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.”

79 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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