The Economy of the Covenants (Witsius)

This is the classic statement of Covenant Theology at the end of the 17th Century.  Witsius steers an irenic course between Voetsius and Cocceius. The first volume deals with Covenant Theology proper while the second volume analyzes the various types and shadows of the Old Testament.

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Generally, covenants signify a mutual agreement between parties, with respect to something (43).  A covenant of God, furthermore, “is an agreement between God and man, about the way of obtaining consumate happiness,” including sanctions (45).  This covenant comprises three things: a) Promise; b) condition; c) sanction.

While it is a free agreement between God and man, man really couldn’t say no.  Not to desire God’s promises is to refuse the goodness of God, which is sin. Witsius views the CoW as probationary, yet Adam wouldn’t have “earned” the reward per any intrinsic merit.  The reward is rooted in God’s covenant, not in man’s merit.

Doctrine of God

God’s knowledge of future things cannot be conceived apart from his decreeing them (141).  The creature acts in concurrence with God’s action. All things come from God. There is only one first cause (I.8.15). If something could act besides having God as its cause, then there would be multiple first Causes, which is polytheism.

God and sin.  If all beings come from God, and even though sin is privation of being, it, too, is a kind of entity, then it also arises from God’s plan (para 22)

Book II.

Chapter 1: Introduction to the Covenant of Grace

Definition: a compact or agreement between God and the elect sinner, God on his part declaring his free good-will concerning eternal salvation, and every thing relative thereto, freely to be given to those in covenant, by, and for the mediator Christ; and man on his part consenting to that goodwill by a sincere faith (2.1.5).

Chapter 2: Of the Covenant between God the Father and Son

The covenant of redemption is between God and the Mediator. The will of the Father, giving the Son to be the Head and Redeemer of the elect; and the will of the Son, presenting himself as a Sponsor or Surety for them (2.2.2). Christ’s suretyship consists in his willingness to undertake to perform that condition (2.2.4).

The exegetical foundation is in Zech. 6.13.  There is a counsel of Peace between God and the Branch.

Covenant and Justification: God the Father, through Christ’s use of the sacraments, sealed the federal promise concerning justification (para 11).  Christ’s baptism illustrates the sealing of the covenant from both sides.

BOOK III

Chapter 1: Of the Covenant of God with the Elect

The contracting parties are God and the elect (281). The son is not only mediator but testator, who ratified the covenant with his death. Are there conditions in the covenant of Grace?  Earlier divines like Rutherford spoke a qualified “yes,” though Witsius removes himself from that language. Condition: that action which gives a man a right to the reward (284).

The Decalogue

The substance of the decalogue is the same as the moral law (p. 165). When God gave the decalogue to Israel, he published some reasons annexed to it that were peculiar to Israel alone (176). There is in some sense a repetition of the Covenant of Works in Sinai (IV.4,47).  However, it was not repeated simpliciter. Carnal Israel embraced it as a covenant of works (Rom. 9.31). Sinai contains no promise of grace.

The Old Covenant

Witsius contrasts the promises made to Abraham with the stipulations of the Sinaitic Covenant. In Sinai God did not promise to give the people a heart to obey (337).  And it is to this covenant, and not to the Abrahamic or Davidic covenants, that God contrasts with the New Covenant.

Conclusion

This is the classic statement.  Witsius gets somewhat speculative in the second volume, but the first volume definitely rewards careful study.

 

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Review: Buchanan, Justification

While dated in some respects, this volume has outstanding discussions of several knotty problems.  The first section is an historical overview.  The real value of that is in the post-Reformation discussions (especially relating to the church of England).  A few snippets will suffice:

Antinomian: tended to speak of the imputation of sin made Christ personally a sinner. They confused justification with eternal election.

Socinian: “flows as a corollary from their peculiar views–of God’s justice as a modification of his benevolence,–of man’s relation to God as universal Father,–of sin as a moral disease,—of the nature and end of punishment as corrective, rather than penal” (163).

Key question: what is the believer’s title to the new life, if not the righteousness of Christ (175)?

Neo-Platonist view (very similar to today’s Radical Orthodoxy): the mediatorial work of Christ is collapsed into the Incarnation (205ff). What is needed is not reconciliation but more “being.”

Section 2 is Buchanan’s positive case.

Prop. 1: Justification is a legal or forensic term (226).  It is contrasted with condemnation, which rules out any infusion of righteousness.

Prop. 2: Sometimes it is seen as the manifestation of our acceptance before God (233). Here Buchanan makes the distinction between actual justification (Paul) and declarative (James) justification.  The latter deals with evidences. This is also Prop. 3.

Prop. 4: Justification denotes either an act of God, or a privilege of his people (250).

Buchanan then gives a discussion of pardon.  It is an important part of the sinner’s justification but it is not a complete description (259ff).  The pardon of sin by itself gives me no positive righteousness.

Relation of Justification to the Mediatorial Work of Christ

Prop. 9: It was God’s eternal purpose to overrule the fall of man for his own glory (293).

The terms of the eternal covenant determined the whole plan of man’s salvation.  They contemplated the end which was to be accomplished (294). Therefore, it was not the mediatorial work of Christ that prompted God’s love; it was the free and sovereign purpose.  

And against Neo-Socinian writers who deny a full and perfect justification, Buchanan answers, “If it [the work of Christ] was rewarded, in his person, with an everlasting and universal dominion, in the exercise of which He has ‘all power in heaven and in earth’ to bestow the forgiveness of sin, and the gift of eternal life, why should it be inadequate for the immediate justification of any sinner who believes in his name” (309)?

On Imputation

Even the semi-Pelagian and Romanist believes in a form of imputation.  Those who believe in the merit of saints and Mary at least believe that that is imputable to them.  Merit, if it is by another, is by definition imputed (321).

Perhaps we should say what infusion actually is.  Infusion is an infusion of moral qualities (324). By contrast, if Christ bore our sins in his body, and if we get his righteousness (whatever that term may denote), then it can’t be by an infusion of moral qualities.  If it were, then God wouldn’t be said to “justify the ungodly.”

Grace and Works

Works of the law can’t be ceremonial markers, since Paul, in his condemnation of the Gentile world (Romans 1-3), wouldn’t be condemning them for failing to keep Jewish ceremonial markers.  There must be an underlying moral law, for “where there is no law, there is no transgression.”

But What About James 2?

If works are the effects of faith, then they cannot be the grounds of our justification (357).  Further, they cannot come “as an intervening cause or condition between faith and justification, for they follow after faith, whereas every believer is justified as soon as he is united to Christ” (358).

Review: Delivered from the Elements

My earlier notes here.  A potential problem with Leithart is that most people who read him either “join his camp” or “attack his camp.” I don’t want to do either. I actually think the book is quite good.  It has a lot of promise for evangelism and missions and steers a path through the problems with New Perspective on Paul. It is also a good book on metaphysics.

Main idea: the fundamental physics of every society consists of purity, pollution, and ritual (Leithart 12). If you “relocate” the sacred then you change the structure of society.  Goal: a successful atonement theology must show how Jesus’s death and resurrection is the key to history.

One interesting point is that he draws attention to the word “nature.”  Yes, the NT uses “substance” language, but not the kind usually thought.  The NT use of “nature:” a moral order rooted in the differences of the sexes (27).  When Paul uses “nature” it is neither Aristotelian or Stoic.  Gentiles do not have the Torah “by nature” but they still can do what Torah commands (sometimes). Physeis is closely linked to nomos, so of law means a change of the elements (29).

Here is the problem: given what is wrong with the world, how does Jesus’s death as my substitute fix the world?  Leithart will defend substitutionary atonement, but he does not the problem in most popular accounts.  If the goal is to cash Jesus out as the credit card on my account, then did it matter that he was a Jew?  Framed another way: how does Christ’s dying for me deliver humanity from ta stoichea?  You have to be able to answer this question.

“The elements (ta stoichea) are features of an old creation that Christ has in some way brought to an end” (25).  In both Gentile and Jewish worlds they are structures and symbols that involve distinctions between purity and impurity, sacred and profane.

Yahweh’s intention is to destroy the fleshly physics.  When he introduces Torah he is continuing his cutting away of flesh.  The problem with flesh is that flesh spreads pollution (100). As Leithart notes, “Torah cannot kill flesh without killing the man or woman who bears that flesh” (102).

Torah provides a way for Israel to be Yahweh’s people among the division of nations.  It regulates the flesh but does not fix it. As long as Israel is under Torah she is under managers. It is spiritual and we are flesh.  If we come to it it will kill us.

Justification

(1) The judgment is not a  mere verdict of righteousness, but it is the very act by which it is accomplished (181). “It is a favorable judgment in the form of resurrection.” It also makes more sense in the historia salutis than in the ordo.  Justification was an act in Jesus’s life (1 Tim. 3:16). And through it we are delivered from the realm of death and stoichea to the realm of Spirit.

Thesis: Paul denies that the Spirit comes through the mechanisms of Torah (193). Flesh and Torah are mutually defining (Romans 7:1-6).  Paul’s argument: to be reckoned righteous is to receive the Spirit.  We receive the Spirit who does acts of power by hearing the message [as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Humanity is supposed to grow into maturity, but it cannot do this while remaining under the elements and Torah.  The elements are beings who guard and manage children. They could be angelic beings, since Jews received Torah through angels and Gentiles were under beings that are “by nature no gods” (Gal. 4.8).

While stoichea regulate the elements of social life, and a dissolution of stoichea would dissolve the universe, Jesus gives the Spirit who is the new fundamental element of social life (219).  As the Spirit spreads, stoicheic divisions give way to a new order of the Spirit. Instead of a pyramid society of slaves, Paul sees a single body.

Conclusion

The book has several appendices of varying interests.  My main problem with the book was it could have been about 50 pages shorter.  The chapter on Presbyterian Buddhists was neat, but could have been reduced to a footnote.

Notes on Leithart’s Delivered from the Elements

I clean this up in a book review later.  This review is neither an endorsement nor a critique of Leithart.  It’s simply looking at scholarship in NT studies.  Full stop.leithart

Main idea: the fundamental physics of every society consists of purity, pollution, and ritual (Leithart 12). If you “relocate” the sacred then you change the structure of society.

NT use of “nature:” a moral order rooted in the differences of the sexes (27).

Goal: a successful atonement theology must show how Jesus’s death and resurrection is the key to history.

Part 1: Under the Elements of the World

The Physics of the Old Creation

“The elements (ta stoichea) are features of an old creation that Christ has in some way brought to an end” (25).  In both Gentile and Jewish worlds they are structures and symbols that involve distinctions between purity and impurity, sacred and profane.

When Paul uses “nature” it is neither Aristotelian or Stoic.  Gentiles do not have the Torah “by nature” but they still can do what Torah commands (sometimes). Physeis is closely linked to nomos, so of law means a change of the elements (29).  Paul does not use stoichea in the Greek sense. It is a cultural cosmos linked to religious practices.

Flesh

Adam was placed under the elements.  “Touch not, taste not” was his pedagogy (76).  After the fall, though, flesh was a reminder that the strength of man cannot save.  This might explain circumcision as a symbolic attack on flesh, a reminder that salvation won’t come through natural means.  As Leithart notes, “it is a division from division,” from the pride of nations (89).

What Torah Does

Yahweh’s intention is to destroy the fleshly physics.  When he introduces Torah he is continuing his cutting away of flesh.  The problem with flesh is that flesh spreads pollution (100). As Leithart notes, “Torah cannot kill flesh without killing the man or woman who bears that flesh” (102).

Torah provides a way for Israel to be Yahweh’s people among the division of nations.  It regulates the flesh but does not fix it. As long as Israel is under Torah she is under managers. It is spiritual and we are flesh.  If we come to it it will kill us.

Part Two: Good News of God’s Justice

The Justice of God

Torah and every form of stoichea institutionalize a world of death (126).  In Jesus’s death the old world, the stoichea, the old humanity is gone. Torah established a pedagogy under the conditions of the flesh.  Jesus established a pedagogy under conditions of the Spirit (139).

The Faith of Jesus Christ.

Penal substitution can stand only if it emphasizes the resurrection.  If Christ is not raised, then it is not clear that God accepted his sacrifice. 

Justification 

(1) The judgment is not a  mere verdict of righteousness, but it is the very act by which it is accomplished (181). “It is a favorable judgment in the form of resurrection.”

It also makes more sense in the historia salutis than in the ordo.  Justification was an act in Jesus’s life (1 Tim. 3:16). And through it we are delivered from the realm of death and stoichea to the realm of Spirit.

Galatians 2 Chiasm:

A. Knowing that a man does not receive delivering verdict by what Torah does.
B. But through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
               C. We have believed in Jesus Christ.
        B’ so that we may receive the delivering verdict by the faithfulness of XP.
A’ and not by what the law does, since the law does not justify

Pistis Christou in B and B’ refer to the faith of Christ and not Paul’s act of believing. Paul isn’t saying the same thing in three different ways (189).

“Works of Torah” refer to the man and not the deeds (190).  It is someone whose nature has been molded by circumcision, temple, and purity laws.

Justified from the Elements

Thesis: Paul denies that the Spirit comes through the mechanisms of Torah (193).

Flesh and Torah are mutually defining (Romans 7:1-6).  Paul’s argument: to be reckoned righteous is to receive the Spirit.  We receive the Spirit who does acts of power by hearing the message [as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness].

Chiasm in Galatians 3

A. Spirit comes through the message of faith (1-5).
       B.Abraham believed God (6-9).
C. Those who are of the law are cursed by the law (10).
D.Law vs. Faith (11-12).
            C* Jesus becomes curse to remove curse (13)
        B* So that the blessing of Abraham can come to the Gentiles (14a)
A* So that we might receive the Spirit through faith (14b).

Justify has to refer to more than a verdict.  It also includes a rescue. When Yahweh promised to justify the Gentiles, he was going to judge sin and death. (197).    The good news was not only to the Gentiles, but about them. The content of the gospel is that “all nations shall be blessed in you” (Gal. 3:8).  

Back to Paul’s use of nature:  those who are of different cultures are of different natures.

Galatians 4 is an Exodus motif. Torah works death, so to remain under Torah is to remain under the realm of death.

“The Seed”

Refers to a collective line of descent.  Moses doesn’t mediate the Seed, nor could he since, as mediator of Torah, he can only have a divided humanity (206).

Chiasm in Galatians 4

A. Heir as child (nepios)

       B. no better than a slave (ouden diapherei doulou

                 C. under guardians and managers (hypo epitropous…kai oikonomous)

A’ When we were children (nepioi)

          B’ held in bondage (dedoulomenoi)

                    C’ under ta stoicheia tou kosmou

Humanity is supposed to grow into maturity, but it cannot do this while remaining under the elements and Torah.  The elements are beings who guard and manage children. They could be angelic beings, since Jews received Torah through angels and Gentiles were under beings that are “by nature no gods” (Gal. 4.8).

Chiasm of Galatians 3-4

A.  Faith of Abraham (3.1-14)/
        B.  Faith and law (3.15-22)
               C. Law as pedagogue (3.23-25)
                        D. Baptism into the Seed (26-29)
                C’ Childhood under guardians and managers (4.1-11)
        B’ Weakness of Paul’s flesh/first visit (12-20)
A’ Allegory of Abraham and Sarah (21-31)

Contributions to a Theology of Mission

In Ranks with the Spirit

While stoichea regulate the elements of social life, and a dissolution of stoichea would dissolve the universe, Jesus gives the Spirit who is the new fundamental element of social life (219).  As the Spirit spreads, stoicheic divisions give way to a new order of the Spirit. Instead of a pyramid society of slaves, Paul sees a single body.

Summary of argument so far: “After the curse of Babel, Yahweh continued his war on flesh by beginning an anti-sarkic pedagogy within one family” (283).  Jesus has to be the sacrifice because if he were merely “good,” we would still be barred from Eden.  We would still have to face the flaming cherubim.

 

Bahnsen on Shepherd on Justification

This is from his tape set on Calvin’s Institutes.  I think it is tape GB449b.

“I think [this] is rather convoluted. Let me very briefly point out, some people will say James can’t mean the word justify in a forensic sense, because then he would contradict Paul. Paul says we are justified by faith, not works. James says we are justified by works. So if they both mean ‘justify’ in the forensic sense, there is a contradiction. Well, I don’t think so, because in Galatians 5:6 Paul teaches exactly what James does. Paul says we are justified by faith working by love. We are justified by working, active, living faith. I think that’s what James is teaching. They mean exactly the same thing. But nevertheless some people have insisted-and this has been a bone of controversy in my denomination even, because a professor at Westminster Seminary insisted James means this in the forensic sense. Now. people who don’t like that say, It is to be taken in the demonstrative sense.

The problem is, the demonstrative sense of the word justify means “to show someone to be righteous,” and that doesn’t relieve the contradiction between James and Paul, because Paul in Romans 4 looks at Abraham as an example of how God justifies the ungodly. James is saying, Look at how God justifies someone demonstrated as godly. The contradiction is not relieved. And so what you really get–and this is crucial, this is a crucial point–modern interpreters who don’t like what I am suggesting and what Professor Shepherd is suggesting end up saying that to justify in James 2 really means “to demonstrate justification,” not to “demonstrate righteousness.” That is, they make the word to justify mean “to justify the fact that I’m justified.” And the word never means that. That’s utterly contrived. It means either “to declare righteous” or “to demonstrate righteous.” It does not mean “to justify that one’s justified.” Am I making myself clear? I’m suggesting that the reason Paul and James are not contrary to one another is because the only kind of faith that will justify us is working faith, and the only kind of justification ever presented in the Bible after the Fall is a justification by working faith, a faith that receives its merit from God and proceeds to work as a regenerated, new person.

I think, as David Bahnsen makes clear, Greg was a defender of Norman Shepherd.  The Morecraft-types simply can’t get around that.   From Greg’s other writings and debate with Catholics, he held to the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, something Shepherd was more reluctant to do. I lean towards Bahnsen.  I agree with Shepherd on covenant and election.  Still working my head around his thoughts on justification.

A justification musing

We often say that if you aren’t being accused of antinomianism, then you aren’t preaching justification rightly.  True, but something else struck me:  in Galatians Paul links his doctrine of justification as opposed to the physics of the old creation (stoichea).  Galatians 5:

 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

 

Notes on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on grace

Obviously, this is not a full endorsement.

Can we know God without grace?

The act of the intellect depends upon God in two ways: it has its form by which it acts from God

Preparing the human will

The preparation of the will cannot take place without habitual grace.

Man incurs a triple loss by sinning: stain, corruption of natural good, and debt of punishment (ST 1-2, q. 109, art7).

Christ restores us in the mind but not entirely in the flesh (Thomas is working upon a faulty spirit-flesh dichotomy).

Grace is located in the essence of the soul (q. 110).

Cooperating with God (q. 111)

There is a twofold act in us: interior act of the will, which is moved by God, and the exterior act which is moved by us.

Miracles: q. 111 art. 4.  They happen today.  Thomas is most certainly (and rightly) a continuationist.

Justification

Right order in man’s act (ST 1-2, q. 113 art.1)

Infusion of grace: the logic is that God must change something in our soul for us to be right with him, since sin is a disordering of the soul.  “In the infusion of grace there is a certain transmutation of the soul” (ST 1-2, q. 113 art. 3).

Merit

It is the effect of cooperating grace (q. 114).

Merit exists on the grounds of God’s ordination (art 1).  

Man merits everlasting life condignly (art. 3).