Where’s Waldo 2016 Update

Since some of the comments of late are echoing the union-with-Christ-centric reading of Reformed soteriology that animated many posts here, I offer a refresher on Calvin’s understanding of first-importance matters when he was explaining to Cardinal Sadoleto what Protestants believed about salvation. Note first the priority of forensics — this is about sin, guilt, law, legal verdicts:

We bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to sift his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains; by his cross, borne our curse; and by his death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.

Oh, yes, he talks about communion. That’s not union, at least in the English language I use.

Second, the obedience boys should observe Calvin’s understanding of works in relation to faith:

What have you here, Sadolet, to bite or carp at? Is it that we leave no room for works? Assuredly we do deny that, in justifying a man, they are worth one single straw. For Scripture everywhere cries aloud, that all are lost; and every mans’s own conscience bitterly accuses him. The same Scripture teaches, that no hope is left but in the mere goodness of God, by which sin is pardoned, and righteousness imputed to us. It declares both to be gratuitous, and finally concludes that a man is justified without works, (Rom. iv. 7.) But what notion, you ask, does the very term Righteousness suggest to us, if respect is not paid to good works ? I answer, if you would attend to the true meaning of the term justifying in Scripture, you would have no difficulty. For it does not refer to a man’s own righteousness, but to the mercy of God, which, contrary to the sinner’s deserts, accepts of a righteousness for him, and that by not imputing his unrighteousness. Our righteousness, I say, is that which is described by Paul, (2 Cor. v. 19,) that God bath reconciled us to himself in Jesus Christ. The mode is afterwards subjoined — by not imputing sin. He demonstrates that it is by faith only we become partakers of that blessing, when he says that the ministry of reconciliation is contained in the gospel. But faith, you say, is a general term, and has a larger signification. I answer, that Paul, whenever he attributes to it the power of justifying, at the same time restricts it to a gratuitous promise of the divine favor, and keeps it far removed from all respect to works. Hence his familiar inference — if by faith, then not by works. On the other hand — if by works, then not by faith.

Funny how far union with Christ was from Calvin’s explicit explanation of Protestant soteriology. Maybe union comes in the Development of Calvinist Doctrine. One man’s development is another’s change.

Why Republication Matters

What exactly is so threatening about this?

Every Reformed minister loves preaching from Romans and Galatians. Presenting the Mosaic law as teaching a works principle really helps in explaining Paul’s doctrine of justification: what sin is all about, why people can’t rely on their own law-keeping, how faith is radically different from works, how Christ fulfilled the terms of the law so that we may be justified. That’s the gospel as I see it, but you can’t explain the gospel without understanding the law. Or take all of those Old Testament passages that call for Israel’s obedience and promise blessing and threaten curse in the land depending on their response. For example, the beginning of Deuteronomy 4, which tells Israel to follow the law so that they may live and take possession of the land. Or Deuteronomy 28, which recounts all sorts of earthly blessings in the land if the Israelites are careful to obey and all sorts of earthly curses if they aren’t. I don’t want a congregation to think that God was holding out a works-based way of salvation here, and I also can’t tell the congregation that this is the same way that God deals with the New Testament church when he calls her to obedience, for there’s nothing equivalent in the New Testament, no promise of earthly blessing for the church today if we meet a standard of obedience. Saying either of those things might by simple, but of course they’d be misleading, and damaging for the church to hear. (The Law is Not of Faith, 5)

Could it be that this view seems to allow Christians to think that law-keeping does not contribute to their salvation? Well, if the law requires “personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he owes to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it,” who is up to that challenge? Don’t be bashful.

Isn't It Really Justification by Baptism?

The substitute caller for Jason of the Callers has tried to reverse the table and claim Roman Catholicism as the real home of justification by faith:

In the Protestant view, for man to enter Heaven he needs to have kept God’s Law perfectly. This means Salvation for the Protestant is purely based upon human “works,” the catch is that since sin has tainted all we do, it’s impossible for man to keep God’s Law perfectly. This is why Protestants say we need Jesus to keep God’s Law perfectly for us, and impute this “work” to us as if we did all this “work” ourselves. Hence why Protestants say our only hope to stand before God and be seen as “righteous” (i.e. a perfect keeper of the Law) is to trust in “Christ’s finished work” alone. So what does any of this have to do with faith alone? Protestants say the way we ‘receive’ this “work” that Christ did is through ‘the empty hand of faith,’ which reaches out and lays hold of and applies that work to our account.

In the Catholic view, for man to enter Heaven requires that he be in communion with God before he passes from this life. For Catholics, Salvation is not so much about ‘doing’ as it is about ‘being’. Communion with God is principally characterized by being “in a state of grace,” that means us possessing the divine gifts of faith, hope, and charity, as well as the Indwelling of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our souls. In this view, faith implies the possession of all these other divine gifts for the Catholic. And the means by which a person first acquires all these is through “the washing of regeneration,” also known as Baptism.

Could be, but that would not explain the partial and plenary indulgences which are still very much available. Just imagine how many users of McCheyne’s schedule for reading Scripture entirely in a year could benefit from this one:

50. Reading of Sacred Scripture (Sacrae Scripturae lectio)

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who with the veneration due the divine word make a spiritual reading from Sacred Scripture.
A plenary indulgence is granted, if this reading is continued for at least one half an hour.

But then again, it could be that faith is really a form of obedience (as Norman Shepherd tried to argue):

Just as Abraham is the model of “the obedience of faith” offered to us by Sacred Scripture, the Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment (cf. CCC, n. 144). “By faith Mary welcomes the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel, believing that ‘with God nothing will be impossible’ and so giving her assent: ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word’ (Luke 1:37-38)” (CCC, n. 148). Mary’s response perfectly expressed the disposition of complete and unconditional obedience — she is the model for what our response should be to God’s will in our daily lives. Her faith never wavered, and for this reason “the Church venerates in Mary the purest realization of faith” (CCC, n. 149).

To close this installment, I invite you to reflect on an inspiring excerpt from Fr. Michael Gaitley’s recently published book 33 Days to Morning Glory: “She [Mary] is perfectly united to the Holy Spirit, because she was conceived without sin, never sinned, and always does the will of God perfectly. She allows the Holy Spirit to overshadow her, take possession of her soul, and bear fruit through her. The Holy Spirit delights in always working in and through Mary to save all other creatures made in God’s image” (p. 110).

Is it just (all about) me I or do these guys seem to view Roman Catholicism through a Protestant paradigm?

Forensic Friday: Talking about Holiness with a Protestant Accent

The following excerpt from Martin Luther’s 1525 sermon (W.A. 17.1.155f) should be a reminder to would-be perfectionists and neo-nomians about the dangers of misconstruing personal righteousness:

This is the main article which we have to learn. It gives us authority, even if we feel the lust of our flesh or even fall into sin, to say: “Howbeit, it is my will to be rid of the Law, neither am I still under the Law or sin, but I am devout and righteous.” If I cannot say this, I must despair and perish. The Law says: “thou art a sinner.” If I say, “Yes,” I am lost; if I say “No,” I must have a firm ground to stand on, to refute the Law, and uphold my “No.” But how can I say it, when it is true and is confirmed by Holy Scripture that I was born in sin? Where then shall I find the “No”? Of a truth, I shall not find it in my own bosom, but in Christ. From Him I must receive it and fling it down before the Law and say: “Behold, He can say ‘No’ against all Law, and has the right to do, for He is pure and free from sin, and He gives me the ‘No,’ so that though if I look on myself I should have to say ‘Yes’ because I see that I am a sinner and could not stand before the Law, and feel that there is nothing pure in me, and see God’s wrath, yet I can say that Christ’s righteousness is my righteousness, and henceforth I am free from sin.” This is the goal, that we should be able to say, continually, we are pure and godly, for evermore, as Christ Himself can say, and this is wrought through faith.

Luther explains well why some of us find faith in Christ to be much more comforting than the terror that comes from pursuing righteousness as sin-bedeviled saint. (I hope you’re reading Doug and Richard.)

Forensic Friday: The cor cordis of the Gospel

It is, nevertheless, the very cor cordisof the Gospel that is here brought under fire. The one antithesis of all the ages is that between the rival formulae: Do this and Live, and, Live and do this; Do and be saved, and Be saved and do. And the one thing that determines whether we trust in God for salvation or would fain save ourselves is, how such formulae appeal to us. Do we, like the rich young ruler, feel that we must “do some good thing” in order to be saved? Then, assuredly, we are not yet prepared to trust our salvation to Christ alone — to sell all that we have and follow Him. Just in proportion as we are striving to supplement or to supplant His perfect work, just in that proportion is our hope of salvation resting on works, and not on faith. Ethicism and solafideanism — these are the eternal contraries, mutually exclusive. It must be faith or works; it can never be faith and works. And the fundamental exhortation which we must ever be giving our souls is clearly expressed in the words of the hymn, “Cast your deadly doing down.” Only when that is completely done is it really Christ Only, Christ All in All, with us; only then, do we obey fully Paul’s final exhortation: “Let you joy be in the Lord.” Only then do we renounce utterly “our own righteousness, that out of law,” and rest solely on “that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God on faith.” (Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Alien Righteousness” [sermon on Phil 3:9], in Faith and Life, pp. 324-25)

Where's Waldo Wednesday

Chapter 13 – Of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of the Promises, and of the Spirit and Letter

The Ancients Had Evangelical Promises. The Gospel, is indeed, opposed to the law. For the law works wrath and announces a curse, whereas the Gospel preaches grace and blessing. John says: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Yet not withstanding it is most certain that those who were before the law and under the law, were not altogether destitute of the Gospel. For they had extraordinary evangelical promises such as these are: “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head” (Gen. 3:15). “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). “The scepter shall not depart from Judah . . . until he comes” (Gen. 49:10). “The Lord will raise up a prophet from among his own brethren” (Deut. 18:15; Acts 3:22), etc.

The Promises Twofold. And we acknowledge that two kinds of promises were revealed to the fathers, as also to us. For some were of present or earthly things, such as the promises of the Land of Canaan and of victories, and as the promise today still of daily bread. Others were then and are still now of heavenly and eternal things, namely, divine grace, remission of sins, and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Fathers Also Had Not Only Carnal but Spiritual Promises. Moreover, the ancients had not only external and earthly but also spiritual and heavenly promises in Christ. Peter says: “The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation” (1 Peter 1:10). Wherefore the apostle Paul also said: “The Gospel of God was promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures” (Rom. 1:2). Thereby it is clear that the ancients were not entirely destitute of the whole Gospel.

What Is the Gospel Properly Speaking? And although our fathers had the Gospel in this way in the writings of the prophets by which they attained salvation in Christ through faith, yet the Gospel is properly called glad and joyous news, in which, first by John the Baptist, then by Christ the Lord himself, and afterwards by the apostles and their successors, is preached to us in the world that God has now performed what he promised from the beginning of the world, and has sent, nay more, has given us his only Son and in him reconciliation with the Father, the remission of sins, all fullness and everlasting life. Therefore, the history delineated by the four Evangelists and explaining how these things were done or fulfilled by Christ, what things Christ taught and did, and that those who believe in him have all fullness, is rightly called the Gospel. The preaching and writings of the apostles, in which the apostles explain for us how the Son was given to us by the Father, and in him everything that has to do with life and salvation, is also rightly called evangelical doctrine, so that not even today, if sincerely preached, does it lose its illustrious title.

Of the Spirit and the Letter. That same preaching of the Gospel is also called by the apostle “the spirit” and “the ministry of the spirit” because by faith it becomes effectual and living in the ears, nay more, in the hearts of believers through the illumination of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:6). For the letter, which is opposed to the Spirit, signifies everything external, but especially the doctrine of the law which, without the Spirit and faith, works wrath and provokes sin in the minds of those who do not have a living faith. For this reason the apostle calls it “the ministry of death.” In this connection the saying of the apostle is pertinent: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” And false apostles preached a corrupted Gospel, having combined it with the law, as if Christ could not save without the law. (Second Helvetic Confession)

Warfield on the Centrality of Justification

In an ongoing attempt to explain why some Reformed Protestants – okay, this one – are concerned about any formulation of doctrine that would de-center justification by faith, the following quotation from Benjamin Warfield is especially apt. It expresses the problem of human sin and the need for perfect righteousness with the sort of clarity that not only made Warfield legendary but also more importantly clarifies the significance of the righteousness that believers receive through faith alone.

Sometimes we are told that Justification by Faith is “out of date.” That would be a pity, if it were true. What it would mean would be that the way of salvation was closed and “no thoroughfare” nailed up over the barriers. There is no justification for sinful men except by faith. The works of a sinful man will, of course, be as sinful as he is, and nothing but condemnation can be built upon them. Where can he get works upon which he can found his hope of justification, except from Another? His hope of Justification, remember – that is, of being pronounced righteous by God. Can God pronounce him righteous except on the ground of works that are righteous? Where can a sinful man get works that are righteous? Surely, not from himself; for, he is a sinner, and all his works as sinful as he is. He must go out of himself, then, to find works which he can offer to God as righteous. And where will he find such works except in Christ? Or how will he make them his own except by faith in Christ?

Justification by Faith, we see, is not to be set in contradiction to justification by Works. It is set in contradiction only to justification by our Own Works. It is justification by Christ’s Works. The whole question, accordingly, is whether we can hope to be received into God’s favor on the ground of what we do ourselves, or only on the ground of what Christ does for us. . . . Justification by Faith means, that is to say, that we look to Christ and him alone for salvation, and come to God pleading Christ’s death and righteousness as the ground of our hope to be received into his favor. If Justification by Faith is out of date, that means, then, that salvation by Christ is out of date. . . .

Justification by Faith does not mean, then, salvation by believing instead of by doing right. It means pleading the merits of Christ before the throne of grace instead of our own merits. . . . Justification by Faith is nothing other than obtaining everlasting life by believing in Christ. . . .

(Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings, vol. 1, 283-84)