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Posts Tagged ‘Francis Turretin’

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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Francis Turretin in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology comments on the causal priority of justification to sanctification:

…guilt and the dominion of sin mutually follow each other and establish and take away each other in turn. For as no one can be freed from guilt by justification without being immediately freed from its dominion by sanctification (which necessarily follows justification and cannot be torn asunder from it), thus he who is freed from its dominion ought first to have been freed from guilt, the cause of dominion.

Volume 2, p. 251.

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Reading through Turretin’s section on the ‘Covenant of Grace and Its Twofold Economy’ has been simply brilliant. Speaking of the Mosaic Law, he picks up the idea of the “spirit of bondage” (Rom 8:15):

This bondage, the spirit of bondage attended (adjusted to the servile economy, Rom. 8:15), which commonly wrought a servile fear of God, the judge, and a dread of punishment. From this continual anxiety and solicitude as it were by the law and its threats sounded daily in their ears (more than alacrity) by the doctrine of grace preached sparingly and somewhat obscurely; not that believers were absolutely destitute of the spirit of adoption…, but because it excited emotions suitable to that condition, in which the heir being still a child did not differ much from a servant.

Hence rigor and severity arose from the legal discourses frequently mingled and the promises of grace repeated somewhat rarely and obscurely; also through compulsion, by which they were impelled to duty through fear of punishment rather than from the love of God and of righteousness; Moses continually like a hard master with his rod, not so much persuading as extorting obedience. Here belongs the terrible apparatus under which the law was given, by which not only the people, but Moses himself also is said to have been terrified. That rigor was not without purpose; the wantonness of Israel could hardly otherwise be thoroughly tamed, whom moses and the other prophets so often reproached for its hard neck and adamantine hearts.
Institutes of Elenctic Theology, volume 2, Section 12, p. 229.

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