Was Louis Berkhof an Antinomian? No.

Let’s let Berkhof speak for himself. Here he is specifically speaking on sanctification.  Please note what Berkhof points out about Karl Bath’s views of justification and sanctification. He writes, “And just as man remains a sinner even after justification, so he also remains a sinner in sanctification, even his best deeds continue to be sins. Sanctification does not engender a holy disposition, and does not gradually purify man. It does not put him in possession of any personal holiness, does not make him a saint, but leaves him a sinner. It really becomes a declarative act like justification. McConnachie, who is a very sympathetic interpreter of Barth, says: “Justification and sanctification are, therefore, to Barth, two sides of one act of God upon men. Justification is the pardon of the sinner (justificatio impii), by which God declares the sinner righteous. Sanctification is the sanctification of the sinner (sanctificatio impii), by which God declares the sinner ‘holy’.” However laudable the desire of Barth to destroy every vestige of work-righteousness, he certainly goes to an unwarranted extreme, in which he virtually confuses justification and sanctification, negatives the Christian life, and rules out the possibility of confident assurance.”

Berkhof states that  Barth is trying to prevent  self-righteousness in the believer but goes too far and confounds justification and sanctification. In fact what he criticizes Barth for, in my opinion, can be said of Tullian Tchividjian and his followers.  To be sure Berkhof is no antinomian but neither is he in the same field as Tullian on this topic.

2. IT CONSISTS OF TWO PARTS. The two parts of sanctification are represented in Scripture as:

a. The mortification of the old man, the body of sin. This Scriptural term denotes that act of God whereby the pollution and corruption of human nature that results from sin is gradually removed. It is often represented in the Bible as the crucifying of the old man, and is thus connected with the death of Christ on the cross. The old man is human nature in so far as it is controlled by sin, Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24. In the context of the passage of Galatians Paul contrasts the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit, and then says: “And they who are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.” This means that in their case the Spirit has gained predominance.

b. The quickening of the new man, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. While the former part of sanctification is negative in character, this is positive. It is that act of God whereby the holy disposition of the soul is strengthened, holy exercises are increased, and thus a new course of life engendered and promoted. The old structure of sin is gradually torn down, and a new structure of God is reared in its stead. These two parts of sanctification are not successive but contemporaneous. Thank God, the gradual erection of the new building need not wait until the old one is completely demolished. If it had to wait for that, it could never begin in this life. With the gradual dissolution of the old the new makes its appearance. It is like the airing of a house filled with pestiferous odors. As the old air is drawn out, the new rushes in. This positive side of sanctification is often called “a being raised together with Christ,” Rom. 6:4, 5; Col. 2:12; 3:1, 2. The new life to which it leads is called “a life unto God,” Rom. 6:11; Gal. 2:19.

3. IT AFFECTS THE WHOLE MAN: BODY AND SOUL; INTELLECT, AFFECTIONS AND WILL. This follows from the nature of the case, because sanctification takes place in the inner life of man, in the heart, and this cannot be changed without changing the whole organism of man. If the inner man is changed, there is bound to be change also in the periphery of life. Moreover, Scripture clearly and explicitly teaches that it affects both body and soul, 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:12; 1 Cor. 6:15, 20. The body comes into consideration here as the organ or instrument of the sinful soul, through which the sinful inclinations and habits and passions express themselves. The sanctification of the body takes place especially in the crisis of death and in the resurrection of the dead. Finally, it also appears from Scripture that sanctification affects all the powers or faculties of the soul: the understanding, Jer. 31:34; John 6:45;—the will, Ezek. 36:25–27; Phil. 2:13;—the passions, Gal. 5:24;—and the conscience, Tit. 1:15; Heb. 9:14.

4. IT IS A WORK OF GOD IN WHICH BELIEVERS CO-OPERATE. When it is said that man takes part in the work of sanctification, this does not mean that man is an independent agent in the work, so as to make it partly the work of God and partly the work of man; but merely, that God effects the work in part through the instrumentality of man as a rational being, by requiring of him prayerful and intelligent co-operation with the Spirit. That man must co-operate with the Spirit of God follows: (a) from the repeated warnings against evils and temptations, which clearly imply that man must be active in avoiding the pitfalls of life, Rom. 12:9, 16, 17; 1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Gal. 5:16–23; and (b) from the constant exhortations to holy living. These imply that the believer must be diligent in the employment of the means at his command for the moral and spiritual improvement of his life, Micah 6:8; John 15:2, 8, 16; Rom. 8:12, 13; 12:1, 2, 17; Gal. 6:7, 8, 15.
E. The Characteristics of Sanctification

1. As appears from the immediately preceding, sanctification is a work of which God and not man is the author. Only the advocates of the so-called free will can claim that it is a work of man. Nevertheless, it differs from regeneration in that man can, and is in duty bound to, strive for ever-increasing sanctification by using the means which God has placed at his disposal. This is clearly taught in Scripture, 2 Cor. 7:1; Col. 3:5–14; 1 Pet. 1:22. Consistent Antinomians lose sight of this important truth, and feel no need of carefully avoiding sin, since this affects only the old man which is condemned to death, and not the new man which is holy with the holiness of Christ.

2. Sanctification takes place partly in the subconscious life, and as such is an immediate operation of the Holy Spirit; but also partly in the conscious life, and then depends on the use of certain means, such as the constant exercise of faith, the study of God’s Word, prayer, and association with other believers.

3. Sanctification is usually a lengthy process and never reaches perfection in this life. At the same time there may be cases in which it is completed in a very short time or even in a moment, as, for instance, in cases in which regeneration and conversion are immediately followed by temporal death. If we may proceed on the assumption that the believer’s sanctification is perfect immediately after death—and Scripture seems to teach this as far as the soul is concerned—, then in such cases the sanctification of the soul must be completed almost at once.

4. The sanctification of the believer must, it would seem, be completed either at the very moment of death, or immediately after death, as far as the soul is concerned, and at the resurrection in so far as it pertains to the body. This would seem to follow from that fact that, on the one hand, the Bible teaches that in the present life no one can claim freedom from sin, 1 Kings 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Rom. 3:10, 12; Jas. 3:2; 1 John 1:8; and that, on the other hand, those who have gone before are entirely sanctified. It speaks of them as “the spirits of just men made perfect,” Heb. 12:23, and as “without blemish,” Rev. 14:5. Moreover, we are told that in the heavenly city of God there shall in no wise enter “anything unclean or he that maketh an abomination and a lie,” Rev. 21:27; and that Christ at His coming will “fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of His glory,” Phil. 3:21.
F. The Author and Means of Sanctification

Sanctification is a work of the triune God, but is ascribed more particularly to the Holy Spirit in Scripture, Rom. 8:11; 15:16; 1 Pet. 1:2. It is particularly important in our day, with its emphasis on the necessity of approaching the study of theology anthropologically and its one-sided call to service in the kingdom of God, to stress the fact that God, and not man, is the author of sanctification. Especially in view of the Activism that is such a characteristic feature of American religious life, and which glorifies the work of man rather than the grace of God, it is necessary to stress the fact over and over again that sanctification is the fruit of justification, that the former is simply impossible without the latter, and that both are the fruits of the grace of God in the redemption of sinners. Though man is privileged to co-operate with the Spirit of God, he can do this only in virtue of the strength which the Spirit imparts to him from day to day. The spiritual development of man is not a human achievement, but a work of divine grace. Man deserves no credit whatsoever for that which he contributes to it instrumentally. In so far as sanctification takes place in the subconscious life, it is effected by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit. But as a work in the conscious life of believers it is wrought, by several means, which the Holy Spirit employs.

1. THE WORD OF GOD. In opposition to the Church of Rome it should be maintained that the principal means used by the Holy Spirit is the Word of God. The truth in itself certainly has no adequate efficiency to sanctify the believer, yet it is naturally adapted to be the means of sanctification as employed by the Holy Spirit. Scripture presents all the objective conditions for holy exercises and acts. It serves to excite spiritual activity by presenting motives and inducements, and gives direction to it by prohibitions, exhortations, and examples, 1 Pet. 1:22; 2:2; 2 Pet. 1:4.

2. THE SACRAMENTS. These are the means par excellence according to the Church of Rome. Protestants regard them as subordinate to the Word of God, and sometimes even speak of them as the “visible Word.” They symbolize and seal to us the same truths that are verbally expressed in the Word of God, and may be regarded as an acted word, containing a lively representation of the truth, which the Holy Spirit makes the occasion for holy exercises. They are not only subordinate to the Word of God, but cannot exist without it, and are therefore always accompanied by it, Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 12:13; Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:21.

3. PROVIDENTIAL GUIDANCE. God’s providences, both favorable and adverse, are often powerful means of sanctification. In connection with the operation of the Holy Spirit through the Word, they work on our natural affections and thus frequently deepen the impression of religious truth and force it home. It should be borne in mind that the light of God’s revelation is necessary for the interpretation of His providential guidances, Ps. 119:71; Rom. 2:4; Heb. 12:10.
G. Relation of Sanctification to Other Stages in the Ordo Salutis

It is of considerable importance to have a correct conception of the relation between sanctification and some of the other stages in the work of redemption.

1. TO REGENERATION. There is both difference and similarity here. Regeneration is completed at once, for a man cannot be more or less regenerated; he is either dead or alive spiritually. Sanctification is a process, bringing about gradual changes, so that different grades may be distinguished in the resulting holiness. Hence we are admonished to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord, 2 Cor. 7:1. The Heidelberg Catechism also presupposes that there are degrees of holiness, when it says that even “the holiest men, when in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience.” At the same time regeneration is the beginning of sanctification. The work of renewal, begun in the former, is continued in the latter, Phil. 1:6. Strong says: “It (sanctification) is distinguished from regeneration as growth from birth, or as the strengthening of a holy disposition from the original impartation of it.”

2. TO JUSTIFICATION. Justification precedes and is basic to sanctification in the covenant of grace. In the covenant of works the order of righteousness and holiness was just the reverse. Adam was created with a holy disposition and inclination to serve God, but on the basis of this holiness he had to work out the righteousness that would entitle him to eternal life. Justification is the judicial basis for sanctification. God has the right to demand of us holiness of life, but because we cannot work out this holiness for ourselves, He freely works it within us through the Holy Spirit on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is imputed to us in justification. The very fact that it is based on justification, in which the free grace of God stands out with the greatest prominence, excludes the idea that we can ever merit anything in sanctification. The Roman Catholic idea that justification enables man to perform meritorious works is contrary to Scripture. Justification as such does not effect a change in our inner being and therefore needs sanctification as its complement. It is not sufficient that the sinner stands righteous before God; he must also be holy in his inmost life. Barth has a rather unusual representation of the relation between justification and sanctification. In order to ward off all self-righteousness, he insists on it that the two always be considered jointly. They go together and should not be considered quantitatively, as if the one followed the other. Justification is not a station which one passes, an accomplished fact on the basis of which one next proceeds to the highway of sanctification. It is not a completed fact to which one can look back with definite assurance, but occurs ever anew whenever man has reached the point of complete despair, and then goes hand in hand with sanctification. And just as man remains a sinner even after justification, so he also remains a sinner in sanctification, even his best deeds continue to be sins. Sanctification does not engender a holy disposition, and does not gradually purify man. It does not put him in possession of any personal holiness, does not make him a saint, but leaves him a sinner. It really becomes a declarative act like justification. McConnachie, who is a very sympathetic interpreter of Barth, says: “Justification and sanctification are, therefore, to Barth, two sides of one act of God upon men. Justification is the pardon of the sinner (justificatio impii), by which God declares the sinner righteous. Sanctification is the sanctification of the sinner (sanctificatio impii), by which God declares the sinner ‘holy’.” However laudable the desire of Barth to destroy every vestige of work-righteousness, he certainly goes to an unwarranted extreme, in which he virtually confuses justification and sanctification, negatives the Christian life, and rules out the possibility of confident assurance.

3. TO FAITH. Faith is the mediate or instrumental cause of sanctification as well as of justification. It does not merit sanctification any more than it does justification, but it unites us to Christ and keeps us in touch with Him as the Head of the new humanity, who is the source of the new life within us, and also of our progressive sanctification, through the operation of the Holy Spirit. The consciousness of the fact that sanctification is based on justification, and is impossible on any other basis, and that the constant exercise of faith is necessary, in order to advance in the way of holiness, will guard us against all self-righteousness in our striving to advance in godliness and holiness of life. It deserves particular attention that, while even the weakest faith mediates a perfest justification, the degree of sanctification is commensurate with the strength of the Christian’s faith and the persistence with which he apprehends Christ.*

*Berkhof, L. (1938). Systematic theology (pp. 533–537). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co.

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A “Marrow” Man on Sanctification

The following is a quote from Thomas Boston, a man involved in the “Marrow” controversy, on sanctification. This quote is fitting in light of the recent controversy on sanctification. It is rather strange that people are trying to lump Tullian Tchividjian with the” Marrow” men. The following quote would seem to be something that Tullian would seem uncomfortable with – exhorting believers to holiness with the use of the Law and also with threats.

This double seal answers to the two parts of the covenant; Jer. 32:40, “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” This covenant shall not fail on God’s part, for it hath this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his;” nor on the part of the saints, for it hath this seal, “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Let us attend,

1. To the seal itself, which, in its general nature, is a command of sanctification; in which consider, to whom it is directed, upon whom this awful charge is laid. They are the Lord’s own words, directed to every one that nameth the name of his Son, that is, to all who profess Christ. And this character of professors serves not only to distinguish them from those without the church, who are incapable of apostacy; but also shows the obligation laid on them to holiness by their profession, the holy name named by them binding them to a holy life. The inconsistency between the holy profession and an unholy life, which, though men join together, God will have separated, sooner or later, for he will strip them either of their fair name, or their foul heart and life, in time or in eternity. Consider, the duty commanded, “to depart from iniquity,” as from a thing one formerly stood to and followed. Iniquity is that thing which we all naturally follow as a master and leader; but there must be a falling off from it, an apostacy, or falling away from sin, as the word imports. And this is the way to prevent apostacy from the Lord; for this does import, that it is some one iniquity or other indulged, and left to reign in the heart, which betrays professors into apostacy, as Judas, Demas, &c. Consider,

2. How this can be a seal to secure the saints and elect ones from apostacy, since it is but a commandment? To this I answer, that the nature of the preceding seal would seem to have required this expression, “And they that are his depart from iniquity.” But it is in form of a command, to show that the saints depart from iniquity by choice, and that they are by the Lord himself powerfully determined to this choice; so that their perseverance is both rational and gracious. It is a command, at the same time it is a powerful and efficacious command of God, like that in Gen. 1:3, “And God said, Let there be light, and there was light;” a command which effects what it requires in all who are his. It is such a command as that in Num. 16:26, (quoted above), which brought away from the tents of Dathan and Abiram, all who were not to be swallowed up with them. And this command is going through wherever the gospel is preached, and will go till the last day; like a brisk wind separating the corn from the chaff, carrying away from the tents of sin all who are ordained to eternal life, though others dwell on in them still. Thus, though the profane and hypocritical, and all who are not the Lord’s, are still held by some one bond of sin or other which is never broken: yet this powerful word looses the bands of all sin, sets them and their sins asunder, and keeps them asunder, who, being sealed with the first seal, are his. And all this God’s efficacious word can do, as well as keep the world from returning into its primitive mass of confusion; Heb. 1:3, “Upholding all things by the word of his power.” And so it is a seal securing them from apostasy.”*
*Boston, T. (1851). The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: A Series of Sermons and the Christian Life Delineated. (S. M‘Millan, Ed.) (Vol. 10, pp. 11–12). Aberdeen: George and Robert King.

The Everlasting Covenant

Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

This is the first promise made to Abram by God, concerning those aspects of the promise given in Genesis 3:15, in which the Seed of the woman will ultimately bring about the grace of God to all nations through that Seed, which is Jesus Christ. [1]

Historically and Biblically, this is looked upon, in Covenant Theology, as the historical establishment of the Covenant of Grace; however, the covenant made with Abraham is not mentioned until Genesis 15:18, and the rudiments of that covenant, when it is mentioned, are the promises of the land for the people which shall spring out of Abraham’s loins. This is set forth in Genesis 17:

Genesis 17:7-13: “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.

There has been much great study, and subsequently much written, on the nature of what constitutes a covenant in Scripture, therefore it is not the intention of this article to explore that which has been so adroitly handled by many qualified men of God throughout the history of the church. What will be looked at is the difference between a promise of God (particularly “the promise,” as given in seed form in Genesis 3:15, and fleshed out in the promises to Abraham concerning his seed), and a covenant of God. Particularly, we will explore the meaning of “everlasting covenant” as it occurs in the cited verses, with the aid of Scripture, both those under consideration, and subsequent revelation which clarifies the understanding of the words “promise” and “everlasting.” That these terms must be considered in the context of that covenant in which they occur should be needless to mention, for, according to the analogia fides [2] (analogy of faith) and the analogia Scripturae [3] (analogy of Scripture), there is clearer light to be shed on every aspect of Scripture which is difficult to determine in and of itself; i.e., Scripture interprets Scripture, and the overall theology of Scripture, being consistent in and of itself as that which determines our faith and practice, clarifies itself in consideration of the organic whole.

We have also already shown this relation of the words rendered “everlasting” and “eternal,” in regards to the historical covenants God has made with mankind, in a former blog article entitled “Forever in Scripture and Covenant Language,” [4] which should be of some value to the reader regarding the usage of this word.

Now, concerning God’s words to Abraham in the first instance, it must be noted that this was not the institution of the Covenant of Grace with Abraham, but contained both the seed of that former promise in the Garden, regarding the woman’s seed, and the seeds of that covenant which God would establish with Abraham in the latter instance. In the establishment of the covenant with Abraham, God tells him that He shall establish His covenant with Abraham’s seed, Isaac (Genesis 17:19, 21), in direct contradiction to the prayer of Abraham to God that Ishmael might live before God (Genesis 17:18).

Now, we know that Ishmael was considered before God from these verses, and that his seed was established after him, pertaining to becoming a great nation, and fathering twelve princes; however, although Ishmael was considered before God, and even a part of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 17:28), it was not with a view to that election through which all the nations and peoples of the world would be blessed, so, at least regarding Ishmael, there was an application of the covenant made with Abraham which did not encompass and insure the eternal life and attendant blessings with which the people, land, nation and kingdom of God’s (elect) people would be further demonstrated through additional covenants. (5) It must also be insisted upon, at this point, that those who were foreigners who were added to the covenant were also not necessarily encompassed in the promises of the Covenant of Grace. It can be said that this is a foreshadowing of those of the church of Christ which would be encompassed within the Covenant of Grace who were not of ethnic, national Israel, but a foreshadow is not the substance, anymore than a promise is a covenant (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5-6; Galatians 3:17-18). This can also be applied to ethnic, national Israel, who, though receiving so much by way of covenants God made with them, were, of themselves, not all necessarily encompassed within that which the apostle denotes as not being of Israel, although descended, according to the flesh, from Abraham (Romans 9:1-8). That this is a clear delineation between the spiritual seed of Abraham (and so spiritual Israel) and the fleshly seed of Abraham (and so ethnic, national Israel), none will deny.

The question naturally arises: Are all who are of the natural seed encompassed within the eternal covenant given to Abraham, in regard to that spiritual Seed, who is Christ?

The apostle again gives an answer in the negative to this question:

Galatians 3:16: Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. It does not say, “And to seeds,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your seed,” who is Christ.

It must also be noted that the promises were that which within the New Covenant were, in shadow form, then present, especially from consideration of the verses we have cited; therefore, the Abrahamic Covenant itself, although given with promises, was not the ratification of that Covenant of Grace which we now know to be the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, and to this, the writer to the Hebrews gives irrefutable evidence:

Hebrews 9:15-18: For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood.

It is therefore without controversy that the Covenant of Grace, in order to be ratified in God’s redemptive history, was in need of the death of the testator for that ratification. Historically, it cannot be said, with any degree of truth, that the historic ratification of the Covenant of Grace took place before the death of He who inaugurated it by His life, and sealed it by His death. Likewise, the shadowy form of the Sinaitic Covenant is shown to be that which showed, by such types and figures, the pattern, but not the substance, of that heavenly covenant which God alone gave and sanctioned in His Son.

Now, the phrase, everlasting covenant (or eternal covenant), as it pertains to that covenant made with Abraham by God, must be ascertained with regard to the elements of which it pertained; I do not say that such must be done regarding the promises made to Abraham concerning God blessing all the earth in his Seed, which is Christ, and in whom we are incorporated, by His life, death, and resurrection, to be of that spiritual seed of the spiritual Israel (which also means the spiritual seed of Abraham), for I trust that has been well established, as to its meaning.

That there was the reemphasizing and expansion, in the Abrahamic Covenant, of the promise made to the woman after the fall, none will doubt or take exception to; that this was yet in shadow, as to the final form in which our Savior and Lord was and is the surety and substance concerning, none will doubt, either. Again we note, however, that a shadow, however expanded it may be, is not the substance of the antitype which it represents in less clear form, so we say that the promises in the Abrahamic Covenant, regarding the historical entry into actual form, concerning the Covenant of Grace, could not be that which our final Testator Himself sealed with His own life blood.

What, then, does it mean, when God tells Abraham that He has made an everlasting covenant with him? Since it is not the redemptive historical entry and finalizing of that Covenant of Grace promised by God immediately after the fall of man, but, rather, a furthering of that promise (as indeed all the historic covenants hold shadows of various shades of that which our Savior alone gave form too), what, exactly, was eternal about the covenant itself?

Since the terms of a covenant that God makes with man determine the contextual meaning of the words we find in Scripture regarding that covenant, it is important to note that the covenant made with Abraham was deemed eternal in regards to the context of his offspring which would inherit the land of Canaan. We see this in the above cited text of Genesis 17. Furthermore, the seed of Abraham which would be bound to the terms of this covenant are identified, in that text, as those who would be circumcised in their flesh – this is coextensive with the promise of the land and temporal blessings of being in the land in obedience to God, according to the conditions He set forth. This is why the Abrahamic Covenant is also referred to, in later Scripture, as the covenant of circumcision (Acts 7:8).

Therefore, this covenant contained, as its main condition, that of being circumcised in the flesh, and from Scripture, we understand that this sign of circumcision carried with it an obligation to follow and obey the Lord, to the extent that He had revealed Himself and His precepts at that time, which is explained by God in Genesis 18:19: “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” The promise referenced here is not the seed comprised of the yet-unrealized, yet-unratified CoG, but the inheritance of the land of Canaan (which is a type of that which is to come, and we know that types are not intended to last, but point to and somewhat define the substance of the antitype they represent). Thus, at this point, eternal covenant is not intended to go beyond the terms of the covenant God gives to Abraham (which covenant is not coextensive with the eternal promise of the CoG), which terms were all temporal, and context demands that the understanding of eternal, within the bounds of this particular, temporal covenant, must be understood as referring to these terms and conditions, so that the definition of the word at this point should be understood as applying to the people as long as the economy of that particular covenant was operational. This covenant was eternal in the sense that it applied to the fleshly seed and the spiritual seed of the first gospel promise, which promise was also reiterated (but not ratified by the death of the testator) in further, yet still shadowy form, to Abraham, but it was eternal to both seeds as a covenant in the sense that it was to them throughout their generations, according to the sign in the flesh, and the obedience they rendered God, without which said sign and obedience the covenant would be broken.

In the second sense, it may be said it represented that CoG which was yet to be ratified in redemptive history by the coming Seed who would bruise the serpents head, but since this part of the Abrahamic Covenant was given in promissory form only (a covenant must be ratified by the blood of the sacrifice, and in the sense of the culmination of the CoG, this also was by that new and better wayHebrews 7:22; 9:11-15), it has reference to that which was to come, not in a temporal sense, but in that exact eternal sense contained within the promise. Since the promise had been in effect, it was neither nullified nor changed by the Abrahamic and other historic covenants (such as Sinai, mentioned in the context of the above quoted Scripture), but had reference to that which was yet to come. Thus, all the great Reformed Confessions state that none were ever saved to eternal life but by this same CoG, by its promise prior to ratification, and by its real presence and substance afterwards – (see Chapters 7 of the WCF, Savoy Declaration [hereafter SD] and LBCF 2) [6].

This, however, is the thrust and sense of our article, which should already be apparent to the reader: Whereas the WCF and SD declare it to be properly administered, as to its substance, within the various historic covenants in diverse manners, the LBCF 2 declares that this administration of the substance was done not according to the historic covenants having that substance in and of themselves, but of the original promise in the protoevangelium. That is, the promises of spiritual blessing contained within (but distinct from) the Abrahamic Covenant are of the same nature as the first promise of the gospel in Genesis 3:15, and the substance of all these promises, while being within the historic covenants, concerning the elect of all ages of the church of God, remained in promissory form (as we have said above). These promises alone containing the substance of the CoG, they alone were of the first promise and subsequent types and shadows in further historic covenants, not as pertaining to the covenantally established substance of each of the historic covenants, which, while containing the promise of the CoG – that the graces and blessings of eternal life in Christ were administered to the elect recipients in all ages – nevertheless, themselves, were not that confirmation or administration of the original CoG, especially as pertaining to their exact substance, whether under the formative historic covenants, or subsequent to the historic establishment of the CoG in the New Covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, it cannot be said that this substance of the CoG was necessarily contained within, or the same, as the substance of any of the historic covenants, including but not limited to the Abrahamic. This is because these covenants, while holding within them, in various shades, forms, and promises, the substance of the original promise, were themselves to give that present form to the church which God decreed for the bringing about of said promise as a formal covenant. This they did, utilizing various religious and moral forms in types and shadows which represented the ongoing efficacy of the promise without, themselves, being of the same substance of that promise, their substance being of an entirely different nature which would pass away when that which was the ratified CoG, which we call the New Covenant, came into existence in redemptive history at the proper time, as we have noted, and which is further proven by various Scriptures of the New Testament (1 Timothy 2:5-6; Titus 1:2-3).

This is why the apostle calls the historic covenants the covenants of promise (Ephesians 2:12), because in those historic covenants, the promise was inherent, having its own substance, but not of the same substance as the historic covenants themselves. These historic covenants were, broadly speaking and reiterating, for the purpose of bringing about the realization of those promises, specifically of the new covenant as a formal covenant in particular, when and by the One who did ratify the CoG came into this world.

In this sense, all the historic covenants contained, in seed form, the promise, additionally defined by various and further promises, types and shadows within these covenants, which covenants may be understood to be types and shadows of that final covenant themselves. If we apply the appellation eternal or everlasting to any of the historic covenants, in the sense in which they would last into and after the eschaton, we do a disservice to the contextual usage of the word within those historical covenant perimeters, for it is plain, as to their own substance and the administration thereof, they were only intended as vehicles which would bring about the final form of the CoG in the New Covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is true of the promise; it never was true of any of the historic covenants themselves until that final historic covenant made actual by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Until such a time, the historic covenants themselves never were intended to save any unto eternal life, so that the words eternal and everlasting were to be understood within the boundaries set forth by the very context of those covenants. Having such contexts, the perimeters were defined and set forth by God.

In our concluding thoughts, two things must be again stressed: 1. regarding the understanding put forth, in Scripture, concerning the words eternal and everlasting, as applied to the historic covenants through which the promise of the Redeemer was carried, these words must be understood as referring, regarding the substance of each historic covenant, to that economy which God brought about to insure the line of the Redeemer, and when said economy ceased to function in such a manner, that was the terminus to which these words referred, regarding finite ends they were to insure. This sense of the words only relates to the substance of each historic covenant, not that initial promise of the protoevangelium, which is to say, not their own substance, since the historic covenants were to bring about the people, land, nation and kingdom through which the promise of the Redeemer would be, ultimately, fulfilled. Once these historic covenants were fulfilled regarding bringing about the people, land, nation and kingdom through which the Redeemer would come, their particular functions, being fulfilled, ceased, at the proper time appointed by God to establish His CoG in historic, redemptive form as the New Covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2. That which was truly eternal, or everlasting, of the historic covenants was never other than the promise of the Redeemer, which alone had, and has, that eternal substance that none of the historic covenants had as their primary substance to administer, since their form fulfilled a finite end subservient to the eternal end realized in the coming of the Redeemer. The CoG was not a formal covenant until the birth, life and death of the testator, the Lord Jesus Christ. In this manner, that which is said of the Abrahamic Covenant (in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed) was and is realized not within the context, or of the substance of the Abrahamic Covenant itself, but in the true everlasting covenant which was contained only in promissory form within that covenant with Abraham (Galatians 3:8).

In Christ Jesus, our God established as a formal covenant, in His redemptive history, the CoG promised since the fall in Adam, as decreed from before the foundation of the world. None other covenant had the administration of this except by types, shadows and promises which expanded the original CoG promise. Thus, the only formal administration of this CoG is realized in the New Covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was only administered in such types, shadows and promissory form until that final, formalized covenant should be set forth.

Soli Deo Gloria – Bill

[1] Many thanks to my brothers in Christ Brandon Solberg and Patrick McWilliams for reading this and offering their suggestions.

[2] The analogy of faith; the use of a general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci (q.v., locus), as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts. As distinct from the more basic analogia Scripturae (q.v.), the analogia fidei presupposes a sense of the theological meaning of Scripture. Richard A. Muller. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Kindle Locations 325-326). Kindle Edition

[3] Analogy of Scripture; the interpretation of unclear, difficult, or ambiguous passages of Scripture by comparison with clear and unambiguous passages that refer to the same teaching or event. SE analogia fides – Richard A. Muller. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Kindle Locations 327-328). Kindle Edition.

[4] Available for viewing on Means Of Grace, Forever in Scripture and Covenant Language, published 1/16/2014 by the author

[5] This is expressed as “further steps” in Chap. 7.3 of the 1689 LBCF, regarding how God progressively revealed the CoG in promissory, shadowy and typical form until such a time as that substance contained within the promises of the historic covenants was, itself, brought forth in redemptive history through the person and work of Christ.

[6] The 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith; The 1658 Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, and The 1677/1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith

Of Christian Biographies – A Plain Article

Since I read and listened to my first biographical sketches of various Christians throughout the ages of the church, one thing has struck me:

They generally point to devotion to God in Christ Jesus, in service and sacrifice.

Another thing strikes me: We have the greatest of such sketches in the gospels, of our Lord Himself, and in the Acts, of the apostles of our Lord. Paul’s biography, gleaned from both Acts and his epistles, is particularly striking, if not as much as that perfect example of Christ Jesus.

The last thing that strikes me is that all these point us to the source of all truth, which is the special revelation of our God in Christ Jesus which we call the Holy Scriptures.

We do not match up to the biographical sketch of our Lord; we will likely not match up to that of the apostle Paul, or even such as the great preachers, theologians, Reformers, Puritans, and even many who were not among the learned, but quietly modeled devotion to our Lord in their everyday life until such a time as someone modeled that life in a biography.

We are not supposed to match these whose lives have been temporarily immortalized in such a manner. Their lives, from the apostles onward, are to point us to the impossible example of that Life which we are to follow after, knowing we will not match it until such a time as God has decreed to bring us to that perfection which we so imperfectly work towards, by that same grace that saved us.

Romans 12:6-18: Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Each member of the church is integrally joined to the others. I speak of the local church here, in the most practical terms, not of that mystical union of each and every member of Christ’s church universal, which is always a factor inherent in considering these practical aspects of application.

In this passage, the apostle puts forth that practical application that is directed to the church of Rome. The words in bold highlight that which is true of the love of Christ, and without negating the necessity of discipline in the local church, certainly gives a context within which such will be practiced with the necessary discrimination.

Frequently, upon hearing Christian biographies of famous men in church history, we react in the same way that we do to the example of Paul: I can never be like that! The good news includes within it more good news, and that is that we are not called to be like others, but to exercise that which the Lord has given us within the context of the local body in a manner which both glorifies the Lord, and deems others as more worthy than ourselves (for these two are inseparable). Biographies, whether those in Holy Writ or those throughout the pages of the history of the church, should wake in us that desire to follow hard after our Lord as those the biographies are about, yet be tempered with the realization of that grace with which we were saved, are being sanctified, and will be glorified. Ultimately, we can never, this side of glory, be like He who died for us, or even like many who have been specially gifted to be such a Christ honoring example of that same grace of our Lord and God; we can, however, be that which He has decreed we be, and this should be done in a humble, mutually dependent manner, from the elder who leads, feeds and protects the flock, to the one who, by the world’s standards (and too frequently, these have been brought into covenant relations within the church, which is the reason we are taught, admonished, and encouraged so frequently by such as is in this passage from Romans), is the meanest, least esteemed member of the congregation.

The last verse in this section from Paul’s epistle to the Roman church is quite practical, and relies, for its applicational punch, on its association with the rest of the passage. Peace is the outcome of order, so where you have order, there will be peace. (1) Nowhere should this be more evident than in our corporate relations with one another, on the Christian Sabbath during the worship service and studies, and throughout the week. This extends to our dealings with those outside the household of faith, but the thrust is towards those within, primarily. Such pragmatism runs throughout the apostle’s writings to the church, couched within paeans of doxology and didactic, theological depth, and such should also run through our relations with one another in the same manner.

I recently read a book entitled The God of the Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People, by Matthew B. Redmond. There is much to commend the book, not least of all its plain writing style and addressing of a subject many believers need to hear.

We have been inundated with terms like “radical,” “revolutionary,” and similar descriptive terms, as referring to that which each and every believer in  Christ must do. Matthew B. Redmond’s book, much like Paul’s passage in this chapter of Romans, is a much needed balm for those whose lives are devoted, however imperfectly, to their Lord, God and Savior, yet who cannot participate, for providential reasons, in great theological or evangelical endeavors. They can, however, be faithful with what God has given them, at the place He has put them, within the context of the local body, and that is what this post seeks to highlight.

Not all are teachers of the Word; not all teachers of the Word have the opportunity to go out and participate in formal evangelism (though the evangel should be at least implicit in their teaching, and where explicit in the passage[s] being taught from, brought out explicitly). If we are honoring others within the congregation – indeed, seeking to endeavor to outdo one another in such honor – and doing that which Christ has gifted us to do, being faithful in reading and study of the Word, in prayer, and sharing the gospel as He gives opportunity, we may be excited  – and even intimidated – by the biographies of Christians more famous than ourselves, but we must keep in mind that we are neither these people, the apostle Paul, or any other from church history. We are that member of the body which gives generously to support the ministry, or teaches faithfully, laboring in the Word; we are that member who shows acts of kindness out of proportion with that which is generally considered kindness, or that member who leads the others in a manner consistent with the doctrine and faith of our God in  Christ Jesus.

None is better than the other, nor should any seek to be the other; however, all are absolutely dependent upon one another, and each is completely dependent on that grace of God in Christ that not only gave them eternal new life, but changed their temporal lives, now, to do that which shows the glory of God in Christ Jesus through covenant relations with the other members, no matter how plain or spotlighted that might turn out to be. God gains the glory from even the most unnoticed and innocuous of believers, as He has ordained.

Soli Deo Gloria – Bill

(1) My favorite lexicon, Louw & Nida, defines peace in the context of 1 Corinthians 14:33 as a set of favorable circumstances involving peace and tranquility—‘peace, tranquility – this naturally connects to the meaning of “order” as found in 1 Corinthians 14:40 – 62.7 τάξιςb, εως f; τάγμα, τος n: a proper and correct order—‘right order, good order, in order, in an orderly manner.’
τάξιςb: πάντα δὲ εὐσχημόνως καὶ κατὰ τάξιν γινέσθω ‘everything must be done in a proper and orderly manner’ 1 Cor 14:40; χαίρων καὶ βλέπων ὑμῶν τὴν τάξιν ‘rejoicing to see your orderliness’ Col 2:5. In Col 2:5 τάξις may refer to the orderly manner in which the church at Colossae conducted its affairs or carried on its worship.

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (246, 612).). New York: United Bible Societies.

John Owen on Rewards

4. We must also consider that holiness is not confined to this life, but passeth over into eternity and glory. Death hath no power over it to destroy it or divest us of it; for,—(1.) Its acts, indeed, are transient, but its fruits abide for ever in their reward. They who “die in the Lord rest from their labours, and their works do follow them,” Rev. 14:13. “God is not unrighteous to forget their labour of love.” Heb. 6:10. There is not any effect or fruit of holiness, not the least, not the giving of a cup of cold water to a disciple of Christ in the name of a disciple, but it shall be had in everlasting remembrance, and abide for ever in its eternal reward. Nothing shall be lost, but all the fragments of it shall be gathered up and kept safe for ever. Every thing else, how specious soever it be in this world, shall be burnt up and consumed, as hay and stubble; when the least, the meanest, the most secret fruit of holiness, shall be gathered as gold and silver, durable substance, into God’s treasury, and become a part of the riches of the inheritance of the saints in glory. Let no soul fear the loss of any labour, in any of the duties of holiness, in the most secret contest against sin, for inward purity, for outward fruitfulness; in the mortification of sin, resistance of temptations, improvement of grace; in patience, moderation, self-denial, contentment;—all that you do know, and what you do not know, shall be revived, called over, and abide eternally in your reward. Our Father, who now “seeth in secret,” will one day reward openly; and the more we abound in these things, the more will God be glorified in the recompense of reward. But this is not all, nor that which I intend. (2.) It abides for ever, and passeth over into glory in its principle or nature. The love wherewith we now adhere to God, and by which we act the obedience of faith towards the saints, faileth not; it ends not when glory comes on, but is a part of it, 1 Cor. 13:8. It is true, some gifts shall be done away, as useless in a state of perfection and glory, as the apostle there discourseth; and some graces shall cease, as to some especial acts and peculiar exercise, as faith and hope, so far as they respect things unseen and future;—but all those graces whereby holiness is constituted, and wherein it doth consist, for the substance of them, as they contain the image of God, as by them we are united and do adhere unto God in Christ, shall in their present nature, improved into perfection, abide for ever. In our knowledge of them, therefore, have we our principal insight into our eternal condition in glory; and this is, as a firm foundation of consolation, so a part of our chiefest joy in this world. Is it not a matter of unspeakable joy and refreshment, that these poor bodies we carry about us, after they have been made a prey unto death, dust, worms, and corruption, shall be raised and restored to life and immortality, freed from pain, sickness, weakness, weariness, and vested with those qualities, in conformity to Christ’s glorious body, which yet we understand not? It is so, also, that these souls, which now animate and rule in us, shall be delivered from all their darkness, ignorance, vanity, instability, and alienation from things spiritual and heavenly. But this is not all. Those poor low graces, which now live and are acting in us, shall be continued, preserved, purified, and perfected; but in their nature be the same as now they are, as our souls and bodies shall be. That love whereby we now adhere to God as our chiefest good; that faith whereby we are united to Christ, our everlasting head; that delight in any of the ways or ordinances of God wherein he is enjoyed, according as he hath promised his presence in them; that love and good-will which we have for all those in whom is the Spirit, and on whom is the image of Christ; with the entire principle of spiritual life and holiness, which is now begun in any of us,—shall be all purified, enhanced, perfected, and pass into glory. That very holiness which we here attain, those inclinations and dispositions, those frames of mind, those powers and abilities in obedience and adherence unto God, which here contend with the weight of their own weakness and imperfection, and with the opposition that is continually made against them by the body of death that is utterly to be abolished, shall be gloriously perfected into immutable habits, unchangeably acting our souls in the enjoyment of God. And this also manifesteth of how much concernment it is unto us to be acquainted with the doctrine of it, and of how much more to be really interested in it.

*Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 374–376). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.