exterior principle; and so to be moved from within is not repugnant to being moved by another’ (I.105.4, ad 2).” William T. Cavanaugh, “A Joint Declaration?: Justification as Theosis in Aquinas and Luther,”

  19. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones is becoming a divisive guy, and “I weary of considering his trash.” Accusing others of being antinomian when the others accuse others of being legalists seems like a zero-sum game.

    Mark Jones—what are we to say about the fact that the Canons of Dort expressly say that the gospel “threatens”?

    Mark Jones quotes his guy Goodwin—“God therefore set forth a copy of his law in his word, which is the means of sanctifying us; and sanctification itself is but a writing of that law in the heart” . Does this mean that any diversity from Goodwin is “antinomian”?

    Mark Jomes quotes his guy Burgess— God’s laws are “practical and operative means appointed by God, to work, at least in some degree, that which is commanded.” Does this mean that any difference from Burgess is “antinomian”?

    It will not do to contrast himself with Pelagius by agreeing that “law without the Spirit” is powerless. The gospel teaches us that the gospel is not the law, and that gospel is not about the Spirit enabling us to obey the law because the gospel is about the law being satisfied by Christ’s death.

    Yes the gospel without the Spirit has no power. But that in no way means that the gospel is the law.

    Mark Jones quotes his guy Stalker: “it is no unusual thing to find the initial stage of religion regarded as if it were the whole. Converts go on repeating the same testimony till it becomes nauseous to their hearers as well as unprofitable to themselves. In the religion of many there is only one epoch; there is no program of expanding usefulness or advancing holiness; and faith is only the constant repetition of a single act.”

    It’s bad enough to “move on” from the gospel to the law for something one calls “sanctification”, but even worse to equate obeying the law with believing the gospel. But with the legalists, it is not uncommon for them to dismiss the reality of justification by Christ’s blood without seeing a life of moral improvement. With the legalists it is not uncommon to say that God sees even in the first act of faith in the gospel all the subsequent acts of obeying the law.

    Jonathan Edwards is NOT my guy—- “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.”

  20. markmcculley Says:

    We love (obedience to law), because Christ loved us (gospel). Both very distinct yet closely related. We obey (law-keeping), because Christ obeyed for us (law-keeping for us). The law points the way of our obligation which is our reasonable duty, yet as sinners we can never fully accomplish. The gospel announces Christ’s satisfactory fulfillment of that obligation for us. The burden of that obligation of the law is lifted because Christ lifted it by bearing it for us.

  21. markmcculley Says:

    Lee Irons— It is the denial of the Law-Gospel paradigm that is in danger of fostering legalism. When the distinction between these two categories is denied, the meaning of “Gospel” changes. The Gospel is no longer the good news of the satisfaction, by a Substitute, of the justice of God, resulting in an imputed righteousness on account of which God justifies (the ungodly elect) Instead, the Gospel subtly begins to morph into the not-so good news that sinners are justified and judged by their covenant faithfulness. And this fidelity is usually explained within the context of so-called “grace,” which is defined as God’s gracious acceptance of our imperfect faithfulness

    What did the sacrificial system provide? A substitute who died an accursed death in the sinner’s place. The sacrificial system graphically showed that repentance alone was not enough. The Law will not let the sinner go just because he is sorry and promises to do better next time. ….if the Law wasn’t a covenant of works, the extensive sacrificial system attached to the Law wouldn’t have been necessary.

    Hebrews 10:1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Whereas Paul most frequently and most basically uses “the Law” to refer to the Mosaic Law as a covenant (stipulations and sanctions), the author of Hebrews uses the same term to refer to the Mosaic economy as a whole, including the tabernacle, the sacrifices, and the Levitical priesthood.

    In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul does not say that the transition from Moses to Christ was a movement from glory to glory, as if the glory just kept getting brighter. Rather, Paul says the glory of the Old Covenant was fading away, and ultimately came to an end, whereas the glory of the New Covenant is permanent. The fact that both were glorious does not mean they are the same. Lee Irons

    The gospel promotes the fear of God. A person who claims to be a Christian but who has no fear of God does not have a credible profession of faith. But there is a big difference between the kind of fear that is kindled by the flames of Mount Sinai than the kind of fear that sees (the gospel of Christ’s death as the satisfaction of God’s demand)/ Legal fear arises from a consciousness of sin APART FROM an apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ. It is a fear of punishment, and causes the sinner to shrink back from God, as Israel did at Sinai (Hebrews. 12:18-21). But “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18).

  22. markmcculley Says:

    what is the difference between imperfect works and sins?

    Are sinful works somehow not “sins”?

    Is the difference between sins of commission and sins of omission some idea that the death of Christ for the elect only expiates the sins of commission imputed by God to Christ? Are we still on the hook for our sins of omission, so that we get punished for these sins and lose out on lots of blessings that those with more “obedient faith” get it on?

    No forgiveness for sins of omission? According to Mark Jones, our failure to do the “necessary and sincere works” will cause us to miss out on final salvation. Is this failure “sin”? Is there some other solution for sinners not found in Christ’s death as the satisfaction of God’s law?

    • Jack Miller Says:

      Christ’s death on the cross is efficacious for our conscious acts of sin, our sins of omission, and for the sin (mixed motives and imperfect performance) which still clings to our every work done in faith. In fact, it is that phrase – done in faith – that points the way… faith in Christ Jesus who died for my sins: past, present, and future.

  23. markmcculley Says:

    “Drawn into Controversie.” (I am also editing a companion volume for Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht on debates in the Long 18th century).

    It never occurred to me, however, to include a debate on whether good works are necessary for salvation. Without wishing to commit the oft-made error, “all Reformed theologians say this…” – a good way to end one’s scholarly career – I will say that of all the Reformed theologians I have surveyed on the matter of good works, the vast majority affirmed that they are necessary for final salvation.

    Francis Turretin was explicit on this question: good works are the means and way that believers possess salvation. Davenant wrote copiously and carefully on this precise question, even disagreeing with Bellarmine’s interpretation of the Reformed tradition. William Ames similarly affirmed that good works are necessary to a believer, “by necessity of means without which we cannot attain the end.” And then there’s Calvin. And Witsius.

    Of course, good works are not necessary for receiving justification; otherwise, we could not be justified by faith alone. That is not the dispute.

    The dispute concerns whether good works are “merely evidence” of our salvation or whether they are necessary means by which we must walk to heaven. Are they the way of life/salvation or also the way to life/salvation? See Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 32.

    Without putting in too much work, it would not be too difficult to find fifty or so Reformed orthodox theologians who held to this view. But I do want to consider in brief detail the view of John Owen. In his lengthy response to the Socinian, John Biddle, he puts forth a view that I find myself in complete agreement with.

    Owen argues: “That to keep the commandments of God, not as [to] the tenor of the covenant of works, or in an absolute perfection of obedience and correspondency to the law, but sincerely and uprightly unto acceptation, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace and the obedience it requires, through the assistance of the Spirit and grace of God, is not only a thing possible, but easy, pleasant, and delightful.”

    Thus Owen says:

    That a person regenerate, by the assistance of the Spirit and grace of God, may keep the commandments of God, in yielding to him, in answer to them, that sincere obedience which in Jesus Christ, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, is required; yea, it is to him an easy and pleasant thing so to do.”
    “To the first, ‘Whether we may keep the commandments that we may have right to eternal life,’ I say, – 1. Keeping of the commandments in the sense acknowledged may be looked on, in respect of eternal life, either as the cause of procuring it or as the means conducing to it. 2…. There is a twofold right to the kingdom of heaven, – a right of desert, according to the tenor of the covenant of works, and a right of promise, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace. I say, then, that is not lawful, – that is, it is not the way, rule, and tenor of the gospel – that we should do or keep the commandments, so that doing or keeping should be the cause procuring and obtaining an original right, as to the rise and constitution of it, or a right of desert, to eternal life….4. As a means appointed of God, as the way wherein we ought to walk, for the coming to and obtaining of the inheritance so fully purchased and freely given, for the evidencing of the right given us thereto by the blood of Christ, and giving actual admission to the enjoyment of the purchase, and to testify our free acceptation with God and adoption on that account, so we ought to do and keep the commandments, – that is, walk in holiness, without which none shall see God. This is all that is intended, Rev. xxii. 14. Christ speaks not there to unbelievers, showing what they must do to be justified and saved, but to redeemed, justified, and sanctified ones, showing them their way of admission and the means of it to the remaining privileges of the purchased made by his blood.”

    Therefore, for Owen, good works are indeed necessary for final salvation. They are not meritorious, but they are necessary. As Petrus van Mastricht argues:

    “From this come three periods of justification that should be diligently observed here, namely 1: The period of establishment, by which man is first justified: in this occasion not only is efficacy of works excluded for acquiring justification, but so is the very presence of these works, in so far as God justifies the sinner (Rom. 3:23) and the wicked (Rom. 5:5). 2: The period of continuation: in this occasion, although no effi­cacy of good works is granted for justification, the presence of these same works, nevertheless, is required (Gal. 5:6). And it is probably in this sense that James denies that we are justified by faith alone, but he requires works in addition (James 2:14–26). And lastly, 3: The period of consummation in which the right unto eternal life, granted under the first period and continued under the second, is advanced even to the possession of eternal life: in this occasion not only is the presence of good works required, but also, in a certain sense, their efficacy, in so far as God, whose law we attain just now through the merit alone of Christ, does not want to grant possession of eternal life, unless [it is] beyond faith with good works previously performed. We received once before the right unto eternal life through the merit of Christ alone. But God does not want to grant the possession of eternal life, unless there are, next to faith, also good works which precede this possession, Heb. 12:14; Matt. 7:21; 25:34–36; Rom. 2:7, 10.”

    Notice van Mastricht adduces Romans 2:7, 10 as a proof-text. And did you notice that last sentence? God will not grant eternal life unless there are good works; indeed, these works have a sort of “efficacy.” Mastricht was as orthodox as they came among Post-Reformation Reformed theologians, but how many today would charge him as heterodox for the views expressed above? I suppose Lutherans might…but, of course, there’s a reason there are Reformed theologians and Lutheran theologians!

    Incidentally, Romans 2:7ff was often understood both “legally” and “evangelically.” I have found many Reformed theologians who have understood Romans 2 in an “evangelical sense.” When understood “evangelically”, Owen claims: “But yet, translate the words into a gospel sense; consider ‘well-doing’ as the way appointed for us to walk in for the obtaining of the end mentioned, and consider ‘glory, and honour, and immortality,’ as a reward of our obedience, purchased by Christ and freely promised of God on that account, and I say we may, we ought, ‘by patient continuing in well-doing, to seek for glory, and honour, and immortality;’ that is, it is our duty to abide in the way and use of the means prescribed for the obtaining of the inheritance purchased and promised.”

    Readers should remember, Owen wrote one of the lengthiest treatises on justification in the seventeenth century. It was perhaps the best defense of the Protestant doctrine of justification written in the English language. (I wrote the chapter on Owen’s doctrine of justification in A Puritan Theology, and agree almost entirely with Owen). Was he nonetheless a neonomian? A legalist? A proto-Shepherdite? Well, that would be a convenient slur, of course; but maybe, just maybe, Owen and the many Reformed theologians who agreed with him were just being faithful to the Scriptures, which inform us that if we do not put to death the misdeeds of the flesh, we will die! Romans 8:13 sounds pretty necessary to me.

  24. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones—How does God accept such imperfect obedience? Consider the following:
    Christians have pure hearts.
    If you are a Christian, you have a pure heart (1 Tim. 1:5). If you want to worship God, you need a pure heart (Ps. 24:4). Those who are pure in heart, and only those, will see God (Matt. 5:8). And we should constantly desire to receive the gift of a renewed purified heart (Ps. 51:10).
    Christians are good and righteous.
    Zechariah and Elizabeth are described in the following way: “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Lk. 1:6). Joseph of Arimathea is similarly described as a “good and righteous man” (Lk. 23:50). Christians are slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:18). We hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt. 5:6).
    Christians are blameless.
    Paul writes to the Philippians: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Phil. 2:15). Paul expects that children of God should be blameless. He is not here saying: you are blameless because of your justification, but be blameless, innocent, and without blemish because of your conduct.
    How can Christians be all of these things?
    Because God accepts less – often, a lot less (i.e., “small beginnings”) – than perfection from us because of his Son and for the sake of his Son, who is glorified in us (Jn. 17:10).
    God is our Father. Parents will no doubt understand the joys that our children can bring to us in their obedience, even if their obedience falls short of what Christ would have offered to his own parents. God is not a hard task-master, reaping where he hasn’t sown (Matt. 25:24). He remembers we are dust (Ps. 103:14), and treats us accordingly.
    As our Father, he accepts less than absolute perfection because he accepted absolute perfection in our place. Moreover, our works are pleasing to God because we (i.e., our persons) are pleasing to God as a result of our identity in Christ. There is a “person-work” order in our Christian life.
    In God’s sight, we are good, righteous, blameless, and pure in heart. Indeed, we are to purify ourselves because of our hope in Christ’s return (1 Jn. 3:3). If we can’t admit these truths about ourselves, then we can’t admit what the New Testament explicitly says of God’s people. And that’s not good.
    The obedience we offer to God does not have to be sinless obedience or perfect obedience, but it must be sincere obedience. Sincere obedience means we may be called “blameless.” The Westminster Confession of Faith sums up this principle well:
    “Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections” (WCF 16.6).
    In our imperfection, we may please God. God rewards imperfect works, according to the riches of his grace, because he is our Father. (Even if the devils would perform good works, God would delight in these works, according to Charnock and Witsius).
    The fact that our works are tainted with sin does not invalidate them as good works. Just as the fact that we have indwelling sin does not mean we cannot be called good, holy, righteous, etc. It is wrong-headed, I believe, to suppose that we exalt the grace of God by suggesting that the only righteousness pleasing to God is Christ’s righteousness. This is a radical form of substitution that would confuse any honest reader of the Scriptures.
    God manifests his grace not only in providing a perfect (imputed) righteousness that can withstand the full demands of his law, but also an inherent, imperfect righteousness that he declares to be both good and pleasing.
    What’s the pastoral benefit?
    We should encourage Christians that God accepts sincere obedience. The “divine acceptilatio” explains why and how we can be zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14). Children should be encouraged that obedience to their parents pleases the Lord (Col. 3:20).
    Because we are accepted in Christ, God really does call us good. We really do have pure hearts. We really are blameless. We really can please God in our imperfection (Heb. 11:5). And that, to me, really is good news. This view reflects the already-not yet theology whereby we are now pure in heart but one day will be pure in heart. We are good, but we wait to be good.
    Do we want to say that the widow’s offering in Luke 21:1-4 was not pleasing to God, but instead “filthy rags”? Was God pleased with Joseph of Arimathea in Mark 15:43? What about the woman in Matthew 26:7ff? What about the mother who patiently teaches her children the things of the Lord? And the wife whose good conduct wins over her husband (1 Pet. 3:1).
    Are we allowed to pray the words of the Psalmist (Ps. 18:20-24)? Or are these words only true of Christ?
    The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
    21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
    22 For all his rules were before me,
    and his statutes I did not put away from me.
    23 I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from my guilt.
    24 So the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
    Yes, as Christians, we often sin (1 Jn. 1:8). And we can act shamefully at times. The power of indwelling sin is real. Nothing above is intended to deny how vile we can be. But how amazing that notwithstanding the very powerful indwelling sin that remains in us, God thinks more of our obedience than we do. This keeps us from despair regarding obedience and highlights that the Reformed have historically done the most justice to the grace of the gospel.
    God accepts imperfection because he is a gracious Father, who has a perfect Son, who sends his Spirit into our hearts (Gal. 4:6). Why are we called righteous and good? Why are our imperfect works acceptable and pleasing to God? The answer: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    There is a word used by Arminius: acceptilatio. The concept behind the word is good, but he places it in the wrong category, namely, justification. Imperfect faith is “accepted” as righteousness. This is what distinguishes Arminians from the Reformed on the crucial doctrine by which the church stands or falls.
    So in debates with Remonstrant (i.e., Arminian) theologians, the Reformed and the Remonstrants seemed to agree on the formal cause of justification, i.e., imputation. But they differed on the material cause. What is imputed to the believer, our act of faith or Christ’s righteousness apprehended by faith? The Reformed held to the latter, whereas the Arminians typically held to the former. But even on the so-called “formal cause” there was an important difference between the two camps: for the Arminians, imputation is an aestimatio – God considers our righteousness (i.e., faith) as something that it is not (i.e., perfect). The Reformed, however, view imputation as secundum veritatem – God considers Christ’s righteousness as our righteousness, precisely because it is, through union with Christ. The verdict that God passes on his Son is precisely the same verdict he passes on those who belong to Christ – but only through imputation.
    So in saying that God accepts our imperfect obedience, we must be careful not to bring this “acceptilatio” into the realm of justification, but keep it in the realm of sanctification.

  25. markmcculley Says:

    Cunha—The foreword to the recently published second edition of Gaffin’s By Faith, Not By Sight[15] is written by Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) pastor Mark Jones and is, unfortunately, fully consistent with the understanding that there has been no positive change in Gaffin’s teaching on justification.

    The selection of Jones to write the foreword, a man who has on more than one occasion publicly suggested that works of evangelical obedience have some efficacy in justification, is itself noteworthy. Jones gushes at the beginning of the foreword that “It is a unique privilege and a remarkable providence to write a foreword for a book that has been so deeply influential in my own theological thinking.” He then attempts to defend Gaffin’s views on soteriology, and especially justification, largely on the basis of historical theology….

    Jones says that Reformed theologian Peter Van Mastricht (1630-1706) taught that there are three stages of justification and that in the third and final stage “in which believers gain possession of eternal life, good works have a certain ‘efficacy,’ insofar as God will not grant possession of eternal life unless they are present.”

    Jones goes on to say that, based on what he discerns to be a shared view on Paul’s teaching in the first half of the second chapter of Romans, both Gaffin and Van Mastricht “hold firmly to the Reformed view that good works are a necessary condition (consequent, not antecedent, to faith) for salvation.”

    Cunha— When I first read this last statement, I was struck by Jones’s sudden shift from the word “justification” to the word “salvation” at this place. The word “salvation” can be used to denote something broader than the word “justification” (e.g. encompassing sanctification and glorification), but, based on the context, is clearly being used here as an equivalent term for justification….

    Jones suggests, approvingly that both Van Mastricht and Gaffin stretch justification out into multiple stages and that good works are in some way efficacious in the final stage. Such a scheme violates the antithesis between works (Law) and faith (Gospel) with respect to justification. This is entirely consistent with the explicit denial of the Law/Gospel contrast expressed by Gaffin in By Faith, Not By Sight.

  26. markmcculley Says:

    This novel definition is found in the recent book Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? written by the well-known, learned, and articulate author Mark Jones. The book has been widely reviewed, and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. The book is viewed as a correct analysis of antinomianism, is presented as a new tool in the war on antinomianism, and its author is cited as a recognized authority on the subject. The book is being recommended to members of the pew as sound and Reformed and instructive for understanding antinomianism and its threat to the churches today.

    The author’s conclusions are being accepted as the new standard for exposing antinomians, and his implied program to root out these “unwelcome guests” is being carried out, beginning with his charges of antinomianism against those who maintain and stubbornly defend the truth of the unconditional covenant and with it all the doctrines of grace. At the very least he has succeeded in raising the suspicion that where the unconditional covenant and the pure gospel of grace are taught antinomianism lurks.

    Jones minimizes the classic definition of antinomianism: “we have not understood the debate if we simply identify antinomians as those who flatly reject the use and necessity of the moral law in the life of Christians.”[1] This also comes out in his repeated warnings that antinomianism “must not be confused with the etymological meaning of antinomian (i.e., ‘against the law’).”[2] Again he writes, “Antinomianism is more complex than its etymology might suggest.”[3] He concludes, “If antinomianism is understood simply as all indicatives without imperatives, and legalism simply as all imperatives without indicatives, then there has been very few true antinomians or true legalists in the Christian tradition.”[4]

    For him to define an antinomian as one who is literally against the law—that is, one who says, “God saves sinners, so let us sin”—is inadequate. By this he ignores the obvious. By this he also fails to recognize that this is exactly what those real antinomians who appeared in the Bible and in history did: they flatly rejected the law and lived however they pleased. For proof one need only read Jeremiah 7 or Revelation 2

    Where is the indignation at the ungodliness of labor union membership, lodge membership, and membership in other worldly associations that are rife today in Reformed and Presbyterian churches? What of the antinomianism of the near universal acceptance of the doctrine of common grace that flatly denies the antithesis and encourages unity with the ungodly world? What of the antinomianism of false doctrine that is tolerated by vigorously and viciously defending those who teach it, so that in Mark Jones’ own church, the Presbyterian Church in America, and others, heretics who have the audacity to deny that justification is by faith alone have been exonerated and doctrinal lawlessness against the creeds and in rank violation of the oath of subscription reigns?

    Antinomianism is present wherever these evils take place, whoever participates in them is an antinomian, and churches that tolerate such guests undisciplined at their communion tables promote antinomianism. Antinomianism as denial of the law is not as rare today as Mark Jones assumes. However, this all passes him by in his pursuit of a new understanding of antinomianism.

    It is a serious fault of a book that purports to teach about antinomianism that the fruits of the antinomian error in the actual ungodliness that characterizes the life of the antinomian are not pointed out, dealt with, and condemned. There is hardly a syllable in the whole book dealing with these very real manifestations of antinomianism today. It is a serious fault of the book that, without a single rebuke from this instructor about the antinomian error, it allows unwelcome guests at many Reformed communion tables to continue in the illusion of their righteousness and allows many Reformed churches and officebearers to tolerate that lawlessness. One would expect, at least in fairness to the Reformed world, which Jones charges with the “real problem” of “practical antinomianism,” that he would point this out for the brethren.

    By this neglect he also turns the attention of the church away from real ungodliness of life as the most obvious and dangerous characteristic of real antinomianism that the church can lay its hands on. It is as if a shepherd would tell his sheep dogs to go sniffing about for the wolf in sheep’s clothes while ignoring the huge loafer wolf lying in the middle of the flock chewing on a leg of lamb. Jones sends Reformed sheep dogs on a nearly hopeless and futile quest to ferret out antinomians according to some vaguely defined theological characteristics.

    In Jones’ pursuit of antinomians, he never actually defines the antinomian error. Rather, he seeks to give certain theological characteristics of the antinomian and concludes that “when all or at least most of these errors are combined in a preaching ministry, you have an antinomian. And, despite loud protestations to the contrary, antinomian theology leads to practical antinomianism, which is a serious problem in the church today.”[5]

    He also accuses the antinomians in his sights of being duplicitous and hypocritical: “They have a habit of saying mutually contradictory things, as well as affirming truths that they deny in practice. That is, their public ministry is not always in accord with what they will tell you when they are, in private, pressed on certain points.”[6] Jones is interested in the theology of antinomianism, and upon this theology he heaps all of the opprobrium for the practical antinomianism that he sees—but does not explain—as a serious problem today.

    It is not that his point about the slipperiness of the real antinomian is not well taken. The real antinomian, as any heretic, is as slippery as a snake in the presentation of errors. Rather, the problem is that when the theological characteristics that Jones cites as indicating a real antinomian are examined one finds that he actually indicts the truth as being antinomian. The book ends up casting aspersions upon the truth, so that Christ, the apostle Paul, Luther, and the Reformed creeds are laid under the suspicion of antinomianism.

  27. markmcculley Says:

    Nathan J. Langerak—-Mark Jones has written a glowing forward to the book By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, written by federal vision defender and theologian Richard Gaffin. . In his book Richard Gaffin vigorously defends the idea that justification is by faith and works. He does so in typical federal vision fashion, insisting that the faith that justifies, in that justification is never alone, is a faith that works. He does not merely insist that faith is never alone, so that the Abraham of Romans 4, “ungodly” in his justification, is also the Abraham of James 2, who shows his faith by his works, but rather that the Abraham of Romans 4 is the Abraham of James 2 who works for his justification.
    In Gaffin’s words: In this regard, it is hardly gratuitous to suggest that the Abraham of James 2:21–24, as well as anyone, exemplifies the response of Romans 1:5 to the gospel promise of the covenant that was eventually fulfilled in Christ (vv. 2–4), the response of “the obedience of faith.” This Abraham, the Abraham of the obedience of faith, implicitly brackets and so qualifies everything Paul says about him and his faith elsewhere in Romans. In fact we may say, in Romans we in effect meet the Abraham of James both in [Romans] 1:5, before Abraham is introduced explicitly in chapter 4, and also after that in [Romans] 16:26. These two are not somehow different persons, nor does each function as a theological construct in tension with the other. They are one and the same, and we can never properly understand one without the other.[1]
    Thus for Gaffin, Rome was right. James and Paul speak of justification in the same sense. The faith by which Abraham was justified in Romans 4 was the obedient faith of the Abraham of James 2, and he was justified by that obedient faith. Justification is after all by faith and the works of faith, because the faith that justifies is never alone in that justification, but works. For Gaffin, it not that faith, being justified, also works, but that in the matter of justification faith works.
    Gaffin’s reference to Abraham is preposterous on the plainest reading of the Bible. The Abraham of Romans 4 and the Abraham of James 2 are indeed very different according to the doctrine under consideration in each passage. .. The Abraham of Romans 4 was an “ungodly” Abraham. There is not a more thorough way to exclude the works of the believer from his justification than to call him “ungodly” in his justification. So far are his works excluded that in his justification he has only evil works, not only because he sinned but also because he corrupted all the good works that God gave him. Abraham was that because that is who God justifies, and that is what Abraham confessed about himself by faith before the judgment seat of God. God will not justify the righteous or the good. He will only justify the ungodly. He justifies and by that justification takes into his fellowship ungodly people, not obedient people.
    Gaffin —Paul does not teach a “faith alone” position, as I have sometimes heard it put. Rather, his is a “by faith alone” position. This is not just a verbal quibble; the “by” is all-important here. The faith by which sinners are justified, as it unites them to Christ and so secures for them all the benefits of salvation that there are in him, perseveres to the end and in persevering is never alone.[2]
    Gaffin puts himself out here as one who is scrupulous about grammar, but he uses his grammatical point to deny the truth. His point would be well taken if he were speaking merely about all the benefits that come to a believer in Christ. By faith the believer receives both Christ’s righteousness by imputation and his holiness worked in the believer by the Spirit. After all, according to 1 Corinthians 1:30, Christ is made both righteousness and sanctification to us. But Gaffin speaks about justification, which he indicates when he refers to the Reformation’s classic phrase about justification, “by faith alone.”
    Faith alone justifies, that is, believers are justified by faith alone without any of faith’s works. This position Gaffin is intent on overthrowing by his grammatical quibble, so that with the word “by” he can still make faith the only instrument of justification and appear orthodox, all the while including in faith all of faith’s obedience and perseverance as part of the faith that justifies, the ground of justification, and without which faith cannot justify.
    Jones views By Faith, Not by Sight as important and necessary as an “implicit critique of a sort of antinomianism current in the church today, whereby the gospel (or salvation) is understood—practically, if not theoretically—almost exclusively in terms of justification.”[4]
    This minimization of justification is also present throughout Jones’ book Antinomianism, when he says repeatedly about antinomians, “The gospel was, in their view, synonymous with justification.” He criticizes as indicative of such a view the statement, “Yea let us know for certainty, that free justification is the very head, heart, and soul of all Christian religion and true worship of God.” If saying this is indicative of antinomian tendencies, both Luther and Calvin had antinomian leanings, because Luther called justification the article of the standing church and Calvin called it the main hinge on which all religion turns.

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