Category Archives: Calvinist’s Progress

A switch flipped over in my head

I notice when I was blogging in 2000, my posts, for all their flaws, were much more personal. I’m afraid controversy has changed my stance. Also, the results of controversy: I was a lot more confident about my personal future and my ability to provide for my own back in 2000. (Some of this confidence was somewhat sinfully naive, I think. But much of what happened was truly unforeseeable.) Optimism produces a different tone.

Anyway, this is kind of a throwback autobiographical emotive thingy.

I’ve always been a six-day creationist, “young” earther–at least since college anyway. I’m convinced 1. the Bible teaches these things and 2. that the Bible is true. Until one of those premisses changes, I remain a young earther.

But I have hated having to argue about it in the unbelieving world. It seems so much easier to start with Jesus and the first century and argue for his resurrection and then from there to the reliability of Scripture (I’m not renouncing presuppositionalism, here, by the way).  So intellectually faithful but emotionally weary or wary, I was. I believed and would assert what the Bible says about chronology, but I wanted to talk about other things.

But something has happened. I don’t know how to explain it other than the analogy of a switch flipping in my head.

Suddenly I think the fact that history has barely begun is an exciting truth that deserves to be trumpeted. The whole world seems tired and depressed right now. Even the people trumpeting Keynsean myths about how the future can be opened up don’t seem to believe what they are saying. (It seems far easier to believe that people hate those who disagree with global warming or evolution or quantitative easing or environmentalism than that they are firmly convinced of the ideas they defend. Am I the only one who detects this?) We’re running out and running down. Austerity is ahead.

But like John Paul Jones, Jesus has not yet begun to fight. History has barely begun. Remembering that the earth has just started, and that Jesus came quite near to the beginning of history rather than waiting a million years, just seems like good new worth sharing.

I think a couple of things have converged to make me more excited about this message. For one, the financial crisis is also a Science ™ crisis. Science has been a welfare case especially since WW2 and it has all the resulting features of a bubble and corruption. (More on that in a later post, perhaps). On a personal level, I’ve had to direct my one homeschooled child to do some science reading, which means I’ve been doing some myself.  So this has all become the focus of my attention as has not been true for some time.

Anyway, I think people need to know that the human story has just begun. It is not ending. Whatever judgments we need to go through (and yes we need to repent to avoid eternal wrath) austerity is not the future of the human race. Unimagined prosperity lies ahead for our children–our many many unrestricted, unaborted children with unrationed wealth. Jesus is gracious and he is just starting.


Can’t thank you enough

Mark Horne » Blog Archive » A long long time ago.

I didn’t expect the encouraging comments I received here and I want to express publicly that they mean a great deal to me.  I actually can forget amid the horrible false accusations how this all started as a conviction that the Reformed Faith was true to the Bible and that American Baptist culture needed to be challenged by it.

Thank you for reminding me.

The Gospel of the New Covenant (from something I wrote in 1996)

The New Testament describes a covenant made between Jesus Christ and His people. That covenant is conditional.[5] Those who persevere in this covenant by continued faith, repentance, the means of Grace and all other ordinances will be confirmed as children of God on the Last Day.[6] Those that fall away will be consigned to Hell forever, and spend eternity wishing that they had never heard the Gospel. This is the plain and repeated teaching of the New Testament, and it cites the example of the old to make its point. Thus, the old and New Covenants are the same in substance — one Covenant of Grace. Let’s consider some representative passages:

Romans 11.17-24

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.

From chapter nine onwards Paul has been explaining the apostasy of Israel, that “they are not all Israel, who are from Israel.” Not all were regenerated by the Spirit so that they would continually live by faith, and demonstrate this by recognizing Jesus the Messiah. Nevertheless, all were objectively members of God’s covenant people, “to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers” (Rom 9.4-5). This picks up a train of though begun in chapter three: “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect.. .”

But the covenant is conditional upon perseverance in faith: “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (Rom 2.26). Thus, only those truly regenerated by the Spirit so that they are faithful to the end show themselves to be true Israelites.

Likewise, before Christ, Gentiles who demonstrated persevering faith were never excluded from eternal life (Rom 2.27). This had always been recognized in the Scriptures: Gentiles had the same access to the Tabernacle and Temple as the Jews (Lev 22.17-25; Num 15.14-16). God heard their prayers (1 Kin 8.41-43; 2 Chr 6.32-33). They worshipped with Israel (Psa 115.11, 13; 118.4; 135.20; c.f. Act 13.16, 26). Their worship outside of Israel’s borders was accepted by God (2 Kin 5.17). Gentiles who feared and worshipped the true God showed themselves to be among the elect.

Thus, the rhetorical question: “Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not the God of the Gentiles also?” (Rom 3.29) Paul has to remind the Jews of this Old Testament teaching so that they will realize that it is not so surprising that God would eventually end the special privileges which the Jews possessed over against the God-fearing Gentiles. In the New Covenant, just as the distinction between Levite and lay-Israelite has been demolished, so has that between circumcised and uncircumcised.

Amid all these discontinuities between the old covenants and the New, Paul insists especially on one continuity between them. He is concerned that the Gentile converts might become presumptuous and arrogant because of Jewish apostasy. Thus, he presents them with a severe warning: An initial profession of faith [7] is not enough. Just because you “were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree” (Rom 11.17b) does not mean that you have no need to fear God’s covenant curse. On the contrary, you will only inherit eternal life “if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off” (Rom 11.22b).

Again, this is the structure of God’s one covenant of grace, whether before or after Christ:

But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, will he live? All his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he has committed; for them he will die (Eze 18.24).

All of us, who have faith in Christ, whether we are older converts from unbelief who can actually remember the time when we were lost in our sins, or believers raised to have faith in Christ from our mother’s womb who cannot remember any other state, have been grafted into “the same rich root of the olive tree.” We have ” the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law [all of Scripture, in our case] and the [heavenly] service and the promises.” But if we drift away into sin, refusing to repent, until our hearts are hardened in apostasy, then we too will be cut off and be assigned a place with the unbelievers.

“Do not be conceited, but fear!”

I Corinthians 9.24-10.13

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond that which you are able to bear, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Here we have a warning given to the Corinthians based on the negative example of the Israelites in the wilderness. Notice, Paul does not deny that the Israelites who died in their sins were members of the Mosaic covenant. On the contrary, they were baptized into Moses, ate spiritual food, and drank spiritual water from Christ Himself. But the Israelites did not persevere in what they had been given. Rather they apostatized and fell under the wrath of God.

The New Covenant of which the Corinthians are a part is like the old. Paul does not contrast the possibility of apostasy under Moses with the impossibility under Christ. Quite the contrary, the entire point of the passage is that we must be cognizant of the possibility from the Old Testament example and make sure we persevere in the faith, lest we likewise perish as covenant-breakers.

Furthermore, Paul postulates no distinction between an identifiable class of “nominal believers” who are supposed to heed the warning of the Old Testament by being “truly converted” and a class of “true believers” who can simply assume they are never in danger of becoming apostate. On the contrary, Paul concludes with a general rule for all, “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” after beginning with the example of himself: “I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” Paul makes it clear that he, no less than the Corinthians, must heed the warning of the Old Testament.

Is there then no discontinuity mentioned in this passage between the old covenants and the New? Though it is not explicitly spelled out, I do think one is alluded to in 1 Corinthians 10.13: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond that which you are able to bear, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” Now, God obviously must have offered this sort of assistance before Christ, but I do think that we can all agree that entrance and endurance in the Covenant of Grace became much simpler and easier in the New Age ushered in by Christ. I especially think this because the above verse seems to play the sam part in the passage as vv. 14-16 have in concluding Hebrews 3-4 (see below).

Whatever the case regarding continuity or discontinuity, 1 Corinthians 10.13 only serves to heighten the seriousness of our sin if we give in to temptation. This heightened responsibility is Paul’s whole point, for he concludes: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

II Corinthians 11.1-4

I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me. For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.

Here there is no direct reference to the Covenant of Grace preceding the Incarnation, but rather to the Covenant of Creation (a.k.a. “The Covenant of Works”). However, the theme of jealousy (also mentioned with our previous passage in 1 Cor 10.22) is worth some moments of thought in our discussion. For it is written:

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me (Exo 20.4-5; emphasis added).

Here we have the most severe warning in the Decalogue, and it is premised on God’s jealousy. When people in covenant with God apostatize by going after idols God becomes enraged as a spurned lover, or more to the point, a cuckolded husband. For again it is written:

” And I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord God. “Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you, and anointed you with oil. I also clothed you with embroidered cloth, and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands, and a necklace around you neck. I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey, and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you,” declares the Lord God (Eze 16.8-14).

Thus the Lord had declared His love and bestowed His gracious glory upon Israel in putting them in covenant with Him. But Ezekiel goes on to describe how all the above blessings were used in idolatry — for “harlotries.”

Therefore, O harlot, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God, “Because your lewdness was poured out and your nakedness uncovered through your harlotries with your lovers and with all your detestable idols, and because of the blood of your sons which you gave to idols, therefore, behold, I shall gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, even all those whom you loved and all those whom you hated. So I shall gather them against you from every direction and expose your nakedness to them that they may see all your nakedness. Thus I shall judge you, like women who commit adultery or shed blood are judged; and I shall bring on you the blood of wrath and jealousy” (Eze 16.35-38; emphasis added).

The charge of adultery makes no sense apart from the reality of the covenant mentioned in Ezekiel 16.8. Nor is this some sort of merely “outward” legal arrangement which is unmatched by any real relationship between God and His people. The whole premise of God’s eternal burning wrath is His sincere covenantal love. “For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord” (Cant 8.6b). Just as we dare not treat God’s wrath as some sort of pretense, so we cannot doubt God’s real relationship with those who provoke Him to jealousy. His rage is caused by His spurned love. “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deu 4.24).

If anyone has problem imagining how God could possibly love those He predestined to perish, perhaps we should think about God’s covenant with Adam and Eve. Were Adam and Eve elect or reprobate? With regards to the original covenant they were unquestionably reprobate. They were predestined to fail to persevere in the Covenant of Creation. Not only that, they were told by God that such reprobation was an actual possibility. When God told them what would happen if they ate the forbidden fruit, it was given as a possibility that they might indeed be predestined to eat of it. Furthermore, they knew that, if they did not persevere, instead transgressing the Covenant by eating the forbidden fruit, then they would be punished according to the seriousness of the sin, and the seriousness of the sin would be greater according to the degree of grace they received from God. In other words, Adam and Eve knew that, if they were predestined to Fall, then every good and perfect gift coming to them from God was decreed to bring about greater punishment.

So the question arises: Did God love Adam and Eve? Were His good gifts to them a revelation of His love for them, or were they snares meant to hurt them?

The answer must be that, though God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and ultimately causes all things, God’s gifts and offers of future reward are all genuine expressions of a genuine love. It may be difficult to conceive of how this objective revelation in history is to be reconciled with God’s eternal decrees, [8] yet it is perverse to use the decrees to deny that God’s gifts and promises are motivated by love. The fact is, just as without God’s love there is no ground for God’s jealousy, so without God’s good gifts there is no ground for holding ingrates accountable for how they abuse and pervert these gifts. It was Satan’s strategy, after all, to deny that God loved Adam and Eve. If our inferences from God’s decrees put us in Satan’s camp, we need to rethink our position.

Adam was God’s son (Luk 3.38). He and Eve were put in covenant with God — a genuine relationship of love. When Eve was seduced by Satan, God became jealous and put the world under a curse, disinheriting His son, divorcing His bride. His jealousy continues to be aroused by the natural man:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened (Rom 1.18-21; emphasis added).

God shows His love for man by showering blessings on him, and man responds by worshipping the gifts and spurning the Giver. The doctrine of reprobation does not conflict with God’s love, but presupposes it. Reprobation is God’s decree that sinners will continue to refuse His love and arouse His jealousy.

What is true of men in general, is much more true for reprobates in God’s Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament. They have been restored to Eden, and wedded to God in a new covenant, only to again be seduced by Satan. As Hosea puts it, “like Adam they have transgressed My covenant” (6.7). Indeed, Israel is guilty of doing with God’s special gifts of love, what all men in general are guilty of doing with his general gifts as described in Romans 1.18ff: “For she does not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the oil, and lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal” (Hos 2.8). How much more is God’s jealousy aroused by such treachery in response to such special love!

All of this is background to Paul’s language in 2 Corinthians 11.1-4. Paul doesn’t say that the New Covenant means that God’s jealous wrath is no longer a factor. Far from it.

Colossians 1.21-23a

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach — if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard

Here we have the plainest statement possible that the New Covenant is a conditional covenant. If one is to be confirmed in Christ’s imputed righteousness on the Day of Judgment, one must persevere in the Faith. The strongest language conceivable is used to describe Christ’s covenant relationship with the Colossians, but any thought that the Colossians can continue to be confident of their eternal salvation apart from continuing in faith is forcefully removed. Nor is there any desire on Paul’s part, to somehow throw doubt on the reality of their initiation in the Covenant of Grace. He doesn’t throw doubt on the grace they have objectively received but only exhorts them to continue in it.

Hebrews 3-4

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end. Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw My works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; and they did not know My ways’; as I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.'” Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is called “Today,” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end; while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.” For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh day, “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.

The author of Hebrews here addresses “holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling” (3.1). Furthermore, he includes himself in the exhortations (“Let us therefore be diligent…” [4.11]). His entire message is parallel to 1 Corinthians 10.1-13, for he compares the Christians receiving the letter to those with whom God made a covenant in the wilderness but who failed to enter the Land because of unbelief. They have been initiated in the Covenant of Grace and now they must continue in it.

Notice, that just as Paul exhorted the Corinthians to flee temptation on the grounds that God would provide a way of escape (10.13-14), so the author of Hebrews exhorts his readers to endure because they have Christ as a sympathetic high priest (Heb 4.14-16). Obviously, if they do not endure, the fault is all the more with them, because they have spurned such a gracious God. The author doesn’t say that some have access to this Priest but that others don’t. No, it is perfectly plain — and made even more and more evident, if that were possible, by almost every other chapter in Hebrews — that those who fall away are guilty of having spurned their high priest and have refused to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (4.16).

Furthermore, while I certainly think the author of Hebrews believed in a qualitative difference between the faith of those whose faith was predestined to endure and the faith of those who were going to fall away, he doesn’t seem to think it is worth mentioning. He simply exhorts all professing Christians to “hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” (3.14), to “hold fast our confession” (4.14). On the contrary, “unbelief” (3.19) is identified with “disobedience” (4.6; 3.18) on the part of those who have been engrafted into the Covenant of Grace. The objective standing of the readers in Christ’s New Covenant is not any more in doubt than the membership of the wilderness generation in the Mosaic covenant. What is in doubt is whether they are going to enter God’s rest. This will not happen unless they persevere. If they become “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (3.13) then they will provoke God to wrath. No matter what sort of belief they once possessed, it will only count as unbelief if they fall away from the living God (c.f. Eze 18.24).

Remember, “falling away from the living God” (3.12) presupposes standing in Covenant relation with Him.

Hebrews 10.4-39

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast taken no pleasure. “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.'” After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Thy will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, “sat down at the right hand of God,” waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, and upon their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another]; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near. For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and “the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, “He Who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Here we find the author of Hebrews presenting huge contrasts, significant discontinuities, between the Mosaic covenant and the New Covenant. But again, there is a particular continuity between the periods in the Covenant of Grace both preceding and following Christ. Under both administrations of the Covenant some do not persevere but rebel against God despite His great blessings. As covenant-breakers, such people fall under God’s covenantal wrath.

Even here, we do find a significant discontinuity: Those who break the New Covenant are to be much more severely punished than those who merely broke the Mosaic covenant.

Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (10.28-29)

If there is some sort of unconditional guarantee for all members of the New Covenant that they need never fear God’s covenantal jealousy, then the above verse simply makes no sense whatsoever. To posit this sort of discontinuity is to eviscerate the true discontinuity which the author of Hebrews declares to us — that the sanctions facing covenant breakers in the New Covenant are substantially greater than those facing covenant breakers in the old covenants.

Furthermore, the author of Hebrews could not be more explicit that he is addressing a singular group of people, members of the New Covenant, who all need to continue in what they have been given if they would be saved. “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10.10). And again, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (10.14) This same language begins and ends Hebrews: “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (2.11). And again: “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate” (13.12). This is exactly the same gift which makes the treason of apostasy such a high-handed sin: “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has … regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified?” (10.29)

Additionally, the writer of Hebrews, makes it clear that all whom he is writing have privileges — privileges which were purchased at a great price and the despising of which will bring great wrath:

Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (10.19-22).

All the intended readers share in the same confidence, the same priest, their hearts are all sprinkled and their bodies all washed so that all must draw near, holding fast their “confession of hope without wavering” (10.23), lest any one of them come under the fearful wrath of God.

Again, verses 32 and following make it clear that the intended audience consists of people who have made a good start in accepting “joyfully the seizure of your property” (10.34) but who must “not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (10.35). The Pauline prooftext for justification by faith alone is used to demonstrate that “endurance” in faith is required for us to “receive what was promised” (10.36). The writer of Hebrews expresses confidence that his readers will endure in such faith “to the preserving of the soul” (10.39).

RePost: A paragraph that changed the course of my theology and soteriology

J. I Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, p. 155.

The final element in the Puritan development of the doctrine of justification was to safeguard it against mis-statement within the Puritan camp. Chapter XI of the Westminster Confession wards off two such abberations. The first is that justification is from eternity, i.e., before faith. William Twisse, first prolocutor of the Assembly, had maintained this as part of his case against Arminianism, but in addition to being unscriptural the idea is pastorally disastrous, for it reduced justifying faith to discovering that one is justified already, and so sets seekers waiting on God for assurance instead of exerting active trust in Christ. The trouble here was the assimilating of justification to election, and the Confession deals with it by drawing the correct distinction; “God did, from all eternity, decree to justify the elect… nevertheless they are not justified until the Holy Spirit doth in due time actually apply Christ unto them” (XI:iv).

I read this some time in the early nineties.  Before seminary.  Maybe while living in Nashville but probably even earlier in Florida before I got married.

Why I joined the PCA (NAPARC)

I wasn’t born into the PCA, but I moved there from another Evangelical tradition.  Why?

Well, some of it had to do with a strong belief that God foreordains all things including who mercifully inherits eternal life and who justly is left to eternal damnation.  But there are lots of predestinarian groups.  What really made me look for a Westminsterian denomination is that I thought Westminster’s covenant theology had done a really good job at capturing what was involved in following Jesus the way the Gospels show us Jesus demanding.  While not all my commitments are summed up in the following four questions and answers my core beliefs are expressed well in them.  They directed me both as a layman, as one called to the ministry looking for a seminary, and as a trained candidate looking for a pastorate.

Q. 76. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.

Q. 101. What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?
A. The preface to the Ten Commandments is contained in these words, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having his being in and of himself, and giving being to all his words and works: and that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom; and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.

Q. 153. What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us by reason of the transgression of the law?
A. That we may escape the wrath and curse of God due to us by reason of the transgression of the law, he requireth of us repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and the diligent use of the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation.

Q. 167. How is baptism to be improved by us?
A. The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.

While these by no means express all my theological commitments, they do express some important ones.

Daniel Fuller

Daniel Fuller used to have a bunch of stuff online that I thought was helpful.

I ran into his book Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum and had found it really satisfying as an explanation for the nature of saving faith and the dynamic of sanctification.  I felt like he was too rough on John Calvin who, I believed and still believe, had led in the same general direction.

Like anyone else I didn’t agree with everything he said.  He held to a very traditional view of what Paul was condemning in “the works of the law,” taking that phrase as a general attempt to earn rewards from God.  I think Paul had something else in mind and that everyone knew in theory (i.e. both Paul and his enemies) that one could not earn or merit favor from God.

He also argued for women’s ordination and against creation in six days.  So reader beware.

After discovering him, I found that back in 1973 (? if I recall correctly) he had been attacked in a journal by Meredith Kline and others.  I was amazed because one rebuttal came from the King James Version’s mistranslation of John 1.17–something I had recently had to deal with in my Greek class.

I also ran into many people who would (pretty vociferously, I thought) attack Daniel Fuller for denying things on the evidence that he didn’t write about them.  I suppose if Fuller was going to be my pastor I might have felt I should inquire more, but reading him as a help in certain areas didn’t lead me to worry about unproven allegations about other areas.  I had no doubts and about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and I had never read one word in Fuller to question the doctrine–let alone lead me to have any doubts.

To this day I have no idea why he causes such rage in some quarters.

I used to have links to Fuller but the links don’t lead anywhere anymore so I have removed the blog post (I had more in earlier blogging that has gotten lost with changes in servers, I think; might turn something up).

Fuller’s basic point was that one was supposed to trust in God’s love and salvation in Jesus and thus, the same faith that justified you would also sanctify you.

Hebrews 11 would be the best place to go to see how this works.  Moses, for example, trusting in God, saw that the treasures of Egypt were not worth keeping, and left them for the greater reward that God promised.  Faith would not be faith if he stayed in Egypt to enjoy “the passing pleasures of sin.”  We don’t obey God to earn anything, we obey God the way we follow a doctor’s regimen if acknowledge we are sick and trust him to heal us.

I notice that John Piper still praises Daniel Fuller as his great teacher.  See also Piper’s list of “books that have influenced me most.”

PS For further reading: “Law and Gospel in Presbyterianism”

David Chilton talks about worship with his son Nathan

Back in the late eighties or early nineties, this essay from The Reconstruction of the Church really impressed me.  Still does:

The following is a transcript, or at least a reasonably close version, of a series of conversations I had with Nathan, my seven-year-old, as we visited an evangelical church service on a recent Sunday evening. Although the discussion actually took place in several stages (ending late that evening at home), for literary purposes I have reconstructed the conversation as if it all happened during the service. I confess that a good portion of it did go on then, as I tried to explain evangelical worship to an impressionable youngster.

Nathan: Papa, this sure is a funny liturgy.

Papa: Well, it isn’t exactly a liturgy. They don’t believe in liturgy at this church.

Nathan: How can you not believe in liturgy? Isn’t a liturgy just what you do in Church?

Papa: Yes. But what I mean is that they don’t believe in having the service written down in advance.

Nathan: Why not?

Papa: They think that if they read something that’s written down, they won’t really mean it.

Nathan: But all they have to do is think about what it means, and agree with it, and then they’ll mean it, won’t they?

Papa: Sure. But they don’t believe that.

Nathan: But somebody around here must believe it, because we all sang from the same hymnbook. Don’t they mean it when they sing the hymns?

Papa: Sure they do. But they think prayers are different.

Nathan: You mean that they can agree with a song that they read, but they don’t know how to agree with a prayer that they read?

Papa: Something like that.

Nathan: Then why don’t they just memorize the prayers?

Papa: Because they think they wouldn’t mean those, either.

Nathan: Can they memorize songs and mean them?

Papa: Sure. But they think music is different. You can read or memorize a song and still mean it. But if you read or memorize words without music, you won’t mean them.

Nathan: But don’t they teach their children “politeness liturgies”? Like “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome ,“ and ‘yes, sir,” and ‘yes, ma’am”? And don’t they teach them to mean it?

Papa: Yes, but –

Nathan: And what about Bible verses? Do they memorize Bible verses?

Papa: Of course they do.

Nathan: But they don’t mean them?

Papa: Yes, they do.

Nathan: Without music?

Papa: Sure.

Nathan: How?

Papa: Can we change the subject?

Nathan: OK. Why didn’t we confess our sins when we began the service?

Papa: This church doesn’t believe in it.

Nathan: WHAT? !

Papa: Shhh. Keep your voice down. I mean they don’t think the Church needs to do it.

Nathan: Don’t we need to be forgiven?

Papa: Sure. They just don’t think it should happen in Church.

Nathan: What about the Creed? Why didn’t we say the Creed?

Papa: Well, partly because it’s liturgical. They think they won’t mean it if they say it.

Nathan: We could sing it.

Papa: They don’t know how.

Nathan: Oh – they haven’t been Christians very long, huh? Let’s teach it to them.

Papa: Let’s not.

Nathan: Why not?

Papa: Because they won’t want to do it anyway. Because it’s liturgical.

Nathan: Why are they so afraid of liturgy? We could explain that it isn’t hard to mean it when you say it.

Papa: But they won’t want to do it anyway. They want to be different every week.

Nathan: Really? Different every week?

Papa: Yes.

Nathan: What do they do differently? Do they sometimes take the offering at the end of the service instead of in the middle?

Papa: No. That’s always at the same time.

Nathan: Do they sometimes have the preaching at the beginning?

Papa: No, that’s at the same time too.

Nathan: Then what do they do that’s different?

Papa: They sing different songs.

Nathan: So does our church.

Papa: Well, it really comes down to the fact that they don’t have prayers and responses for the congregation to read.

Nathan: Why not?

Papa: They think that reading prayers and responses keeps people from worshiping.

Nathan: Really? What do they think the people should do in- stead?

Papa: Just sit there and do nothing.

Nathan: That’s worship? Doesn’t it get boring?

Papa: Not if the elders keep things exciting enough on the stage.

Nathan: Elders? What elders? You mean those men up there on the platform are elders?

Papa: Sort of. But they don’t always call them that.

Nathan: Why aren’t they wearing robes and collars so you know what they are?

Papa: They say elders shouldn’t wear special clothes.

Nathan: Why not?

Papa: They think that there’s nothing special about clothing.

Nathan: Policemen and soldiers and judges wear special clothes.

Papa: Well, they think clothing isn’t special for elders. They think elders should look like everybody else.

Nathan: Then why is that elder wearing a maroon suit with a blue shirt, a green tie, and a white belt?

Papa: Well, it’s still a suit. The point is, he can wear anything he wants.

Nathan: You mean an elder could wear a robe and a collar if he wanted?

Papa: No. He can wear anything but a robe and a collar.

Nathan: So they do think clothing is special!

Papa: Well. . . .

Nathan: There! Someone did it again!

Papa: Did what?

Nathan: He said “Amen.” See? That’s why this place needs a liturgy book. Half the people don’t know when to say things.

Papa: I told you. They don’t do a liturgy here.

Nathan: Some people do. Hear that? Somebody just did it again. If we had a book, we could all say it together. That would keep some people from getting it wrong and saying it while somebody else is talking.

Papa: But Nathan, I’m telling you. There’s no liturgy. People just say “Amen” whenever they feel like it.

Nathan: WHAT? Where does the Bible say to do that?

Papa: It doesn’t.

Nathan: Then why do they do it? Aren’t they afraid?

Papa: Why should they be afraid?

Nathan: Because it’s a vow, a covenant promise. Doesn’t it mean that we agree with God, and that if we don’t keep this promise we are asking God to destroy us? Isn’t it even a special covenant name for Jesus?

Papa: Sure. But they don’t know that. They think it means something else.

Nathan: What do they think “Amen” means?

Papa: They think it means “I feel good.”

Nathan: Look at that!

Papa: What?

Nathan: There are people raising their hands!

Papa: So?

Nathan: In our church, the elders raise their hands to God when they pray. But in this church, everybody else does it, whenever they feel like it. And they make up their own liturgy as they go along, You know what I think?

Papa: What?

Nathan: I think that in this church everybody is an elder-–except the elders.

Papa: That may be the best description I’ve heard yet.

Nathan: You know, Pa, those elders are tricking us.

Papa: How’s that?

Nathan: They really do have a liturgy for their prayers. They keep saying the same thing over and over again.

Papa: Really?

Nathan: Sure. I don’t know what they mean, but there are two special words they keep using in all their prayers.

Papa: What words?

Nathan: Well, the first one is “just.” They keep saying it. “Lord we just thank you for just being so just special.” Stuff like that. They must have it written down,

because they all do it.

Papa: What’s the other word?

Nathan: It’S not really a word. It’s a special sound, like a little clucking noise: “Tsk.”

Papa: What?

Nathan: Tsk. Tsk.

Papa: What are you talking about?

Nathan: Listen. It goes like this: “Lord, tsk, we just, tsk, we just, tsk, we want to, tsk, thank you, tsk, Lord, for, tsk, for just, tsk, being just so, tsk, special, tsk.” Right?

Papa: OK, quiet down and listen to the special music.

Nathan: Wait. What’s that guy doing? He looks weird.

Papa: Shhh. He’s just singing.

Nathan: Yeah, but he’s shaking all over the place. He looks like he’s going to fall down.

Papa: Well, that’s the way the “special music” singers do it in this church. He’s just trying to rock to the beat.

Nathan: Why? It looks dumb.

Papa: Let’s figure it out. Why do we have a choir in our church? What do you think they’re doing there?

Nathan: It’s part of our worship. They help us worship God.

Papa: OK. Now, why do you think this church has people sing?

Nathan: Well, I guess they’re trying to worship too. But it seems more like they’re trying to look like they’re on television.

Papa: Sort of like MTV?

Nathan: Not that bad. It just looks like they want people to notice them instead of praying. Unless — Do you think maybe he’s just kind of sick?

Papa: We’ll talk about it later. It’s time for communion now.

Nathan: What’s this?

Papa: Shhh! It’s bread.

Nathan: Come on, Pa. What is it really?

Papa: It’s bread, honest. It’s a little, tiny cube of bread.

Nathan: Looks like a piece of cracker to me.

Papa: Well, sure. It is a piece of cracker.

Nathan: Should we give them some money so they can afford bread?

Papa: They can afford it. But they want to do it this way.

Nathan: Why would anybody want to eat this? Do they like the taste?

Papa: Probably not.

Nathan: Then why would they eat something they don’t enjoy–especially at Communion? We’re supposed to be happy when we eat with God.

Papa: Be quiet. It’s time to drink the cup.

Nathan: OK. Yuck! What is this stuff?

Papa: Um, it’s. . . .

Nathan: Tastes like grape-flavored Kool-Aid.

Papa: Grape juice, probably.

Nathan: Doesn’t taste very good. Did they forget to buy some wine?

Papa: No. They don’t drink wine here.

Nathan: WHAT?!

Papa: SHHH!

Nathan: Why don’t they drink wine?

Papa: They don’t believe in it. They think it’s wrong.

Nathan: But it tastes good.

Papa: Well, tasting good isn’t everything.

Nathan: But God made it for us to drink, especially at Communion. It makes us happy, and it makes God happy too.

Papa: That’s right.

Nathan: Does the Bible say it’s wrong?

Papa: No.

Nathan: Then why do they say it is? And why do they drink this yucky juice? And eat those crummy little cracker pieces? No wonder they’re so sad!

Papa: What?

Nathan: Well, look at them. Look how sad they all are. They don’t look like they’re enjoying this, do they?

Papa: Well, no. . . .

Nathan: Well, they aren’t enjoying it a bit. But didn’t you tell me that Communion is a special dinner with Jesus?

Papa: Yes.

Nathan: And when we come to Communion, the whole Church is coming up to heaven, right?

Papa: Right.

Nathan: And when we go to heaven to be with Jesus and have dinner with Him, we’re supposed to be happy, aren’t we?

Papa: Sure.

Nathan: Well, why aren’t these people happy? Do they think heaven is a sad place to be?

Papa: I think they’re sad because they’re thinking about their sins.

Nathan: But they’ve been forgiven, and now they’re in heaven! They’re supposed to be thinking about Jesus!

Papa: Oh, they’re thinking of Him, too. They’re sad because they’re thinking about Him dying on the cross.

Nathan: But He’s not dying anymore. The whole reason we’re doing this is that He came alive, right?

Papa: Right.

Nathan: Well, I don’t think they could be sad about Jesus. I think they’re sad ‘cause they had to eat those icky crackers and drink that dumb old Kool-Aid.

Papa: Grape juice.

Nathan: Kool-Aid. Hey,

Papa. Why are those people looking at me funny?

Papa: Um . . . it’s because you took Communion.

Nathan: So? Everybody else did.

Papa: Not the kids.

Nathan: Why not?

Papa: Because they aren’t allowed to.

Nathan: WHAT?!

Papa: SHHH! They only let grownups take Communion at this church.

Nathan: Why? If you’ve been baptized you can take Communion, right? Even babies can take Communion, because Jesus feeds them, too. Children need Communion as much as grownups.

Papa: But these children haven’t been baptized.

Nathan: WHAT?!

Papa: Shhh. It’s true,

Nathan: Why don’t they want their children to come into the Covenant?

Papa: Well, they do. They just don’t believe that children can be Christians until they get older.

Nathan: That’s dumb. God can make anybody a Christian.

Papa: Well, I mean that they don’t think He will make their children Christians. Until they get older.

Nathan: But Jesus wants little children to come to Him. Even babies. He said so, didn’t He?

Papa: Yes.

Nathan: Look. These people have families, right? Don’t they feed their babies? They don’t make their kids sit in a corner and wait till they’re grownups before they can eat. So why shouldn’t God feed His children, too? It must be sad for the kids to watch the rest of the family eating without them.

Papa: But they don’t think their children really are God’s children.

Nathan: But they teach their children to pray, don’t they?

Papa: Sure.

Nathan: Who do they pray to?

Papa: “Whom.” Objective case. And don’t end your sentences with prepositions unless you have to.

Nathan: Do their kids call God “Father”? Like in the Lord’s Prayer? Wait a minute. You aren’t going to tell me they don’t believe in the Lord’s Prayer, are you?

Papa: Sure, they believe in it. And many of them teach it to their children.

Nathan: Well then. If they teach their children to say “Our Father” then that means they think their children are God’s children, too. Right?

Papa: Uh . . . sort of. But–

Nathan: But they don’t baptize them into Jesus. So how can they be God’s children unless they’re in the Covenant?

Papa: Right. That’s why they don’t give them Communion.

Nathan: Is this as confusing to them as it is to me?

Papa: It might be if they thought about it much.

Nathan: Well, how are their kids supposed to become Christians, if their parents don’t bring them to be baptized?

Papa: When they get older, they’re supposed to makeup their own minds.

Nathan: About whether or not to obey God? That’s pretty dumb. Do they have to wait till they’re older to decide if they want to obey their parents, too?

Papa: Not usually. But they want their children to wait until they’re old enough to love God.

Nathan: But I love God. I always have. And the Bible says that people can know God even when they’re in their mama’s tummy, doesn’t it?

Papa: Well, these people think you have to wait until you are older and smarter, so that you understand what it’s all about.

Nathan: You mean you can’t have dinner with Jesus until you understand what it means?

Papa: That’s the idea.

Nathan: Papa, do grownups understand everything about what Communion means?

Papa: Some people probably think they do.

Nathan: I don’t think these people understand much about it. If they did, they’d bring their children into the Covenant and let them have dinner in heaven with them. And anyway, how are the kids supposed to learn what it means without doing it? That’s like trying to get nutrition from reading a recipe, instead of eating the food.

Papa: Not bad. I’ll have to remember that one.

Nathan: OK, so how can a kid get Communion in this church?

Papa: Well, when he gets older–say, around twelve or so–he asks Jesus into his heart.

Nathan: Papa, don’t be silly. This is serious.

Papa: I’m not being silly. They tell you to ask Jesus to come into your heart.

Nathan: I’ve never heard that. Is that in the Bible?

Papa: No. But they think it is. It’s just an expression someone made up that means becoming a Christian. They also call it “receiving Christ,” which is a little more Biblical.

Nathan: But Jesus is in heaven, and we receive him every Sunday–every time we eat His body and drink His blood.

Papa: Uh, keep your voice down, willya? They don’t talk like that around here.

Nathan: But Jesus talked like that.

Papa: I know. But they don’t know that.

Nathan: Let’s tell them.

Papa: Let’s not, OK? Not right now.

Nathan: All right. Let’s get back to how kids can become Christians and have Communion. When they get older they ask Jesus “into their hearts,“ right? So do they just go ahead and do it when they get to be twelve?

Papa: Not exactly. The grownups have to be sure the kids really mean it.

Nathan: How can they know that?

Papa: The kids have to cry when they do it.

Nathan: Cry? Real tears? How do they make themselves cry?

Papa: Well, some churches spend lots of time practicing. But, basically, they just have a preacher get up and tell real sad stories, so sad that they make people cry. So then the kids cry, and they walk up to the front of the church and ask Jesus to come into their hearts. Sometimes this happens during the summer. The kids go to a special camp where they listen to people preach at them. Then, on the last night, they all stand around a campfire and —

Nathan: And listen to scary stories?

Papa: No. Sad stories.

Nathan: Aw, shoot.

Papa: Then they cry, and throw little twigs on the fire, and ask Jesus into their hearts.

Nathan: Why do they throw twigs on the fire? Do they think they have to do that to come into the Covenant?

Papa: They think that’s how you have to do it if you’re in the mountains. It’s part of their Summer Camp Liturgy. But if you’re home you don’t need to.

Nathan: Then do they get Communion?

Papa: No. They usually have to wait, and go through a class to learn what it means to be a Christian.

Nathan: Wait. What have they been doing while growing up? Haven’t they already had plenty of classes? Does a kid ever get Communion around here?

Papa: Sure, eventually. After he gets out of the class he can have it whenever everybody else does.

Nathan: Every Sunday.

Papa: No. Every month or so.

Nathan: Why not every Sunday? Don’t they go to church every Sunday?

Papa: Yes. But they don’t have Communion every Sunday.

Nathan: But what do they do, if they don’t have Communion? Isn’t that why we go to Church–so we can go to heaven and have dinner in Jesus’ House?

Papa: Well, they sing songs and listen to a sermon.

Nathan: But that’s part of the Liturgy of Communion. Communion is what the Church service is all about, isn’t it? We’re supposed to worship God, and then He feeds us with His food. Why do they go to church? Don’t they go to meet God?

Papa: Sure. But they think they meet him by just listening to a sermon and getting excited about what the preacher says, if he’s interesting enough to listen to. If he isn’t a good speaker, then they think they haven’t met with God.

Nathan: Look. Don’t these people know that Communion makes them strong for living the rest of the week? How is anyone supposed to go without food for a month and still have any energy to do his work?

Papa: Well, they think that if they have Communion every week it won’t seem special.

Nathan: It doesn’t seem like it’s very special to them anyway. I think it would be lots more special if they had it every week and gave it to their children. Maybe then even the grownups would understand what it means.

Papa: You’re probably right.

Nathan: Wait a minute. I think I just figured out the real reason why they don’t have Communion very often.

Papa: Why’s that?

Nathan: ‘Cause it’s crackers and Kool-Aid.

Was Paul a calvinist?

I always thought he was.  Still think so.  And I’ve always been aware of the following passage:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.

So I ask you.  Are calvinists obligated to believe that when Paul wrote, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” that he really meant, “Now those of you who are truly regenerate are the body of Christ and individually members of it, but the rest of you aren’t because being baptized provides no assurance that you belong to the body of Christ.”?

If so, what is the practical difference between such a belief and just stating outright “Calvinists are the ones who know better than to believe the Bible.”?

I have to admit I’m completely lost about all this.  Back when I became a calvinist it was because the calvinists were the only ones who took the Bible seriously.  The calvinists were not the ones writing books on submission to human tradition as a safety procedure for avoiding errors to which the Bible allegedly leaves a reader vulnerable. We were not known for constantly coming up with really lame arguments to show how a bunch of passages don’t have any real weight for doing theology.

That kind of cowardice is brand new to me.  How about you?  When did the Reformed Churches become Cities of Refuge from Offending Scriptures?  When did the calvinist mind shut down?

As for me and my house, we will always believe that Paul was an orthodox calvinist.  And we will not live in fear.

RePost: Real Union or Legal Fiction?

John Williamson Nevin’s Controversy With Charles Hodge Over the Imputation of Adam’s Sin (with a Comparison to Robert L. Dabney)

[The footnotes go back (I hope) to where I originally posted this paper. I wrote it in 1997 and it won the Aiken Taylor Church History Award of the Presbyterian Church in America. I want to thank Dr. David Calhoun of Covenant Theological Seminary for being so encouraging. I wrote the paper for his Princeton class.]

If one is blessed to discover George P. Hutchinsons’s monograph on Original Sin in nineteenth-century Reformed thought,[1] no student of American presbyterianism can fail to be fascinated. What once seemed to be a monolithic certainty while sitting in the standard theology class is suddenly uncovered to reveal a great deal of variety that had formerly been hidden from view.[2] Hutchinson’s account of the controversy between Henry B. Smith of the “new school”; Archibald Alexander and Charles Hodge of Princeton Seminary; William G. T. Shedd, Samuel J. Baird, and James H. Thornwell of the “realistic school”; and Robert W. Landis and Robert L. Dabney of what Hutchinson calls the “agnostic school” is simply must-reading for anyone who wishes to understand the issue.[3]

But it is not a complete reading. In the nineteenth century there was another American theologian who held distinctive views regarding the imputation of Adam’s sin. John Williamson Nevin of “the Mercersburg movement,” aroused the ire of Charles Hodge on more than one occasion because of his theological writings. Nevin was a member of the German Reformed Church, so perhaps Hutchinson decided that he was outside his scope. Nevin was raised a Presbyterian, however, and served as a Presbyterian minister for many years before accepting the call of the German Reformed Church.[4] Furthermore, Nevin was Charles Hodge’s best student, and taught his classes for the two years Hodge was in Europe, though Nevin had only just graduated.[5] His close connection with Presbyterianism, as well as the merit of his ideas in themselves, make him worth listing with the other schools.

My hope for this paper is that it will serve as a sort of appendix to Hutchinson’s book. For reasons of space and because of inherent relationships which will hopefully become clear, the discussion will center on Nevin’s conflict with Hodge.[6] Then similarities will be emphasized between Nevin’s alternative to Hodge and Dabney’s alternative.

The Mercersburg Movement[7]

The “Mercersburg Movement” was principally begun and propagated by John Williamson Nevin and Philip Schaff, professors at the German Reformed Mercersburg Seminary. After years as a Presbyterian quite committed to the teaching he had received at Princeton, Nevin began a shift in theology which involved a new understanding of the historic development of doctrine and a corresponding vision of the Church as a growing entity, a respect for the ancient and medieval Church, a more thoroughgoing awareness of and loyalty to the sacramental theology of the sixteenth-century reformers. This shift seems to have started with his exposure to the tracts of the Oxford movement and German philosophy and theology, fueled by an opposition to “new measures” revivalism which he apparently (and ironically) picked up from Charles Hodge.[8] When Philip Schaff left his homeland in Germany and joined Nevin, the Church historian found a person with whom he shared a common vision.

The Mercersburg Theology stressed the centrality of the incarnation. As we will see, Nevin insisted that the atonement was necessary for salvation, but he violently rejected the idea that the incarnation was simply for the purpose of the atonement, which would render it as simply a means to an end. Rather, the incarnation was an end in itself, whether or not sin necessitated the atoning death and justifying resurrection of Christ. Through union with Christ, man can have union with God.[9]

The Church is the continuation of Christ’s life on earth through the agency of the Holy Spirit. The Church is not simply a collection of believers, but the mystical body of Christ, the mother of all believers. Nevin discarded the categories of “visible” and “invisible,” discussing instead the “actual” Church (present) and the “ideal” Church (eschatological). The ideal exists as a seed in the actual, and inexorably takes shape in history until the resurrection.[10]

The mystical union between Christ and His Church made the sacraments quite important in the Mercersburg view. Nevin promoted a return to Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper as the means by which the Church’s union with Christ is nourished and strengthened. In defending this view, he touched on almost all the distinctives of the Mercersburg Theology.

Nevin never set out to specifically discuss the imputation of Adam’s sin.[11] Rather the imputation of Adam’s sin is mentioned as an aside to his discussion of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, which in turn was only mentioned by Nevin to explain why the Reformation Tradition found it so important to affirm our union with Christ and the importance of Christ’s real presence in the Lord’s Supper. The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist sets forth Nevin’s views on the sacrament, and covers all these (for his purpose in the book) subsidiary issues. Not only is Mystical Presence Nevin’s most thorough treatment (and one that articulated views which remained essentially unchanged for the rest of his life), but it was also the presentation to which Hodge responded.

Thus, the best way to explain Nevin’s view of the imputation of Adam’s sin is to first briefly set forth from this work his beliefs concerning the importance of union with Christ and the imputation of his righteousness, as well as the nature of this union.

The Importance of Union with Christ

Nevin would emphatically agree with the Liberal catchphrase, “Christianity is a life, not a doctrine.”[12] Yet just as emphatically, he would insist that only by proclaiming Christianity as a life and not a doctrine can supernatural Christianity be set apart from rationalistic naturalism. Socinians, by reducing Christianity to a moral message, throw “the man back always upon himself, his own separate powers and resources, the capabilities of the flesh as such, to perfect his nature and make himself meet for heaven.”[13] Likewise, in Pelagianism, “we are thrown back again, upon such material in the way of life, as the subject of it may be found to possess in his own nature, when brought under the action of this divine process of education.”[14]

So far, this is rather standard fare. But Nevin takes a further ingenious step: What about those who claim that salvation depends on the supernatural enlightenment of the Holy Spirit? Of such a view, he says:

To the force that belongs to the truth itself in its relation to the human mind, it may join the influence’s of God’s Spirit, graciously interposed to clothe the truth with effect. Such agency we often hear attributed to the Spirit, by those who at the same time reject altogether the thought of any immediate change wrought by it in the nature of the human soul itself. God’s grace in this form, they say, is brought to bear on the soul, mediately only, by the intervention of his word which he uses instrumentally for the purpose, infusing into it light and power. But surely those who talk in this way do not stop at all to consider the exact sense of their own words. What do they mean, when they speak of the Spirit, as infusing light and power into the truth? Can he do so (apart from a direct influence on the soul itself) in any other way than by so ordering the presentation of the truth to the mind, that it shall be placed in the most favorable position for exerting the power which belongs to it in its own nature? But what is this more than such moral suasion, as may be exercised over the spirits of men in a merely human way, by appeals addressed to the understanding and will? The order of influence at least remains the same, though it may be exhibited under a divinely exalted form.[15]

This view, though partially supernaturalistic, still falls back into naturalism on the crucial issue of salvation, and still does not escape the error of Socinianism and Pelagianism:

In this view, the process of salvation, in the midst of all the high-sounding terms that may be employed to describe it, falls back again to the standpoint already noticed. It is a salvation by the power simply of truth, presented in the form of doctrine and precept. This truth includes the supernatural facts of the gospel, the mission, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Christ–the outward apparatus in full, if we may use the expression–of the Christian redemption; and along with this we have the “moral suasion” of the Holy Spirit, which according to the unintelligible hypothesis, invests the whole representation with a more than natural evidence and power. All turns at last, however, on the way in which the mind thus addressed, may be wrought upon and moved to act, in the use of such resources and capabilities as are already comprehended in its nature.[16]

Even affirming regeneration through the power of the Holy Spirit is not enough to escape the problem. It remains if the union with the Spirit does not also involve intimate mystical union with Christ’s new humanity, if “Christ dwells in his people by his Spirit–but in the way only of representation, not in the way of strict personal inbeing on his own part.”[17]

The same Spirit, it is said, that works in Christ works also in us, fashioning us as we are into the same image. But how does he work? By supernatural influence, it may be said. But is not this to fall back again to the theory of a merely moral union with Christ, by the power of the truth only; which we have found already to be under its highest form, but Pelagianism in disguise? Is Christ in us at last only by the divine suasion of his Spirit?[18]

This conception of regeneration, then, makes it not an ingrafting into Christ, but some sort of merely moral transformation, as if man could be saved through some sort of change in his own fallen condition. Because man is totally depraved and has fallen irrevocably in Adam, there is no miracle which can correct the problem of man’s sin and guilt–except to send God as a new man, the second Adam, to provide a new source of life to conquer the death spread from the old man, and then give that life to men dead in their sins.

The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness

Nevin has not yet exhausted the attempted alternatives to the mystical union with Christ. American protestants, realizing that the suasion of the Spirit is not enough to give them a truly supernatural soteriology, think they have yet another option:

Here we are brought, then, to stand upon higher and more orthodox ground. The doctrine of imputation is introduced, to meet the demand now mentioned. The work of Christ is no longer thought of as a mere display for moral effect; it is something to be appropriated and made available in the person of the believing sinner himself, for the purposes of salvation. Mere doctrine will not answer. The case calls for an actual personal participation in what Christ has done and suffered to take away sin and reconcile man to God. By imputation. we are told. As the guilt and fall of Adam were reckoned to his posterity, though not theirs in fact, so the righteousness of Christ, and the benefits of his mediatorial work generally are, in virtue of the terms of the new covenant, made over to all who believe in his name, and accounted to be theirs as truly as though all had been wrought out by them, each for himself, in truth. Their justification in this view is a mere forensic act on the part of God, which is based altogether on the work of Christ, and involves as such in their case no change of character whatever, but only a change of state. God regards them as righteous, though they are not so in fact, and makes over to them a full title to all the blessings comprehended in Christ’s life. At the same time, he regenerates them by his Spirit, and puts them thus on a process of sanctification, by which in the end they become fully transformed in their own persons, into the image of their glorious Savior.[19]

This imputation appears to escape the problem of naturalism in Nevin’s mind. Nevertheless, it is an insufficient explanation because it is flatly impossible. “The imagination that the merits of Christ’s life may be sundered from his life itself, and conveyed over to his people under this abstract form, on the ground of a merely outward legal constitution, is unscriptural and contrary to all reason at the same time.”[20]

The judgment of God must ever be according to truth. He cannot reckon to anyone an attribute or quality that does not belong to him in fact. He cannot declare him to be in a relation or state that is not actually his own, but the position merely of another. A simply external imputation here, the pleasure and purpose of God to place to the account of one what has been done by another, will not answer. Nor is the case helped in the least by the hypothesis of what is called a legal federal union between the parties, in the case of whom such a transfer is supposed to be made; so long as the law is thought of in the same outward way, as a mere arbitrary arrangement or constitution for the accomplishment of the end in question. The law in this view would be itself a fiction only, and not the expression of a fact. But no such fiction, whether under the name of law or without it, can lie at the ground of a judgment entertained or pronounced by God.[21]

In explaining why a “bare” legal imputation is not enough, Nevin knew that the accusation would be made that he was denying justification by Faith. He (futilely) attempts to cut off this line of attack: “Do we then discard the doctrine of imputation, as maintained by the orthodox theology in opposition to the vain talk of the Pelagians? By no means! We seek only to establish the doctrine; for without it; most assuredly, the whole structure of Christianity must give way.”[22]

Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, writes Nevin, when the Holy Spirit actually gives us union with Christ. If we have union with Christ we possess all that is His. His active and passive righteousness count for us because “He is joined to us mystically.”[23] Christ’s righteousness is truly imputed, and justification is truly forensic and declarative, but the basis is not simply God’s imagination that we are justified, but “our actual insertion into Christ himself.”[24]

The Nature of the Union

How are we united to Christ and to Adam? What does Nevin mean by “mystical union”? In what sense is the incarnation so all important to this union, so that this union, though with His whole Person, especially involves his humanity? This question becomes more acute when we realize that Nevin is insisting on following Calvin that in the Eucharist we partake of Christ’s flesh and blood without any transfer of particles or physical presence involved! All this relates to the point of this study: How is this union with Christ parallel to our union with Adam? And how does this union with Adam undergird the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity?

Nevin explains himself by making the rather bold claim that a living organism is not reducible to material particles. He uses the relationship of an acorn to an oak tree to prove this idea.[25] We classify an acorn and the tree which grows from it as a single organism–the seed becomes the tree. Yet, the tree is exponentially more massive than the acorn, and has obviously acquired mass from the soil around it. Indeed, it is easily possible that the old oak tree does not contain a single material particle which was present in the acorn. Yet the lack of identical material particles means nothing. The life of the acorn is the same life which animates the leaves on the tree. The branches are connected to the root by a shared life which cannot be reduced to material particles. Furthermore, in thinking this way, it becomes apparent that to limit the life of the acorn to the single oak tree is quite arbitrary–for the oak bears acorns from its life which grow themselves into other trees. “Still, in the end, the life of the forest, in such a case, is nothing more than an expansion of the life that lay involved at first in the original acorn.”[26]

Thus, the life of Christ’s flesh and blood is not found in any physical particles, but in an animating force or “law.” A “clear distinction” must be made between

the idea of the organic law, which constitutes the proper identity of a human body, and the material volume it is found to embrace as exhibited to the senses. A true and perfect body must indeed appear in the form of organized matter. As a mere law, it can have no proper reality. But still the matter, apart from the law, is in no sense the body. Only as it is found to be transfused with the active presence of the law at every point and in this way filled with the form of life, can it be said to have any such character. . . The principle of the body as a system of life, the original salient point of its being as a whole, is in no respect material. It is not bound of course, for its identity, to any particular portion of matter as such. If the matter which enters into its constitution were changed every hour, it would still remain the same body. . . A real communication then, between the body of Christ and the bodies of his saints, does not imply necessarily the gross imagination of any transition of his flesh as such into their persons.[27]

Thus, by the mediation of the Holy Spirit, we can truly and really participate in the life of Christ. We can be united with His flesh and blood. This is an ultimately mysterious identity, yet it is the same sort of mystery which confronts us in all living beings.

The Imputation of Adam’s Sin

At this point we can easily see how Nevin understands the unity of the human race with Adam. Nevin is quite certain that, just as a “mere outward imputation” would be impossible in the case of Christ’s righteousness, so would it be in the case of Adam’s sin.

Can we conceive of any constitution, for instance, in virtue of which it could have been proper or possible for the Divine Mind, thus to set over to the account of mankind the apostasy of angels, which kept not their first estate, the two natures being relatively to each other what they are at this time? If all depended on the arbitrary pleasure of God, the force of a mere outward arrangement constituting one the representative of another without further relation, we cannot see why the transfer of guilt might not take place from angels to men, as well as from Adam to his posterity. The very fact that our whole reason and feeling revolt against the thought of the first case, serves only to show that the proceeding must rest upon some deeper ground in the other.[28]

In the case of Adam’s sin, the analogy of the acorn and the oak tree can be more literally applied. We are all Adamites. Our bones are Adamite bones; our flesh Adamite flesh; and our very life a true continuation of Adam’s life. The fact that the billions of individual human beings are made up of material particles other than those which originally constituted Adam when he was first created is utterly irrelevant. For all we know Adam himself, at the time of his death, may have been constituted by a completely different set of particles from those which constituted him 920 years earlier. The fact is that we all grew out of him and are no less a part of him, in one sense, than a branch is part of a tree.[29]

By his fall, Adam became corrupted in his nature, and all his children who come from his nature share in that corruption. What he did freely, Adam’s children continue to do spontaneously and naturally. They inherit his sin and his guilt.

Just as he expected some to accuse him of denying justification by Faith, Nevin knew others would accuse him of denying the Reformed doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin. Thus, he took the space to argue that the Westminster Standards are not guilty of reducing original sin to a “mere outward imputation.” On the contrary, “The language of the catechism is literally and strictly correct. We sinned in Adam, and fell with him, in his first transgression.” Furthermore, question eighteen of the Shorter Catechism does not define original sin as only “the guilt of Adam’s first sin,” but lists a threefold definition which also includes “the want of original righteousness” and “the corruption of his whole nature.”

Nevin admits that “the friends of the catechism, in their attempts to vindicate its doctrine at this point, have not always planted themselves on the proper ground for its defense,” because they have rested their case on “a merely external imputation” which can give us “only a quasi interest in the real fact that it represented” at best. But in so doing they are not only failing to defend the doctrine, but inadequately stating what the catechism actually claims.[30]

Hodge’s Position Against Mercersburg

Two years after the publication of Mystical Presence, Hodge reviewed it. He explained the delay saying:

We have had Dr. Nevin’s work on the “Mystical Presence” on our table since it’s publication, some two years ago, but have never really read it, until within a fortnight. We do not suppose other people are quite as bad, in this respect, as ourselves. Our experience, however, has been that it requires the stimulus of a special necessity to carry us through such a book.[31]

With that inauspicious beginning, Hodge proceeds to perform what can only be called a “hatchet job” on Nevin. The inaccuracies and unkindnesses are amply apparent to anyone who bothers to read the book and then the review. However, because the issues raised are predominately sacramental, other aspects of theology involved in the discussion have received relatively scant attention. Despite Nevin’s attempts to defuse the issue, one of Hodge’s major accusations is that he denies both the Reformed doctrine of justification and that of Original Sin, by denying imputation:

Here we reach the very life-spot of the Reformation. Is justification a declaring just, or a making just, inherently? This was the real battleground on which the blood of so many martyrs was spilt. Are we justified for something done for us, or something wrought in us, actually, our own? It is a mere playing with words, to make a distinction, as Mr. Newman did, between what it is that thus makes us inherently righteous. Whether it is infused grace, a new heart, the indwelling Spirit, the humanity of Christ, his life, his theanthropic nature; it is all one. It is subjective justification after all, and nothing more. We consider Dr. Nevin’s theory as impugning here, the vital doctrine of Protestantism. his doctrine is not, of course, the Romish, teres atque rotundus; he may distinguish here and discriminate there. But as to the main point, it is a denial of the Protestant doctrine of justification. He knows as well as any man that all the churches of the fifteenth century held the imputation not only of what was our own, but of what though not ours inherently, was on some adequate ground set to our account; that the sin of Adam is imputed to us, not because of our having his corrupted nature, but because of the imputation of his sin, we are involved in his corruption. He knows that when the doctrine of mediate imputation, as he teaches it, was introduced by Placaeus, it was universally rejected. He knows moreover, that, with regard to justification, the main question was, whether it was a declaratory act or an effective act, whether it was a declaring just on the ground of a righteousness not in us, or a making just by communicating righteousness to us.[32]

Here we see Hodge manifesting his distinctive idea that immediate imputation is the only view that may be considered Reformed. This probably seems believable now, for through Murray and Westminster Seminary, this view has become the received opinion. But at the time this was considered by many theologians of impeccably orthodox credentials to be a rather innovative and narrow view, as well as a mistaken one. There is no point in trying to elaborate Hutchinson’s fine description here. Suffice it to say that, for Hodge, corruption and lack of original righteousness were inflicted on each of Adam’s descendants because God first declared him liable to punishment for what Adam did. Parallel to this, the elect receive the benefits of salvation, only because God declares us judicially worthy of being rewarded for what Christ has done.

Related to his immediate imputation, a theme that ran through Hodge’s entire review was that there were two incompatible views among the Reformers concerning the sense in which the body and blood of Christ were received in the Supper. “Some of them said it was their virtue as broken and shed, i. e., their sacrificial virtue; others said, it was a mysterious supernatural efficacy flowing from the glorified body of Christ in heaven…”[33] The former view was the true view, according to Hodge, both of the Bible and of the Protestant system of doctrine. The other view withered away as an unrelated and incompatible idea.

Nevin’s response appeared in the newly begun Mercersburg Review (Vol II, no. 5) in September of 1850. Nevin confined himself to the historical question of what Reformed creeds and confessions actually taught regarding the Lord’s Supper, and demonstrated that Hodge’s historical appeal was arbitrarily selective and question-begging.[34] Original sin was not mentioned, but Nevin maintained that, not only was there no contradiction between the “sacrificial virtue” and the “mysterious supernatural efficacy flowing from the glorified body of Christ in heaven,” but that the former required the latter.

Justification, to be real, must also be concrete–the force and value of Christ’s merit brought nigh to the sinner as a living fact. Strange, that there should seem to be any contradiction here, between the grace which we have by Christ’s death, and the grace that comes to us through his life. Could the sacrifice of Calvary be of any avail to take away sins, if the victim there slain had not been raised again for our justification, and were not now seated at the right hand of God our Advocate and Intercessor? Would the atonement of a dead Christ be of more worth than the blood of bulls and goats, to purge the conscience from dead works and give it free access to God? Surely it is the perennial, indissoluble life of the once-crucified Redeemer, which imparts to his broken body and shed blood all their power to abolish guilt… Abstract it [the sacrifice of Christ] from this, and it becomes in truth a mere legal fiction. The atonement, in this view [Nevin’s] is a quality or property of the glorified life of the Son of man.[35]

Conclusion: Formulating Nevin’s Doctrine

Since Nevin was never particularly interested in original sin per se, he never systematically set forth his position on the subject. He says enough, however, for us to summarize a systematic position:

Adam was the natural root of the human race as well as its representative. When he sinned by eating the forbidden fruit he (1) incurred guilt, (2) lost his original righteousness, and (3) became corrupt. It is important to realize that (temporally) all of these things happened simultaneously. Obviously, he could not sin and only later lose his righteousness. Furthermore, the sin itself was the beginning of his corruption (indeed, corruption and want of original righteousness could easily be understood as different aspects of the same reality). Finally, the guilt was imputed because of the sin at the same time that the sin was committed.

Now, all Adam’s descendants who come from him by ordinary generation, come from Adam and Eve as sinners. They are guilty, lacking in righteousness, and corrupt. From this nature springs all subsequent human beings, who as separate individuals manifest this same guilt, lack of righteousness, and corruption. This corruption is simply the continuation of Adam’s first sin.[36] Thus, the guilt attending that corruption is the guilt of Adam’s first sin. All Adamites have solidarity with Adam’s sin and guilt. We are guilty, lacking in righteousness, and corrupt because we have union with Adam.

Here we see the similarities and dissimilarities, between our union with Adam and our union with Christ. We are in union with Adam simply by virtue of being human. To be a human being means simply to have acquired our nature from Adam–a corrupt nature. Personal existence is inconceivable without him. Yet Christ is communicated to us by the Holy Spirit as an alien person with an alien righteousness so that we, because we are engrafted into Him, are given justification and sanctification–His righteousness is imputed to us and His holy life is imparted to us so that we ourselves grow in holiness. There is nothing in Nevin’s presentation which renders justification a “transfusion” as in Tridentine theology.[37] The fact that the basis of justification is mystical union through the Holy Spirit does not change the fact that the nature of justification is declarative and forensic. The point simply is that there is a basis for God’s declaration–union with Christ.[38]

Further Considerations: Dabney & Nevin contra Hodge

One reason for believing that Nevin belongs to the debate within American Presbyterianism is that Dabney seems to have articulated substantially the same view of the imputation of Adam’s sin. This is especially interesting because Dabney, 1) was a partisan to the same Common Sense Philosophy as Hodge, as opposed to Nevin’s idealism; 2) publicly repudiated Calvin’s doctrine of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper; 3) considered the Mercersburg theology worthless;[39] and 4) is above reproach in loyalty to the Westminster Standards and Old-School Calvinism.[40]

Dabney declared the immediate imputation articulated by Hodge to be groundless.[41] For one, Hodge’s strict parallelism between the two Adams (argued especially from Rom 5.12-21) entailed either a denial of human depravity or of justification by faith. For, if the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is related to our actual regeneration as Hodge claimed the imputation of Adam’s sin is related to our actual corruption, then justification causes regeneration–which means either that unregenerate men can produce saving faith or that justification precedes faith.[42] Thus, Hodge’s accusation against all who disagree with him as espousing “the popish theory of justification,”[43] virtually the same accusation which he made against Nevin, does not seem all that cogent to Dabney.

Furthermore, Dabney points out that a human person is not simply “given” a nature when God brings him into being. Rather we acquire our nature from Adam, and that nature is corrupt.

There is, then, no moral nature of the first Adam to which we can be naturally united save his fallen nature.[44] To this emphatically agree the Scriptures. Gen. v. 3: “And Adam . . . . begat a son in his own likeness, after his image and called his name Seth.” 1 Cor. xv. 48, 49: “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy . . . And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” “Put off . . . the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, . . . . and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Eph. iv. 22-24.) These words, in requiring conversion, allude to the two unions; the first, corrupt; the second, holy. (Compare Col. iii. 9, 10.)[45]

The importance of this for Dabney is to show that the union we have with Adam is not a legal fiction but depends on an actual natural union. He mentions a statement by Thornwell that “each individual sinner of us had a federal existence before we were conceived; that we bore a covenanted or legal relation before we existed,”[46] but responds that if “this language means anything more than a reference to foreordination and foreknowledge about us, it is incorrect.”[47] To Dabney it is obvious that a person cannot be guilty if he does not exist. God may plan to bring a person into existence, and that person may be guilty, but it is incoherent to talk of our guilt before we were conceived.

Let the clear, convincing language of the Confession of Faith, touching the counterpart subject of justification, illustrate this statement. Chap. XI., Sec. 4: “God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect; and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification; nevertheless they are not justified until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.” By parity of reasoning, we hold that God did, from all eternity, decree to condemn all men descended from Adam by ordinary generation; and that Adam did, some time after his creation in holiness, sin and fall for them as well as for himself; nevertheless, individual fallen men are not condemned in him until such time as their existence doth actually unite them to Adam. And then it is a corrupted Adam to whom they are united.[48]

Thus, Dabney insists that, just as quickening by the Spirit is simultaneous with justifying faith, so sinful corruption and imputed guilt both occur simultaneously in every human being from the moment of conception.

Previous to his existence in Adam, he has no innocent existence personally, not for one moment, not even in the metaphysical order of thought, for he has no actual existence at all. He enters existence corrupted, as he enters it guilty. He enters it guilty, as he enters it corrupted. This is the character of the federal union between him and Adam: that Adam’s conduct should determine for his posterity precisely this result, namely, that their personal existence should absolutely begin in that moral estate and under that legal relation which Adam procured for himself; that the two elements of this result should be mutually involved and coetaneous, as they were personally in Adam.[49]

Much more could be said about Dabney’s position if it were the purpose of this paper to defend his view. For the sake of pointing out his similarity to Nevin, however, the only remaining matter that seems important enough to mention is that Dabney insists he is defending John Calvin’s view of original sin against Hodge.[50] While Nevin did not particularly appeal to Calvin for this particular doctrine (as mentioned above, his primary concern was the Lord’s Supper, not original sin), he was in general appealing to Calvin over against certain “puritan” views as they had been articulated in America.


In summary, this paper has attempted to make a prima facie case that both Nevin and Dabney share a view at odds with the “immediate imputation” of Charles Hodge, but not, as Hodge claimed in the case of Nevin, at odds with notion of forensic justification. They seem to have held, implicitly or explicitly, the following points in common against him:

1. Union with Christ [51] is the basis for the justification of believers.

2. This union is brought about through the power of the Holy Spirit at a certain point in time in a person’s life (regeneration).

3. The inception of this union not only is the basis of justification, but the beginning of sanctification.

4. This union with Christ parallels the union with Adam which all people possess.

5. Whereas, in the case of Christ, the union is a Spiritual union (= through the Holy Spirit), in the case of Adam, the union is a natural union (= through the flesh).

6. Whereas union with Christ is given to sinners who already exist, union with Adam is given by natural generation and starts their existence.

7. Though the basis for condemnation in Adam and justification in Christ are not simply legal relationships, both the condemnation and the justification arising from the respective unions are essentially legal states. To elaborate, to be justified is to be declared righteous and to be condemened to be declared unrighteous. The legal character of such declarations is not compromised by the fact that they are based on realities which are not themselves reducible to forensic concepts.

The similarities between Nevin and Dabney, despite real differences in theological and philosophical perspective, should provide additional evidence that Nevin, whatever his faults, was not simply the quasi-romanist as which Hodge attempted to portray him. The mere fact that Hodge’s depiction of Nevin as rejecting the Protestant doctrine of forensic justification was also applicable to Dabney should indicate a high probablility that Hodge was defending his own personal preferences, not the truths of the Reformation. However Nevin’s views later developed (or decayed), and no one claims he changed substantially in this area, he did not say anything in Mystical Presence that justified Hodge’s accusation that he denied forensic imputation.

While forensic notions are essential to the message of the Scripture, it is not at all clear that they are as central and exclusively all-important as Hodge seemed to want them to be. Perhaps Nevin could help us see some other aspects of the Biblical message which have been neglected in the Reformed heritage as it has been handed down to us, as well as altered, at the end of the twentieth century.

I am totally stealing this Klaas Schilder quote from Matt Colvin

When I declare — and with the pretention of the greatest accuracy in a new binding — that election is the cause and fountain of our total salvation, then I run the danger of making someone, and later the whole church, think that if election is present then the fountain is bubbling, the cause is working, and the process is on its way. “No,” says Twissus [first prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly, and a delegate at Dort], “nothing is going on yet.” He admonished the Arminians, especially Corvinus, three times not to confuse election with the execution of election. Decree and the realization of the decree are two different matters. Election is not the cause. With election, the decree is from eternity. When I merely decide to travel to Amsterdam, then nothing as yet has happened.

The cause of my coming to Amsterdam is that I finally did put on my coat, went to the railway station, and said goodbye to the silhouette of my residence.

When I decide to do something then this decision can still change for at first I did not make a decision at all, or perhaps I would have decided something different, for instance to travel to London. But in God all decisions are unchangeable, a decision or decree therefore does not change anything in Him. Nor in us. That which causes anything in us and which is thus cause and fountain of all salvation, is something which comes in time. The causes all work with and in time…

“Man, stop,” Twissus now says, “you are forgetting that the decree, strictly speaking, is not the fountain or the cause. We do not tell our children and our people, ‘you are elect, for that is what your baptism indicates and you may now conclude that the stream of God’s clear healing water has started to flow.’ No,” says Twissus, “you Arminians forget one thing. The doctrine of election is not a doctrine of causes or fountains. Causes and fountains only occur in history, in what God started in this world. For instance, and that certainly in the first place, the preaching of the Word is a cause and a fountain. That is where the fountain starts to spout water. There the cause is working…

Consequently we do not make people rely upon election, as ground and fountain, but upon the Word.

via Election is not the cause of salvation « Colvinism.