Saturday, July 05, 2008

Federal Theology: The Covenant of Works

According to federal theology, the whole system of Christian doctrine hangs on the two federal (representative) heads of Adam and Christ. Biblical history is structured around the covenant with Adam, or the covenant of works, and the covenant with Christ, or the covenant of grace. Each individual's experience is only properly understood with reference to whether he is "in Adam" or "in Christ." So, I want to begin laying out this "federal scheme" by describing what is meant by the "covenant of works." Future posts may deal with the "covenant of grace."

God made a covenant with Adam in which He promised Adam justification and eternal life for perfectly fulfilling the law. Had Adam kept the law perfectly, as a federal head, He would have merited justification and eternal life for all of his posterity because they were federally united to him. I don't say that Adam was created in a state of justification and adoption, since God the judge never revokes the life-blessing of justification and because God the Father always preserves His sons and never casts them off, but Adam fell; so, he couldn't have been in a state of justification from the beginning. Therefore, it is better to say that Adam was created with the possibility of meriting justification and eternal life, but not in a state of justification or eternal life.

We're not told explicitly, but it makes sense to say that there was some period of trial or probation through which Adam had to pass in order to merit justification and eternal life. If there were no trial period, after which he would be rewarded with justification and eternal life, then he could never have functioned as "federal" or "representative" head for those who were "in him." He would be forever working to maintain present blessings, never actually able to purchase and secure any final benefits for his constituents. Thus, it is logical to conclude that there was some probationary period, the length of which is unknown, after which Adam would have merited and secured the right to justification for his posterity.

Had Adam successfully completed this probationary period, all of his posterity, who were "in him," would have been given all the benefits purchased by his merits. His children and their children after them would have had the right to justification before they were even conceived based on Adam's righteousness, and this would have guaranteed and required that God bring each of Adam's constituents into physical existence so that they could experience actual justification and eternal life. The right to justification necessarily issues in actual justification. Upon conception, they would have been immediately granted actual justification and eternal life and based on Adam's righteousness, God would have preserved those united to Adam in justification and eternal life by working perfect holiness in them forever.

However, as you know, none of this took place. Instead, the exact opposite happened. Adam sinned against the law of God. There is no need for a probationary period in which Adam would have to sin consistently over a period of time to demerit condemnation, since even a single sin against God's holy law demerits condemnation and eternal death. Adam's sin resulted in the immediate condemnation of Adam and his sin demerited the liability to condemnation and eternal death for all who are united to him as their federal head.

Therefore, upon physical conception, all of Adam's posterity is immediately cursed with actual condemnation based upon Adam's first sin (unrighteousness). Their liability to condemnation becomes actual condemnation as soon as they are conceived. This liability to condemnation legally guarantees and obligates God to bring into existence all who are represented by Adam so that they might be called to account for their act in their representative head. Though they did not act subjectively in their own existences, they acted really by virtue of Adam's legal representation on their behalf. Finally, because all who are born "in Adam" are immediately cursed with actual condemnation, they must suffer the penalty of that condemnation, which involves God cursing them by giving them over to more and more sin and to totally depraved natures which grow wise in evil and do no good whatsoever. Those who go to their graves "in Adam" and who were never transfered to the headship of Christ during this life will suffer under the penalty of eternal death in hell, which is the final consequence of Adam's first sin, of condemnation in him, and of their own actual transgressions which flow from that first sin.

A Reply to Mark Horne's Post

Mark Horne graciously replied to my post yesterday to clarify his views on perseverance and apostasy. I am thankful for his clarification. He wrote to say that he does not believe that the non-elect are ever regenerated, justified, and adopted (in the Westminsterian sense, though he may use those words differently in different contexts). Thus, those who are regenerated, justified, and adopted never fall away from those graces but always persevere to the end. I am grateful that Horne affirms this wonderful biblical truth.

However, Horne made a couple of comments in his post on Hebrews that led me to some wrong inferences about his beliefs.

Horne wrote, "One [the writer of Hebrews] encourages to continue to run and warns against giving up the race, the other [the experimental pietist] asks for self-examination to determine whether or not one has already been put on the train."

But, why would the writer to the Hebrews encourage unregenerate, unjustified, and unadopted people to "continue?" It would seem that such people need to do more than "continue." They need to move from death to life (1 Jn 3:14). They need to be born again (Jn 3:3). The writer of Hebrews addresses his hearers as "repentant" (Heb 6:6), "sanctified" (Heb 10:14, 29) "enlightened" (Heb 6:4), and under the "blood of the covenant" (Heb 10:29). I interpret the author's terminology to be a judgment of charity. The author is taking the Hebrews at their word, charitably granting that these confessors (Heb 3:1; 4:14; 10:23) are truly what they confess to be: regenerate, justified, and adopted (even though they may not be).

In contrast, Horne evidently believes that in Hebrews these terms refer to the "common operations of the Spirit" (WCF 10.4; WLC Q.68), which come short of God's eternally saving graces. He'll have to correct me if I'm wrong about that. But, why would the writer to the Hebrews urge mere continuance in graces that fall short of regeneration, justification, and adoption? Why wouldn't the author urge those who partake in common operations of the Spirit to make certain that they have come all the way to sincere repentance and faith in the Spirit, and that they have come to Christ for justification, and to the Father for adoption? My own view is that the author's references to the graces given to the Hebrews aren't references to common operations at all, but to genuine conversion (charitably granted).

When Horne sets continuance in opposition to the need for self-examination and conversion, I'm at a total loss because it implies that continuance alone is necessary, when in reality, both conversion and continuance in faith are necessary. Though it's not my position, I can understand how the warnings of Hebrews could be interpreted to be the "common operations of the Spirit." That's a fairly standard view among Reformed theologians, and I'm not objecting to that view. Many good men hold it. But I don't understand how anyone who holds that view can pit the need for continuance (for those who are both regenerate and have the common operations of the Spirit) against the need for self-examination, regeneration, conversion, justification and adoption (for those who are unregenerate and have the common operations of the Spirit) the way Mark Horne does.

It makes no sense to interpret the writer to the Hebrews as telling the church to continue in the common operations of the Spirit. That's far too weak an exhortation because what is needed to inherit the future blessing of eternal life is regeneration, justification, adoption and perseverance in faithful obedience to the end. Because that doesn't make sense to me, I assumed it doesn't make sense at all, and I inferred that Horne must believe that sincerely repentant, sanctified, enlightened, and blood covered Christians (who are regenerate, justified, and adopted) can fall away from the faith and go to hell. Thankfully, he has now said otherwise. Perhaps he can clarify further and help me to see the sense of it.

Horne also wrote, "For the same reason Hebrews doesn’t threaten Calvinism, so it can’t prove Arminianism–even if we grant them their exegesis. Claim that Hebrews is about 'genuine Christians' all you want, it still won’t prove that God does not preserve his elect."

These are probably the sentences that threw me off the most. Horne claims that Arminian exegesis of Hebrews is no "threat" to Calvinism. But, Calvinism has never merely taught that God preserves His elect. It has always taught that God preserves His saints. Arminian exegesis of the book of Hebrews claims that genuinely repentant, justified, and adopted people (i.e., saints) can and sometimes do fall away from those graces and go to hell. Thus, Arminian exegesis most definitely "threatens" Calvinism, though it may not threaten "monergism." Horne doesn't say that he has granted them their exegesis, but his willingness to say that "if we do, then Calvinism isn't threatened" made me think he was sympathetic to their exegesis and may even embrace a version of it. He has since clarified and asserted otherwise. I am grateful for that because the Arminians do teach that those who are regenerated, justified, and adopted fall away and go to hell.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Wrong View of the Warning Passages

I just read a post by Mark Horne in which he said that an Arminian reading of the warning passages of Hebrews does nothing to threaten the monergism of Reformed theology. Though he's not explicit, I assume he means that God monergistically causes some of the non-elect to become Christians for a time, but then God later permits (or causes) them to fall away and go to hell. The eternally elect persevere to the end and inherit eternal life, but not all regenerate, justified, and adopted Christians are eternally elect; therefore, non-eternally-elect Christians always fall away. The reason some Christians persevere and some fall away is because God causes some to persevere, but not all.

I believe that view should be rejected because it calls God's Fatherhood into question and because it runs counter to the teaching of the Bible. The Bible represents God the Father as one who preserves His sons because He loves them. He keeps all His sons to the very end. God never casts off His sons or causes them to fall away. Here are a few passages which teach that God preserves to the end all Christians who are drawn effectually by His power.

Christians Remain Christians to the End
John 6:40 "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."

John 6:44 "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day."

1 Corinthians 1:7-9 "our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."

Philippians 1:6-7 "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me."

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass."

Hebrews 3:14 "For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end."

Hebrews 10:14 "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified."

They Were Never Christians in the First Place
In addition to the above passages which teach that those God redeems remain in grace to the end, there are biblical texts that teach that those who fall away from the faith were never actually Christians in the first place.

Matthew 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22 "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"

John 6:64 "But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him."

1 John 2:19 "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us."