The Logic of Comfort

The folks who like to draw attention to obedience in the Christian life do not seem to consider the source of believer’s comfort. Consider the following:

Since the Bible doesn’t restrict the word “gospel” to a very precise meaning, we shouldn’t either. This is not to say that we can’t use the gospel in its narrow sense and distinguish between the gospel (what Jesus has done) and our response to the gospel (what we need to do). To do so is to distinguish between redemption accomplished and redemption applied, and that is a very helpful and necessary distinction. The point is that we shouldn’t oppose or separate them. The Bible binds them together and includes both under the term “gospel.”

Paul summarized the gospel he preached in terms of the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-5). But that is not all there is to the gospel, or even to the work of Christ. A summary of the gospel is just that—a summary—and it shouldn’t be set in direct opposition to its broader definition or fuller explanation.

There are some rather large problems that may arise when people limit the meaning of the gospel to its narrow sense. One potential problem is the unjust accusation of legalism or of mixing law and gospel. It is not necessarily legalistic to use phrases such as “living the gospel,” “obeying the gospel,” or “the conditions of the gospel.” But if you see what we do as only “law” and what Christ has done as only “gospel” then you will likely interpret the broad but biblical use of the term “gospel” as legalistic. Another potential problem is the minimization or outright denial of the conditions of the gospel, which is what the puritans called antinomianism.

If you confessed, however, the Heidelberg Catechism, what would its first answer do to efforts to make the gospel something you obey?

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

It’s not as if that assertion lacks good works. But the Holy Spirit is the one to produce good works. Obedience inevitably springs from a true faith that receives and rests on Christ. To speak of the gospel requiring good works places the burden on believers who thought they had comfort.

That may explain why in Paul’s short summary (too short for some) of the gospel in 1 Cor 15:1-5, he goes on to talk about the comfort that believers take from Christ’s finished work:

14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

So glad Paul did not write, “if Christ has not been raised, your obedience is futile and your good works don’t count for anything.”

145 thoughts on “The Logic of Comfort

  1. Some are born in the comforts of the covenant and abide in that covenant for a while but they were never elect?

    Body and soul. Some call it “confirmation bias”. Others name it “cherry-picking”. The Confessions signed by OPC clergy are not limited to the first answer of the HC.

    WCF 32–The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, arereceived into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.
    And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies,
    the Scripture acknowledgeth none.

    Selective “confessionalism” goes along with selective “biblicism” .

    I Corinthians 15: 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished

    According to the Confession, even if Christ had not been raised, we would all still have immortal souls. And by implication, this means that our souls never fall asleep or perish.

    But if we were to say that the authority of a Confession depends on interpretation, how would that be different from saying that the authority of the Bible also depends on interpretation? According to the Confessions, even those still in their sins (those who do not obey the gospel) nevertheless in the age to come continue to sin as immortal souls.

    As Satan has comforted, the soul that sins may begin to die but will never die.

    2 Thessalonians 1: 7 At the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, the Lord will take vengeance with flaming fire on those who do not know God and on those who don’t OBEY THE GOSPEL of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of lasting destruction from the Lord’s strong hand and presence 10 in that day when the Lord comes to be
    glorified by His saints and to be admired by all those who have believed

    Romans 1:5 We have received grace and apostleship through Him to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations

    Romans 10:16 But all did not OBEY THE GOSPEL . For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message?

    more from the pastor of Nashua OPC in Edinburg, Pennsylvania
    http://www.meetthepuritans.com/blog/ministry-of-condemnation

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  2. Machen, Notes on Galatians, p178–”You might conceivably be saved by works or you might be saved by faith, but you cannot be saved by both. It is ‘either or’ here not ‘both and’. The Scripture says it is by faith. Therefore it is NOT works.”

    Machen, 221 –“The works which Paul condemns are not the works which James condones…If James had had the epistles of Paul before him he would no doubt have expressed himself differently.”

    Norman Shepherd—I consider this statement of Machen to be an indictment of the Holy Spirit who inspired James.”

    https://theworldsruined.blogspot.com/2012/03/law-gospel-law.html

    I Peter 1: 17 You address as Father the One who judges impartially based on each one’s work,. You are to conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your temporary residence. 18 For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your covenant fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 Christ was chosen before the ages but was revealed at the end of the ages for you 21 who through Christ  are believers in God, who raised Christ from the dead and gave Him glory, in order that your faith and hope are in God. 22 By OBEDIENCE TO THE TRUTH

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  3. Mark McC: Some are born in the comforts of the covenant and abide in that covenant for a while but they were never elect?

    Some receive the word and believe for a while (Luke 8.13), yet are never elect.

    So where do you find assurance that you belong to Christ?

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  4. Southern Comfort is one of the least comfortable liquors I have ever known. Perhaps our friends to the south should contact our friends in Scotland to find out what true comfort tastes like.

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  5. Gross! This reminds me of another drink that’s popular “down yonder” called a Jack (Daniels) and Dew. ‘Course, in the case of mixing toxic substances like Southern Comfort and Mountain Dew I suppose it doesn’t really matter – taste, etc. is definitely not involved. But in the case of a half way decent whisky like JD it’s an abomination.

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  6. I would never mix anything with Mt. Dew, much less drink Mt. Dew. The kids like to get all hopped up on it, though. I can do a SoCo Hurricane in the summer, but that’s about it. As far as true comfort goes, Heidelberg 1 is my favorite Q&A of any confession or creed. Warm, pastoral, and full of grace. Much as people like to quote WCF 1, knowing that is well and good, but knowing HC 1 and affirming all that it embraces truly refreshes the soul. German comfort, and not Jagermeister.

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  7. Hebrews 10: 16 This is the covenant I will make with them
    after those days, says the Lord:
    I will put My laws on their hearts
    and write them on their minds,
    I will never again remember
    their sins

    My only comfort is that I now believe the gospel. I have no comfort in having been born or placed into any covenant (either one of the old covenants in the Bible or any non-biblicist invented “covenant” which includes both elect and non-elect ). I certainly do not think that it’s possible for those who never belong to Christ to obey the gospel for some while and then break the new covenant (of which Christ is the mediator) so that they will be judged according to their sins on the last day.

    Hebrews 10: 8 If anyone disregards Moses’ law, he dies without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, regarded as common the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know the One who has said, Vengeance belongs to Me, I will repay, and again, The Lord will judge His people. 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

    For every sinner, for any sinner, there is only one sacrifice that can take away sins, and it’s Christ’s propitiatory death. This does not at all mean that Christ has died for every sinner. It means that every sinner needs Christ’s death. But only the sins of the elect the Father has given the Son were imputed to the Son, and the Son has only made a propitiation for those sins. Christ’s death is not enough for every sinner, because it was never intended for every sinner. But Christ is the only propitiation there is, and if you don’t trust the Christ revealed in the gospel, then there can be no propitiation for you.

    2  Thessalonians 1: 7 At the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, the Lord will take vengeance with flaming fire on those who do not know God and on those who don’t OBEY THE GOSPEL  of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of lasting destruction from the Lord’s strong hand and presence 10 in that day when the Lord comes to be glorified by His saints and to be admired by all those who have believed

    Romans 10:16 But all did not obey the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ

    Those who find assurance of justification in the works that God will enable them to do have not yet had God’s law written in their hearts.

    Q160. What is required of those that hear the Word preached?
    A. It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer;3 examine what they hear by the Scriptures;4 receive the truth with faith, love,6 meekness,and readiness of mind,as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

    Gaffin– Our new obedience is involved. The language of requirement is used to describe the relation of these things to escaping the wrath and curse of God, which is the issue in Justification.

    https://calvinistinternational.com/2019/11/18/a-federal-vision-history/

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  8. “ My only comfort is that I now believe the gospel. “
    Glad to hear you are working so hard at that.

    “ Those who find assurance of justification in the works that God will enable them to do have not yet had God’s law written in their hearts.“
    This is false. It is plainly inconsistent with1John.

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  9. I’ll serve the Southern Comfort/Mountain Dew cocktail to my Thanksgiving guests this year.

    They will taste it and they will look at me askance, not used to such swill from my home bar. And they will ask “What is this?”

    I will answer, “I was going to call it Law and Gospel, but instead I just call it Golawspel.” And I’ll be sure to hat tip Drs. Clark and Horton.

    Then they will say, “Verily, this tastes worse than the dung of which Paul speaks in Philippians.” But knowing the people with whom I commiserate, they will probably not say “verily” or “dung.” In fact, their statement will likely be much shorter and without the Pauline reference.

    And I will say, “Exactly.”

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  10. Why does the confessional Reformed form of piety get a pass from the label of pietism? You guys are much more concerned about the more and more of sanctification than you are about the content of the Gospel. Gospel reductionists is an apt label. In reading your confessions, the confessional Reformed books that get published, and your comments at this site, one could easily conclude that your focus is more on character development and restraint than it is on knowing and understanding the biblical Gospel. How does that align with the following meteor thrown from the Johannine sky:

    25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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  11. Some more taste of the bitter honey:

    Christ suffered because he was a “light” who exposed “good deeds” as being “evil deeds”. John 3:18-20. People hated Christ because Christ told them that they could not keep the law even with grace. Christ had no respect for their law-keeping, even though they claimed to have done it by grace. Christ had no respect for their keeping the law by grace, even though they were careful to testify that what they did was not enough by itself. Those who claimed to keep the law by grace would have respected Christ as Messiah if only He had been partial to their good deeds, and factored these deeds into the assurance equation. But Christ was not.

    John 7: 7: “The world” HATES me,. The world that claims to keep the law by grace hates the true God who tells us that we must hate or come to hate our lawkeeping or else hate God. There is no “balance” here: no place for moderation, no “in between”. To not hate God, we have to take sides with God against ourselves, and not expect to ever by grace keep God’s law.

    John 7:7 “they hate me because I testify of the world that its works are evil.” Its good works are evil. John 7:24 “Do not judge by outward appearances, but judge with righteous judgment.” Judge yourself and others by knowing that God requires a perfect righteousness and that only those who submit to the gospel have that perfect righteousness.

    Why are the Galatians tempted to try to keep the law by grace? If they do, they will be respected for their sincerity and intention and THEY WILL NOT SUFFER PERSECUTION from others trying to do the same thing. To say that the cross is the only difference is to suffer. To add keeping the law by grace on to the cross will cause the suffering to go away.

    To say that those who add on are under the curse (as Paul says) is to make lots of enemies. It will not flatter the people who pay your salary if you tell them that paying your salary (by grace) plays no part in satisfying God’s law.

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  12. John,

    I would agree with your content in the above. Especially I would agree with the following:

    “Those who claimed to keep the law by grace would have respected Christ as Messiah if only He had been partial to their good deeds, and factored these deeds into the assurance equation. But Christ was not.”

    Although it is unclear to me whether the Pharisees thought of themselves as keeping the law by grace or simply keeping it. Perhaps the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector gets at the idea of keeping the law by grace?

    Regardless: The curse of the law falls on all who seek to be justified by the law, whether they “keep it by grace” or no.

    I also agree with this:

    “There is no “balance” here: no place for moderation, no “in between”. To not hate God, we have to take sides with God against ourselves, and not expect to ever by grace keep God’s law.”

    I think that Galatians is sufficiently clear that both law-keeping (Gal 3) and antinomian behavior (Gal 5) are fruits of the flesh. Thus, there is no moderation between legalism and license; both lie on a spectrum of fleshly behavior.

    And I agree with this:

    “To say that those who add on are under the curse (as Paul says) is to make lots of enemies.”

    Thus it has ever been. Saddest conversation I ever had with my neighbor is when he told me that the Gospel means that “God gives us a second chance.”

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  13. What is your take on this as a Reformed explanation of the law/gospel antithesis?

    1. Those whom God effectually calleth he also freely justifieth;a not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous: not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them,b they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.c

    a. Rom 3:24; 8:30. • b. Jer 23:6; Rom 3:22, 24-25, 27-28; 4:5-8; 5:17-19; 1 Cor 1:30-31; 2 Cor 5:19, 21; Eph 1:7; Titus 3:5, 7. • c. Acts 10:44; 13:38-39; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:7-8; Phil 3:9.

    6. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works: so as a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.

    a. Acts 13:39; Rom 6:14; 8:1; Gal 2:16; 3:13; 4:4-5. • b. Psa 119:4-6; Rom 7:12, 22, 25; 1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:14, 16, 18-23. • c. Rom 3:20; 7:7. • d. Rom 7:9, 14, 24; James 1:23-25. • e. Rom 7:24-25; 8:3-4; Gal 3:24. • f. Psa 119:101, 104, 128; James 2:11. • g. Ezra 9:13-14; Psa 89:30-34. • h. Lev 26:1, 10; 26:14 with 2 Cor 6:16; Psa 19:11; 37:11 with Mat 5:5; Eph 6:2-3. • i. Luke 17:10; Gal 2:16. • j. Rom 6:12, 14; Heb 12:28-29; 1 Pet 3:8-12 with Psa 34:12-16.

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  14. Jeff,

    While you address John on the “law and gospel”, let me also ask a question which I think is also relevant to “law and gospel”. What do you think of the following passage? Do you agree with its view?

    “We found that God reveals himself as not taking pleasure in or desiring the death of those who die but rather as taking pleasure in or desiring the repentance and life of the wicked. This will of God to repentance and salvation is universalized and reveals to us, therefore, that there is in God a benevolent lovingkindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those whom he has not decreed to save. This pleasure, will, desire is expressed in the universal call to repentance.

    “The full and free offer of the gospel is a grace bestowed upon all. Such grace is necessarily a manifestation of love or lovingkindness in the heart of God. And this lovingkindness is revealed to be of a character or kind that is correspondent with the grace bestowed. The grace offered is nothing less than salvation in its richness and fulness. The love or lovingkindness that lies back of that offer is not anything less; it is the will to that salvation. In other words, it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work whom God offers in the gospel. The loving and benevolent will that is the source of that offer and that grounds its veracity and reality is the will to the possession of Christ and the enjoyment of the salvation that resides in him.”

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  15. Jeff,

    Paragraph 1) I think you know that I don’t think that paragraph is clear enough about three issues. First, I think the obedience and satisfaction of Christ is his propitiating, expiating and atoning death on the cross not his obedient law keeping. The death on the cross is what satisfied and fulfilled God’s law. Second, this death fulfilled and satisfied the law for the elect alone. Third, the paragraph is not clear on when and how, in the order of salvation, the imputation of Christ’s death becomes united to the elect individual.

    Paragraph 6) Again, I don’t think this paragraph is sufficiently clear about some important issues. First, the justified elect are still commanded to obey New Covenant law as directed from Jesus the New Covenant law maker. Do the elect have the ability to obey these commands? That question is worthy of debate but personally, I don’t think our mortal bodies have that capability until they are clothed with immortality.

    Second, the focus of the paragraph is on the “sinful pollution’s of our nature, heart and lives” and not on our imputed guilt from Adam and our guilt from our continual and habitual law breaking. This causes one to think that the main problem post justification and conversion is a pollution problem rather than a guilt problem. The perceived remedy to the problem then becomes the work of the Spirit rather than a continual reckoning of dying with Christ.

    Third, blessings can never come from obedience to the law because I personally don’t think we can obey God’s law perfectly. I guess it could be drbated if the Scriptures really teach that. I believe that blessings can only come to the elect because the elect alone are united to Christ’s death. Another worthy debate could be in regards to what those actual blessings are.

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  16. JY: Second, the focus of the paragraph is on the “sinful pollution’s of our nature, heart and lives” and not on our imputed guilt from Adam and our guilt from our continual and habitual law breaking. This causes one to think that the main problem post justification and conversion is a pollution problem rather than a guilt problem. The perceived remedy to the problem then becomes the work of the Spirit rather than a continual reckoning of dying with Christ.

    I don’t understand. Are you suggesting that post-justification, we are still guilty of Adam’s sin?

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  17. Jeff,

    No, the elect Gospel believers are not still guilty of Adams imputed guilt. The elect, at justification and conversion, are placed into Christ’s death and therefore are no longer in Adam but are in Christ. However, the elect never perfectly obey the law of God so they continue to be habitual law breakers while in these bodies of mortality. At least that is the way I understand the relevant biblical texts. I see two legal states in the biblical texts not two nature’s.

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  18. Tianqi:

    Good question. Your citation comes from the OPC report on the free offer, which is worth reading in full. It addresses the most difficult species in the family of questions: “Can God want something that does not come to pass?”

    At first blush, the answer is clearly No, since no one can resist God’s will. But on deeper look, is a wrinkle.

    God clearly and explicitly wills (thelei) some things that do not come to pass. This is usually referred to as the distinction between God’s decrees and God’s commands, His decreetal or secret will, and His revealed will.

    Two examples come from 1 Thessalonians:

    It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

    Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

    It might be argued that just because God commands something is not evidence that He wants it to come to pass (Hoeksema so argues). But in Thessalonians, He explicitly states that giving thanks in all things is His desire, as is refraining from sexual immorality.

    Consider further the fall of Adam. Did God want for Adam to resist the temptation? On the one hand, He did not so decree. On the other hand, He explicitly said “Do not eat the fruit.” His desire was clear, and had Adam sufficiently loved God, he would have refrained out of deference for God’s express desire.

    And again, Jesus’ words to his disciples: If you love me, keep my commandments. It would strain credulity to argue that Christ does not want the commandments kept.

    So it is clear that God desires — in some sense — things that He also decrees will not come to pass.

    The standard Reformed explanation is that God can properly said to will something by precept if He commands it, but to will it by decree if He purposes to bring it to pass.

    The OPC report on the Free Offer refers God’s desires for the salvation of all to His preceptual will, in connection with His commands to all to repent and believe.

    What would be the counterargument?

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  19. @JY & JC
    I hope I don’t lead this thread off the rails, but I do have a lot of questions in light of what JY has written. I’d be interested in your input to see what I am misunderstanding here.

    JY wrote, “However, the elect never perfectly obey the law of God so they continue to be habitual law breakers while in these bodies of mortality.” I agree with the first half of this sentence. The elect never perfectly obey the law, but I don’t see how the second half follows. There is a difference between occasionally breaking the law (i.e., not perfectly obeying it) and habitually breaking the law. Consider this from 1 John 2:

    My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

    Now earlier you were saying that if we believe that by keeping his commandments we gain assurance, then we are not of the elect. Yet this appears to be exactly what John is saying. I’d be interested in getting your take on this.

    Regarding the passages you provided above –

    25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    I think we all agree that no one can come to know the Father unless the Son reveals Him. I think we also all agree that believing the Gospel brings rest for our souls. Maybe you can explain what I’m missing here. My criticism of your stance is that you have replaced the demand for moral perfectionism advocated by the holiness tradition with a demand for intellectual perfectionism. The way I understand what you’ve been saying is that to misunderstand any aspect of the Gospel is to believe a false Gospel and thus not be one of the elect. Am I misreading you?

    Christ suffered because he was a “light” who exposed “good deeds” as being “evil deeds”. John 3:18-20. People hated Christ because Christ told them that they could not keep the law even with grace. Christ had no respect for their law-keeping, even though they claimed to have done it by grace. Christ had no respect for their keeping the law by grace, even though they were careful to testify that what they did was not enough by itself. Those who claimed to keep the law by grace would have respected Christ as Messiah if only He had been partial to their good deeds, and factored these deeds into the assurance equation. But Christ was not.

    John 7: 7: “The world” HATES me,. The world that claims to keep the law by grace hates the true God who tells us that we must hate or come to hate our lawkeeping or else hate God. There is no “balance” here: no place for moderation, no “in between”. To not hate God, we have to take sides with God against ourselves, and not expect to ever by grace keep God’s law.

    Any yet Paul tells us that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Perhaps the problem according to Paul is lack of faith. What is your basis for saying that those who claimed to keep the law by grace would have respected Christ as Messiah? I don’t see that juxtaposition anywhere in scripture.

    John 7:7 “they hate me because I testify of the world that its works are evil.” Its good works are evil. John 7:24 “Do not judge by outward appearances, but judge with righteous judgment.” Judge yourself and others by knowing that God requires a perfect righteousness and that only those who submit to the gospel have that perfect righteousness.

    Right. The world’s works are evil – everything they do is evil because it does not proceed from true faith. I agree that God requires perfect righteousness that only he can provide and those that believe the gospel have that perfect righteousness. What is the consequence of that? John tells us that we no longer walk in darkness. Earlier, you said that this means that we are no longer counted unrighteous, but that our behavior and nature does not change. Was I understanding you correctly? I don’t understand how to make that reading with John’s state purpose that he writes what he does so that we won’t sin.

    Why are the Galatians tempted to try to keep the law by grace? If they do, they will be respected for their sincerity and intention and THEY WILL NOT SUFFER PERSECUTION from others trying to do the same thing. To say that the cross is the only difference is to suffer. To add keeping the law by grace on to the cross will cause the suffering to go away.

    Who said that the Galatians were tempted to keep the law by grace or that such an attempt would save them from persecution?

    To say that those who add on are under the curse (as Paul says) is to make lots of enemies. It will not flatter the people who pay your salary if you tell them that paying your salary (by grace) plays no part in satisfying God’s law.

    Add on what? To say that those who are justified must run the race with endurance is also a way to make a lot of enemies evidently.

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  20. JY: No, the elect Gospel believers are not still guilty of Adams imputed guilt. The elect, at justification and conversion, are placed into Christ’s death and therefore are no longer in Adam but are in Christ

    Ok. So it’s fair to say that post-justification, guilt is no longer a problem.

    JY: However, the elect never perfectly obey the law of God so they continue to be habitual law breakers while in these bodies of mortality.

    Yes! Which is why even our good deeds are tainted in themselves. Here is where imputation becomes important: our deeds are evaluated *in Christ* and not on their own merits. This is why the author to the Hebrews among others can speak of God rewarding the works of believers (Heb 6.10)

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  21. What would be the counterargument?

    The minority report against the shibboleth was included in the report on “offer” above.

    http://reformedpresbyterianveritasdocuments.blogspot.com/2009/01/free-offer-of-gospel-dr-william-young.html#more

    “To combine these passages and to add texts like Matthew 5:45 which do not refer to the way of salvation, but common mercies like rain and sunshine, is hardly to present cumulative evidence for a thesis nowhere plainly taught in Scripture, and contrary to Scripture when intended to conflict with the immutability of God’s counsel. The accumulation of a series of zeros, however elaborated, is, after all, only zero.
    “The desire to avoid extremes in declaring the truth is no doubt commendable, but yielding to the tempting claims of the opposite extreme even in minor matters has proved repeatedly in the history of the Church to be a step in the downward path to apostasy. The rampant evils of Arminianism among Evangelicals and Amyraldianism among Calvinists are only encouraged by adopting and even stressing the pet slogans with which they attack or obscure the doctrines of grace. Strangely, one favorite text of those who have throughout the history of Christianity insisted that God wants all men to be saved is not appealed to at present by Calvinists who use such expressions. Can it be that they realize that to take 1 Timothy 2:4 in a universalistic sense requires understanding verses 5 and 6 to teach a universal atonement, even if the will in 2:4 were taken as simply the will of command? Exegetically, as well as systematically, the thesis of Amyraldian universal grace issues in the assertion of universal redemption.”

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  22. Mark, the minority report suffers two fatal flaws.

    First, it assumes without proof that God cannot desire things that He also decrees not to come to pass.

    But the passages above clearly show otherwise.

    OP alleges that this introduces a contradiction in God’s mentality. Nonsense. It might, for example, be the case that God has a hierarchy of preferences. Or it might be the case that God’s ways are beyond our understanding entirely.

    We do not have enough information about God’s psychology to declare with confidence that there is a contradiction in asserting that God desires things He decrees not to come to pass. We *do* have enough information to say that God desires that we abstain from sexual immorality.

    Second, and related, OP assumes without proof that God can command something be done without desiring that it be done. But this is absurd, and it leads to an antinomian conclusion: that God’s law is no reflection whatsoever of His will.

    So let me rephrase: where is any sound counterargument?

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  23. Sbd,

    The whole world is now under New Covenant law. The whole world is obligated to obey New Covenant commands. Obligation does not imply ability. Anyone who can read the Sermon on the Mount and then say they are only occasional law breakers in thought, word and deed is habitually blinded, deluded and in denial of his human condition before a holy God. The only hope for the elect and non-elect is the cross of Christ imputed. To add our Spirit enabled faith works to the work of Christ on the cross is to believe a false Gospel. Saying that, I think Tianqi makes a compelling case in how to reconcile faith and works from the book of James. I will defer to him to explain if he so desires.

    I think you badly misinterpret the book of 1 John because of your assumptions about regeneration, sanctification, and what the Apostle John meant by obeying the command of Jesus. The Gospel of John clearly explains that obeying the command is believing the Gospel. To walk in the Spirit is to continue to believe the Gospel. Your main assumption is that regeneration is an implantation of a new nature that breaches the power of sin and then enables the Spirit to progressively sanctify or mortify the old nature and grow the new nature. I don’t believe that assumption anymore. I did believe that before I was taught a different doctrine. Now I believe that the old man is the old legal state in Adam and the new man is the new legal state in Christ. When you start reading the Scriptures with that assumption you come to a whole different interpretive grid. That grid gives priority to the propitiating, expiating, and substitutionary atoning work of Christ as the breach over the power of sin. You don’t progress past the reckoning of that truth.

    Lastly, I think your accusation about a legalistic
    intellectual perfectionism is nonsense. I think the only thing we have been saying is that you have to include the following in the teaching of the Gospel: election, definitive atonement, and legal impuation into the death of Christ as the cause of the effectual call of the Gospel. Is that intellectual perfectionism? No, that is necessary content in order to understand what the Gospel is.

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  24. JY: Lastly, I think your accusation about a legalistic intellectual perfectionism is nonsense. I think the only thing we have been saying is that you have to include the following in the teaching of the Gospel: definitive atonement, and legal impuation into the death of Christ as the cause of the effectual call of the Gospel.

    I agree with sdb. You have not merely said that Gospel preaching must include definitive atonement and imputation as cause of effectual call. You have also said that whoever does not believe those things does not believe the gospel and is not saved.

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  25. Tru-dat, Jeff. If you don’t teach that Jesus was imputed with the sins of the elect alone during his incarnation and justly satisfied the law for those sins of the elect alone when he died on the cross than you are teaching a different Gospel than the Gospel revealed in the Scriptures. Teaching that Jesus died for everybody, either hypothetically or otherwise, ends up conditioning justification on something other or more than the outside righteousness of Christ. The object of saving faith then has to become something more than what Christ got accomplished at the cross for his elect people. To quote McMark: ”

    https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10218190985943779&id=1163211513

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  26. I find it odd that any confessional Reformed person would take a stand against doctrinal precision, or, as Sdb calls it, intellectual perfectionism. I just finished reading DGH’s book,DEFENDING THE FAITH, and Machen was accused of the very same thing by the fundamentalists and liberals who were opposing him. What’s up with that? If I am remembering correctly he was also opposed to a Gospel reductionism that sought to find the least common denominators in defining Gospel issues in order to keep the peace within the denomination. He had no problem rocking the boat over critical theological issues and controversies.

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  27. @ JY:

    Your confusion stems from overlooking the difference between what should be taught and what must be believed to be saved. That was evident in our exchange above:

    JRC: You have not merely said that Gospel preaching must include definitive atonement and imputation as cause of effectual call. You have also said that whoever does not believe those things does not believe the gospel and is not saved.

    JY: If you don’t teach that Jesus was imputed with the sins of the elect alone during his incarnation and justly satisfied the law for those sins of the elect alone when he died on the cross than you are teaching a different Gospel than the Gospel revealed in the Scriptures

    You’re equating standards for teachers (which is also what concerned Machen) to what must be believed to be saved.

    But your confusion also stems from failing to attend to Machen’s central point: Scripture alone is the word of God.

    To Scripture, you have added a whole theoretical structure that includes several points that are debatable, and you have made those points tests of saving faith. Boo-hiss.

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  28. Jeff, then tell this confused one what should be taught and what must be believed to be saved. While you are at it you might want to inform me as to the theoretical structure I have added that is not a valid and necessary inference from the Scriptures.

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  29. @ John:

    Unsurprisingly, I think the Confession ought to be taught. But as to what is necessary to believe to be saved: What does the Scripture say? Let’s talk about the Gospel as taught in the Scripture.

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  30. “To add our Spirit enabled faith works to the work of Christ on the cross is to believe a false Gospel.”
    No one is adding to the work of Christ on the cross. The claim is that the work of Christ on the cross affects change in the believer. Not that the effected change merits anything.

    ”I think you badly misinterpret the book of 1 John because of your assumptions about regeneration, sanctification, and what the Apostle John meant by obeying the command of Jesus. ”
    No doubt. That’s why I asked the questions I asked.

    “The Gospel of John clearly explains that obeying the command is believing the Gospel.“
    Where?

    ”To walk in the Spirit is to continue to believe the Gospel.”
    Where does scripture say that

    ”Your main assumption is that regeneration is an implantation of a new nature that breaches the power of sin and then enables the Spirit to progressively sanctify or mortify the old nature and grow the new nature.”
    This isn’t an assumption. It is an inference. Namely that our heart of stone has been replaced with a heart of flesh enabling us to believe something we couldn’t believe before.

    ”I don’t believe that assumption anymore. I did believe that before I was taught a different doctrine. Now I believe that the old man is the old legal state in Adam and the new man is the new legal state in Christ. When you start reading the Scriptures with that assumption you come to a whole different interpretive grid.”
    And that is a problem. This assumption is just that. You’ve assumed your conclusion and done violence to the plain meaning of scripture.

    “That grid gives priority to the propitiating, expiating, and substitutionary atoning work of Christ as the breach over the power of sin. You don’t progress past the reckoning of that truth.”
    You don’t just give it priority, you give it exclusive place. Of course it is substitutionary work of Christ that accomplishes all for the believer.

    ”Lastly, I think your accusation about a legalistic
    intellectual perfectionism is nonsense. I think the only thing we have been saying is that you have to include the following in the teaching of the Gospel: election, definitive atonement, and legal impuation into the death of Christ as the cause of the effectual call of the Gospel. Is that intellectual perfectionism? No, that is necessary content in order to understand what the Gospel is.”

    Really? That is not all you’ve been saying. McMark just asserted that if you find assurance in your fruit, you aren’t saved. Secondly, your summary of the gospel does not include any of the elements that Paul taught was of first importance. No where in the NT are errors on these topics called out or clarified. They are your priority, not the NT’s. Your reference to Galatians that you use to support your stance on doctrinal perfectionism, is misguided. Paul has in mind errors over justification, not election, atonement, or proper definition of sanctification.

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  31. @ JY: As to the theoretical structure you (and McMark) have added, it consists in this. You seem to hold that:

    * Unless one believes that imputation is the cause of faith, one is not saved.
    * Unless one believes that the atonement was definite, one is not saved.
    * If one believes that the “new man” in Paul’s letters refers to a new nature bestowed upon justification, one undermines justification by grace alone.
    * If one believes in paedobaptism, one undermines justification by grace alone.

    There’s more, but that’s the center of the issue.

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  32. Sbd says:. “No one is adding to the work of Christ on the cross. The claim is that the work of Christ on the cross affects change in the believer. Not that the effected change merits anything.”

    John Y:. What I hear you saying is that faith is what unites the person to the work of Christ on the cross and after this uniting by faith there is change. Faith is thus the vital union. That is the main assumption that we have been disagreeing with for about 7 years now. What I am trying to communicate is that God the Father has to place the elect individual into the death of Christ before the Spirit can generate faith in the individual. God’s wrath on inherited guilt and sin has to be propitiated and expiated before the Spirit can change the Stony heart into a heart of flesh. Faith is thus not the vital union. The vital union is God the Father legally placing or baptizing the individual into Christ’s death and counting Christ’s death as the elect individuals death. The cross does not affect subjective change. The cross satisfies God’s justice by fulfilling the law. The Spirit then affects the subjective change on the mind.

    You also want to say that this change of mind is a change of nature. I’m saying that the change of legal state allows the Spirit to change the mind and will in order to believe the gospel.

    How do you think the cross affects change? What are the specific changes you think the cross affects? I don’t understand where you are coming from when you say the cross affects change.

    That is all I am going comment on for now.

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  33. This change of legal state (from in Adam, the old man to in Christ, the new man) is necessary for the Spirit to generate faith in the Gospel. If it is the Spirit that determines the elect and the non-elect then why would the atoning work of Christ be necessary? It is the atonement that is the determining factor not the work of the Spirit. The justice of the cross is really the only way one can gain any kind of assurance from the just wrath of God. Understanding the sufficiency of the cross for the elect alone is what separates the true gospel from the large variety of false gospels.

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  34. McCulley speaking to Calvinists who want to continue to believe that Arminians who believe in a universal atonement can be justified and saved from the wrath of God:

    “But if assurance is found in knowing and believing the gospel, why is this reactionary gospel error so determined to say that people already justified are still believing the false gospel that the flesh believes?
    What is the practical point of reacting to Arminianism by down-playing the significance of justification?
    If those already justified are still practically seen as unholy because of their not knowing the gospel yet, what is the day to day consequence of putting all the focus on regeneration (which happens now) and NOT on justification (which according to their error could not possibly happen now)? Why are these guys insisting on their view of the nature of justification, but in the day to day not bothering with any implications of their view? Do they want to speak only comfort and peace to everybody?”

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  35. “What I hear you saying is that faith is what unites the person to the work of Christ on the cross and after this uniting by faith there is change.”

    I don’t think I said anything about faith here. How did you hear that I was addressing the means by which one is united to Christ rather than the effect of the believer being united to Christ.

    “Faith is thus the vital union. That is the main assumption that we have been disagreeing with for about 7 years now.”
    I don’t think I was part of those earlier conversations, but whatever the case I don’t understand what you mean by “vital union”. Generally when we talk about causes we have in mind four interrelated concepts- material, formal, efficient, and final cause. Rather than clarify the relationship of the events that bring about union by organizing the relationship of these events into the proper class of causation, you set up these causes in tension as if one should take priority. But scripture never does this. Scripture describes the causes of our union in all these ways. But I really don’t see how this conversation advances our understanding of the question on the table… what changes when we are united to Christ?

    “What I am trying to communicate is that God the Father has to place the elect individual into the death of Christ before the Spirit can generate faith in the individual. God’s wrath on inherited guilt and sin has to be propitiated and expiated before the Spirit can change the Stony heart into a heart of flesh. Faith is thus not the vital union. The vital union is God the Father legally placing or baptizing the individual into Christ’s death and counting Christ’s death as the elect individuals death.”
    Fine. I agree. But so what? What does any of that have to do with what change is being described by the metaphor of a new heart.

    “The cross does not affect subjective change. The cross satisfies God’s justice by fulfilling the law. The Spirit then affects the subjective change on the mind.”
    Right. The Spirit is the efficient cause and the cross is the material cause. But how does that entail whether the change that the Spirit effects is only a change of legal state or a change of nature (I.e. the ability to do something you couldn’t do before). I gather that there is tension in your stance – you have said that all that has changed is one’s legal state. What you can do (e.g., follow the NT imperatives) doesn’t change. On the other hand, one can only believe the gospel if one is so changed, and one believes the gospel perfectly if one is changed. Why one can believe this NT imperative perfectly and no others remains unclear. What am I missing here?

    You also want to say that this change of mind is a change of nature. I’m saying that the change of legal state allows the Spirit to change the mind and will in order to believe the gospel.

    How do you think the cross affects change? What are the specific changes you think the cross affects? I don’t understand where you are coming from when you say the cross affects change.

    That is all I am going comment on for now.

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  36. John and Mark,

    If an Arminian is elect, he or she will be justified without needing to secure your approval.

    And that’s the point: You have become so certain in the necessity of your view that you have forgotten to ask whether the Scripture requires the same things you do. John, when I asked you where the Scripture teaches that imputation precedes faith, you responded with McMark.

    Cards on the table: I’m concerned that your ministry, Mark, has taken on some cult-like aspects.

    * You emphasize highly esoteric doctrines that are supposedly necessary for salvation, yet are practically unknown outside a very narrow circle.
    * You encourage distrust of the visible church.
    * You are evasive.
    * You observe that your proteges endlessly repeat your teachings, yet you do not discourage their adulation.
    * Behind the scenes, you create distrust by insinuations about the motives of others. You actively encourage your proteges to have contempt for others, to view them as purveyors of a false gospel and unsaved.

    God’s grace does not look like these things. Cults do look like those things. Whatever your original intent, where you have landed is unhealthy.

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  37. Jeff,

    1) “The standard Reformed explanation is that God can properly said to will something by precept if He commands it, but to will it by decree if He purposes to bring it to pass.”

    “The OPC report on the Free Offer refers God’s desires for the salvation of all to His preceptual will, in connection with His commands to all to repent and believe.”

    This is why I said the “Free Offer” is related to the Law-gospel distinction. God’s Law promises “do this and you shall live”. The preacher of Law pleads with the hearer: “I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life”.

    By refering the (alleged) “God’s desire for the salvation of all” to God’s *will of command* – and making this the basis of the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel – the “Free Offer” preaches a new law as the gospel. It preaches a promise of “do this and you shall live”, accompanied by a plea to “therefore choose life”. The “Free Offer” preaches a justification *conditioned* on the hearer’s *obedience to a command*.

    No matter what good and true things the preacher might say about “Christ and him crucified”, if the preacher ends with saying this “finished work” is offered to all and forgiveness of sins is *conditioned* on one’s taking the offer, then the message conveyed is that “Christ and him crucified” are some good raw materials for sinners to finalize into their righteousness by their response to the offer.

    To a person who sincerely believed the “Free Offer” (without having learned any “advanced theology” like God having another secret will and Christ only died for the elect), no matter how great the work of Christ is supposed to be, it can do nothing for me apart from my accepting it, thus implying my “coming with an empty hand” is even more important in my relationship with God than the Mediator’s cross-work.

    Thus, this message does not, in fact, preach a finished righteousness that is Christ and him crucified, but a righteousness still in the making by the sinner’s obedience to a command.

    2) I do not deny that God commands all to believe the gospel, but this command does not convey God’s desire to save the hearer. As explained above, connecting the command to believe with God’s desire to save, as “Free Offer” does, is a fatal move of turning the gospel into a new law, and a profane presentation of the Mediator’s offering as a pedestal to be topped by sinner’s evangelical obedience.

    The command for all to believe the gospel does not imply a universal offer of salvation, but is simply a universal obligation to honor God as he revealed himself. Just as God commanded all to honor him as Creator of all things, God also commands all to honor him as the Redeemer of his elect.

    Thus, the gospel never offers salvation to the non-elect, not even on a condition they won’t be enabled to fulfill. Rather, the gospel promises salvation to the elect only, with no condition on their part, not even a condition they will be enabled to fulfill.

    This also means “who are the elect?” is an unavoidable question, and indeed it is explicitly addressed by the gospel. The gospel claims itself to be the means of God’s gracious calling of his elect, so that as many as chosen by the grace revealed in this gospel will believe the gospel and as many as believing the gospel is justified by the righteousness revealed in the gospel, so that even their faith in the gospel is a part of the everlasting life resulting from this grace reigning through this righteousness.

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  38. Jeff,

    This is my second comment in response to your comments on OPC majority report on “Free Offer”. I make a separate comment because it will be from a different angle.

    “God clearly and explicitly wills (thelei) some things that do not come to pass. This is usually referred to as the distinction between God’s decrees and God’s commands, His decretal or secret will, and His revealed will.”

    While I do not dispute a distinction between God’s preceptive will and God’s decretal will, or between God’s secret and revealed will, but

    1) Some of God’s decretal will has also been revealed.

    2) God’s preceptive will, which is *nothing but God’s Law*, is not ultimately frustrated, because this is exactly what Jesus came to fulfill, as he declares himself.

    Matthew 5:17-18 Do not think that I came to annul the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to annul, but to fulfill. Truly I say to you, Until the heaven and the earth pass away, in no way shall one iota or one point pass away from the Law until all comes to pass.

    Obviously, men have broken the Law, so how can the Law – God’s preceptive will – be completely fulfilled?

    a) In regard to the legal retribution of God’s Law, it is fulfilled in Christ’s death for the elect, and in the judgment at Christ’s second coming for the non-elect;

    b) In regard to the moral vision of God’s Law, it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God brought about by the redemption in Christ, which begins now in justification by faith and will be consummated at the second coming of Christ.

    God’s Law, with its universal commands/obligations/threats, does not express God’s desire that a specific hearer to be righteous, but God’s desire that the righteous prosper and the wicked be destroyed.

    God’s preceptive will expresses *what God values in a human being*, but it does not show that God desires a particular human to be an honorable vessel. The complete fulfillment of God’s preceptive will does not depend on that every human being created by God shall be pleasing to God, but only that those who please God shall prosper and those who do not please him shall be destroyed.

    The revelation that God desires specific humans to be righteous is not from God’s Law (preceptive will) but from God’s promises (revealed decretal will), which is fulfilled in Christ, and most clearly announced in the apostolic gospel – unconditional election, particular redemption, justification by faith.

    In fact, God does not desire all humans he created to be righteous, to be an honorable vessel. To the contrary, he desires some humans he created to die in their sins, to be dishonorable vessels, in order to manifest his power and wrath. This is the flip side of double predestination.

    Proverbs 16:4 Jehovah has made all for His purpose, yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.

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  39. Jeff,

    I won’t make any more comments. Tianqi and McMark explain what you call “esoteric doctrines” and a “theoretical structure” more clearly than I do. Just because the doctrines and structure are in opposition to some of the doctrines and the theoretical structure of the Reformed confessions you are now claiming the doctrines and structure are functioning in a cult like manner. I quote McCulley because I think he has thought through the implications of the confessional Reformed doctrines a lot more thoroughly and with greater understanding and insight. I’m not venerating him or following what he is saying blindly and without question. He willingly answers questions and has even answered your questions with numerous quotes from the Scriptures. You still claim that your positions are more Scripturally sound. I have begged to differ over and over again. The accusation that you guys venerate the Confessional Statements in a cult like manner could be thrown your way too. Boo hiss.

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  40. TW,

    You are missing what are commonly called the evangelical conditions of the gospel. Christ’s work won’t save anyone without their fulfilling the conditions of faith and repentance. The specific work of Christ for the elect guarantees that they will fulfill those conditions, thus faith is not of us. Nevertheless those conditions remain. The gospel can be offered freely to all with a command of faith and repentance. After all, Jesus said “Come to me all ye who are weak and heavy laden…” That’s all people, though only the elect will recognize their need of Christ and that only because of divine election and the work of Christ only for the elect.

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  41. Tianqi: This is why I said the “Free Offer” is related to the Law-gospel distinction. God’s Law promises “do this and you shall live”. The preacher of Law pleads with the hearer: “I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life”.

    By refering the (alleged) “God’s desire for the salvation of all” to God’s *will of command* – and making this the basis of the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel – the “Free Offer” preaches a new law as the gospel.

    That’s one scenario, the Arminian scenario. And we agree that it turns the gospel into law.

    There are others that do not. Paul apparently believed one such, since he both stated that “it does not depend on the will of man, but on God who chooses”, and also told the jailer indiscriminately “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”

    The difficulty with your analysis is that you conflate free offer with man’s will being the deciding factor in salvation. It should be fairly obvious that the OPC does not sign onto the second even as it embraces the first.

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  42. TW: God’s preceptive will, which is *nothing but God’s Law*, is not ultimately frustrated.

    Interesting shift in terms. I said “God clearly wills things that He decrees not to come to pass.” You respond with “God’s will is not ultimately frustrated.”

    Those do not seem to be equivalent phrases. Left unanswered are

    (1) Does 1 Thess indeed indicate that God wants all believers to rejoice and to abstain from immorality?

    If so, then your analysis is non-responsive. If not, then why does Paul use those words?

    (2) Should we not assume that if God commands something, He wants to be obeyed?

    You agree that God commands faith. Are you suggesting that He commands faith but desires disobedience? Why then was He displeased with David?

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  43. @Robert: yes. And further, faith saves not by fulfilling the command, but by instrumentally receiving Christ and His benefits.

    So the command to believe operates in a non-parallel fashion for the non-elect and elect. The non-elect are judged “because they have not believed in the Son of God.” The elect are justified through, not because of, faith.

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  44. Jeff,

    The issue with “free offer” is not merely a possible implication of “free will”. The Law-gospel distinction is not upheld simply by explicitly teaching that God chooses and enables a person to obey a command that is the (supposed) condition of life.

    Divine sovereignty does not remove human responsibility, whether in obedience or disobedience. This means even if it is God’s grace that enables me to do something, it is still me rather than God who is morally responsible (praiseworthy or blameworthy) for that act.

    The only way I can be “outside the picture” is by substitution, which involves two imputations, one that happened in Christ’s lifetime, the imputation of my guilt to him, and one that happens in my lifetime, the imputation of his death for my guilt to me.

    There can be no positive interaction between me and God until this death is imputed to me, not only because I haven’t been given the power to believe, but because there can be no positive interaction between a guilty man and the holy God – and this applies not only to the Father, but to the Son, and Holy Spirit.

    (Moreover, if there could be some positive interaction between me and God before the imputation of Christ’s death, even as a condition for the imputation of Christ’s death, then this interaction would be more fundamental than whatever is “imputed” to me in the establishing of my positive relationship with God. This is a denial of “Christ and him crucified” as the only righteousness of the elect. )

    Yet, the preaching of gospel is first of all towards such guilty men that cannot have a positive interaction with the holy God. How can this be?

    “Free Offer” is the *wrong* answer to this question, because it assumes guilty men can interact positively with the holy God, to accept or reject his offer. “Free Offer” assumes the gospel is a meeting place where the offended God is *negotiating* with his enemies.

    But this is impossible for reasons stated before. The right answer is that the preaching of the gospel is not an interaction, a meeting of negotiation, thus not a offer to be accepted or rejected by sinners, but a unilateral proclamation of God’s promise to justify as many sinners as he will call, for the sole reason that Christ died for them and he imputes that death to them at the time of calling them to the gospel.

    Thus, the obedience to the command to believe is not a condition of imputation or justification, but a result of imputation, along with justification. When Christ’s death is imputed to the elect, the result is the blessings of life, both legal life (justification) and spiritual life (regeneration and faith).

    Romans 6:4 Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so also we should walk in newness of life.

    Romans 6:17 But thanks be to God that you were slaves of sin, but you obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine to which you were delivered.

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  45. Jeff,

    “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”

    This statement has both a command and a promise. However,

    1) it does not imply that the promise is *conditioned* on the obedience to the command, because the promise says the obedience to this command is a blessing given along with the forgiveness of sins, on account of the one act of obedience of the Mediator.

    To the unbeliever (elect or non-elect), the command to believe is just one more command that increases their guilt. To the believer (called-out elect), obeying this command did not cause their salvation, but their salvation (righteousness imputed giving right to life) caused their obedience to this command.

    2) the fact that this promise may be preached to anyone does not imply the benefits promised is offered to everyone to be accepted or rejected, because the promise is for as many as God will call.

    God is the one who has already decided to give eternal life to some and not others, a decision formed logically prior to any fact about their willing. God is the one who will give eternal life to these people, an act prior to their willing which makes them willing.

    “Does 1 Thess indeed indicate that God wants all believers to rejoice and to abstain from immorality?”

    Yes. When believers sin, this doesn’t mean this will of God towards us ends unfulfilled, but that it is fulfilled by Christ’s death for our sins, which has been imputed to us for our justification and sanctification.

    Ephesians 1:4-7 even as He elected us in Him before the foundation of the world, for us to be holy and without blemish before Him in love, predestinating us to adoption through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace in which He favored us in the One having been loved, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the remission of deviations, according to the riches of His grace

    1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that unjust ones will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be led astray, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous ones, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor plunderers shall inherit the kingdom of God. And some of you were these things, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God.

    “Should we not assume that if God commands something, He wants to be obeyed?”

    “You agree that God commands faith. Are you suggesting that He commands faith but desires disobedience? Why then was He displeased with David?”

    God wants to be glorified in men, whether by blessing them in their obedience or by punishing them in their disobedience.

    God is pleased with obedience from men, whoever they are, but it’s not God’s good pleasure to cause obedience in all men.

    God desires the existence of obedient men, but God does not desire all men to become obedient.

    Liked by 1 person

  46. TW: The only way I can be “outside the picture” is by substitution, which involves two imputations, one that happened in Christ’s lifetime, the imputation of my guilt to him, and one that happens in my lifetime, the imputation of his death for my guilt to me.

    There can be no positive interaction between me and God until this death is imputed to me, not only because I haven’t been given the power to believe, but because there can be no positive interaction between a guilty man and the holy God – and this applies not only to the Father, but to the Son, and Holy Spirit.

    I understand that “outside the picture” and “positive interaction” are informal terms. But they are fuzzy. If God elects me before the foundation of the world for no reason other than His gracious choice, that is a “positive interaction”, and I am “in the picture”, it would seem. Likewise when the Father imputes my sin to Christ on the cross, that would also be a “positive interaction” where I am “in the picture.”

    So it may just be that precision is needed in terms. Or it may be that the imprecision reflects a conceptual fuzz.

    There’s a couple of reasons to suspect conceptual fuzz.

    The first is your description of the Free Offer as a “negotiation” between God and man. Negotiation is no part of the doctrine. That suggests a conceptual misunderstanding.

    The second is your description of JFBA:

    The Law-gospel distinction is not upheld simply by explicitly teaching that God chooses and enables a person to obey a command that is the (supposed) condition of life.

    Divine sovereignty does not remove human responsibility, whether in obedience or disobedience. This means even if it is God’s grace that enables me to do something, it is still me rather than God who is morally responsible (praiseworthy or blameworthy) for that act.

    God justifies through faith, not because of faith. And this matters a great deal. By failing to observe this distinction, by denying the difference, you end up lumping justification by faith in with justification by law-keeping even though Paul takes great pains to distinguish the two in Romans and elsewhere.

    Let me repeat that in different words: Paul upholds justification by faith as the antidote to justification by law-keeping. Your system treats justification by faith as a species of justification by law-keeping, and insists therefore that the essence of justification, imputation, must occur prior to faith.

    I think the root of the problem is the indiscriminate rejection of “condition” without distinction between meritorious, subsequent, and instrumental conditions.

    As a result, you move from faith-as-condition to faith that justifies by obedience to a command. And that is explicitly NOT what JFBA is.

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  47. JRC: “Does 1 Thess indeed indicate that God wants all believers to rejoice and to abstain from immorality?”

    TW: Yes.

    Well, there it is. If indeed we agree that (a) 1 Thess indicates that God wants all believers to abstain from immorality, and if we agree that (b) David was a believer, and that (c) he did not abstain from immorality, and that (d) God decreed that it would be so, then it is a necessary consequence that God can indeed want things that He also decrees will not come to pass.

    HOW this happens is murky. But THAT it happens seems certain.

    It does not mean, for example, that God’s will is frustrated. It could be that God has a hierarchy of desires, in which He is more glorified by David’s repentance than He would have been by David’s simple prior obedience.

    Nor does it mean that God’s desires are frustrated by human will. We agree, I think, that David’s sin was decreed by God (though authored by David himself).

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  48. Jeff: “If God elects me before the foundation of the world for no reason other than His gracious choice, that is a “positive interaction”, and I am “in the picture”, it would seem. Likewise when the Father imputes my sin to Christ on the cross, that would also be a “positive interaction” where I am “in the picture.””

    I assume you agree that God does not offer election or imputation of sin in the gospel, otherwise you would have to say something like (borrowing the language of OPC majority report on “Free Offer”)

    “it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his that God offers in the gospel. The loving and benevolent will that is the source of that offer and that grounds its veracity and reality is the will to the possession of [election in Christ] and enjoyment of [imputation of sin to him].”

    If you agree God’s election of me in Christ and imputation of my sin to Christ didn’t happen through my response to God’s offer, then you should see my point: God’s imputation of Christ’s death to me also does not happen through my response to God’s offer.

    This is what I mean by “interaction between me and God”, in contrast of “God’s unilateral action”.

    Jeff: “The first is your description of the Free Offer as a “negotiation” between God and man. Negotiation is no part of the doctrine. That suggests a conceptual misunderstanding.”

    My contrast was between “negotiation” and “unilateral proclamation”, and my choice of terminology is because of the “diplomatic” language in the following text.

    2 Corinthians 5:20 Then on behalf of Christ, we are ambassadors, as God is exhorting through us, we beseech on behalf of Christ, Be reconciled to God.

    The gospel is proclaimed to those who have not been reconciled to God, who are presently enemies of God, not only subjectively at enmity towards God, but also objectively under his wrath.

    If a Sovereign offers peace to some rebels, promising a full pardon of their treason and all their crimes, on the condition that they would but trust the sincerity of this offer, then what is that but a negotiation?

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  49. Jeff: “Paul upholds justification by faith as the antidote to justification by law-keeping. Your system treats justification by faith as a species of justification by law-keeping, and insists therefore that the essence of justification, imputation, must occur prior to faith.”

    Indeed, Paul contrasts faith and works. But the real question is WHAT is the contrast? Saying “faith is not works” does not answer the question.

    In Romans 4 and Galatians 3, where Paul emphasized “faith-works” contrast, he also emphasized a “promise-law” contrast.

    Romans 4:14-16 For if those of Law are heirs, faith has been made of no effect, and the promise has been annulled. *For the Law works out wrath; for where no law is, neither is transgression*. On account of this, it is of faith, that it be according to grace, for the promise to be certain to all the seed,

    One crucial feature of the “promise” spoken of is that it *could not fail* due to the sin of its recipient, because it is not *conditioned on the recipient’s obedience to a command*.

    In contrast, “law” can fail to give blessings to its recipient due to the sin of the recipient, because its blessings are conditioned on the recipient’s obedience to its commands.

    In light of this, let’s hear what the “Free Offer” advocates say about their “gospel offer”.

    OPC majority report: “… in the free offer there is expressed … the disposition of lovingkindness on the part of God pointing to the salvation to be gained through compliance with the overtures of gospel grace.
    … And the word “desire” has been used in order to express the thought epitomized in Ezekiel 33:11, which is to the effect that God has pleasure that the wicked turn from his evil way and live… in other words, a pleasure or delight in God, contemplating the blessed result to be achieved by compliance with the overture proffered and the invitation given.
    …If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.”

    In these paragraphs, the “free offer” advocates say that the gospel shows God desires the salvation of the reprobate by their “compliance with indispensable conditions of salvation”.

    Obviously, the “free offer” advocates also believe that the reprobate will fail to comply with these “overtures of gospel grace”, thus fail to obtain the salvation offered to them in the gospel.

    Without addressing the horrendous implications for God’s glory in Christ, this “gospel” already thoroughly betrays the marks of a “law” rather than the “promise” spoken of in Romans 4.

    You can talk all day long about how “faith” is not a “meritorious condition”, but the moment you say “faith” is a condition of salvation for the reprobate, and they fail to obtain salvation because they do not fulfill this condition, then you have turned the gospel into a law.

    While trying to enlarge the gospel to an offer to the reprobate, you also withhold the unconditional promise from the elect.

    (Indeed, what’s the practical difference between this message of “Free Offer” and the Lutheran or evangelical Arminian message of “universal atonement received by faith alone”? It seems there is not much and it’s intentional: the “Free Offer” advocates want to relegate election and limited atonement to “God’s secret will” and are bent on preaching the gospel apart from these doctrines, a gospel more nuanced but in continuity with a gospel of “universal atonement received by faith alone”.)

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  50. @Jeff I gather I have a more restrictive view by what is entailed by “the gospel”. What is your view on what is included in the gospel?

    Also, in these discussions, to what extent are different kinds of causes muddying the waters in these discussions? In my admittedly simplistic understanding of how one goes from being an enemy of God to an adopted son, I’ve found something akin to Aristotle’s four causes fairly helpful. The final cause is God’s degree. The material cause is Christ’s death. The formal cause is God’s acceptance of Christ’s death as the payment of sin for the elect. The efficient cause is essentially the ordo salutis (HS regenerates the unbeliever, then the unbeliever inevitably responds in faith and repentance to the gospel). What are your thoughts?

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  51. TW: One crucial feature of the “promise” spoken of is that it *could not fail* due to the sin of its recipient, because it is not *conditioned on the recipient’s obedience to a command*.

    In contrast, “law” can fail to give blessings to its recipient due to the sin of the recipient, because its blessings are conditioned on the recipient’s obedience to its commands…

    …You can talk all day long about how “faith” is not a “meritorious condition”, but the moment you say “faith” is a condition of salvation for the reprobate, and they fail to obtain salvation because they do not fulfill this condition, then you have turned the gospel into a law.

    While trying to enlarge the gospel to an offer to the reprobate, you also withhold the unconditional promise from the elect.

    The language of “conditional” and “unconditional” is very misleading.

    For one thing, it is literally false to say that the gospel is an unconditional promise. NO-ONE’s account of the gospel makes it genuinely unconditional. To be saved, one must

    * Be human
    * Be elect from the foundation of the world
    * Be effectually called
    * Have faith in Christ (whether before or after imputation)

    These are all conditions.

    But I suspect that you will say that they are not the kind of conditions intended by the word “unconditional.” Fair enough — but now the burden falls on you to describe what kinds of conditions are meant. The bare word “unconditional” does not help us understand why the covenant of grace is gracious.

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  52. TW: In these paragraphs, the “free offer” advocates say that the gospel shows God desires the salvation of the reprobate by their “compliance with indispensable conditions of salvation”.

    Yes.

    TW: Obviously, the “free offer” advocates also believe that the reprobate will fail to comply with these “overtures of gospel grace”, thus fail to obtain the salvation offered to them in the gospel.

    Not really. Or at least not essentially. And this is where you genuinely misunderstand the Free Offer, as evidenced by the fact that you cannot see a difference between it and the Lutheran or Arminian understanding.

    Pause and chew on that. If the majority of the OPC holds to predestination and election … and they clearly do, and in opposition to Arminianism, clearly expressed in a multitude of locations … and if the majority of the OPC also holds to the Free Offer, then that *ought* to be prima facie evidence that there is a difference between those two views.

    Whence, if you cannot tell the difference, that *ought* to be evidence to you that there is a difference you aren’t seeing.

    Here it is. The “free offer” advocates also believe that the reprobate are not elect, will not be effectually called, will be passed over by God. But in so doing, God experiences displeasure. Yes, His glory is maximized by his decree to elect some and pass others by. But at least one of His desires, which He does not decree to come to pass, is that all would hear and believe. To quote the OPC report,

    (2) We have found that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfilment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. This is indeed mysterious, and why he has not brought to pass, in the exercise of his omnipotent power and grace, what is his ardent pleasure lies hid in the sovereign counsel of his will. We should not entertain, however, any prejudice against the notion that God desires or has pleasure in the accomplishment of what he does not decretively will.

    That’s it. The entire point of Free Offer is not whether God’s will can be frustrated, nor is it whether the non-elect could somehow, hypothetically, be saved by making a different choice (they can’t). The point is whether God has good will in any sense towards those whom He does not elect.

    That’s it. To quote the first paragraph of the OPC report: “”God not only delights in the penitent but is also moved by the riches of his goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate”

    There’s no indication in the document that the reprobate frustrate God’s will. There’s no indication that they control the outcome of the offer. There’s no indication that their sins are atoned for by Christ.

    All of the additional propositions that you impute to the Free Offer document are not there. The one proposition that is there is that God is “moved by the riches of his goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate.”

    And since we have already seen that God can desire things that He also decrees will not come to pass, the rest of the objections fall away.

    To make it very clear:

    Arminian view: God wills all to be saved, offers salvation to all in the same sense, contingent upon their exercise of free will to accept or reject the offer. God has decreed only that those who believe, will be saved. Thus, the decree is subordinate to the offer.

    Lutheran (Formula of Concord) view: The universal offer and God’s election are an irreconcilable mystery. Thus, neither is subordinate to the other.

    OPC majority view: God elects and decrees the salvation of some, but out of general benevolence and lovingkindness also desires the salvation of all, which desire is subordinate to His decree.

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  53. @ SDB: I would say that the gospel is the content of Romans. It includes total depravity, election, imputation, faith, the mortification of the sin nature, the indwelling of the Spirit. All of those things should be taught.

    But what of that must be believed to be saved? Paul says, “But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

    John and McMark have a valid point that denial of election is inconsistent with the rest of the Gospel. The question is whether consistency is a condition for salvation.

    Interesting idea about describing the causes of salvation in terms of Aristotle’s scheme. It seems that final causes keep trying to drag you into teleology!

    I definitely resonate with viewing faith as an efficient cause. It seems to me that Romans 4.13 puts paid to the notion that imputation precedes faith.

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  54. Jeff,

    You state the following are “indispensable” conditions of salvation:

    * Be human
    * Be elect from the foundation of the world
    * Be effectually called
    * Have faith in Christ (whether before or after imputation)

    I assume you would agree to add the following as two other “indispensable” conditions of salvation

    * sins atoned for by Christ on the cross
    * imputed with Christ’s finished work

    You also agree “Free Offer” says “God desires the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate.””

    Moreover, the OPC majority report explains God’s desire of salvation of the reprobate and God’s desire of salvation of the reprobate are the same thing, because *God cannot desire the end apart from the means to that end*. Here’s the full paragraph:

    “Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end. It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable. For it would mean, as Calvin says, “to renounce the difference between good and evil.” If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.”

    Question:

    If it is inconceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of repentance and faith, how is it conceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation?

    If it is impossible to say God desires the salvation of the reprobate without saying God desires their repentance, how is it possible to say God desires their salvation without saying God desires their election in Christ, their sins be atoned for by Christ, their effectual calling, and their being imputed with Christ’s finished work? (which you would agree are also “indispensable conditions of salvation”)

    My analysis:

    The only possible explanation is that “Free Offer” advocates believe that for the God speaking in the gospel, “repentance and faith” are the only “missing ingredients” in the salvation of any human sinner, whether elect or reprobate. Indeed, this conclusion is confirmed directly by the OPC majority report, which states

    “[there is] inherent in the free offer to all, a pleasure or delight in God, contemplating the blessed result to be achieved by compliance with the overture proffered and the invitation given.”

    In other words, according to “Free Offer”, God’s gospel announces that anybody, including the non-elect, could be saved by making the right choice – the only limiting factor is that the non-elect won’t be enabled to make that right choice.

    Certainly, this is incompatible with any idea of a “definite atonement” in which God imputed sins of some to Christ unconditional on their future repentance and faith.

    But the “Free Offer” advocates remind us that this doctrine of “atonement for the unconditionally elect alone” belongs to God’s secret will, which means it is not actually part of God’s announced gospel. This is their way of reconciling the “Free Offer” and “Limited Atonement”.

    For me, I not only do not accept this explanation, but consider this explanation a great blasphemy of God’s integrity as well as hiding the true gospel “behind the curtain” and replacing it with a counterfeit called “Free Offer” in actual preaching to guilty sinners.

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  55. TW: “(1) [there is] inherent in the free offer to all, a pleasure or delight in God, contemplating the blessed result to be achieved by compliance with the overture proffered and the invitation given.”

    (2) In other words, according to “Free Offer”, God’s gospel announces that anybody, including the non-elect, could be saved by making the right choice – the only limiting factor is that the non-elect won’t be enabled to make that right choice.

    (3) Certainly, this is incompatible with any idea of a “definite atonement” in which God imputed sins of some to Christ unconditional on their future repentance and faith.

    Your observation in (3) helps point the way as to why (2) is an incorrect reading of (1).

    For you are (hypothetically) correct: IF free offer meant that anyone, including the non-elect, could be saved by making the right choice, THEN it would certainly be true that definite atonement would be out the window. As would election. And effectual calling.

    But think deeper: Since definite atonement, election, and effectual calling are still affirmed by OPC, one of two things must be true. Either the whole body is completely oblivious to the obvious implications of their view, or else (2) is an incorrect reading of (1).

    Entertain that possibility for a moment. Go back and think through what additional premises you must add in order to equate (1) and (2). Since (1) does not literally say that “anybody could be saved by making the right choice”, you have had to add premises to interpret (1) in that way. What premises? Make your argument more explicit.

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  56. TW and others,

    I see in your comments almost a complete refusal to view faith in Christ as being in any way a condition of salvation. But if faith cannot in any way be said to be a condition of salvation, then how does that not make it completely irrelevant? Seems to me that this position means that even the elect don’t have to believe.

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  57. Jeff,

    Your big assumption is that the doctrine of “Free Offer” advocated in the OPC majority report is consistent with the doctrines of Election, Limited Atonement, Effectual Calling.

    If you truly believe this, please address the question I raised over the following paragraph.

    OPC majority report: “Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end. It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable. For it would mean, as Calvin says, “to renounce the difference between good and evil.” If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.”

    In the paragraph above, the report explains God’s desire of salvation of the reprobate and God’s desire of repentance of the reprobate are the same thing, because *God cannot desire the end apart from the means to that end*. This leads to the following question.

    Question:

    If it is inconceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of repentance and faith, how is it conceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation?

    If it is impossible to say God desires the salvation of the reprobate without saying God desires their repentance, how is it possible to say God desires their salvation without saying God desires their election in Christ, their sins be atoned for by Christ, their effectual calling, and their being imputed with Christ’s finished work? (which you would agree are also “indispensable conditions of salvation”)

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  58. Robert,

    “I see in your comments almost a complete refusal to view faith in Christ as being in any way a condition of salvation. But if faith cannot in any way be said to be a condition of salvation, then how does that not make it completely irrelevant? Seems to me that this position means that even the elect don’t have to believe.”

    God justifies the ungodly (“impious”). God does not impute righteousness to a person in response to their faith, which is a human response that gives glory to God in salvation.

    Faith is spiritual life. Faith is a partaking of the promise in anticipation. Therefore, one must be imputed with righteousness in order to be granted faith.

    Faith is not a condition preceding salvation, but the start of a new life freely received. It is seeing light after being released from prison.

    There are no “justified unbelievers”. When righteousness (Christ’s death) is imputed to the elect, he immediately has the blessings of life – both legal life (justification) and spiritual life (faith).

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  59. TW: If it is inconceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of repentance and faith, how is it conceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation?

    It’s not. And there’s no indication in the OPC document that anyone thinks it is.

    You’re a math guy, so you understand this: the statement that salvation cannot be had apart from faith does not imply that it *can* be had apart from election, atonement, effectual calling, or imputation. It is a logical fallacy to read it in that way.

    And in fact, since every single one of the writers has previously had to affirm adherence to the WCF, it is therefore a strong inductive conclusion (NOT “assumption” as you erroneously put it) that the writers are consistent with the doctrines of Election, Limited Atonement, and Effectual Calling. That should be the controlling assumption until shown otherwise.

    As I said above, it’s time for you to make your argument more explicit. The writers say “[there is] inherent in the free offer to all, a pleasure or delight in God, contemplating the blessed result to be achieved by compliance with the overture proffered and the invitation given.”

    You gloss that to read “God’s gospel announces that anybody, including the non-elect, could be saved by making the right choice – the only limiting factor is that the non-elect won’t be enabled to make that right choice.”

    It is not at all obvious that your gloss means the same thing as the original statement.

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  60. Gaffin: “Typically in the Reformation tradition the hope of salvation is expressed in terms of Christ’s righteousness, especially as imputed to the believer…however, I have to wonder if ‘Christ in you’ is not more prominent as an expression of evangelical hope…”

    SDB–“No one is adding to the work of Christ on the cross. The claim is that the work of Christ on the cross affects change in the believer. Not that the effected change merits anything.”

    Mark—Nobody here says that the enabled change in us is “merit”. But you seem to think that, as long as our merit is denied, then it’s no problem to make “enough” change in us either the evidence or condition of assurance of justification. Since your covenant is conditional (not only for the elect), and since your gospel is not about election by God to be one of the sinners for whom Christ died, then you have the same gospel as any Arminian who also insists that “change in us” is not our merit but God’s grace .

    Your fellows don’t ever tell us what preachers you listen to. As you have time, send us some links in which your preachers are teaching that every sinner for whom Christ died (all the elect) will be justified. Are any of them teaching definite atonement as satisfaction of law? And why should they, if that’s not in the gospel? And how could Christ’s death be a strict satisfaction of law, if Christ died also even for those who perish?

    Once again, nobody here is teaching justification by works that are our merits. Like the Arminians, you give God’s grace the credit for enabling you to change enough to feel safe and sure before God.

    Nobody here is teaching justification before or without believing the gospel. Our questions are about the Christ who is the object of faith. If Christ died for everybody but not everybody will be justified, then it must be the Holy Spirit of Christ changing us that will bring us comfort and safety.

    God commands all sinners to believe the gospel. This includes those for whom Christ never died. God never intended that all sinners will believe the gospel . The promise of the gospel is only to as many as believe the gospel. There is no contradiction between God’s command and God’s promise. But the command is not the same as the promise.

    God has commanded all sinners to obey divine law. but God has neither predestined nor promised that sinners will obey divine law (disobey one, disobey all) . God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but God never had any “plan B” intention about which Son was to be given in sacrifice and just satisfaction. God commanded Adam not to eat from the tree. but God never promised Adam future immortality based on God giving Adam “grace” to meet conditions.

    Adam was under law already before Adam sinned and we are all born guilty by God’s imputation of Adam’s sin. Christ was under law by means of God’s imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ. There was no grace for Christ, but Christ’s death satisfied the law. Romans 6:9,10,”We know that Christ being raised from the dead will
    never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death Christ died He died to sin, once for all time.”

    Justification through faith in the gospel is not justification through works. Neither our faith nor our works are satisfaction of divine law. God does not count our works as the righteousness. God does not count our faith as the righteousness.
    Our faith must have as its object Christ’s death as that righteousness which satisfied divine law.

    The Second London Confession (1689)– “Those whom God effectually calls He also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting them as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone. They are not justified because God
    reckons as their righteousness either their faith, their believing, or any other act of evangelical obedience. They are justified wholly and solely because God imputes to them Christ’s righteousness. “

    2 Peter 1:1 –To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ

    https://heidelblog.net/2013/06/is-faith-a-work-law-gospel-justification/

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  61. McMark: Since your covenant is conditional

    As is yours.

    McMark: and since your gospel is not about election by God to be one of the sinners for whom Christ died

    False.

    McMark: Your fellows don’t ever tell us what preachers you listen to.

    We do more: we tell you what confessions we subscribe to. Meanwhile, you have yet to answer a basic question: What church (denomination) are you a member of?

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  62. There is a strand of Reformed theology represented by Ursinus, AA Hodge, and somewhat Louis Berkhof, that places imputation as the ground of effectual calling. For those interested in pursuing it, here is Hodge:

    3 What is the order of grace in the application of redemption ? I. The two principles which fundamentally characterize Protestant Soteriology are–– 1st. The clear distinction between the change of relation signalized by justification, and the change of character signalized by regeneration and sanctification. 2nd. That the change of relation, the remission of penalty, and the restoration to favor involved in justification, necessarily precedes, and renders possible, the real moral change expressed by regeneration and sanctification. The continuance of judicial condemnation precludes the exercise of grace. Remission of punishment must precede the work of the Spirit. We are pardoned in order that we may be good, never made good in order that we may be pardoned. “It is evident that God must himself already have been secretly favorable and gracious to a man, and must already have pardoned him forum divinum (Divine pardoning), for the sake of Christ and his relation to human nature, to be able to bestow upon him the grace of regeneration. In fact viewed as actus Dei forensis there was of necessity that it should be regarded as existing prior to man’s consciousness of it, nay prior to faith.”–Dr. J. A. Dorner’s “Hist. Prot. Theo.,” Vol. 2., pp. 156, 160. II. Hence the apparent circle in the order of grace. The righteousness of Christ is said to be imputed to the believer, and justification to be through faith. Yet faith is an act of a soul already regenerated, and regeneration is possible only to a soul to whom God is reconciled by the application of Christ’s satisfaction.

    Thus the satisfaction and merit of Christ is the antecedent cause of regeneration, and on the other hand the participation of the believer in the satisfaction and merit of Christ (his justification) is conditioned on his faith, which is the effect of his regeneration. We must have part in Christ so far forth as to be regenerated, in order to have part in him so far forth as to be justified. This is not a question of order in time, because regeneration and justification are gracious acts of God absolutely synchronous. The question is purely as to the true order of causation; Is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us that we may believe, or is it imputed to us because we believe? Is justification an analytic judgment, that the man is justified as a believer though a sinner, or is it a synthetic judgment, that this sinner is justified for Christ’s sake ? III. The solution is to be sought in the fact that Christ impetrated the application of his salvation to his “own,” and all the means, conditions, and stages thereof, and that this was done in pursuance of a covenant engagement with the father, which provided for application to specific persons at certain times and under certain conditions. The relation from birth of an elect person to Adam, and to sin and its condemnation, is precisely the same with that of all his fellow–men. But his relation to the satisfaction and merits of Christ, and to the graces they obtain, is analogous to that of an heir to an inheritance secured to him by will. As long as he is under age the will secures the initial right of the heir de jure. It provides for his education at the expense of the estate in preparation for his inheritance. It determines the previous installments of his patrimony to be given him by his trustees. It determines in some sense his present status as a prospective heir. It determines the precise time and conditions of his being inducted into absolute possession. He possesses certain rights and enjoys certain benefits from the first. But he has absolute rights and powers of ownership only when he reaches the period and fulfills the conditions prescribed therefor in the will. Thus the merits of Christ are imputed to the elect heir from his birth so far forth as they constitute the basis of the gracious dealing provided For him as preparatory to his full possession. Justification is assigned by Protestant theologians to that final mental act of God as Judge whereby he declares the heir in full possession of the rights of his inheritance, henceforth to be recognized and treated as the heir in possession, although the actual consummation of that possession is not effected until the resurrection. Christ and his righteousness are not given to the believer because of faith. faith is the conscious trusting receiving of that which is already given. Our Catechism, Ques. 33, says, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight only for the righteousness of Christ (1) imputed to us, and (2) received by faith alone.” Regeneration and consequently faith are wrought in us for Christ’s sake and as the result conditioned on a previous imputation of his righteousness to that end. Justification supervenes upon faith, and implies such an imputation of Christ’s righteousness as effects a radical and permanent change of relationship to the law as a condition of life.

    — AA Hodge, Outlines of Theology Chap 34 Qn 3.

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  63. Mark—Nobody here says that the enabled change in us is “merit”.

    sdb: Then I misread jy’s comment I was responding to. Perhaps you can clarify what he meant?

    MM: But you seem to think that, as long as our merit is denied, then it’s no problem to make “enough” change in us either the evidence or condition of assurance of justification.

    sdb: I thought I was clear, but perhaps not. The change wrought by the holy spirit is not a condition of justification, but rather the fruit. That fruit brings assurance:

    Dort – FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 12. The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the [assurance] of this their eternal and unchangeable election, not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing in themselves with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God – such as, a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.

    This assurance, however, is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to or independent of the Word of God, but springs from faith in God’s promises, which He has most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort; from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God;1 and lastly, from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience and to perform good works.

    MM: Since your covenant is conditional (not only for the elect),

    SDB: Right. God makes covenants with the nonelect. You disagree?

    MM: and since your gospel is not about election by God to be one of the sinners for whom Christ died,

    SDB: I realize this is not such a popular view around here (and Jeff I would love for you to push back on this), but I remain unconvinced that the ordo, etc… is the gospel. The gospel is that God has become man in the person of Jesus, died for our sins, rose again, and is coming back. Theological questions about the nature of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, how the benefits of Jesus’s sacrifice are applied to those who are saved, etc… are all important and should be carefully taught. But they are not the gospel. That being said I hold to election and the definitive atonement. I see no reason to disagree with Dort.

    MM: then you have the same gospel as any Arminian who also insists that “change in us” is not our merit but God’s grace.

    SDB: This is a non sequitur. Not every view that isn’t yours is Arminian. Secondly… Dort is Arminian??? Really?

    MM: Your fellows don’t ever tell us what preachers you listen to.

    SDB: you wouldn’t know my small town PCA pastor, and he doesn’t have a web presence. What I will say is that I don’t see any reason to diverge from the Westminster standards or three forms of unity.

    MM: As you have time, send us some links in which your preachers are teaching that every sinner for whom Christ died (all the elect) will be justified. Are any of them teaching definite atonement as satisfaction of law? And why should they, if that’s not in the gospel?

    SDB: Well, the Trinity is not the gospel, but my pastor teaches on it. Eschatology is not the gospel, but my pastor teaches on it.

    MM: And how could Christ’s death be a strict satisfaction of law, if Christ died also even for those who perish?

    SDB: no idea. You would have to ask someone who thinks Christ died for the non-elect.

    MM: Once again, nobody here is teaching justification by works that are our merits. Like the Arminians, you give God’s grace the credit for enabling you to change enough to feel safe and sure before God.

    SDB: Great!

    MM: Nobody here is teaching justification before or without believing the gospel.

    SDB: Great!

    MM: Our questions are about the Christ who is the object of faith. If Christ died for everybody but not everybody will be justified, then it must be the Holy Spirit of Christ changing us that will bring us comfort and safety.

    SDB: This is another non sequitur. Christ died for the elect. How do you know you are among the elect? It is because you are doing something you weren’t doing before. If I understand your claim that something is believing the gospel. But that isn’t what scripture teaches.

    MM: God commands all sinners to believe the gospel. This includes those for whom Christ never died. God never intended that all sinners will believe the gospel . The promise of the gospel is only to as many as believe the gospel. There is no contradiction between God’s command and God’s promise. But the command is not the same as the promise.

    SDB: yep

    MM: God has commanded all sinners to obey divine law. but God has neither predestined nor promised that sinners will obey divine law (disobey one, disobey all) . God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but God never had any “plan B” intention about which Son was to be given in sacrifice and just satisfaction. God commanded Adam not to eat from the tree. but God never promised Adam future immortality based on God giving Adam “grace” to meet conditions.

    Adam was under law already before Adam sinned and we are all born guilty by God’s imputation of Adam’s sin. Christ was under law by means of God’s imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ. There was no grace for Christ, but Christ’s death satisfied the law. Romans 6:9,10,”We know that Christ being raised from the dead will
    never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death Christ died He died to sin, once for all time.”

    Sdb: true, but I don’t see where you are going with this.

    MM: Justification through faith in the gospel is not justification through works. Neither our faith nor our works are satisfaction of divine law. God does not count our works as the righteousness. God does not count our faith as the righteousness.

    SDB: And yet… And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, – Romans 4:5

    MM: Our faith must have as its object Christ’s death as that righteousness which satisfied divine law.

    SDB: Right, but again who disagrees? Are you going to get a thoughtful RC to disagree the the object of our faith is the work of Christ?

    The Second London Confession (1689)– “Those whom God effectually calls He also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting them as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone. They are not justified because God
    reckons as their righteousness either their faith, their believing, or any other act of evangelical obedience. They are justified wholly and solely because God imputes to them Christ’s righteousness. “

    2 Peter 1:1 –To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ

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  64. @ SDB: It is sometimes taught that Scripture may be partitioned into Law or Gospel. If we take that framework, election is definitely Gospel and not Law.

    WRT Romans 4, the food fight concerns the phrase “faith imputed as righteousness.” Does that literally mean that God receives the faith as a righteous act that is reckoned as merit to the ungodly? Or is it an idiom that means “the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the ungodly through faith”? Catholics hold the former, Lutheran and Reformed Protestants the latter.

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  65. Thanks Jeff. I wasn’t thinking along those lines. That helps. So if we partition scripture into Law or Gospel, where do topics like the attributes of God, Christology, etc… fit in? For the purposes of this discussion, I gather that Mark et al. are arguing that getting something wrong about the gospel means that one believes a false gospel. So if one is wrong about say, the hypostatic union (which going to the nature of Christ I presume would fall under the gospel heading rather than the law heading), does that mean one believes a false gospel? I asked this before, and I never got a clear answer (at least clear to me). Perhaps they thought I was asking facetiously. I’m sincerely confused about their stance.

    WRT to R4, I see. Yes, I agree that we are saved through faith. We are given the gift of faith and are justified. It is not a merit on our part. I thought Mark was suggesting that justification was independent of faith.

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  66. Having set forth the orthodox teaching, the Synod of Dordt rejects the errors of those
    Who teach that God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual.
    For this assertion is an insult to the wisdom of God the Father and to the merit of Jesus Christ, and it is contrary to Scripture. For the Savior speaks as follows: “I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them” (John 10:15, 27). And Isaiah the prophet says concerning the Savior: “When he shall make himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days, and the will of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10).
    rejects the errors of those
    Who teach that what is involved in the new covenant of grace which God the Father made with men through the intervening of Christ’s death is not that we are justified before God and saved through faith, insofar as it accepts Christ’s merit, but rather that God, having withdrawn his demand for perfect obedience to the law, counts faith itself, and the imperfect obedience of faith, as perfect obedience to the law, and graciously looks upon this as worthy of the reward of eternal life.
    For they contradict Scripture: “They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ, whom God presented as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Rom. 3:24-25). And along with the ungodly Socinus, they introduce a new and foreign justification of man before

    mcmark: And how could Christ’s death be a strict satisfaction of law, if Christ died also even for those who perish?
    SDB: no idea

    mcmark–There was no grace for Christ, but Christ’s death satisfied the law. Romans 6:9,10,”We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him
    SDB: Not denied, but where you are going with this?… And yet…  his faith is counted as righteousness.

    mcmark—I am trying to write about what gives us comfort.  Therefore I am trying to say that my comfort is in Christ’s death.  God does not count faith “as if” it were the righteousness. God counts Christ’s death as the righteousness (satisfaction of God’s holy justice). Our faith must have as its object Christ’s death as the righteousness revealed in the gospel.
    Bidding all men to repentance
    Since the Kingdom now is here.
    Tell her that her sins I cover

    mcmark—-1. This debate is not mainly about order of application (or who’s in the best named denomination)  I do not agree with Berkhof or others who put (“eternal?) justification before regeneration and faith in the gospel. Rather, I see being placed into Christ’s death (imputed in history with Christ’s death) as the basis of regeneration and faith in the gospel and deny that God has declared “justified” anyone who has not believed by the power of the gospel.   Jeff can assert that “imputation is in essence justification and therefore the same–if you put imputation before, then you put justification before”.   I don’t agree with that, but it’s not what’s important here.  Understanding the order or the word “imputation” or the history of  “Reformed theology” is not the gospel.   The debate is about “what is the righteousness”. Why waste time on the imputation of the righteousness until we know that Christ’s death is the righteousness?  Why waste time on “faith vs works” until we know that the object of faith is the righteousness of Christ’s death?

    2. The gospel is that Christ’s death is a strict satisfaction of law for all the elect. Christ died for the elect because God already loved the elect. God did not begin loving the elect because Christ died for them. The elect are as many as God calls effectually by this gospel, which is as many as believe by the power of this gospel.

    3. Even if you happen to believe that the extent of Christ’s death is only for the elect, that is not the gospel, if you still believe that the righteousness is the faith that God gives you, or if you believe that God credits the faith that God gives you as the righteousness. The gospel excludes not only our enabled works but also our enabled faith as the righteousness.  Thus the antithesis.  The “idea” stated positively—those who don’t perish are those for whom Christ died, and Christ’s death is the reason not only that they believe the gospel but also that the propitiation has been legally imputed so that they will not perish.  Again, to clarify, I am not insisting that certain words or phrases be used.  But neither the Confessions nor our own words should make any compromise with the Arminian IDEA that Christ died for those who perish  or that God will count faith as the righteousness.  Besides its magisterial character, Dordt may have certain other problems  (the Lombard suffiency formula) but we can learn much from Dordt’s different sections about “errors” .

    Leaving aside the question of  “obedience to the covenant of works”  (Christ doing what Adam might have done), since some in your own denominations (not only Norman Shepherd and the anti-federal “federal vision”)  deny that Christ’s faith or law-keeping is imputed to us (some without denying the law-gospel divide), can we agree that Christ’s death is (at least part of) the righteousness (and that our faith and works are no part of the righteousness)?  

    While Jeff likely disagrees with Arminians who think God given faith is the righteousness (or is counted as the righteousness), he writes as if he’s only smarter or better taught than Arminians.   God-like in his condescension, Jeff thinks we show “contempt” for sinners if we tell them they have a false gospel. When people think that  the Arminian gospel (which is another gospel, not the gospel) still honors God and is divinely used sovereignly as a means of regeneration, those same people often don’t bother too much with ideas about the nature of Christ’s death being under law as a satisfaction by God to God.  If the nature of Christ’s death according to the Scriptures is not necessary to the gospel, then confusion about the righteousness is sure to follow. But Scripture is clear that not only God’s attribute of righteousness is revealed (in law and gospel) but also that God’s gift of Christ’s death as righteousness for the elect is revealed to those who are called and who believe. Even though there is no perfect believing (another reason God does not count believing as the righteousness), the object of God given faith is truth, not the opposite of truth. What parts of the Arminian five points are true? Since Arminianism is false, Arminianism gives false comfort.

    Romans 1: The gospel is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes… For in the gospel God’s righteousness is revealed

    God does NOT count our faith as the righteousness.  The righteousness is about sins being imputed to Christ  so that it is necessary for Christ to die under law . The righteousness is about THAT KIND OF DEATH being imputed to the elect

    “What church (denomination) are you a member of”?
    1. You first, what congregation are you a member of? Is it a congregation in which the Gaffin/ Tipton view of future justification through works is taught?

    2. I ask for the preacher’s sermons, tapes, because I have listened to and visited many reformed (those who accept Roman Catholic water baptism) “churches” which are “confessional” at least for the elders, but not even election is ever mentioned, let alone God’s imputation to Christ of only the sins of those God loves.

    If you believe that the gospel is believed by all for whom Christ died, why doesn’t your preacher preach that wonderful confessional truth?
    Or maybe some of you disagree about what the Confessions teach….

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  67. McMark,: What congregation are you a member of? Is it a congregation in which the Gaffin/ Tipton view of future justification through works is taught?

    Mt Airy PCA. The pastor is very far away from Gaffin, more of an old Princeton type, to the point of being tagged with “too much gospel and not enough application.” And in that, he has my full support.

    Your turn.

    McMark: If you believe that the gospel is believed by all for whom Christ died, why doesn’t your preacher preach that wonderful confessional truth?

    I do, and he does.

    McMark: Again, to clarify, I am not insisting that certain words or phrases be used.

    Then you need a different copy editor, because the current one lets the wrong impression slip through.

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  68. Mark,

    Can we agree that Christ’s death is (at least part of) the righteousness (and that our faith and works are no part of the righteousness)?

    I don’t see anyone here teaching otherwise. This is standard Reformed confessional teaching.

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  69. Apologies for the long post. Hoping to clear the fog.

    The question of whether imputation precedes effectual calling has several wrinkles, with serious arguments to be made on both sides. What is notable about Hodge and Ursinus above is the absence of sarcastic invective concerning other positions.

    To first argue the position I do not hold, the logic behind “imputation priority” is that God must first be reconciled to us before change takes place. We can call this the Necessity of Imputation First (NIF).

    Hodge argues it well:

    …the change of relation, the remission of penalty, and the restoration to favor involved in justification, necessarily precedes, and renders possible, the real moral change expressed by regeneration and sanctification. The continuance of judicial condemnation precludes the exercise of grace. Remission of punishment must precede the work of the Spirit. We are pardoned in order that we may be good, never made good in order that we may be pardoned.

    The strong pull of this argument is precisely what Calvin argued against Osiander: God does not justify us because of changes made in us, but solely because of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. This is the JBIA (justification by imputation alone) principle, which all Reformed and Lutheran Protestants (should) agree to. Thus, there is a fear that if effectual calling precedes imputation, then we are abandoning JBIA. The stronger the fear, the louder the accusations of “false gospel.”

    But this reasoning creates a circular problem: how to get imputation before faith, when justification is by faith? Ursinus and Hodge solve the problem by considering imputation and justification to be two sides of the coin, with effectual calling and faith wedged between.

    First, God imputes, which is a God-ward satisfaction of the law’s demands. Then effectual calling, regeneration, and faith. Then God justifies, which is a man-ward declaration of righteousness.

    So why don’t all Protestants (eg Calvin!) take this position? Primarily, because the argument is theoretical, without direct Scriptural evidence. One searches in vain for any passage that teaches that imputation precedes faith.

    I will now argue for a different position, seemingly the WCF position, that effectual calling precedes faith precedes imputation which is identical to justification. Consider Romans 4, in which I trace some of the ideas in Calvin’s commentary.

    If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

    Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works

    We observe in the passage that Paul contrasts justification by works over against “faith credited [imputed, logizomai] as righteousness.” It is taken as read in Protestant circles that this means “righteousness imputed through faith” rather than “faith counted as if righteousness.” The key is that for Paul, what preserves the graciousness of justification by faith is the contrast between receiving what is due, by works, over against receiving righteousness, by faith.

    This chips away at the argument for NIF. If the contrast is between faith and works, then the contrast is not between imputation first, and works second. Paul shows zero concern to place imputation before faith for the simple reason that receiving by faith *is* the characteristic that makes justification by grace and not works.

    Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.

    Paul emphasizes and reiterates: righteousness was credited [Gr.: imputed] to Abraham through faith.

    More chipping: It is important to Paul not simply that Abraham was justified by faith, but that righteousness was imputed through faith.

    It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

    Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

    Now Paul makes the phrase unmistakably pointed: The righteousness comes through faith. It could not be more clear: faith precedes imputation.

    So the argument for effectual calling => faith => justification / imputation is not, as is scurriously insinuated by McMark, some underhanded scheme to sneak works into our justification.

    Rather, it is to uphold the Scripture: the righteousness comes by faith. The end. What makes the covenant of grace gracious is that the righteousness is received by faith, not that it is applied apart from or prior to faith. The former is what Paul teaches; the latter is not.

    OK, but what about a clear account of the ordo salutis? Hodge’s argument still carries weight here — if regeneration precedes imputation, then is God not justifying us, in some sense, on the basis of a change He has made in us? If Hodge must avoid a circle, Calvin must avoid crypto-Osianderism.

    I would argue two points, and then suggest a possible solution to satisfy Hodge and Calvin at once.

    (1) Justifying through faith is not the same as justifying because of faith.

    God’s creation of faith in us is not creating some kind of righteousness that is then credited to our account. Rather, it is creating a faculty that receives Christ’s righteousness. That’s it. In one stroke, we avoid Osiander’s trap. We are not justified on the basis of a change. Rather, a change is made that enables reception of righteousness.

    (2) Likewise, the regeneration in effectual calling is not sanctification itself. It is merely the enabling of reception, nothing more.

    The points (1) and (2) will not satisfy the die-hards. But this might:

    Consider that both the Imputation First and the Faith First accounts have God choosing His elect. And at the cross, the sins of the elect are imputed to Christ.

    What if … God’s election is sufficient grounds for regeneration and effectual calling? That is: God effectually calls because of the prior forensic act of election. And further, election looks forward to both the atonement and to the moment of imputation. As a result, the forensic elements are considered, God-ward, to be anticipated in the “prophetic future” sense: A done deal, in the future. This would mean that all changes in the elect, even regeneration, are because of forensic events foreseen.

    We know this is not entirely far-fetched. Abraham was justified by Christ’s righteousness before Christ ever lived, died, or rose again. His justification was accomplished by the forensic event of the atonement before that event ever occurred in time.

    And it is the election of Abraham that guaranteed those events to take place.

    If we take this view, election (the anticipation of a certain justification) is sufficient ground for regeneration: Because God *will* justify by faith, He therefore creates the faith needed.

    Maybe that helps break the logjam, maybe not.

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  70. Since our inherent sin still negatively influences our ability to reason soundly and think logically may I make a suggestion to help clarify everyone’s comments. If you are going to point out logical informal or formal fallacies, define the fallacy you are pointing out and then point it out again in the person’s comments you are accusing of commiting the fallacy. I think that will help bring more clarity to the arguments being presented in the comments. This will also help those who are not as well trained in the fields of logical thinking and sound reasoning. Saying that, how important is this all to the Holy Spirit illuminating minds to the truths of the Gospel?

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  71. McMark: I am trying to write about what gives us comfort. Therefore I am trying to say that my comfort is in Christ’s death.
    sdb: how do you know Christ’s death is doing you any good?

    McMark: The gospel is that Christ’s death is a strict satisfaction of law for all the elect.
    sdb: Paul writes that, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
    Two observations… First, the gospel preached by Paul saves *if* you continue to believe. Second, the key elements of the gospel he preached are that Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose again, and appeared. According to Paul, these are the essential elements of the gospel. According to you, the essence of the gospel is that Christ’s death is strict satisfaction of the law, and this satisfaction is only for the elect. I don’t see how your summary of the gospel is consistent with Paul’s.

    McMark: Christ’s death is the reason not only that they believe the gospel but also that the propitiation has been legally imputed so that they will not perish.
    sdb: It looks to me like you are setting up different kinds of “reasons” against one another. We might translate “reasons” into the efficient cause, material cause, formal cause, and final cause. The final cause of our salvation is that God decreed it. The material cause is that Christ died for our sins. The formal cause is that Christ is at once God and Man, and he was sinless. The efficient cause is that we believe the gospel (faith). Given the influence of the understanding of four causes in Greek thought, it is inconceivable to me that Paul didn’t have this in mind as well.

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  72. Jeff:”TW: If it is inconceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of repentance and faith, how is it conceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation?

    It’s not. And there’s no indication in the OPC document that anyone thinks it is.

    You’re a math guy, so you understand this: the statement that salvation cannot be had apart from faith does not imply that it *can* be had apart from election, atonement, effectual calling, or imputation. It is a logical fallacy to read it in that way.”

    My question was highlighting an inconsistency I perceive in the OPC report’s reasoning. Let me quote the relevant passage again:

    OPC majority report: “Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end. It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable. For it would mean, as Calvin says, “to renounce the difference between good and evil.” If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.”

    It seems to me the OPC report is making the following argument:

    (P1) God cannot desire salvation of the reprobate in the gospel invitation apart from desiring the necessary means to their salvation in the gospel invitation.

    (P2) Repentance and faith are necessary means to salvation.

    (C1) God cannot desire salvation of the reprobate in the gospel invitation apart from desiring their repentance and faith in the gospel invitation.

    I then ask: but surely the OPC report would also agree

    (P3) Election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation are necessary means to salvation.

    Then (P1) and (P2) together imply

    (C2) God cannot desire salvation of the reprobate in the gospel invitation apart from desiring their election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation in the gospel invitation.

    Now, if the OPC report also holds to

    (P4) God does not desire the reprobate’s election, atonement, effectual calling, or imputation in the gospel invitation

    Then the OPC report must accept

    (C3) God does not desire the salvation of the reprobate in the gospel invitation

    which would contradict its own stated position of “Free Offer”.

    Now, if we *insist* the OPC report is consistent, then it must have rejected one of the premises (P1)-(P4).

    (P1) and (P2) are clearly stated in the passage quoted above, so it must have rejected (P3) or (P4).

    I think we both agree they accept (P3).

    This leaves only one possibility: the OPC report rejects (P4). Let’s take a closer look at (P4).

    (P4) God does not desire the reprobate’s election, atonement, effectual calling, or imputation in the gospel invitation.

    What is the Negation of (P4)?

    (~P4) God *desires* the reprobate’s election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation in the gospel invitation.

    But this is surely unacceptable. It seems the conclusion of inconsistency stands.

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  73. @ Tianqi: Much clearer, thank you. Where we differ is on the move from (P4) to (C3). You argue that if God does not desire to elect, atone, etc., then “God does not desire the salvation of the reprobate in the gospel invitation”

    But we have already seen that God desires things that He also decrees do not come to pass. In particular

    (S1) God desires believers’ sanctification, that they abstain from sexual immorality, and
    (S2) To abstain from sexual immorality requires a work of the Spirit that is both necessary and sufficient for obedience, yet
    (S3) Some (many) believers do not abstain from sexual immorality, notably David. From the fact of their disobedience, we infer that
    (S4) God at times does not desire to work obedience in the hearts of believers.

    IF your move from (P4) to (C3) were legitimate, then (S1) and (S4) would also give the same contradiction (which, by the way, would lend to the same kind of “free will” argument — that believers are able to resist God’s will).

    Instead, we recognize that (P4) to (C3) is an equivocation. With respect to decrees, God does not desire the salvation of the non-elect. With respect to commands and common grace, He does. Clearly, the first desire in some sense “trumps” the other; but both desires are present.

    Happy Sunday!

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  74. @ Tianqi: to make the response more clear, you have

    TW: (P4) God does not desire the reprobate’s election, atonement, effectual calling, or imputation in the gospel invitation. And this is true with respect to His decrees.

    TW: (~P4) God *desires* the reprobate’s election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation in the gospel invitation. And this is true with respect to His commands.

    The contradiction is avoided by disentangling the senses of the word “desire.”

    Note that the OPC report says as much the preamble: It must be admitted that if the expression were intended to apply to the decretive will of God then there would be, at least, implicit contradiction. For to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate and also that God wills the damnation of the reprobate and apply the former to the same thing as the latter, namely, the decretive will, would be contradiction…

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  75. Matthew 5.43 – 48

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    The OPC report brings out the analogy: Jesus commands us to love our enemies (lesser) because God also loves His enemies (greater). And this alone should be sufficient to show that God loves the reprobate in some sense.

    But more can be said. For in order for us to love our enemies, the Spirit must supply that love. And how could He give that which He does not have?

    So unless Jesus is giving an empty command, one that He not only knows will never be obeyed in any degree, it must be the case that God Himself has love for His enemies.

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  76. TW: (~P4) God *desires* the reprobate’s election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation in the gospel invitation.

    Jeff: And this is true with respect to His commands.

    How does God desire the things mentioned here “with respect to His commands”? There is no command to get elected, get sins atoned for, get effectually called, get imputed with righteousness.

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  77. Jeff: “The OPC report brings out the analogy: Jesus commands us to love our enemies (lesser) because God also loves His enemies (greater). And this alone should be sufficient to show that God loves the reprobate in some sense.”

    There is an analogy between God’s sustaining the life of ungodly men (rain and sunshine) and our loving our enemies, but the point of similarity is not “we should love our enemies, just as God loves his enemies”, but rather that “our duty to love our neighbor continues in the face of hostility and persecution, just as God’s faithfulness as a Creator continues in the face of evil and unrighteousness.”

    There was a time God destroyed all his enemies – the flood. Afterwards, God promised that he will not do this again but will preserve the life of mankind as long as the earth remains.

    God keeps this promise, despite all the evil that men have accumulated afterwards. So we too should do our duty of loving our neighbor, even if they are our enemies.

    But God’s bearing with the ungodly is not necessarily an indication of mercy – it is mercy to the ungodly elect, but not mercy to the non-elect.

    If God is kind to a person, this will cause them to repent. What does this imply about those who die lost? God was never kind to them. Their temporary life or even prosperity was not God’s kindness to them but God’s wrath to them. (Read Psalm 73)

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  78. Tianqi: How does God desire the things mentioned here “with respect to His commands”? There is no command to get elected, get sins atoned for, get effectually called, get imputed with righteousness.

    Fair point. The phrase “to desire with respect to His commands” indicates that if He commands something, there is a desire that it be done. In this case, the command to “repent and believe the gospel” indicates a desire that it be done; that desire would then apply equally and in the same hypothetical sense to the necessary conditions prior to the action, including election, atonement, calling.

    That desire in question, whatever it may be, is essentially the desire that the conditions be met so that the command is obeyed.

    The alternative is that God gives the command without any desire that the command be obeyed, or even attempted.

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  79. I think you might be flattening the eschaton with your appeal to Psalm 73. When Christ returns, the wheat and chaff are separated and the wicked get theirs.

    Until then, God makes the sun shine on everyone.

    You say that’s God’s faithfulness as Creator, and you’re not wrong. But anything short of Hell is merciful, for now.

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  80. Tianqi: “How does God desire the things mentioned here “with respect to His commands”? There is no command to get elected, get sins atoned for, get effectually called, get imputed with righteousness.”

    Jeff: “The phrase “to desire with respect to His commands” indicates that if He commands something, there is a desire that it be done. In this case, the command to “repent and believe the gospel” indicates a desire that it be done; that desire would then apply equally and in the same hypothetical sense to the necessary conditions prior to the action, including election, atonement, calling.”

    It seems you are not getting my question.

    I’m talking about a *specific argument* the OPC majority report used to argue that God desires repentance and faith of the reprobates.

    *Please* read the following passage carefully and consider its reasoning. I’m quoting this passage *the 3rd time* now.

    OPC majority report: “Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end.

    It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable. For it would mean, as Calvin says, “to renounce the difference between good and evil.”

    If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.””

    Here’s my analysis of the argument in the passage above:

    (P1) God desires salvation of the reprobate *in some sense*.

    (P2) God cannot desire the end apart from desiring *all* of the necessary means to that end.

    (P3) Repentance and faith are *necessary means* to salvation.

    Conclusion from (P2), (P3): God cannot desire salvation of the reprobate apart from desiring their repentance and faith.

    Conclusion from (P1), (P2), (P3): God desires repentance and faith of the reprobate *in some sense* – the same sense in which God desires their salvation.

    This type of argument is fundamentally self-destructive to the position of “Free Offer”. What if we consider the following premise in place of (P3)?

    (P4) Election, atonement, effectual calling, imputation are *necessary means* of salvation.

    Conclusion from (P2), (P4): God cannot desire salvation of the reprobate apart from desiring their election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation.

    Conclusion from (P1), (P2), (P4): God desires the election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation of the reprobate *in some sense* – the same sense in which God desires their salvation.

    The *BIG problem* is there is *NO sense* in which God desires the election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation-of-righteousness of the reprobate, even if you were to make a distinction between “will of decree” vs “will of command”.

    Why? Because there are *NO commands* to get elected, get sins atoned for, get effectually called, get imputed with righteousness, so it makes *NO sense* to say God desires these things “with respect to His commands”.

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  81. And yet Jesus cries, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” Perhaps one way to square this puzzle is to understand that there are different kinds of causes (means). The efficient means of salvation is faith and repentance. The formal means is election, etc… God desires the efficient means, but perhaps not the formal means.

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  82. That still does not explain Jesus saying “how often I have wanted.”. I’d like to know what the Greek words are in that sentence.

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  83. @jy
    I don’t follow. Where is the nonsequitor?

    To think about different kinds of causes, maybe it is helpful to think about the question, “why did the car stop”. I’m just thinking as I write, so no guarantee that this is the best example. In answering the question, one might say “because the light turned red”. Fair enough. Someone else might say, because we are conditioned to stop at red lights. Also true. Another might answer, because the driver hit the brakes. True as well. Now of course the car won’t stop unless you hit the brakes. But you can imagine someone wanting to stop to check directions and desiring a red light and not desiring to hit the brakes. Both are causes of cars stopping. One can desire one without desiring the other.

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  84. ποσάκις ἠθέλησα ἐπισυναγαγεῖν τὰ τέκνα σου

    Literally – How often/I have intended (desired, purposed, wanted)/to gather up (together)/the offspring/of you (your children)

    Pretty much the same thing as the translation you’re using. And knowing the Greek doesn’t actually help with the dilemma. Context is king in this one, as it most often is. The wording is such that it seems reflective of God’s “desires” as he often spoke through the OT prophets.

    The word you seem most interested in is the second word in the Greek – Morphology: VIAA–1S Strong’s: 2309 Transliterated: ēthelēsa Root: θέλω. 1) to will, have in mind, intend 1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose 1b) to desire, to wish 1c) to love 1c1) to like to do a thing, be fond of doing 1d) to take delight in, have pleasure Synonym : See Definition 5915

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  85. Tianqi: We’re getting close.

    This is like debugging faulty code. One or the other of us, perhaps both, are importing a hidden assumption that is causing mischief.

    You say

    Conclusion from (P1), (P2), (P4): God desires the election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation of the reprobate *in some sense* – the same sense in which God desires their salvation.

    Yes.

    The *BIG problem* is there is *NO sense* in which God desires the election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation-of-righteousness of the reprobate, even if you were to make a distinction between “will of decree” vs “will of command”.

    How do you know this? Ah, next line.

    Why? Because there are *NO commands* to get elected, get sins atoned for, get effectually called, get imputed with righteousness, so it makes *NO sense* to say God desires these things “with respect to His commands”.

    That does not follow. I think we’ve identified the hidden assumption: You seem to assume that unless there is an explicit command for *each* condition, there is no desire for said condition. What you overlook is that a command may entail conditions, such that a desire for obedience to the command logically entails desire for those conditions to be met. An explicit command for each condition is not necessary.

    Going back to our well-worn example: There is a command for believers to abstain from sexual immorality. That entails a desire on God’s part that believers do so; in fact, this desire is explicit in the language of 1 Thess.

    A necessary condition for obedience to that command is the work of the Spirit. Hence, IF God desires obedience to the command, THEN He also desires to work by His Spirit *in the same sense* For if He does not desire fulfillment of the necessary conditions, then He does not desire the outcome either.

    So in saying that God desires repentance and faith, one is entailing God’s desire for all of the necessary conditions for repentance and faith to also be fulfilled.

    That desire is subordinate to His decrees, which explains why the desire goes unfulfilled.

    Command implies desire for obedience, which implies desire for conditions to be fulfilled that are necessary for obedience. That is what is meant by “desire with respect to the commands.”

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  86. Sbd,

    This is a simple answer:

    “Your children” and “you” refer to different groups of people. Jesus desires to gather “your children,” (His people), but “you” (the Scribes and the Pharisees) were unwilling.

    Thanks to Mitch for pointing that out to me.

    Like

  87. On second thought, why would Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, allow the Scribes and Pharisees to “not let me?” Unless not let me is a poor translation.

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  88. @johnyeazel,
    I agree with your second thought. I don’t understand how Mitch’s reading of the text helps. Why would the scribes and pharisees frustrate Christ’s attempt to gather the elect? I think you run into the same puzzle when we read 2 Peter 3:9 (not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance) and 1 Tim 2 (First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Indeed, In Acts 17:30, we see that God commands all people everywhere to repent.

    So how does this make sense if God has purposed some for salvation and some for damnation (i.e., election) which is also clearly taught in scripture? I think the source provided by SteveD is really helpful:

    [While God has only one will there]… have arisen various distinctions of the will of God. The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will. The former means that which God wills to do or permit himself; the latter what he wills that we should do. The former relates to the futurition and the event of things and is the rule of God’s external acts; the latter is concerned with precepts and promises and is the rule of our action. The former cannot be resisted and is always fulfilled: “Who hath resisted his will?” (Rom. 9:19 ). The latter is often violated by men: “How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not (Mt. 23:37 ).

    There is certainly mystery here, but I don’t see a contradiction. How is God Sovereign over all creation yet members of his creation have the ability to make free choices so that He isn’t the author of evil? I have no idea, but I am confident that scripture teaches both.

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  89. @johnyeazel
    Just to clarify, I am confident that scripture teaches both (God is Sovereign and man is culpable for his decisions) and that both are true.

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  90. @ John:

    You are correct: Jesus expressed a desire to gather up their children, but the leaders of Jerusalem were unwilling. That true observation doesn’t solve the problem. Jesus has a desire that goes unfulfilled because of God’s decrees, which included the hardness of hearts of the leaders.

    We might ascribe that desire to Jesus’ human will / nature. Then the desire to gather the children is like the desire in the garden for the cup of suffering to pass Him by.

    But it would be weird, wouldn’t it, if Jesus in His human nature had love and compassion for the children of Jerusalem, but only hatred for them in His divine nature? It’s one thing to posit two wills in Christ; it’s another to ascribe polar opposite motives to those two wills.

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  91. Jeff,

    Tianqi: “Conclusion from (P1), (P2), (P4): God desires the election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation of the reprobate *in some sense* – the same sense in which God desires their salvation.”

    Jeff: “Yes.”

    Jeff: “[…] So in saying that God desires repentance and faith, one is entailing God’s desire for all of the necessary conditions for repentance and faith to also be fulfilled. That desire is subordinate to His decrees, which explains why the desire goes unfulfilled.”

    So you say: God *in some sense* desires to ELECT those whom He decided NOT TO ELECT in His decree – in the same sense He desires their salvation.

    Am I reading you correctly?

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  92. sdb: “And yet Jesus cries, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” ”

    It has been correctly pointed out that “your children” and “you” are two different references.

    But the more important question is this: does the desire of Jesus expressed here go unfulfilled?

    No. Jesus is rebuking “you” for their opposition to his will. This does not imply that their opposition succeeded.

    Rather, God is actually using their opposition to accomplish redemption – just when they seemed to have succeeded by killing Jesus, redemption was accomplished.

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  93. “This does not imply that their opposition succeeded.”
    Your reading does not make syntactical sense. When someone says, “How often would I have X, and you were not willing!” do you conclude that what they really mean your opposition did not keep X from happening? Imagine an instructor saying, “How often would I have curved your exams, and you were not willing”. Would you conclude that the instructor was using the opposition of “you” to accomplish the curving of the exams?

    I stand by my previous response to Johnyeazel – the way to understand Jesus’s lament in light of what the scripture teaches about election is understand the distinction between the kinds of will of God.

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  94. Tianqi: So you say: God *in some sense* desires to ELECT those whom He decided NOT TO ELECT in His decree – in the same sense He desires their salvation.

    Am I reading you correctly?

    Yes, I think that’s fair. Obviously, this opens us up to a charge of abandoning God’s simplicity. I would argue that it is likely the case that His desires have a hierarchy, and are resolved in the larger plan of His will.

    We see this happening in the testing of Abraham: God desired and decreed for Abraham to earnestly try to sacrifice Isaac. He also desired and decreed that Abraham’s attempt would fail. And the two desires were resolved in the larger desire for Isaac to serve as a type.

    However, the Scripture doesn’t give us enough to say exactly what is going on with God’s psychology. So I think it safest to leave it at:

    * We know that God elects some and passes over others (Rom 9)
    * We know that God desires all to repent, since He commands that all repent (Acts 17.30).
    * We know that God’s comprehensive will is consistent rather than self-contradictory.
    * And we know that we do not fully understand His will at all points.

    It seems to me that you have two alternatives — either adopt the understanding above, or else argue that if God commands X, He may not actually want X in any sense. That places verses such as “If you love me, obey my commands” in a parlous position.

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  95. sdb: “Your reading does not make syntactical sense. When someone says, “How often would I have X, and you were not willing!” do you conclude that what they really mean your opposition did not keep X from happening? Imagine an instructor saying, “How often would I have curved your exams, and you were not willing”. Would you conclude that the instructor was using the opposition of “you” to accomplish the curving of the exams? I stand by my previous response to Johnyeazel – the way to understand Jesus’s lament in light of what the scripture teaches about election is understand the distinction between the kinds of will of God.”

    Jeff brought up God’s testing of Abraham, and I think this is a good example to show the problem of your method of interpretation.

    Genesis 22:12 And He said, Do not lay your hand on the boy, nor do anything to him. For now I know that you are a God-fearer, and you have not withheld your son, your only one, from Me.

    If we apply your method of interpretation, we should say something like:

    “When someone says to you, ‘now I know that you are faithful to me’, after you obeyed their command, do you conclude that what they really mean is that they were never uncertain about your faithfulness? The way to understand God’s word to Abraham in light of what the scripture teaches about God’s omniscience is understand the distinction between the kinds of knowledge of God – he is omniscient according to his decree, but has limited knowledge according to his personal relationship with men.”

    Do you see the problem? We must understand what God says in a way fitting His deity, not by what appears the most “natural reading” in our experience with other people.

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  96. Jeff: “So I think it safest to leave it at:
    * We know that God elects some and passes over others (Rom 9)
    * We know that God desires all to repent, since He commands that all repent (Acts 17.30).
    * We know that God’s comprehensive will is consistent rather than self-contradictory.
    * And we know that we do not fully understand His will at all points.

    It seems to me that you have two alternatives — either adopt the understanding above, or else argue that if God commands X, He may not actually want X in any sense. That places verses such as “If you love me, obey my commands” in a parlous position.”

    If God commands X, this means *what God considers X to be the right thing to do for a human being*, but it does not imply God desires that a particular hearer should do that right thing.

    Why does God consider X to be the right thing to do for a human being? Because X is part and parcel of giving glory to God.

    When God commands all to repent and believe the gospel, this means God considers repentance and believing the gospel the right thing to do for all, because repentance and believing the gospel is part and parcel of giving glory to God.

    This is all there is to the command to repent. It does not imply God desires the non-elect hearer to repent.

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  97. “Do you see the problem? We must understand what God says in a way fitting His deity, not by what appears the most “natural reading” in our experience with other people.’

    Your example of Abraham is not parallel to Jesus’s lament over Jerusalem. For starters, Jesus was really, truly human. He really wept, he was really hungry, etc… By taking on humanity he acquired attributes that do not apply to the diety – God neither slumbers nor sleeps, Jesus slept through the storm. He didn’t *seem* like he was sleeping – he really was. When Jesus spoke, you seem to think his language was anthropomorphic in the same way God’s was in the OT. I disagree.

    TW: This is all there is to the command to repent. It does not imply God desires the non-elect hearer to repent.
    Peter: The Lord…is not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
    Paul: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

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  98. Tianqi: If God commands X, this means *what God considers X to be the right thing to do for a human being*, but it does not imply God desires that a particular hearer should do that right thing.

    Why does God consider X to be the right thing to do for a human being? Because X is part and parcel of giving glory to God.

    I think we’ve reached a point of clarity about our differences. I would argue that God desires that which brings Him glory, and his desires are ordered according to what brings Him the greatest glory. So if X gives glory to God, then of course X is desired by God.

    You would argue, seemingly, that God might not desire that which brings Him glory (presumably if something else brings Him greater glory). It would seem on your account that God might *not* want people to do the right thing, in any sense of the word “want.”

    I find that weird, but I also don’t have an argument that will be persuasive. So I will leave it there. Have a merry Christmas!

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  99. Verse 37

    37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered YOUR CHILDREN (the remnant or elect) together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and YOU (the Pharisees and Scribes) were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

    DB: “How often I would have gathered the remnant from among you by sending My prophets to them with the good news, but you killed those prophets and brought suffering upon My remnant.”

    Luke 19
    41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you AND YOUR CHILDREN within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

    DB: “Had the nation followed the advice of God’s remnant and obeyed the Lord, then everyone within, the nation and remnant alike, would have remained at peace with its neighbors. Why did Assyria, the rod of His anger, punish Jerusalem? And the remnant, being part of the nation, suffered right along with the nation in this punishment.”

    DB: “The elect in Jerusalem like Peter, James and John were the children. They were physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    Jesus says gather like a hen. A hen gathers her chicks to her to protect them. She covers them with her wings.

    Remember the Dispersia Peter talks about in his epistles? This is a reference to the dispersia all the Jews suffered in AD 70.

    How often I would have gathered Peter, James and John (and all the elect) to Myself in Jerusalem. Kept them safe there like a mother hen. But you Pharisees and scribes would not. And so look now, they’re dispersed everywhere, having suffered the destruction of their home.”

    That the desire is not simply meant as an anthropomorphic mode of emphasizing the revealed will becomes evident when the assertion is made that it is an instance of a deep paradox or antinomy not resolvable by logic. In the fact that God has decreed to save only some, but has commanded the gospel to be proclaimed indiscriminately to all, there is no contradiction, but SIMPLY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOD’S DECREE AND GOD’S PRECEPTIVE WILL. To search behind the revealed will in the gospel offer for a divine inclination to save those who have been foreordained to everlasting wrath, can only appear to be ascribing a real contradiction in the will of God.

    It has been claimed that the alleged desire is actually revealed in Scripture. Those who fail to find it there have been accused of having their minds made up and ignoring the analogy of Scripture. May it not be retorted that a person with universalistic prejudices comes to the Bible determined to prove that God wants all to be saved and either ignores the passages that teach divine sovereignty in salvation, or explains them away or seeks refuge in Irrationalism? Certainly the whole teaching of the Word is to be listened to, and listening means first the use of reason in understanding what God has said, while the limits of that understanding are recognized. The real question here is whether Scripture actually teaches the universalistic view in texts such as 2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 33:11 and Matthew 23:37.

    That the Lord is not willing that any should perish, if understood of all men can only be taken of the will of command, and teaches nothing as to a desire or wish. The verb often, as the related noun, signifies, however, the determinate counsel of God. The context also, strongly supports a restriction of “any” and “all” to the elect. The long-suffering of God is to us-ward or to you-ward, i.e., those addressed as beloved in a judgment of charity. Longsuffering is not only toward the reprobate in Romans 9:22 (cf. 2:4), curiously cited to support a love toward salvation directed to such as have been indicated to have been hated (verse 15). That these verses may not legitimately be cited as providing a parallel to 2 Peter 3:9, is clear from the explicit reference to the elect as objects of the divine longsuffering in Luke 18:7. The broader context of 2 Peter 3 confirms the particularist view of the passage. Why does the second coming of Christ seem to be delayed? Because in the longsuffering of God the elect, who sometimes long resist the gospel, must all be made willing in the day of God’s power before they stand before the throne on the great day.

    In Ezekiel 33:11 as in 18:23,32, the rendering “have no pleasure” gives the proper sense, i.e. the Lord is pleased when the wicked repents, and is not pleased when he does not. The text does not assert that the Lord is pleased that the wicked should repent even when he does not. If the latter is given the sense that repentance as such is always approved by God, this truth could imply that God is pleased that the devil should repent. But surely no sober Christian would want to say that God desires the salvation of Satan. The general remark that the non-literal anthropomorphic ascription of desire is unobjectionable in itself applies also to these passages. But the widespread representation of this desire as an intention aiming at the salvation of all renders the expression undesirable, especially when the desire is viewed as an irrational urge. These passages powerfully present the sinner’s DUTY, while they do not treat of his ABILITY to obey or of the Lord’s secret counsels. Nor is there a valid reason for supposing a contradiction implied between the will of decree and what is pleasing to God.

    Matthew 23:37 is commonly misquoted as if it read, “how often would I have gathered you … and ye would not.” The text does not make a contrast between the Lord’s will and the wills of those whom he would gather, but between his compassion for Jerusalem’s children and the opposition of their leaders who have been denounced in the preceding passage. The sympathy of the Saviour is the expression of his humanity which he assumed in order that he might become a High Priest that could be touched with a feeling of our infirmities. To draw inferences as to what his divine nature might be in back of this distinctive feature of his sacred humanity is surely unwarrantable speculation into what has not been revealed.

    To combine these passages and to add texts like Matthew 5:45 which do not refer to the way of salvation, but common mercies like rain and sunshine, is hardly to present cumulative evidence for a thesis nowhere plainly taught in Scripture, and contrary to Scripture when intended to conflict with the immutability of God’s counsel. The accumulation of a series of zeros, however elaborated, is, after all, only zero.

    The desire to avoid extremes in declaring the truth is no doubt commendable, but yielding to the tempting claims of the opposite extreme even in minor matters has proved repeatedly in the history of the Church to be a step in the downward path to apostasy. The rampant evils of Arminianism among Evangelicals and Amyraldianism among Calvinists are only encouraged by adopting and even stressing the pet slogans with which they attack or obscure the doctrines of grace. Strangely, one favorite text of those who have throughout the history of Christianity insisted that God wants all men to be saved is not appealed to at present by Calvinists who use such expressions. Can it be that they realize that to take 1 Timothy 2:4 in a universalistic sense requires understanding verses 5 and 6 to teach a universal atonement, even if the will in 2:4 were taken as simply the will of command? Exegetically, as well as systematically, the thesis of Amyraldian universal grace issues in the assertion of universal redemption.

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  100. Revelation 21: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 The angel then carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down OUT OF HEAVEN

    2 I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.
    3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:

    Look! God’s dwelling is with humans
    They will be His people,
    and God Himself will live with them
    and be their God.
    4 God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
    Death will no longer exist;
    grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
    because the previous things have passed away.

    To have an actual bride, of course, you have to be moderate on what the gospel is, and not insist on everybody being specific about the nature and extent of Christ’s death—-if you can reduce the gospel to two words, that leaves room for wiggling…..
    2 Corinthians 11: 2 For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure[ devotion to Christ. 4 For if a person comes and teaches another Jesus, you put up with it

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  101. sdb: “Your example of Abraham is not parallel to Jesus’s lament over Jerusalem. For starters, Jesus was really, truly human. He really wept, he was really hungry, etc… By taking on humanity he acquired attributes that do not apply to the diety – God neither slumbers nor sleeps, Jesus slept through the storm. He didn’t *seem* like he was sleeping – he really was. When Jesus spoke, you seem to think his language was anthropomorphic in the same way God’s was in the OT. I disagree.”

    In the context of Matthew 23:37, Jesus is speaking *for* – in fact, *as* – the God of Israel, who sent His servants to gather His children (elect).

    Thus, the “humanity of Christ” does not detract from my point that we need to understand the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:37 as fitting deity.

    Jesus’s lament in v. 37 comes at the end of a litany of woes beginning with this one:

    Matthew 23:13 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of Heaven before men; for you do not enter, nor do you allow those entering to go in.

    Would anyone say the scribes and Pharisees actually succeeded in “not allowing those entering to go in”? God forbid.

    Jesus is accusing and condemning the apostate religious leaders. The sentiment expressed here is not some unrequited, frustrated love towards these false shepherds, but a righteous indignation on behalf of the sheep under their rod.

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  102. sdb: “Peter: The Lord…is not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

    2 Peter 3:9 The Lord of the promise is not slow, as some deem slowness, but is long-suffering toward us, not having purposed any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

    The keyword here is “toward us”. The Lord is long-suffering toward “US”, not having purposed any of “US” to perish, but all of “US” to come to repentance.

    The immediate context of this verse is Peter addressing what “some deem slownesss” of the Lord in fulfilling His promise. Peter’s answer is that the Lord is not returning yet because not all of “US”, whom the Lord purposed to save, are saved yet. The Lord is in the business of saving those He purposed to save, and He will not abandon any of them in their lost state before He returns.

    Far from teaching an unfulfilled desire in God to save those he did not predestine to life, this text reinforces that if God desires to save someone, he WILL accomplish it.

    sdb: “Paul: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

    1) First, if your interpretative method forces you to understand this as teaching God desiring to save all people, then you would be forced to the conclusion of universal substitution/propitiation/justification/reconciliation, since there are also texts that use “universal” language like this in regard to the scope of substitution/propitiation/justification/reconciliation (e.g. 1 John 2:2, Romans 5:18, 2 Corinthians 5:14, Colossians 1:20).

    “Universal” language does not always mean “absolutely everybody”. Moreover, there are texts that clearly teach God intentionally blinds some people from knowing the truth so that they will not be saved (e.g. John 12:40). This would be a direct contradiction if 1 Timothy 2:4 means God desires absolutely everybody to be saved and know the truth.

    2) In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul calls for prayers on behalf of “all men, for kings and all those in authority” and went on in verses 3-7 to explain the rationale behind this exhortation:

    “For this is good and acceptable before God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of truth. For God is one, also there is one Mediator of God and of men, the Man Christ Jesus, the One having given Himself a ransom on behalf of all, the testimony to be given in its own time, to which I was appointed a herald and apostle (I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie), a teacher of the nations, in faith and truth.”

    God’s desire for “all men” to be saved and know the truth, AND Christ’s giving himself a ransom on behalf of “all”, are taken as the rationale behind the exhortation to pray on behalf of “all men, for kings and all those in authority”.

    These three “all” must have the same meaning for this explanation to make sense. Since we have agreed that Christ did NOT die for absolutely everybody, the “all” does NOT refer to absolutely everybody. Rather, the phrase “for kings and all those in authority” in verse 2 suggests an explanation that fits both the immediate context of this passage and the larger context of Paul:

    “All” means “all kinds of men”. Christ died for all kinds of men, God desires all kinds of men to be saved and know the truth, therefore we should pray on behalf of all kinds of men, including kings and rulers. The “all” is an “all without distinction” rather than “all without exception”.

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  103. Jeff: “I would argue that God desires that which brings Him glory, and his desires are ordered according to what brings Him the greatest glory. So if X gives glory to God, then of course X is desired by God.

    You would argue, seemingly, that God might not desire that which brings Him glory (presumably if something else brings Him greater glory). It would seem on your account that God might *not* want people to do the right thing, in any sense of the word “want.””

    I make a distinction between “man giving glory to God” (human duty) and “God being glorified in men” (divine will/desire).

    It is not true that God would be, hypothetically speaking, glorified in the repentance of the non-elect. To the contrary, it would falsify God’s words and thwart God’s plan.

    Jesus said to some people, “you do not believe because you are my sheep”. If some of these people went on to believe in Jesus anyways, it would prove Jesus to be a liar.

    God has his trustworthiness at stake in the hardening of the non-elect. God promised to save everyone believing in the gospel, but God only sent his Son to die for the elect. Thus, if any non-elect were to believe in the gospel, then God would be forced to either save sinners apart from Christ’s death for them, or God would be forced to condemn sinners who trusted in his gospel.

    John 12:39-41 Because of this they could not believe, because Isaiah said again, “He has blinded their eyes” and “has hardened their heart,” “that they might not see with the eyes” and “understand with the heart,” “and be converted,” “and I should heal them.” Isaiah said these things when he saw His glory, and spoke about Him.

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  104. @TW I don’t find your reinterpretation of this language compelling. You are changing the meaning of words to fit your system. Turretin’s description of the two senses of what desire means and the different kinds of causation make much better sense of the scriptures. Your insistence on simple causation implies fatalism.

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  105. sdb (in reply to my interpretation of Matthew 23:37, 2 Peter 3:9, and 1 Timothy 2:1-4): “I don’t find your reinterpretation of this language compelling. You are changing the meaning of words to fit your system. Turretin’s description of the two senses of what desire means and the different kinds of causation make much better sense of the scriptures. Your insistence on simple causation implies fatalism.”

    1) “You are changing the meaning of words to fit your system.” – I interpret the words in context, both in the immediate context of the surrounding passage and in the larger context of the whole counsel of the scripture.

    As someone who holds to limited atonement, you cannot simply use the “all means all” argument, if you are to be consistent. I raised this point when I was addressing 1 Timothy 2:1-4, and you did not respond to it, so let me repeat them here:

    “If your interpretative method forces you to understand this [1 Timothy 2:4] as teaching God desiring to save all people, then you would be forced to the conclusion of universal substitution/propitiation/justification/reconciliation, since there are also texts that use “universal” language like this in regard to the scope of substitution/propitiation/justification/reconciliation (e.g. 1 John 2:2, Romans 5:18, 2 Corinthians 5:14, Colossians 1:20).”

    “[In 1 Timothy 2:3-7] God’s desire for “all men” to be saved and know the truth, AND Christ’s giving himself a ransom on behalf of “all”, are taken as the rationale behind the exhortation to pray on behalf of “all men, for kings and all those in authority”. These three “all” must have the same meaning for this explanation to make sense. Since we have agreed that Christ did NOT die for absolutely everybody, the “all” does NOT refer to absolutely everybody. ”

    2) “Turretin’s description of the two senses of what desire means and the different kinds of causation make much better sense of the scriptures.”

    Here’s the Turretin passage you quoted earlier:

    “[While God has only one will there]… have arisen various distinctions of the will of God. The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will. The former means that which God wills to do or permit himself; the latter what he wills that we should do. The former relates to the futurition and the event of things and is the rule of God’s external acts; the latter is concerned with precepts and promises and is the rule of our action. The former cannot be resisted and is always fulfilled: “Who hath resisted his will?” (Rom. 9:19 ). The latter is often violated by men: “How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not (Mt. 23:37 ).”

    Source: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/two_wills.html

    In the passage above, Turretin misquoted Matthew 23:37 as “How often would I have gathered *YOU* together, and ye would not.”

    Interestingly, I found some other quotations by Turretin, in which he did not make this mistake, and taught against a certain type of “twofold will” in God.

    “This twofold will cannot be proved from Matthew 23:37: (1) because it is not said that God willed to scatter those whom he willed to gather together, but only that Christ willed to gather together those whom Jerusalem (i.e., the chiefs of the people) nilled to be gathered together, but notwithstanding their opposition Christ did not fail in gathering together those whom he willed. Hence Augustine says, ‘She indeed was unwilling that her sons should be gathered together by him, but notwithstanding her unwillingness he gathered together his sons whom he willed’ (Enchiridion 24 [97] [FC 2:450; PL 40.277]). Therefore, Jerusalem is here to be distinguished from her sons as the words themselves prove (and the design of the chapter, in which from v. 13 to v. 37, he addresses the scribes and Pharisees and rebukes them because ‘they neither went into the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor suffered those that were entering, to go in’); (2) the will here alluded to is not the decretive, which is one only and simple, but the preceptive, which is referred to calling and is often repeated by the preaching of the word—’How often would I?’; (and so Christ here speaks as the minister of circumcision)” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1 [Phillipsburg, NJ; P&R, 1992], p. 228).

    “Although Christ professes that ‘he had wished to gather together the children of Jerusalem, and they would not’ (Matt. 23:37), it does not follow that grace is resistible. (1) Jerusalem is here openly distinguished from her children and by it are denoted the elders, scribes, priests and other leaders of the city (who are gifted with the better name of city [as Matt. 2:1, 3] and who wished to be considered the fathers of the people). Nor does Christ say that those whom he wished to gather together were unwilling to be gathered together. But only that Jerusalem was unwilling that her children should be gathered and ‘thou wouldst not’ (to wit, ye leaders). And thus Christ does not so much complain of those who being called had not come, as of those who resisted the calling of others as much as they could (the key of knowledge being taken away); not entering as to themselves and prohibiting others who entered (i.e., who desired to enter) as much as in them lay, as we read in Luke 11:52. But still Christ did not cease, notwithstanding the resistance of the leaders of the city, to gather whom he wished, as Augustine has it” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 2 [Phillipsburg, NJ; P&R, 1994], p. 556).

    Source: https://cprc.co.uk/quotes/matthew23v37/

    Turretin’s comments on Matthew 23:37 here are almost the same as what I said about Matthew 23:37, except for one difference:

    “(2) the will here alluded to is not the decretive, which is one only and simple, but the preceptive, which is referred to calling and is often repeated by the preaching of the word—’How often would I?’; (and so Christ here speaks as the minister of circumcision)”

    However, in this instance, Turretin did NOT use this “precept vs decree” distinction to teach that Christ’s desire “to gather your children” was thwarted by the opposition of “you”. Rather, he said:

    “Christ does not so much complain of those who being called had not come, as of those who resisted the calling of others as much as they could (the key of knowledge being taken away)… But still Christ did not cease, notwithstanding the resistance of the leaders of the city, to gather whom he wished”.

    In the same webpage above containing the two quotations of Turretin, there is also a quotation of Robert Dabney, commenting on Turretin’s argument against “Hypothetical Universalists”:

    “The attempt of the ‘Hypothetic Universalists’ was to reconcile all the scriptures by ascribing to God two acts of will concerning human salvation–one general and conditional volition to send Christ to provide expiation for all men, and to receive them all to heaven, provided they would believe on him; the other, a special and unconditioned volition to call the elect effectually, and thus insure that they should believe and be saved. Then they supposed that all the texts in question could be explained as expressions of the general and conditioned volition. But Turretin’s refutation (for instance, Loc. IV., Qu. 17) is fatal. He urges that the only merciful volition of God in Scripture is that towards the elect; and ‘the rest he hardeneth’ [cf. Rom. 9:18; 11:7]; that it is inevitably delusive to represent an omniscient and omnipotent Agent as having any kind of volition towards a result, when, foreseeing that the sinner will certainly not present the essential condition thereof–faith–he himself distinctly purposes not to bestow it; that the hearing of the gospel (Rom. x. 14) is as means equally essential, and God providentially leaves all the heathen without this; and that it is derogatory to God’s power and sovereignty to represent any volition of his, that is a volition, as failing in a multitude of cases. It is significant that the Reformed divines of Turretin’s school seem usually to conduct this debate on the assumption, sometimes tacit, sometimes expressed, that as God had no volition towards the salvation of the non-elect, so he could not have any propension or affection at all towards it … [Turretin] urges the inconsistency of ‘an ineffectual and imperfect will’ (in the Almighty) ‘which doth not bring to pass the thing willed’” (Robert Lewis Dabney, Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney (Edinburgh: Banner, 1982), vol. 1, pp. 283-284).

    It seems Turretin is *against* the notion of an ineffectual, unfulfilled desire in God – quite at odds with the doctrine of “Free Offer” of OPC majority report.

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  106. @TW
    Here are a few responses to your posts.

    Would anyone say the scribes and Pharisees actually succeeded in “not allowing those entering to go in”? God forbid.

    Jesus is accusing and condemning the apostate religious leaders. The sentiment expressed here is not some unrequited, frustrated love towards these false shepherds, but a righteous indignation on behalf of the sheep under their rod.

    While I agree that this comes at the end of a list of woes directed at the religious leaders of the people, the Jerusalem, O Jerusalem is a lament. God desired for his people to repent, but he did not bring it to pass and he used the religious leaders to bring about what he had predetermined.

    First, if your interpretative method forces you to understand this as teaching God desiring to save all people, then you would be forced to the conclusion of universal substitution/propitiation/justification/reconciliation, since there are also texts that use “universal” language like this in regard to the scope of substitution/propitiation/justification/reconciliation (e.g. 1 John 2:2, Romans 5:18, 2 Corinthians 5:14, Colossians 1:20).

    Not all general language is universal, but when the scriptures tell us that because God love the Cosmos, he sent his only son that whosoever believes in him… or that he is the propitiation for the “entire cosmos”, you get into trouble if you want to say the entire universe really means just the elect. In the case of 1 John 2:2, it makes much more sense to me to retain the universal language used by John and align it with John’s other clear language that only the elect are saved (e.g., John 6) by understanding this passage telling us that the atonement is sufficient for the entire cosmos. I’m not expert in Greek, so I will happily stand corrected if I am mistaken, but I gather that the *is* in 1 John 2:2 means “to be/exist/is possible/is proper”. The option of understanding *is* as *is possible* implies potentiality – Jesus’s atoning sacrifice is not just sufficient for the elect, it is sufficient for the entire cosmos.

    In Romans 5:18, 2 Cor 5:14, and Col 1:20 the *all* is “pas” which can mean “in all respects” which does sound like “all kinds”. I don’t see that these verses create any interpretative challenges in light of what scripture teaches about election.

    So what about 1 Tim 2:1-4? Well, the “all” here is also “pas”, so it could mean all kinds, but does that make sense. You wrote, “In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul calls for prayers on behalf of “all men, for kings and all those in authority” and went on in verses 3-7 to explain the rationale behind this exhortation:” You are slightly mistaken here. Paul gives his rationale explicitly in verse 2: pray for everyone including kings “in order that (so as that) we might live out our lives in tranquility and calmness with complete reverence and godly dignity.” So given the context in which Paul lived, the people they would be praying for in order to live a peaceful and quiet life would include the non-elect. Now we can move onto vs 3ff. What do we see? praying for non-elect leaders so that we may live in peace and quiet is pleasing to God because he wants all the elect to be saved? How does that make sense? It doesn’t. It is pleasing to him, because he wants all people to be saved. So far so good, but what do we do with verse 6? This is trickier. On the one hand, it is tempting to conclude that now Paul has switched to using “pas” to mean all kinds. But it is part of a chain with the previous three uses of “pas” that only makes sense to include the non-elect. Furthermore, in vs 8ff Paul switches from “hyper pas anthropos” (for/of all men) to wanting the men (ho aner) to pray. Here he has switched from universal language to particular language, so clearly we lose something if we assume that the universal *all* really just means the particular elect as in the case in verse 8 forward. That strikes me as a very odd construction. Curiously, this is the only place in the NT that this word translated ransom is used in the NT. Could it be that what Paul is describing here is value of the mediator – namely the value of the sacrifice is sufficient for all people. So the point of this phrase in verse 6 is not to describe the scope of the atonement, but instead the worth of the atoner.

    “Turretin…taught against a certain type of “twofold will” in God….It seems Turretin is *against* the notion of an ineffectual, unfulfilled desire in God – quite at odds with the doctrine of “Free Offer” of OPC majority report.”

    As you noted, Turrentin retained a notion of two *kinds* of will in God – decree and precept. But so what. The question is whether this distinction helps us make sense of what scripture teaches. In my decidedly non-expert understanding, I would say:
    1. God chooses to save some and not others
    2. God desires that everyone would repent of their sins and trust Christ and for that matter not sin in the first place.
    3. No one will do so on their own accord, so only those God has chosen to give a new heart will receive the benefit of Christ’s death by responding in faith and repentance at the hearing of the gospel.
    4. This isn’t because Christ’s death was only good enough to save some. Christ’s death would be sufficient to save any number of people, but it is only effective for those whom the blood has been applied.
    5. God uses means to accomplish his ends: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” So in a real sense, someone was saved because they heard the gospel and responded in faith and repentance and others are not saved because they either never heard the gospel or they heard it and did not respond in faith and repentance. These are the means by which God brings about his election established before the cosmos was created. This is where the different kinds of causation are helpful to understand how it is simultaneously true that we are saved because we were chosen and because we responded in faith at the hearing of the gospel.

    I understand that you disagree. Fair enough, but nothing you’ve written here has given me reason to change my stance on these points. I do see that your fixation on the doctrine of the limited atonement has caused you to flatten your reading of the scriptures and frankly miss important truths embedded in the texts.

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  107. sdb: “Not all general language is universal, but when the scriptures tell us that because God love the Cosmos, he sent his only son that whosoever believes in him… or that he is the propitiation for the “entire cosmos”, you get into trouble if you want to say the entire universe really means just the elect.”

    What “trouble” do I get into, if I say “God loved the cosmos” in effect means “God loved the elect only”?

    David Engelsma: “The world of John 3:16 (Greek: kosmos, from which comes our English word, cosmos, referring to our “orderly, harmonious, systematic universe”) is the creation made by God in the beginning, now disordered by sin, with the elect from all nations, now by nature children of wrath even as the others, as the core of it. As regards its people, the world of John 3:16 is the new humanity in Jesus Christ, the last Adam (I Corinthians 15:45). John calls this new human race “the world” in order to show, and emphasize, that it is not from the Jewish people alone, but from all nations and peoples (Revelation 7:9). The people who make up the world of John 3:16 are all those, and those only, who will become believers (whosoever believeth”); and it is the elect who believe (Acts 13:48).”

    I basically agree with Engelsma’s interpretation. “Cosmos” is a holistic term and when it is said God loves the “cosmos”, it is not about God’s love for every individual in the “cosmos”, but about God’s love for the “cosmos” as a whole. This is similar to the OT passages about God’s love for Israel – it does not mean God loves every individual Israelite, but God loves Israel as a nation. In John 3:16, the scope of God’s love is revealed to exceed Israel, but to the whole world, i.e. the entire human race. Yet, this still does not mean God loves every individual human being, no more than the OT passages mean God loves every individual Israelite.

    Consider this analogy: The human race is like a plant that has been infected by a deadly disease, and God the gardener is rescuing this plant from this disease. This does not mean He has to rescue every individual plant cell, but He only needs to rescue a “core” of the plant – some from every part of the plant. In fact, part of His “surgical operations” involves the cutting off some of the plant cells.

    The point of this analogy (which bears some similarity to John 15) is to show that “God has (some degree of) love for every human being” is not a necessary reading of John 3:16, but one could read it naturally and consistently with “God only loves the elect”.

    Engelsma went on to provide some quotations of other Reformed theologians.

    Frances Turretin: “The love treated of in John 3:16. .. cannot be universal towards all and every one, but special towards a few… because the end of that love which God intends is the salvation of those whom He pursues with such love.. . If therefore God sent Christ for that end, that through Him the world might be saved, He must either have failed of His end, or the world must necessarily be saved in fact. But it is certain that not the whole world, but only those chosen out of the world are saved; therefore, to them properly has this love reference… Why then should not the world here be taken not universally for individuals, but indefinitely for anyone, Jews as well as Gentiles, without distinction of nation, language and condition. that He may be said to have loved the human race, inasmuch as He was unwilling to destroy it entirely but decreed to save some certain persons Out of it, not only from one people as before, but from all indiscriminately, although the effects of that love should not be extended to each individual, but only to some certain ones, viz, those chosen out of the world?” (Theological Institutes)

    Abraham Kuyper: “For if there is anything that is certain from a somewhat more attentive reading of Holy Scripture, and that may be held as firmly established, it is, really, the irrefutable fact, that the word, world, in Holy Scripture, means “all men” only as a very rare exception and almost always means something entirely different.”

    Engelsma quotes Kuyper: “In explanation, specifically, of the “world” of John 3:16, Kuyper went on to say that the reference is to the “proper kernal” of the creation, the elect people of God, “which Jesus snatches away from Satan.” out of this kernal, out this congregation, out of this people, a “new world,” a “new earth and new heaven,” shall one day appear, by a wonder-work of God. The earth does not merely serve to allow the elect to be saved, in order then to disappear. No, the elect are men; these men form a whole, a collection, an organism; that organism is grounded in creation; and because now this creation is the reflection of God’s wisdom and the work of His hands, God’s administration of it may not come to nothing, but in the Great Day God’s will with this creation shall be perfectly realized. (Dat De Genade Particulier Is (That Grace is Particular). My translation of the Dutch.)

    Arthur W. Pink: “Turning now to John 3:16, it should be evident from the passages just quoted that this verse will not bear the construction usually put upon it. “God so loved the world.” Many suppose that this means, The entire human race. But “the entire human race” includes all mankind from Adam till the close of earth’s history: it reaches backward as well as forward! Consider, then, the history of mankind before Christ was born. Unnumbered millions lived and died before the Savior came to the earth, lived here “having no hope and without God in the world,” and therefore passed out into eternity of woe. If God “loved” them, where is the slightest proof thereof? Scripture declares “Who (God) in times past (from the tower of Babel till after Pentecost) suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). Scripture declares that “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Rom. 1:28). To Israel God said, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). In view of these plain passages who will be so foolish as to insist that God in the past loved all mankind! The same applies with equal force to the future . . . But the objector comes back to John 3:16 and says, “World means world. “True, but we have shown that “the world” does not mean the whole human family. The fact is that “the world” is used in a general way.. . Now the first thing to note in connection with John 3:16 is that our Lord was there speaking to Nicodemus, a man who believed that God’s mercies were confined to his own nation. Christ there announced that God’s love in giving His Son had a larger object in view, that it flowed beyond the boundary of Palestine, reaching out to “regions beyond.” In other words, this was Christ’s announcement that God had a purpose of grace toward Gentiles as well as Jews. “God so loved the world,” then, signifies, God’s love is international in its scope. But does this mean that God loves every individual among the Gentiles? Not necessarily, for as we have seen the term “world” is general rather than specific, relative rather than absolute. . . the “world” in John 3:16 must, in the final analysis refer to the world of God’s people. Must we say, for there is no other alternative solution. It cannot mean the whole human race, for one half of the race was already in hell when Christ came to earth. It is unfair to insist that it means every human being now living, for every other passage in the New Testament where God’s love is mentioned limits it to His own people — search and see! The objects of God’s love in John 3:16 are precisely the same as the objects of Christ’s love in John 13:1: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His time was come, that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” We may admit that our interpretation of John 3:16 is no novel one invented by us, but one almost uniformly given by the Reformers and Puritans, and many others since them.” (The Sovereignty of God)

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  108. “What “trouble” do I get into, if I say “God loved the cosmos” in effect means “God loved the elect only”?”

    You enter Humpty Dumpty land:

    “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. ‘ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things. … ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

    If “cosmos” means just the elect, then you have radically redefined the meaning of the word. In an effort to rescue the doctrine of election, these writers are misreading scripture. Did God cease loving the Son when he poured out his wrath upon him? Of course not. Similarly, there is no contradiction between God loving the reprobate, desiring that they should come to repentance, and electing not to give them the new nature necessary for responding in faith and repentance to the gospel. God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. He provides the blessing of love, family, and prosperity to evil doers even though they are his enemies. We are called to love our enemies, and God does not require of us anything less than he himself does. Your analogy of the plant doesn’t work – you can love the entire plant including the parts that need to be pruned and thrown into the fire. This necessity does not imply that one doesn’t love the plant. Or to take a different analogy – my son could commit a heinous crime, say mass murder. I would still love him even as I believed that the correct consequence would be the death penalty.

    What’s curious is that among all the biblical texts that describe God’s love, nowhere does it say that God loves the elect only. Inclusive language is used throughout scripture. If God intended us to believe that He only loved the elect and hated the non-elect, He would say so (or else you have to toss the perspicuity of scripture). In Romans 9, when Paul quotes Mal – and notes that he loved Jacob and “hated” Esau, the word there can be translated a variety of ways including to “regard with less affection, love less, esteem less”. This is the same word used in Luke 14 where we are told that we must “hate” our parents to be his disciple. That God loves everyone does not entail that he loves all equally. Clearly, he loved Israel more than Egypt and loves the elect more than the non-elect. But that fact does not entail that God thus “hates” the non-elect.

    Furthermore, taking such a belief as a necessary consequence of being among the elect is a form of gnosticism. The words of scripture don’t mean what they ordinarily mean – rather there is a secret meaning only discernible by the initiated (in this case McMark and his disciples).

    I don’t doubt that some conclude (including many from my own theological tradition) that God loves only the elect. I find that view mistaken, but not a test of orthodoxy.

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  109. Tianqi,

    It is odd that you rely on Dabney’s read of Turretin when you have access to the source itself. In the very first sentence of Turretin’s “Are there Two Wills in God?”, we find

    May the will be properly distinguished into the will of decree and of precept, good purpose (eudokias) and good pleasure (euarestias), signified, secret and revealed? We affirm.

    So when you go on to argue, using Dabney, that

    It seems Turretin is *against* the notion of an ineffectual, unfulfilled desire in God – quite at odds with the doctrine of “Free Offer” of OPC majority report.

    you are badly misreading both Turretin and the OPC report, which makes the same distinction as Turretin. The key point is that God takes good pleasure in the repentance of the evildoer, and that good pleasure goes unfulfilled in the case of unrepentant evildoers.

    Your system is making it hard to see that point, which is causing you to argue many dubious things, such as that God would be both glorified and not glorified by the hypothetical repentance of the non-elect.

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  110. sdb: “If “cosmos” means just the elect, then you have radically redefined the meaning of the word. ”

    Consider the following verse.

    John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him, yet the world did not know Him.

    Is this verse teaching *every human being without exception* did not know Christ? No. When this verse says the “cosmos” did not know Christ, the “cosmos” that did not know Christ refers only to the unregenerate part of the human race.

    This is a case of figure of speech called “synecdoche” – the whole stands for the part or vice versa.

    My claim is that in John 3:16, “cosmos” is also a synechedoche – the “cosmos” that God loved only refers to the elect part of the human race.

    At the least, you should acknowledge my reading as an interpretive possibility, and not simply pull out “world means world” and think this settles the question.

    The question remains whether it is in fact the author’s intended meaning. This is to be determined by the whole counsel of scriptures.

    In the case of John 1:10, we know it is not saying no human being knew Christ, because scriptures clearly taught some human beings know Christ.

    What about John 3:16? The key is that God’s love is described as “gave his only-begotten son”. How did God love the “cosmos”? By giving his only-begotten son for them.

    Now consider the following verse:

    Romans 8:32 Truly He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up on behalf of us all, how will He not freely give ALL things to us *with Him*?

    If God loved someone that he gave Christ for them, then God will give that person both Christ himself and all other things. In particular, God will give them the free gift of righteousness (i.e. “apply the blood”) as well as the gift of faith (through the Spirit’s work of regeneration).

    The case of 1 John 2:2 is the same. If Christ is the propitiation for the sins of someone, then Romans 8:32 assures us God will apply that blood to that person as well as give faith to that person.

    Thus, the “cosmos” in John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 can only mean the elect part of the cosmos. It is an example of synecdoche.

    sdb: ” God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. He provides the blessing of love, family, and prosperity to evil doers even though they are his enemies. We are called to love our enemies, and God does not require of us anything less than he himself does. ”

    I suppose you made a typo and meant “God does not require of us anything *more* than he himself does” and meant to argue that if God commands us to love our enemies, this implies he loves his enemies.

    I disagree with this idea.

    God commands every human being to love him with *ALL one’s heart and might*.

    However, God does not love every human being with *ALL his heart and might* (else every human being would be saved in the end).

    Thus, just because we are called to love our enemies, this does not imply that God loves his enemies.

    God’s relation to man, man’s relation to God, man’s relation to man – these are not symmetric, because of the Creator-creature distinction/inequality.

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  111. Jeff,

    1) Do you think Dabney is misquoting Turretin?

    “[Turretin] urges the inconsistency of ‘an ineffectual and imperfect will’ (in the Almighty) ‘which doth not bring to pass the thing willed’””

    2) OPC majority report: “The question then is: what is IMPLICIT in, or LIES BACK of; the full and free offer of the gospel to all without distinction? The word “desire” has come to be used in the debate, not because it is necessarily the most accurate or felicitous word but because it serves to set forth quite sharply a certain implication of the full and free offer of the gospel to all. This implication is that in the free offer there is expressed NOT SIMPLY the bare preceptive will of God but the disposition of LOVINGKINDNESS on the part of God pointing to the salvation to be gained through compliance with the overtures of gospel grace. In other words, the gospel is not simply an offer or invitation but also implies that God delights that those to whom the offer comes would enjoy what is offered in all its fullness.”

    This is intentionally GOING BEYOND “will of command vs will of decree”.

    The OPC “free offer” theologians are NOT SIMPLY saying God is pleased with a hearer’s repentance in the sense of a “bare preceptive will”, but they are saying God has a disposition of *lovingkindness* in which he *desires* that every hearer *would enjoy* the salvation offered in the gospel through meeting its conditions.

    Turretin did not say this, but is quite careful to deny such “desire” on God’s part that the non-elect would receive salvation under some condition:

    “XII. Although to the will euarestia [good pleasure] belong also the promises of giving salvation to believers (which are proposed with the gospel precept), it does not follow that it ought to connote any condition, decree or volition (properly so called) concerning the giving of salvation to all. For such a decree cannot consist with the decree of reprobation, or with the wisdom of God, to which *it is repugnant to WILL anything under an IMPOSSIBLE condition (and which God, who alone can give it, has himself decreed to WITHHOLD from the creature)*. But from this we can only gather that there is an inseparable connection between faith and salvation, constituted by God himself so that no one can obtain salvation who does not possess faith, and no one can have faith without most certainly obtaining salvation. Thus the promises added to the precepts signify only what God will grant to believers and penitents, not what he wills to grant to all those to whom the precept is proposed.”

    “XXII. To that external word which is a sign (for example, every believer in Christ shall be saved) some internal word or thing signified ought to answer (viz., the will of God to connect inseparably faith in Christ with salvation and to propose to man such an order and way of salvation). But it CANNOT BE the conditional will to *save each and every individual under that condition* because God would testify that he wills what in reality he does not will towards those passed by (from whom he withholds the condition).”

    Here we perceive a difference between the thinking of Turretin and the thinking of OPC “free offer” theologians:

    For Turretin, it is inconceivable that God has some sort of will for the salvation of non-elect under an impossible condition (because God withholds from them).

    But for the OPC “free offer” theologians, it’s their entire thesis that God has a sort of desire for the salvation of the non-elect under the “conditions of gospel offer” (which God withhold from them).

    3) However, there is also a big problem with Turretin’s own view on the promise of salvation to believers:

    Turretin: “XX. The will of sign which is set forth as extrinsic ought to correspond with some internal will in God that it may not be false and deceptive; but that internal will is not the decree concerning the gift of salvation to this or that one, but the decree concerning the command of faith and promise of salvation if the man does believe (which is founded both upon the connection established by God between faith and salvation and the internal disposition of God by which, as he loves himself, he cannot but love his image wherever he sees it shining and is so much pleased with the faith and repentance of the creature as to grant it salvation).”

    For a clearer view of what’s going on, let me unpack this passage:

    (i) “The will of sign which is set forth as extrinsic ought to correspond with some internal will in God that it may not be false and deceptive”

    (ii) “but that internal will is not the decree concerning the gift of salvation to this or that one”

    (iii) “but [that internal will is] the decree concerning the command of faith and promise of salvation if the man does believe”

    (iv) “[This decree is] founded both upon

    (a) the connection established by God between faith and salvation, and

    (b) the internal disposition of God by which, as he loves himself, he cannot but love his image wherever he sees it shining and is so much pleased with the faith and repentance of the creature as to grant it salvation”

    Take a close look at (iv/b). THIS is a bald-faced statement of turning faith and repentance into *works of righteousness* (“God’s image…shining”) that *morally qualify the sinner for salvation* (“God…so much pleased with…as to grant it salvation”).

    This confirms a point I made earlier in this comment thread:

    “By refering the (alleged) “God’s desire for the salvation of all” to God’s *will of command* – and making this the basis of the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel – the “Free Offer” preaches a new law as the gospel. It preaches a promise of “do this and you shall live”, accompanied by a plea to “therefore choose life”. The “Free Offer” preaches a justification *conditioned* on the hearer’s *obedience to a command*.”

    Of course, Turretin did not teach the same sort of “Free Offer” as OPC majority report taught – he did not see a disposition of “lovingkindness” in which God desires that EVERY hearer would enjoy the salvation offered in the gospel through meeting its conditions. However, he had this in common with the OPC majority report: he still made the faith and repentance into “conditions” of salvation.

    OPC majority report: “Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end. It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable. For it would mean, as Calvin says, “to renounce the difference between good and evil.” If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.”

    A summary so far:

    Turretin: faith is the “condition”, God withholds faith from non-elect, so there is not even a conditional will towards their salvation, since God does not will something under an impossible condition.

    OPC “free offer” theologian: faith is the “condition”, God desires the non-elect to enjoy salvation, so God desires the non-elect to enjoy salvation through faith, even though God does not decree this to happen.

    Now, *you*, Jeff, have been trying to make this argument: God commands the non-elect to have faith, so God desires the non-elect to have faith, so God desires the non-elect to have salvation (election, atonement, etc).

    I disagree with your argument. But I also think your argument is not the same as the argument made by OPC “free offer”, or Turretin. I’m not sure why you think you, OPC majority report, and Turretin are saying the same thing.

    (As for me, I think faith is not a “condition” and moreover, imputation precedes faith, the gospel is not an offer with conditions but a unilateral proclamation. )

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  112. “Is this verse teaching *every human being without exception* did not know Christ? No. When this verse says the “cosmos” did not know Christ, the “cosmos” that did not know Christ refers only to the unregenerate part of the human race.”

    That’s a curious reading. I would take that to be all inclusive – when Christ came into the world, no one knew him (knew meaning having a relationship with). Everyone is non-regenerate by nature – he came to his own, but his own did not accept him. To those who did accept them, he gave the right of sons. In other words, not a single person in the whole cosmos knows him on their own. Rather, only those who are born of the spirit. So yes, I take the cosmos here to mean all without exception.

    I get the role of a synecdoche. But consider this… If I say Germany won the World Cup, obviously I don’t mean that the entire nation of Germany won the World Cup. Rather I mean the German national team won the World Cup. But if I say that the entire nation of Germany won the World Cup, then it is hard to see how this is a synecdoche. Similarly for 1 John 2:2 – it is holos kosmos (entire cosmos). I agree that John doesn’t use “holos” in his gospel, but neither does he use pas. Reading it context with his other writing really is consistent with universal language. Your interpretation doesn’t have the whole representing the part. Rather the whole includes the parts explicitly excluded in your reading. That is a very strange use of a synecdoche (the nations won the World Cup really means that the team from one nation won the World Cup and everyone else lost).

    “Romans 8:32 Truly He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up on behalf of us all, how will He not freely give ALL things to us *with Him*?

    If God loved someone that he gave Christ for them, then God will give that person both Christ himself and all other things. In particular, God will give them the free gift of righteousness (i.e. “apply the blood”) as well as the gift of faith (through the Spirit’s work of regeneration).”

    No. Your assumption is that because God loves someone, he elects them. That is incorrect. The “us all” is the elect. Christ died only on behalf of the elect and it is to the elect that God gives us ALL things. I don’t see what the problem is here.

    “I disagree with this idea.

    God commands every human being to love him with *ALL one’s heart and might*.

    However, God does not love every human being with *ALL his heart and might* (else every human being would be saved in the end).

    Thus, just because we are called to love our enemies, this does not imply that God loves his enemies.

    God’s relation to man, man’s relation to God, man’s relation to man – these are not symmetric, because of the Creator-creature distinction/inequality.”

    Right, God commands us to love him just as he loves Him. This makes the most sense within the context of the Trinity – We are to love the Father just as the Son loves the Father and so forth.

    What follows is what we are debating – God can love a fallen people, desire their repentance, and not elect them. God is love. What can I say? I have no idea why God chose to elect some and not others – his will here is inscrutable. But I don’t see any reason that I have to conclude that God loves some and not others and thus elected them. Or that God hated everyone, saved some anyway and then changed to loving them.

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  113. TW: Do you think Dabney is misquoting Turretin?

    “[Turretin] urges the inconsistency of ‘an ineffectual and imperfect will’ (in the Almighty) ‘which doth not bring to pass the thing willed’””

    Dabney and Turretin both are taking aim at something different, the Amyrauldian understanding of the atonement. No-one here is arguing for that, nor is the OPC. Yes: Turretin denies that God decrees contrary things, as have I, and as did the OPC report.

    But when it comes to the contrast between decrees and precepts, he says.

    The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will. The former means that which God wills to do or permit himself; the latter what he wills that we should do. The former relates to the futurition and the event of things and is the rule of God’s external acts; the latter is concerned with precepts and promises and is the rule of our action. The former cannot be resisted and is always fulfilled: “Who hath resisted his will?” (Rom. 9:19 ). The latter is often violated by men: “How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not (Mt. 23:37 ).

    And about their consistency

    Hence it happens that although these wills may be conceived by us as diverse (owing to the diversity of the objects), yet they are not contrary. For as was just said, they are not occupied about the same thing.

    And about the two wills with regard to the salvation of all:

    When the will of pleasure is contradistinguished from the signified will, the word “beneplacit” is not taken widely to denote the simple complacency and approbation of the thing or the decree of its injunction. In this sense, the will of sign can also be called the will of beneplacit because it is occupied about things approved by God and things which he decrees to enjoin upon the creature. But it is taken strictly to denote the placitum or decree of God concerning the effecting or permitting of a certain thing, just as the decrees of courts are called Placita (”decisions”).

    XVIII. There cannot be contrariety between these two wills because they do not will and nill the same thing in the same manner and respect. The will of purpose is the will of event and execution. The signified will is the will of duty and of the obligation to it. Thus God willed the immolation of Isaac by a will of sign as to the preception (i.e., he prescribed it to Abraham as a test of his obedience), but he nilled it by a beneplacit will as to the event itself because he had decreed to prohibit that slaughter. Now although these two acts of the divine will are diverse (”I will to command Abraham to slay his son and “I do not will that immolation”), yet they are not contrary, for both were true–that God both decreed to enjoin this upon Abraham and equally decreed to hinder the effecting of it.

    Hence God without contrariety willed Isaac to be offered up and not to be offered up. He willed it as to the precept, but nilled it as to the effect. The whole will of God about this affair was not either only to command Abraham to make that sacrifice or to hinder it, but ought to embrace those two diverse acts (the former of which is affirmative, occupied with the injunction of the thing; and the latter negative, respecting the hindrance of it). Nor does it follow from this that man is ordered to believe what is false. For we are ordered to believe what is revealed just because it is revealed. However the event is not already revealed by a command of this kind, but only the duty and the obligation to it.

    XIX. Although God may be said to will the salvation of all by the will of sign and to nill it by the beneplacit will, yet there is no contradiction here. Besides the fact that the universal proposition is to be understood not so much of the singulars of the genera as of the genera of the singulars, the former will relates to the mere approbation of God and the command of duty, while the latter is concerned with its futurition and fulfillment. The former denotes what is pleasing to God and what he has determined to enjoin upon man for the obtainment of salvation, but the latter what God himself has decreed to do. But these two are not at variance: to will to call to faith and salvation, and yet to nill to give that faith and salvation; to will (i.e., to command man to believe) and to nill (i.e., to decree not to give him faith in order that he may believe).

    I know that you accept that God’s precepts are different from His decrees. What you still lack is to see that God is pleased by obedience to His precepts, whence it follows that He would be hypothetically pleased by the (impossible) repentance of the non-elect.

    In this, Turretin, OPC, and Cagle are on the same page.

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  114. sdb: “That’s a curious reading. I would take that to be all inclusive – when Christ came into the world, no one knew him (knew meaning having a relationship with). Everyone is non-regenerate by nature – he came to his own, but his own did not accept him. To those who did accept them, he gave the right of sons. In other words, not a single person in the whole cosmos knows him on their own. Rather, only those who are born of the spirit. So yes, I take the cosmos here to mean all without exception. ”

    If by “coming into the world” you mean the Incarnation, it is clear that some already trusted in Christ before he came in the flesh and moreover they accepted him when he came in the flesh.

    Luke 2:25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. And this man was righteous and devout, eagerly expecting the Consolation of Israel. And the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it happened to him, having been divinely instructed by the Holy Spirit, he was not to see death before he would see the Christ of the Lord.

    In any case, my point is that John uses “cosmos” to materially refer to a subset of the human race. Here’s another example:

    John 17:9 I pray concerning them; I do not pray concerning THE WORLD, but concerning the ones whom You gave to Me, because they are Yours.

    sdb: “But if I say that the entire nation of Germany won the World Cup, then it is hard to see how this is a synecdoche. Similarly for 1 John 2:2 – it is holos kosmos (entire cosmos).”

    No, adding “entire” does not exclude synecdoche. Consider the following verse.

    Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of in ALL THE WORLD (holo to kosmo).

    sdb: “Your interpretation doesn’t have the whole representing the part. Rather the whole includes the parts explicitly excluded in your reading. That is a very strange use of a synecdoche (the nations won the World Cup really means that the team from one nation won the World Cup and everyone else lost). ”

    If the majority of the population of a people group were killed, leaving a small number of survivors, one can still say that people group survived.

    For example, the human race survived the Flood, even though only 8 people were saved.

    The word “entire” (holos) is to remind us the proper perspective of things: even though not every human person will be saved, this does not mean the human race will only be “partially” saved, but the human race is “entirely” saved when the elect are all saved.

    sdb: “No. Your assumption is that because God loves someone, he elects them. That is incorrect. The “us all” is the elect. Christ died only on behalf of the elect and it is to the elect that God gives us ALL things. I don’t see what the problem is here.”

    But the love of God in John 3:16 is manifested in the giving of Christ. It is YOU who insisted that text is talking about God’s universal love, thus a universal offer of Christ’s death, even interpreting 1 John 2:2 as saying Christ’s death is a universal “potential” propitiation. But when it comes to Romans 8:32, you turn around and insist this text is only talking about Christ died on behalf of the elect.

    “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing into Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
    “And He Himself is the propitiation relating to our sins, and not relating to ours only, but also relating to all the world.”
    “Truly He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up on behalf of us all, how will He not freely give all things to us with Him?”

    There is nothing in these 3 texts that suggest 2 different senses of “God loves you”, 2 different sense of “Christ died for you”, a universal “potential”/”free-offer” sense and a particular “effectual”/”election” sense. This is a false, imaginary partition of God’s love manifested in Christ’s death.

    The combined import of John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, and Romans 8:32 is that if God so loved the world that he did not spare his only-begotten son, but gave him as the propitiation concerning their sins, then God will freely give all things to them with his son, including the gift of faith.

    sdb: “What follows is what we are debating – God can love a fallen people, desire their repentance, and not elect them. God is love. What can I say? I have no idea why God chose to elect some and not others – his will here is inscrutable. But I don’t see any reason that I have to conclude that God loves some and not others and thus elected them. Or that God hated everyone, saved some anyway and then changed to loving them.”

    Well, let’s look at the passage that tells us “God is love”:

    1 John 4:8 The one who does not love has not known God, because GOD IS LOVE.
    9 By THIS the love of God was revealed in us, because His Son, the Only begotten, God has sent into the world that we might live through Him.
    10 In THIS is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation relating to our sins.

    “God is love” is manifested in the propitiatory death of Christ. (Just to be clear, I never said Christ’s death causes God to love the elect. I always say God sends Christ to die for the elect out of a love that’s already in God. )

    The extent of God’s love is the extent of Christ’s death is the extent of propitiation is the extent of justification of life.

    There is no other kind of divine love known to us in addition to this unconditional, unfailing divine love revealed in the gospel of Christ and him crucified.

    The scheme that there is a universal love revealed in “free offer of gospel” and then there is another more secret, particular love known through “reformed theology” is a DENIAL of this true revelation of God’s love. It’s a pretentious concoction of blind men that think they “know better” about what to “proclaim” to the “sheep” and what to keep to their wise and prudent selves.

    Liked by 1 person

  115. Jeff: “I know that you accept that God’s precepts are different from His decrees. What you still lack is to see that God is pleased by obedience to His precepts, whence it follows that He would be hypothetically pleased by the (impossible) repentance of the non-elect.”

    No, because God cannot be pleased by the sacrifice of the wicked.

    Unless righteousness is imputed to a sinner, nothing he does pleases God.

    God is only pleased with the believer because God imputed righteousness to him.

    If we talk about the hypothetical repentance of the non-elect in terms of God’s pleasure of obedience, then we must evaluate this strictly according to Law, which frowns upon one unless he is without sin.

    We cannot apply the promise of the gospel to believers to the non-elect, even hypothetically, lest we mix grace and works.

    Turretin himself, despite all the “nuance”, ended up saying something as crassly works-righteousness as this:

    Turretin: “XX. The will of sign which is set forth as extrinsic ought to correspond with some internal will in God that it may not be false and deceptive; but that internal will is not the decree concerning the gift of salvation to this or that one, but the decree concerning the command of faith and promise of salvation if the man does believe (which is founded both upon the connection established by God between faith and salvation and the internal disposition of God by which, as he loves himself, he cannot but love his image wherever he sees it shining and is so much pleased with the faith and repentance of the creature as to grant it salvation).”

    Highlight: “the internal disposition of God by which, as he loves himself, he cannot but love his image wherever he sees it shining and is so much pleased with the faith and repentance of the creature as to grant it salvation””

    Remark: THIS is a bald-faced statement of turning faith and repentance into *works of righteousness* (“God’s image…shining”) that *morally qualify the sinner for salvation* (“God…so much pleased with…as to grant it salvation”).

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  116. “In any case, my point is that John uses “cosmos” to materially refer to a subset of the human race. Here’s another example: John 17:9 I pray concerning them; I do not pray concerning THE WORLD, but concerning the ones whom You gave to Me, because they are Yours.”

    I understand what your point is, but it is mistaken. Your reference to John 17:9 makes my point. Jesus explicits says that he is not praying for the everyone (cosmos), but for a subset. He doesn’t make this distinction with Nicodemus. Your interpretation of these texts is simply untenable.

    “If the majority of the population of a people group were killed, leaving a small number of survivors, one can still say that people group survived. For example, the human race survived the Flood, even though only 8 people were saved.”
    Right. Everyone would know what you meant if you said that humanity was drowned in the flood. But wouldn’t it be strange to say that the entire cosmos was spared in the flood in referring to the 8 on the ark? That’s what you are doing with these texts.

    “The word “entire” (holos) is to remind us the proper perspective of things: even though not every human person will be saved, this does not mean the human race will only be “partially” saved, but the human race is “entirely” saved when the elect are all saved.”
    But the human race is not entirely saved. The elect – a very small subset of the human race – is saved.

    “But when it comes to Romans 8:32, you turn around and insist this text is only talking about Christ died on behalf of the elect.” Right because “us all” is not “entire cosmos”.

    “There is nothing in these 3 texts that suggest 2 different senses of “God loves you”, 2 different sense of “Christ died for you”, a universal “potential”/”free-offer” sense and a particular “effectual”/”election” sense. This is a false, imaginary partition of God’s love manifested in Christ’s death.”

    Nothing? Really nothing at all? The text literally says in one place that God loves the entire kosmos but only gives the gift of faith to the elect. This is not nothing and it suggests two different senses of “God loves you”.

    “Well, let’s look at the passage that tells us “God is love”:

    1 John 4:8 The one who does not love has not known God, because GOD IS LOVE.
    9 By THIS the love of God was revealed in us, because His Son, the Only begotten, God has sent into the world that we might live through Him.
    10 In THIS is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation relating to our sins.

    The extent of God’s love is the extent of Christ’s death is the extent of propitiation is the extent of justification of life.
    That’s not what the text says. That is your assumption, and it is not necessitated by the text. Indeed to get here, you have to assume that the text doesn’t mean what it says.

    “There is no other kind of divine love known to us in addition to this unconditional, unfailing divine love revealed in the gospel of Christ and him crucified.”
    Sure there is. It flows through the OT as God is described as long-suffering, patient, kind, etc… He need not cause the rain to fall on the wicked as well as the just. There is a common grace showered on everyone because God loves all of his creation. Even those he does not elect to save.

    “The scheme that there is a universal love revealed in “free offer of gospel” and then there is another more secret, particular love known through “reformed theology” is a DENIAL of this true revelation of God’s love. It’s a pretentious concoction of blind men that think they “know better” about what to “proclaim” to the “sheep” and what to keep to their wise and prudent selves.”

    Excuse me? This is utter nonsense. The scripture teaches God’s general care of all humanity (i.e., his love). It also teaches that God loves the entire cosmos. Recognizing those things is not a concoction. Insofar as I can be said to proclaim anything, it is that Christ died for our sins, rose again, and is coming back (cf. 1 Cor 15). I don’t know about your experience in reformed churches, but in mine – every baptismal service notes Peter’s statement at the end of his sermon that “this promise is for…as many as the Lord our God will call to himself”. This is election, and it is taught from the pulpit by my pastor regularly. So I don’t know what the basis is for your calumny about blind men who think they know better about what to proclaim to the sheep and what to keep to themselves. That you would make such a baseless accusation says a lot about your lack of character.

    This conversation has gone on long enough. You continue to make the same claims that I don’t find compelling. If you don’t have anything new to bring to the table, I don’t see any reason to continue.

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  117. I was reading a little bit of American history and found out Mt. Dew was originally crafted in Tennessee to mix with bourbon. Some argue that it was because certain brands of regional bourbon were too bad to drink without a mixer. Thus Mt. Dew, named as a hat tip to the nickname for whisky in Scotland. It seems mixing it with Southern Comfort, then, isn’t really too much of a stretch, as Dr. Hart suggested, and since Southern Comfort is so horrific it needs a mixer to mask the flavor. The Logic of Comfort, indeed. If only I had fully embraced that I am not my own . . .

    Like

  118. @TW: The problem with speaking of hypotheticals is that it is hard to specify all the things that must change when one thing changes. Can we hypothetically speak of the largest prime? We must, if we are to pull off a proof by contradiction. Yet there is no largest prime.

    So it is with the non-elect who hypothetically repent. Are we thinking of them as also being effectually called? The repentance entails the entirety of salvation, so that it makes it difficult to speak of hypotheticals.

    Therefore, the point is not to detach one part of salvation from the rest, nor is it to say that repentance is the ground of justification. It is rather to affirm: When God commands something, that command corresponds to a positive good that He is pleased with. God cannot command that which is abhorrent to Him.

    So if you wish to show, by contradiction, that the non-elect are incapable of pleasing God by their repentance, I’m right there with you.

    But if the conclusion that you draw is that therefore God is displeased with repentance, you’ve lost the plot. We know that God is pleased with repentance because He says so: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” The reason that the non-elect are incapable of pleasing God by their repentance is that they cannot actually repent.

    Nor is this to say that repentance, if possible, would be the ground for justification. God does not trade justification for repentance (or faith).

    Your comments about Turretin making faith into a righteous work suggest that you might not have read very much of the Institutes. I highly commend them to your attention. He has an excellent exposition of the covenants of works and grace, and he does a good job at distinguishing types of conditions.

    It’s time for me to take a break.

    Like

  119. sdb: “Your reference to John 17:9 makes my point. Jesus explicits says that he is not praying for the everyone (cosmos), but for a subset. He doesn’t make this distinction with Nicodemus. Your interpretation of these texts is simply untenable. ”

    First, your interpretation of John 17:9 is off. The “world” here does not mean “everyone”, such that the ones for whom Jesus is praying is a SUBSET of the “world”. Rather, the “world” is contrasted to the ones for whom Jesus is praying, such that they are two MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE sets, as can be seen from the context:

    John 17:14 I have given them your word, and the world hated them because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world.

    Second, is your claim here that unless explicitly stated, “world” means “everyone”? This claim does not hold, in light of the verse cited above: Jesus is not saying “everyone” hated the disciples.

    In regard to John 3:16, you should consider the next verse as well:

    John 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the WORLD that He might judge the WORLD, but that the WORLD might be saved through Him.

    This verse speaks of the *intention and purpose* of God in sending the Son: to save the WORLD.

    However, it is not God’s intention and purpose to save “everyone”, but only the elect. The “salvation of the world” means no more or less than the “salvation of the elect”.

    sdb: “Everyone would know what you meant if you said that humanity was drowned in the flood. But wouldn’t it be strange to say that the entire cosmos was spared in the flood in referring to the 8 on the ark? That’s what you are doing with these texts. ”

    Wouldn’t it be strange for Paul to say the faith of believers in Rome is spoken of in the ENTIRE cosmos?

    Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of in ALL THE WORLD (holo to kosmo).

    sdb: “But the human race is not entirely saved. The elect – a very small subset of the human race – is saved. ”

    It is true that few (only the elect) are saved. Yet, Paul sees it fit to describe this salvation using a language of UNIVERSAL reconciliation.

    Colossians 1:20 and through Him making peace by the blood of His cross, to RECONCILE ALL THINGS to Himself; through Him, whether the things on the earth, or the things in the heavens.

    This again shows universalistic langugage does not mean “all without exception”.

    (I marvel that I’m arguing for this point with someone who belongs to a *Reformed* church. )

    sdb: “Right because “us all” is not “entire cosmos”. ”

    Interesting that you focus on the pronoun “us” in Romans 8:32, when you ignored that same pronoun in 2 Peter 3:9 earlier:

    2 Peter 3:9 The Lord of the promise is not slow, as some deem slowness, but is long-suffering toward US, not having purposed any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

    sdb: “Nothing? Really nothing at all? The text literally says in one place that God loves the entire kosmos but only gives the gift of faith to the elect. This is not nothing and it suggests two different senses of “God loves you”. ”

    If you focus on the “literal”, the passages in question explicitly say God loves the “cosmos” and Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the “entire cosmos”, but they do not explicitly say God only gives the gift of faith to the elect.

    The conclusion “God only gives the gift of faith to the elect” is inferred. Many people would disagree with that inferred conclusion on the ground of what Bible “literally” says elsewhere:

    John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, I will DRAW ALL to Myself.

    John 16:8 And having come, that One will CONVICT THE WORLD concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment.

    For me, I simply say the “all” in John 12:32 and the “world” in John 16:8 refer to the elect only, as well as the “world” in John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2.

    There is no occasion for positing two kinds of love in God. It’s one and same love in the giving of Son to propitiate and in the giving of Spirit to convert.

    sdb: “Sure there is. It flows through the OT as God is described as long-suffering, patient, kind, etc… He need not cause the rain to fall on the wicked as well as the just. There is a common grace showered on everyone because God loves all of his creation. Even those he does not elect to save. ”

    First, let’s recall a simple fact from the Bible that God’s justice does NOT require an *immediate, full* punishment/reward for the wrong-doer/obedient servant. There are immediate partial effects of curse and blessings, and there will eventually be full recompense of curse and blessings – but the system of divine retribution does not require BOTH *immediacy* and *fullness*. Even Christ waited in the tomb for the resurrection to glory after he finished the work at the cross. Even the justified elect still have to wait for the future coming of Christ to receive resurrection to glory.

    This overthrows one specious argument for “common grace”, which is that God’s justice required sinners to go straight to hell, but sinners in general get to live for a while on earth, so this shows God has some common grace for sinners. As shown above, the premise for this argument is false. God’s patient endurance of the vessels of wrath (non-elect), preserving their life on earth for some number of years, before the day of judgment, is not out of and does not indicate any grace towards them.

    Instead of seeing “common grace” in the temporal life of non-elect, one should see that the non-elect are spiritually cursed, even in their prosperity, and will end in eternal punishment. In the same way, one sees the true grace of God in the life of the justified elect, that they are spiritually blessed, even in their afflictions, and will end in immortality and glory.

    —-

    One reason that there cannot be “common grace” is that there is no righteousness to back up that grace. God’s grace for the elect is backed up by a righteousness, the propitiatory death of Christ.

    Romans 5:21 that as sin ruled in death, so also grace might *rule through righteousness* to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Accordingly, many theologians of “common grace” also teach a “multi-purpose” atonement in which Christ also died to purchase benefits “falling short of salvation” for the non-elect. But this is profaning the blood of the Son of God, attributing to it a lesser quality of righteousness, a lesser value of redemption that falls short of salvation.

    The “purchased benefits” they speak of can be classified as two types: the first type are things that do exist but are simply God’s providence rather than grace, and the second type are things that are imagined to exist but do not. Of the first type are the “rain and sunshine”, i.e. preservation of this life. Of the second type is the “Free Offer”, a hypothetical opportunity for the non-elect to get saved by accepting an offer (that they will not be enabled to accept).

    1 Peter 5:12 I wrote to you by a few words by way of Silvanus the faithful brother, as I reckon, exhorting and witnessing this to be the TRUE GRACE of God, in which you stand.

    sdb: “Excuse me? This is utter nonsense. The scripture teaches God’s general care of all humanity (i.e., his love). It also teaches that God loves the entire cosmos. Recognizing those things is not a concoction. Insofar as I can be said to proclaim anything, it is that Christ died for our sins, rose again, and is coming back (cf. 1 Cor 15). I don’t know about your experience in reformed churches, but in mine – every baptismal service notes Peter’s statement at the end of his sermon that “this promise is for…as many as the Lord our God will call to himself”. This is election, and it is taught from the pulpit by my pastor regularly. So I don’t know what the basis is for your calumny about blind men who think they know better about what to proclaim to the sheep and what to keep to themselves. That you would make such a baseless accusation says a lot about your lack of character. ”

    1) It’s not enough to regularly teach election/limited atonement, if you teach it only as an supplement to the gospel, as something that you do not break fellowship over. What would you call a church that confesses and teaches the Trinity but also regard some Arians/Unitarians as doctrinally weaker Christians?

    2) My target is those who teach the “Free Offer”, whether they are reformed or not.

    Personal anecdote: I met a pastor who professes doctrines like predestination, election, limited atonement, penal substitution, effectual calling, justification by faith, etc.

    I approached him and went straight to the point: I said one big problem with many churches today is that even when they profess limited atonement, they still think one can believe in universal atonement and be Christian.

    His reaction? He laughed and says nobody in history has used this doctrine as a standard. He says I’m a wolf and says he will warn the people under his care not to listen to me. His language reminded me of John 10 and then I realized the irony: this “shepherd” wants to warn the “sheep” not to listen to someone who would dare tell them about the fact that the Good Shepherd did not die for the goats and will not lose a single sheep.

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  120. TW: I approached him and went straight to the point: I said one big problem with many churches today is that even when they profess limited atonement, they still think one can believe in universal atonement and be Christian.

    His reaction? He laughed and says nobody in history has used this doctrine as a standard. He says I’m a wolf and says he will warn the people under his care not to listen to me.

    That’s a pretty strong statement. Did some additional conversation take place in between your approach and his declaration?

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  121. “What would you call a church that confesses and teaches the Trinity but also regard some Arians/Unitarians as doctrinally weaker Christians?” I would call them (c)atholic. I don’t believe that one has to have a perfect understanding of the trinity, etc… to be a Christian.

    “He says I’m a wolf and says he will warn the people under his care not to listen to me. ”
    Sounds like a wise pastor.

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  122. Jeff: “That’s a pretty strong statement. Did some additional conversation take place in between your approach and his declaration?”

    I forgot to mention the connection between “Free Offer” and this personal anecdote.

    1) I said I believe that the gospel to be proclaimed to all sinners is that Christ died for the elect alone.

    In response, he said that to require preaching this fact in the gospel is to deny the “open and free” preaching of gospel.

    This is a significant remark. He is saying that the *nature* of the gospel message is such that it must be possible to be preached *apart from* preaching limited atonement.

    2) He went to Acts 17 as an example where the apostles preached to Gentiles without mentioning limited atonement.

    I was surprised by this move, and pointed out that this sermon only talked about creation and resurrection, and did not even talk about the deity of Christ. I said that this sermon was not the gospel.

    He disagreed and said the gospel is not a formula but the “power of God of salvation to those who believe” and I’m denying this power by putting restriction to the content.

    3) He asked me if I knew limited atonement when I was saved. I said I was not saved when I believed in universal atonement. He concluded that I believe in justification by works, the work of understanding theology.

    4) Before I talked to the pastor, I first talked to an associate of him. (In fact, it was this associate who suggested that I should talk to his pastor.) After the conversation with the pastor, I contacted the associate again. This is what he (the pastor’s associate) said:

    “My pastor’s concern is the necessity you place in limited atonement. For we both understand that Christ’s sacrifice atones for the sins of those who believe (Rom. 3:22) and only those who believe. Now to say that it is absolutely necessary to preach limited atonement as part of the Gospel is a tad extreme for me, mainly because God’s grace in the Gospel is extended to all who hear, but is salvific for only those who believe. (Rom. 10)”

    Again, one sees in this statement a connection between a belief in “Free Offer” and a denial of the necessity to preach limited atonement as part of the gospel.

    My response to this:

    “I think it is “absolutely necessary” to preach THE atonement as part of the gospel. Do you agree? (It seems your pastor does not agree, since he points to Paul’s sermon on Areopagus in Acts 17 as an example of a gospel preaching.)

    “I think so, not because this is my “favorite doctrine”, but because the apostle Paul says that in THE gospel, a righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. We have not preached THE gospel unless we have preached the God who is just in justifying the ungodly by faith apart from works. A person has not been converted until he obeys this form of doctrine delivered by the apostles.

    “I dare not being vague/equivocal on the doctrine of atonement, because this is exactly where the righteousness of God is shown forth, and the justice of God’s forgiveness of sinners is vindicated.

    “God’s grace cannot be understood apart from the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel. Romans 5 says, grace reigns through righteousness unto everlasting life. This is the true grace of God. It is always effectual, because it is grounded in the atonement, which is satisfaction of God’s retributive justice by Christ’s substitutionary punishment for as many as God chose to save by grace. This is the grace declared in the gospel.

    “The gospel does not declare a conditional grace for all who hear, but declares an unconditional grace for all who believe – the gospel says even their belief in it is a result of the grace that reigns through righteousness.

    Acts 2:39 For the PROMISE is to you and to your children, and to all those afar off, AS MANY AS the Lord our God shall call.

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  123. “but because the apostle Paul says that in THE gospel, a righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.”
    That’s your basis for insisting that the limited atonement is an essential part of the gospel? How about this… the gospel is the good news that God became man, died for our sins, rose again, appeared, and is returning. This good news reveals God’s plan for imparting righteousness…a process that begins and ends in faith. The good news is not a particular model of the Trinity, model of the atonement, the scope of the atonement, or the order of salvation. All of these are important things for the Christian to know, getting them wrong can lead to problems, and the gospel entails many of these things, but it isn’t the Good news.

    By demanding theological perfectionism, you have fallen into the same trap as the holiness folks. Where they think true salvation entails moral perfection, you think true salvation entails theological perfection. This is just an intellectualized version of works righteousness.

    Like

  124. @TW:

    (1) Was this purely a private conversation, or were you saying these things to other church members as well?

    (2) Which passages are examples of gospel preaching?

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  125. sdb: “That’s your basis for insisting that the limited atonement is an essential part of the gospel? ”

    First, the connection between atonement and justification is an essential part of the gospel.

    If someone allows the possibility that there are some people for whom Christ died who will not be saved, then they do not believe in the gospel. They are ignorant of, or opposed to, the justice of God in the penal substitutionary death of Christ and the justification of the sinners he died for.

    However, this alone is not the reason “limited atonement is an essential part of the gospel”, since it’s conceivable that a universalist could also affirm all for whom Christ died will be saved.

    I suppose the claim “Universal Salvation is a false gospel” is less controversial than the claim “Arminianism is a false gospel”.

    I will argue that if you agree that Universal salvation is a false gospel, then you should also agree Arminianism is a false gospel (for a reason quite independent of what I said above about the connection between atonement and justification).

    Why is Universal Salvation a false gospel? The reason cannot simply be the doctrine of “justification by faith”. Some forms of Universal Salvation do deny this doctrine, but it’s conceivable that a universalist could also affirm “all will be effectually called and converted before they die (perhaps in ways unknown to other human observers)”.

    What is the crucial, fundamental distinction between the message of Universal Salvation from the gospel of grace, even in the case that it affirms Trinity, incarnation, penal substitutionary atonement, effectual calling, and justification by faith?

    The answer is that the gospel of grace proclaims a God who loves some but not others revealed in a Christ who died for some but not others. This is the truth that Universal Salvation rejects.

    This is also the truth that Arminiansim – and all “gospels” based on some kind of Universal Atonement – rejects.

    Thus, even before addressing the justice and efficacy of atonement (which are certainly ESSENTIAL parts of the gospel), the *non-universal* extent of atonement is itself something necessary to know about the gospel, because this is the revelation of *God’s heart* towards mankind.

    This is part and parcel of the offense of the cross.

    In summary, Universal Atonement is a false gospel, and Universal Atonement without Universal Salvation is a doubly condemned false gospel – first on account of Universal Atonement, then on account of its denial of the connection between atonement and justification.

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  126. sdb: “By demanding theological perfectionism, you have fallen into the same trap as the holiness folks. Where they think true salvation entails moral perfection, you think true salvation entails theological perfection. This is just an intellectualized version of works righteousness.”

    1) No, I’m not demanding “theological perfection”. Demanding “theological perfection” means demanding correctness on the answer to every theological question. I know of no one who demands that. You are caricaturing my position.

    2) I’m demanding *some* theological knowledge. You are also demanding *some* theological knowledge. We also both agree that whatever knowledge is needed, it is the Holy Spirit who gives that knowledge.

    The difference is we disagree about the *extent* of that requisite knowledge. You think I’m demanding too much.

    If you are to charge me of “intellecutalized version of works righteousness” for demanding too much knowledge, then you are not exempt from your own charge unless you get rid of all demand of knowledge, because when it comes to “works righteousness”, it didn’t matter whether it’s a lot of works or just a little bit works.

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  127. Jeff: “Was this purely a private conversation, or were you saying these things to other church members as well?”

    At the time I had the conversation with the pastor, the only other person from their group I talked to was his associate. Because the associate’s initial reaction to what I said was not immediate rejection, I had some hope that I could have some in-depth discussion with his pastor. However, the pastor (who mentioned that he has a doctorate in theology) got quickly offended by my view (he called it “judging by a tertiary implication”) and said he doesn’t want to talk to me about this week after week (besides calling me “wolf” and saying he will warn others not to listen to me). After that, I contacted his associate one more time, at the end of which I invited him for further discussion, but he didn’t respond back.

    Some weeks later, I ran into their meeting (it just ended) by chance. The pastor greeted me and then went to talk to other people. As I stood there, someone came by and greeted me. I introduced myself, explained my disagreement with the pastor on the importance of the doctrine of limited atonement, and offered to exchange contact information for further discussion, but he declined. I then left.

    That’s the sum of my interaction with them so far.

    Jeff: “Which passages are examples of gospel preaching?”

    In a broad sense, the sermons in the Acts are all examples of gospel preaching, but (1) many of them are spoken to a first-century Jewish audience who has different background knowledge than, say, first-century pagan Greeks, or 21st-century Americans; and (2) sometimes the preaching was not always completed due to the situations of the preacher, such as in the case of Acts 17, Paul was preaching to pagan Greeks about the doctrine of creation and judgment (the content of Romans 1-2), but didn’t go on the doctrine of atonement and justification because the audience ridiculed him; and (3) sometimes the preaching is not recorded in full, such as Philip’s scriptural exposition of the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, or Paul’s preaching to the Philippian jailer and his household.

    In other words, Acts recorded many examples of gospel preaching, but these examples are not necessarily explicit, complete listing of all the things that a person with NO background knowledge needs to come to know. For example, when Peter preached to the Jews in Acts 2, he didn’t preach the doctrine of creation as Paul did in Acts 17, because this is already part of their background knowledge.

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