‘about the law’

Following with interest the discussions unfolding on Ref21 and GB.

Three themes I find especially notable.

1) Of the exceptionally helpful points set out by Rick Phillips here , his point 6 in particular is something which (in my perception) if it was emphasised more would be very helpful – that in justification, faith is passive and receptive, while in sanctification, faith is active.

Here’s Smeaton on the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification (Smeaton being one of the early professors in the Free Church College, mid-C19th, and the excerpt being particularly pungent in the third para):

“… a marked line of distinction must be drawn between the prevenient grace of the Spirit and his cooperating grace. The former belongs to effectual calling, regeneration, conversion, and faith, in which the man with all his powers is the object in whom the Spirit operates by the Word; the latter belongs to his progressive sanctification, in which the Spirit calls into exercise the new powers of the renewed mind, and where there are no immediate actings of the Spirit superseding that cooperation.

“… The Holy Spirit does not move the hearts of regenerate men by mere power, but by another principle. He moves them by those spiritual powers or graces with which they are now provided. The Spirit which is in Christ without measure, is in them by measure as a Spirit of life, not moving the mind as a stone, or as a wheel, by mere power, but according to the new nature which has been created or formed in it. To lose sight of this is to ignore the fact that Christ is the source of the Spirit of life, and that the Christian has to add to his faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and all the various excellences which are in Christ Jesus. …

“The practical neglect of this distinction may sometimes be traced in Church history and on whole generations of men. The Lutherans, for example, though they spoke much and admirably of free grace and liberty, were too easily satisfied that the good tree, by the inevitable law of its existence, would bring forth its fruit. They neglected the due cultivation of the graces of the Spirit in the new creature. On the contrary, the Puritans pruned and cultivated the good tree with unwearied diligence, and made every Christian grace, after scriptural example, the subject of wholesome exhortation.” (Smeaton, Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, p211-212.)

2) William B Evans saying in the post which kicked the whole thing off, “The gospel involves freedom from both the penalty and the power of sin, and the latter is not simply¬†to be collapsed into the former. … in dismissing legitimate biblical imperatives as “legalism” this attenuated gospel robs believers of the very resources they need for progress in sanctification.”

Which actually anticipates an excerpt from E Erskine I’d read recently and earmarked for future posting:

“I do not think that it is enough, when we are pressing any duty of the law, to come in with a direction or advice at the end, telling that all is to be done in the strength of Christ; we see here that God begins his sermon of morality to Israel from Mount Sinai with a revalation of himself as the Lord God gracious and merciful through Christ, ‘I am the Lord thy God,’ and lays this as the foundation of obedience to the following precepts. … Upon the other hand there is an error, I fear too common among some. Whenever they hear a minister pressing duty, immediately they conclude him to be a legal[istic] preacher, without ever considering upon what ground he doth it; for if he press the duties of the law upon the ground of covenanted grace, he acts according to his commision, and keeps the order and method that God has laid; but if this method be not followed, if the duties of the law be urged as the foundation¬† of our claim to the privileges of the gospel, or without keeping Christ and the grace of the gospel in the eye of the sinner as the foundation of duty, you may indeed conclude that it is legal[istic].” (Erskine, ed McMillan, p144-145.)

3) More generally, Phillips’ point 2 on how justification and sanctification are distinct from each other.

For what it’s worth, one of the most valuable resources on the doctrine of justification I’ve ever come across (not that, admittedly, I’ve read especially extensively) is James Buchanan’s Doctrine of Justification, first published 1867. Throughout this work Buchanan consistently emphasises the distinction between justification as Christ’s work for us and sanctification as the Spirit’s work in us, and a more cogent and learned and profound and lucid treatment is hard to imagine.

On Green Baggins, they’re recommending the Marrow of Modern Divinity, which is unquestionably essential reading for this whole controversy, and I can personally vouch for its practical usefulness, except that in all ages and generations the Marrow has been found to be hampered by sadly infelicitous expressions which even dear Boston’s clarificatory notes don’t fully rescue it from. Buchanan came two centuries later and was chair of systematic theology in the Free Church College at the time when Reformed theology was at the peak of its attainments to date in terms of reverent rock solid understanding of scripture truth (while simultaneously on the brink of shortly disintegrating under the weight of rationalistic doubt, although that is a story for another day), and Buchanan, and Smeaton too, incorporate all the best of the Marrow doctrine in about as firm a grasp and careful an articulation of the scriptural teaching as you could wish for.

The paper trail:

  1. Evans – Sanctification and the nature of the gospel
  2. Lucas – A rejoinder on sanctification
  3. Philips – Seven assertions
  4. Evans – Sanctification and the gospel
  5. Lucas – A concluding contribution
  6. Evans – A question of balance?
  7. Levy – light relief

so why is it so difficult

James Buchanan – “Many lessons might be deduced from the doctrine of the Spirit’s agency as ‘the Spirit of grace and of supplication,’ applicable alike for our warning, our direction, and our encouragement in prayer.

… We learn from it that God has made the most ample provision for our being restored to his communion and fellowship: for not only is he revealed as the hearer and answerer of prayer, sitting on the throne of grace, and waiting to be gracious; and not only is Christ revealed as our advocate and intercessor, standing beside the throne, and ready to present our requests, perfumed with the incense of his own merits; but lest, when all outward impediments were removed, there might still remain some hinderance in our own hearts, the Holy Spirit is also revealed as the Spirit of grace and supplication, who intercedes for us according to the will of God; and as this precious truth should encourage us to ask his grace to help our infirmities, so it should inspire the hope of an answer in peace …”