Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Calvin and the American Shorthair

I recently got myself an American Shorthair. Animal-world.com describes it as "a natural breed of cat that is as American as baseball and apple pie."

The impetus behind the acquisition is rats! We've been seeing rat activity, and though our home is kept quite clean, still these pesky rodents always seem to manage to rear their ugly heads. The ASH is the perfect breed for the job. Originally bred as ratters, they are the consummate "working cat."

I got my male at 2 months old, and though he won't be doing rat-murdering any time soon, the fact that my wife and kids absolutely adore him now makes the waiting all worthwhile. Tom the Terrible also functions in the way John Calvin describes in the ff:

"It is evident that all creatures, from those in the firmament to those which are in the center of the earth, are able to act as witnesses and messengers of his glory to all men; to draw them to seek God, and after having found him, to meditate upon him and to render him the homage befitting his dignity as so good, so mighty, so wise a Lord who is eternal; yea, they are even capable of aiding every man wherever he is in this quest. For the little birds that sing, sing of God; the beasts clamor for him; the elements dread him, the mountains echo him, the fountains and flowing waters cast their glances at him, and the grass and flowers laugh before him. Truly there is no need for long searching, since everyone could find him in himself, because every one of us is sustained and preserved by his power which is in us." (Preface to Pierre Robert Olivetan's New Testament [1534], 59-60)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

John Owen on the Priority of Justification

The following by John Owen, in his work entitled The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, has been cited as proof of his holding to the priority of mystical/existential union as over and against the priority of justification:

"The foundation of the imputation asserted is union. Hereof there are many grounds and causes, as has been declared; but that which we have immediate respect unto, as the foundation of this imputation, is that whereby the Lord Christ and believers do actually coalesce into one mystical person. This is by the Holy Spirit inhabiting in him as the head of the church in all fullness, and in all believers according to their measure, whereby they become members of his mystical body. That there is such a union between Christ and believers is the faith of the catholic church, and has been so in all ages. Those who seem in our days to deny it, or question it, either know not what they say, or their minds are influenced by their doctrine who deny the divine persons of the Son and of the Spirit. Upon supposition of this union, reason will grant the imputation pleaded for to be reasonable; at least, that there is such a peculiar ground for it as is not to be exemplified in any things natural or political among men."

It is sound to consider the mention of imputation as referring to justification, as Francis Turretin himself states:

"Thus the imputation of righteousness is the foundation and meritorious cause of justification" (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, II.16.4.5).

But a preceding passage has Owen clarifying as to what aspect of union with Christ he was actually referring to:

"The first spring or cause of this union, and of all the other causes of it, lies in that eternal compact that was between the Father and the Son concerning the recovery and salvation of fallen mankind. Herein, among other things, as the effects thereof, the assumption of our nature (the foundation of this union) was designed. The nature and terms of this compact, counsel, and agreement, I have declared elsewhere; and therefore must not here again insist upon it. But the relation between Christ and the church, proceeding from hence, and so being an effect of infinite wisdom, in the counsel of the Father and Son, to be made effectual by the Holy Spirit, must be distinguished from all other unions or relations whatever."

In other words, Owen was stating that justification and its attendant benefits are the Christian's by virtue of their antecedent decretal (pactum salutis) and federal (historia salutis) union with Christ. He was really not referring to mystical/existential union, which is predicated upon justification by faith.

In another place on the same work, Owen further prioritizes justification:

"The plain truth is, the apostle speaks not one word of the necessity of our sanctification, or regeneration, or renovation by the Holy Ghost, antecedently unto our justification; a supposition whereof contains the whole force of this argument. Indeed he assigns our regeneration, renovation, and justification, all the means of our salvation, all equally unto grace and mercy, in opposition unto any works of our own; which we shall afterwards make use of. Nor is there intimated by him any order of precedency or connection between the things that he mentions, but only between justification and adoption, justification having the priority in order of nature: 'That, being justified by his grace, we should be heirs according to the hope of eternal life.' All the things he mentions are inseparable. No man is regenerate or renewed by the Holy Ghost, but withal he is justified; — no man is justified, but withal he is renewed by the Holy Ghost. And they are all of them equally of sovereign grace in God, in opposition unto any works of righteousness that we have wrought. And we plead for the freedom of God’s grace in sanctification no less than in justification. But that it is necessary that we should be sanctified, that we may be justified before God, who justifies the ungodly, the apostle says not in this place, nor any thing to that purpose; neither yet, if he did so, would it at all prove that the signification of that expression 'to be justified,' is 'to be sanctified,' or to have inherent holiness and righteousness wrought in us: and these testimonies would not have been produced to prove it, wherein these things are so expressly distinguished, but that there are none to be found of more force or evidence."

Michael Horton adds regarding the relationship of union with Christ to justification:

"Union with Christ is not to be understood as a 'moment' in the application of salvation to believers. Rather, it is a way of speaking about the way in which believers share in Christ in eternity (by election), in past history (by redemption), in the present (by effectual calling, justification, and sanctification), and in the future (by glorification). Nevertheless, our subjective inclusion in Christ occurs when the Spirit calls us effectually to Christ and gives us the faith to cling to him for all of his riches...Establishing the legal basis of this new relationship, union with Christ is first of all forensic...Taking root in the forensic soil of justification, from which it derives its effective power as well as its legal basis, union with Christ produces the life of Christ within believers, which bears the fruit of righteousness." (The Christian Faith, 587, 597)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Westminster Wednesday: Vos on the Priority of Justification in Mystical Union

Couldn't be more black and white:

"Naturally the problem becomes most accentuated where it touches the center of Paul's teaching. This, we may still insist, is the doctrine of justification. Recent attempts to dislodge it from this position, and to make the mystical aspect of the believer's relation to Christ, as mediated by the Spirit, entirely coordinated with it—so that each of the two covers the entire range of religious experience, and becomes in reality a duplicate of the other in a different sphere—we cannot recognize as correct from the apostle's own point of view. In our opinion Paul consciously and consistently subordinated the mystical aspect of the relation to Christ to the forensic one. Paul's mind was to such an extent forensically oriented that he regarded the entire complex of subjective spiritual changes that take place in the believer and of subjective spiritual blessings enjoyed by the believer as the direct outcome of the forensic work of Christ applied in justification. The mystical is based on the forensic, not the forensic on the mystical" (Geerhardus Vos, The Alleged Legalism in Paul's Doctrine of Justification, The Princeton Theological Review 1:161-179 [1903]).

Francis Turretin basically echoes Vos here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Westminster Wednesday: Intrusion Ethics

The Decalogue is Moral Law (henceforth, "Law"). It is the expression of God's moral will and is binding on every human being by virtue of the Covenant of Creation. When the reprobate is judged on the Last Day, he will be judged by virtue of his inability and failure to keep the Law perfectly, whereas the elect will be judged as righteous (keeper of the Covenant) by virtue of his union with Christ (the One who obeyed the Law perfectly for the elect and bore the penalty of their failure to keep it in the same way).

Given the binding nature of the Law (as an agent of damnation for the reprobate and as the means of manifesting existentially one's union with Christ through obedience for the elect), the particular instances in the Old Testament of seeming contraventions to it may cause confusion to some. What of the Canaanite genocide? Rahab's lie? Etc. Aren't these instances of the Law being broken, with God giving approval? This is where Meredith Kline's notion of "intrusion ethics" comes into play.

Developing on Geerhardus Vos' biblical theology (notably its deeply eschatological character) and Cornelius Van Til's ethics (notably "common grace"), Kline proposes that these instances of seeming law-breaking in the O.T. were actually in-breakings of the consummation (future kingdom) in the context of redemptive history that was functioning typologically.

So, in fact, the massacre of the Canaanites was a type of the future judgment and destruction of all the reprobate in hell.

Dr. Jeong Koo Jeon, in his essay entitled Covenant Theology and Old Testament Ethics: Meredith G. Kline's Intrusion Ethics, explains :

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Reformation Day Review: The Quest for Comfort (The Story of the Heidelberg Catehchism)

First and foremost, I would like to offer my sincerest thanks to the author, William Boekestein, for being generous enough to send his little book to a virtual stranger like myself, pro bono. We've only known each other through the Internet for a short while, and I am both humbled and honored by his good gesture.

The thing about the book that hit me like a freight train was the new information that I received from it. I have indeed gone through the Heidelberg Catechism, and have been unanimously edified by the Gospel truths contained in it. However, I was not very well acquainted with its three authors, and this little biographical book has shown me that, once again (!), God has proved Himself to favor the Underdogs when it comes to the carrying out of the work of the Gospel! The Heidleberg Catechism was forged by Underdogs Caspar Olevianus, Zacharias Ursinus, and Frederick III.
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