Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification

While working on a paper I recently read a book by the 17th century English Puritan Walter Marshall titled The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification: Growing in Holiness by Living in Union with Christ. Brian McRae (Practical Theology, RTS Atlanta) has updated it into modern English and John Murray once called it the most important book on sanctification ever written.

Marshall’s thesis is that sanctification is not something that can be realized in the Christian life by our own power and struggle to grow in holiness but rather that it comes from the union that we have with Christ as we fellowship with him and with his holiness. By faith we receive all of the blessings of the gospel; not just justification but also sanctification. Marshall also goes on to then detail how we can progress in holiness from knowing that we are secure before God because of justification by grace through faith in Christ by living out what is already ours in him.

The whole book is certainly written with a pastor’s heart. Early in his life, Marshall was distressed about the state of his soul for many years and could not find peace as he struggled with his guilty conscience. He felt that God was displeased and angry with him. Eventually he spoke with the great Puritan pastor, Thomas Goodwin, confessing several of the sins that weighed on him most heavily. Goodwin replied, “You have forgotten to mention the greatest sin of all: the sin of unbelief. You do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and to sanctify your nature.” This reply changed Marshall’s whole approach to salvation as he realized that it is only in Christ that we are justified and then also sanctified and he spent the rest of his life, including this book, proclaiming that gospel. The hymn writer William Cowper wrote in a letter to his cousin:

Marshall is an old acquaintance of mine. I have both read him and heard him read with pleasure and edification. The doctrines he maintains are, under the influence of the Divine Spirit, the very life of my soul, and the soul of all my happiness; that Jesus is a present Savior from the guilt of sin by his most precious blood, and from the power of it by his Spirit; that corrupt and wretched in ourselves, in him, and in him only, we are complete. . . . I never met with a man who understood the plan of salvation better or was more happy in explaining it. [Cited in McRae’s introduction]
Here are the principles that form the basis of Marshall’s chapters:
  1. God in his law calls you to live a holy and righteous life. In order to do this, you first have to learn the only possible way you can live a holy life.
  2. You have to receive certain qualification to keep the law of God. There are four qualifications for living a godly life which you must receive from God: 1) Your heart has to be freely willing to live a godly life, 2) You have to be assured that you are forgiven and reconciled to God, 3) You have to be sure of a happy, eternal future with the Lord, and 4) You have to have sufficient strength both to will and to do what God calls you to do.
  3. You receive the qualifications to enable you to keep the law of God out of the fullness of Christ, through fellowship with him. In order to have this fellowship, you must be in union with him. You must be in Christ, and Christ himself must be in you.
  4. The Gospel is the way the Holy Spirit brings you into union with Christ, and into fellowship with him and his holiness. Through the gospel, Christ enters your heart and gives you faith. Faith is the way you actually receive Christ himself, and all his fullness, into your heart. Even this faith is a grace of the Holy Spirit. When you have faith, you believe the gospel with all your heart. When you have faith, you believe in Christ, as he is revealed and freely promised to you in the gospel, for all his salvation.
  5. You cannot live a holy life, no matter how hard you try, if you still have your old nature. In order to live a holy life, you have to receive, by faith, a new heart and a new nature, through your union and fellowship with Christ.
  6. If you try to obey the commands of Christ in order to earn your salvation, and to gain assurance of your salvation, you are seeking salvation by the works of the law. You are not seeking your salvation through faith in Christ, as he is revealed in the gospel. If you try to earn your salvation by your true obedience, you will never succeed.
  7. Do not think that your heart and life have to be changed from sin to holiness in any measure before you are allowed to trust in Christ for salvation.
  8. Make sure that you seek holiness of heart and life in its proper time. You can only live a holy life after you have come into union with Christ, have been justified, and have received the Holy Spirit. Once you have received these blessings, seek holiness by faith with all your might. It is a crucial part of your salvation.
  9. In order to sincerely keep the law of God, you must first receive the comfort of the Gospel.
  10. If you are going to obey the law out of the comfort of the Gospel, you must have complete assurance of your salvation. You obtain assurance by believing and receiving Christ into your heart. Therefore, confidently believe in Christ without delay. Be assured that when you believe in Christ, God will freely give you a personal relationship with Christ, just as he has promised.
  11. Believe in Christ without delay! Then, continue to build up your faith. When you do this, you will build your relationship with Christ more and more. You will also be empowered to live a holy life.
  12. In order to obey the law of God, earnestly live by your most holy faith. Do not walk according to your old nature, and do not put into practice anything that belongs to your old nature. Walk only according to the new nature you received by faith, and live the lifestyle of your new nature. This is the only way to live a holy and righteous life – as much as is possible in this present life.
  13. Now that the Holy Spirit has renewed you, God calls you to live a holy life. To live this obedience life, you must continue to believe in Christ and walk in him by faith. To live this life of faith, God calls you to diligently use all of the means of grace he has given you in his Word.
  14. I have been telling you up to this point that you must seek to live a holy life by believing in Christ, and be walking in him by faith. If you are going to do this, you must understand why living by faith in Christ is so important and beneficial to your soul.

This is probably one of the most helpful books that I’ve ever read. I cannot recommend it highly enough for Marshall’s detailed treatment of sanctification and how it entirely stems from our Spirit-wrought union with Christ in being brought into conformity with his death and resurrection as our death to sin and being raised to righteousness. Marshall’s careful interaction with related and important subjects such as justification, assurance of salvation, glorification, and the means of progressing in the Christian life are invaluable. This should go on my list of books that every Christian should read.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Michael Horton on the "Two Kingdoms"

Listeners to the White Horse Inn or those who read articles by many of the Professors with Dr. Horton at Westminster Seminary California have probably at least heard of Two Kingdoms theology. Most simply put, this position argues that we have to maintain a strict separation between the kingdom of Christ, realized in the church, and the kingdom of the state. David VanDrunen from WSC has a book coming out this winter on the subject and Jason Stellman, a PCA Pastor in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery, recently wrote Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and Not Yet.

Mike Horton has recently published three blog post addressing what he sees as some common misconceptions about two kingdom theology:

I want to preface the following by noting that I do not subscribe to the two kingdoms doctrine. I do think that the latter two arguments that Horton addresses are strawmen. However I do find Two Kingdoms doctrine to be an overly simplistic attempt to set forth a doctrine of church and culture and I do think the criticism that modern articulations of it are a Lutheran doctrine are valid and that Horton does not adequately answer this in his post. We should clarify that even if it is a Lutheran doctrine that this is not a sufficient reason to reject it but rather that our concern is that it is not a biblically or confessionally consistent way to address the relationship between church and culture.

When we examine the historical underpinnings of this doctrine we first need to note that Calvin, while explicitly separating the spiritual kingdom and the civil jurisdiction, does not go so far as to say that the spiritual kingdom is limited to the church. Instead he teaches that the civil jurisdiction has spiritual and religious duties imposed upon it by Christ as King. He writes that the state has the duty "to cherish and protect the outward worship of God, to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church." (Institutes, 2:1487). Calvin goes on to say that civil government must “prevent idolatry, sacrilege against God’s name, blasphemies against his truth, and other public offenses against religion from arising and spreading among the people.” (Institutes, 2:1488) Further, Calvin explicitly gives the government the power to rightly establish religion. (Institutes, 2:1488) He states that the magistrate is charged “to promote religion, to maintain the worship of God, and to take care that sacred ordinances be observed with due reverence.” (Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, 52) Calvin also argues that the civil government must be concerned with both tables of the Law and not only the second. He argued that it would be folly to suppose that God gave magistrates the authority to judge over earthly controversies but then forbade them from enforcing the pure worship of God who is the source of their authority. (Institutes, 2:1495) Ultimately Calvin places the same limitations on the civil government in establishing laws that he does on the church in directing the exercise of religion; that neither can go beyond Scripture (Institutes, 2:1156-7; 1488).

On this basis Calvin's separation of the civil jurisdiction and the spiritual kingdom differs radically from that of Luther and Melanchthon and also from more modern articulations. Neither Calvin nor his immediate spiritual descendents ever argued for a modern separation of church and state in Geneva (nor did Bullinger or his students in Zurich). In fact, Beza and Bullinger wrote a strongly worded condemnations of the English regicide of Charles II following the English Civil War and Beza's counsel to the French Reformers enduring persecution was that their resistance could only extend so far as obedience to the king required disobedience to God and that he did not argue for an armed rebellion (Doug Kelly's book, The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World, is very good on this subject).

It should be noted that as Reformed and Calvinist political developed from Calvin that it did not do so in the same two kingdoms direction as Lutheran theology and that this can be seen on both sides of the Atlantic. In England and Scotland the Westminster Confession of Faith included a chapter regarding the duties of the civil magistrate to govern only in accordance with Scripture. In America the Presbyterians argued that, while church and state were separate, believers have the responsibility to enter the political sphere as representatives of the Prince of Peace. They insisted that civil government could only work with theistic principles and that this implies that while people should have freedom of religion that civil freedom only extends so far as what men have the moral right to do. In the Continental Reformed churches the influence of Abraham Kuyper and his ideas of antithesis and common grace led to a separation of church and state with the understanding that all spheres are under the rule of Christ.

Ultimately we have to find that the Reformed tradition does not give the state the liberal license that the modern articulation of the Two Kingdoms doctrine does. Instead, the Reformed tradition insists that Jesus Christ is King and that all authority on heaven and on earth has been given to him. This means that all individuals and institutions are called to submit to Christ's Lordship and that ultimately this is a gospel call. So the Reformed tradition teaches that this submission is not realized through a state establishment of religion but rather through equiping believers to put on the new man, not just in their church activities, but in every sphere of human activity and then to always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks a reason for the hope that is within us, with meekness and fear.

It's worth closing by quoting R.L. Dabney's encouragement to Christians in the North and the South before the Civil War broke out. He writes:

But alas! how often do we go on Monday to the hustings, after having appeared on the Sabbath as servants of the Prince of Peace and brethren of all his servants, and in our political action forget that we are Christians? Here, then, is our first need, if we would save our country: that we shall carry out citizenship in the kingdom of heaven everywhere, and make it dominate over every public act. ("Christians, Pray for Your Country")

Monday, October 5, 2009

Calvin's Institutes and other Systematics works

Tom asked in a comment to the last post for a few notes on the various editions to Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. I'm only going to reference the four editions available from the WTS Bookstore because anything else you can find either isn't in English or is probably too expensive to be worth looking at.

The main editions that are available are the Beveridge translation and the Battles translation edited by John McNeill. Both of these are good. The main differences are general readability and the Scripture references. The Battles version is a better English translation in that it's a lot easier to read. The language is closer to modern English and you can get through it very quickly. McNeill also provides some footnotes describing opponents that Calvin occasionally references. The main problem is in the Scripture references (more on that to follow).

The Beveridge translation is an older one and so it does not read as easily as the Battles one. The main advantage is that unlike McNeill/Battles, Beveridge did not add Scripture references into the text. When Calvin wrote his Institutes he intended for them to be read along with his Commentaries. When you see a Scripture reference in the Institutes it was meant to serve as a sort of footnote so that you couldthen turn to the Commentaries on that passage and see the exegesis that lies behind Calvin's systematic presentation of the teaching of Scripture. This really illustrates how strongly Calvin's work in systematic theology is tied to his Biblical exegesis and how that has been the Reformed tradition following in his footsteps. The problem with the McNeill/Battles edition is that they add references to the text but do not note which references are original and which are editing. This makes it more difficult to move back and forth between the Institutes and the Commentaries as Calvin intended.

The other editions available are the 1536 edition (this is the first edition that Calvin wrote) and the 1541 French edition (Calvin himself translated his work from Latin to French several times so that it would be available to laity). These editions are really mainly only of advantage to people who want to look at the development of Calvin's thought over about 20 years between the first and final editions. One of the truly interesting things about Calvin is that unlike Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, and Bullinger he never changed his mind about any significant doctrinal point. The major differences lie in the order of presentation and what he expanded upon over the years.

In the end you really can't go wrong with either Battles or Beveridge. Personally, I think that it is worth the money to have both the Institutes and the Commentaries if you have the option. You ought to be able to find a package with all of the Commentaries and the Beveridge edition together for no more than $120. I think that's a great bargain and worth the price. If that's too much money for what is budgeted towards books then the Battles edition is an easier read if all you have is the Institutes. Beveridge is still a lot cheaper but you'll find Battles to be better going. One other thing that I would recommend with any option is the recent Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes: Essays and Analysis. This is an extremely helpful resource on Calvin's theology. While it shouldn't replace reading Calvin it can be used as a great supplement and many of the writers do reference the Commentaries and other writings in their essays.

As an aside to this, I wanted to point people to a recent post by Wes White, a PCA pastor. Pastor White recommends a few systematic theologies that are pretty foundational from all of the options out there. All of his recommendations are very good though I probably wouldn't put Hodge quite as high just because of how much Scottish Common Sense Realism affects his prolegomena [first things] (it is rather interesting that Hodge is word-for-word with Turretin almost everywhere but in the first volume). I would also say that if you only ever have one Reformed Systematic Theology then you want either Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics or Francis Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology. If you can only get a one volume work then Van Genderen and Velema's Concise Reformed Dogmatics that is only recently available in English is probably your best bet. Finally, possibly in place of any of these (again, if you're limited if what you can get) I would recommend John Murray's Collected Writings. While Murray never wrote his own systematic theology (he worked from Hodge and Turretin at WTS) he covers nearly all of traditional categories in various essays and articles included here. I find Murray very lucid and you should enjoy his careful exegetical theology. Murray is also very sensitive to redemptive history, having been a student of Geerhardus Vos at Princeton.