Posts Tagged ‘faith vs. works’

Is the Covenant of Grace a unilateral (or unconditional) covenant of promise (as maintained by theologians such as Dr. Michael Horton in such works as “God of Promise,” now retitled “Introducing Covenant Theology“)? Or is that merely a Lutheran innovation?

No less than the Reformed Orthodox theologian Francis Turretin (1623-87), at least, argued for a unilateral formulation of the Covenant of Grace:

Not without reason did the Holy Spirit wish to designate the covenant of grace under the name of “promise,” because it rests entirely upon the divine promise. In this it wonderfully differs, not only from all human covenants (which consist of a mutual obligation and stipulation of the parties), but from the covenant of works (which although it also had its own promise on the part of God to the doers and so was founded on the goodness of God, still it required obedience on the part of man that it might be put into execution). But here God wished the whole of this covenant to depend upon his promise, not only with regard to the reward promised by him, but also with regard to the duty demanded from us. Thus God performs here not only his own part, but also ours; and if the covenant is given for the happiness of only the one party, it is guarded and fulfilled by the fidelity of only one party. Hence not only God’s blessings fall under the promise, but also man’s duty; not only the end, but also the means and conditions leading us to it. – Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 12.1.11.

And although the promise of the covenant is conditionally proposed and applied to individuals, it does not follow that the promise itself depends upon man’s will and so is not absolute.  That conditional promise is a consectary [consequence] of an absolute promise and it is thus commanded as the duty of man that it may be produced at the same time and at once in the elect as the gift of God. – Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 12.6.3 

Thus, at least for Turretin, it is not wrong to conceive of the Covenant of Grace as a unilateral (or unconditional) arraignment. Although faith is certainly the condition apart from which the promise is void, even this faith is a gift of God and secured by God as part of the promise.

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I’d been reading Cornelis P. Venema’s very helpful work on Calvin titled, Accepted and Renewed in Christ: The Twofold Grace of God and the Interpretation of Calvin’s Theology. One of his thoughts:

One prominent feature of faith, and one which is implicit in this antithesis between faith and works, is its humility. Faith contrasts with the righteousness of works and plays such an instrumental function in our justification precisely because it humbly ascribes the whole substance of salvation to God’s grace in Christ alone. Without this humility of faith, it is not possible to enjoy Christ; it would be incongruous for us to embrace him without recognizing and conforming ourselves to his exemplary humility in “abasing himself from the highest pinnacle of glory to the lowest ignominy!” According to Calvin, only “those who have learned humility in the school of the cross” can expect to partake of that blessedness which Christ freely gives to those who trust in him. Only through the humility which characterizes true faith, a humility which consists in the acknowledgement of our need and in yielding to God’s mercy, can we find salvation and rest in God. Faith justifies us because it refuses to assert its own right or cause before and apart from God’s grace, claiming thereby a position of relative independence and self-sufficiency in his presence; it justifies us precisely because it eschews every from of self-justification before God. For faith alone knows that “our humility is God’s loftiness,” and that the acknowledgment of our need “has a ready remedy in his mercy.” (p. 105-6)

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B.B. Warfield:

It is, nevertheless, the very cor cordis of the Gospel that is here brought under fire. The one antithesis of all the ages is that between the rival formula: Do this and live, and Live and do this: Do and be saved, and Be saved and do. And the one thing that determines whether we trust in God for salvation or would fain save ourselves is, how such formulae appeal to us…. Just in proportion as we are striving to supplement or supplant His perfect work, just in that proportion is our hope of salvation resting on works, and not on faith. Ethicism and solafideanism—these are the eternal contraries, mutually exclusive. It must be faith or works; it can never be faith and works. And the fundamental exhortation which we must ever be giving our souls is clearly expressed in the words of the Hymn, “Cast your deadly doing down.” Only when that is completely done is it really Christ Only, Christ All in All, with us.

Taken from Covenant Justification and Pastoral Ministry (p. 329)

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