October 31, 2005

John Robinson (1576–1625) and "Reformation Day"

John Robinson, pastor to the Pilgrims who sailed to the New World, has some relevant words for those speaking of a "Reformation Day." I celebrate what the Reformers accomplished in Christ's name in so far as their thoughts and actions correspond to scripture. However, I am not one to so sing the praises of the Reformers that I don't notice where they made mistakes and acted wrongly. I am grieved when I am around Christians who fall prey to Reformation propaganda to the extent that they refuse to go beyond the Reformers. This sometimes happens because they are so locked into their traditions and confessions (taking great pride in them), that they can go no further than Luther, Calvin or their successors. These types of people may have favorite teachers that they so admire, that they will not hold anything contrary to what these men teach.

John Robinson has appropriate words for such people. Speaking in his memorable charge to the departing company at Delft Haven, he said:
I charge you before God and His blessed angels, that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ. If God reveals anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth by my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His holy word. For my part, I cannot sufficiently bewail the condition of those reformed Churches which are come to a period in religion, and will go, at present, no further than the instruments of their reformation. The Lutherans cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw; whatever part of His will our God has revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented, for though they were burning and shining lights in their times, yet they penetrated not into the whole counsel of God; but were they now living, would be as willing to embrace further light as that which they first received, for it is not possible the Christian world should come so lately out of such thick anti-christian darkness and that perfection of knowledge should break forth at once.
E. H. Broadbent, The Pilgrim Church (Basingstoke, Hants, UK: Pickering & Inglis, 1985), 245–246.

October 28, 2005

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia on Moïse Amyraut

AMYRAUT, am"î-rō', MOÏSE (Lat. Moses Amyraldus): Calvinist theologian and preacher; b. at Bourgueil (27 m. w.s.w. of Tours), Touraine, 1596; d. at Saumur Jan. 8, 1664. He came of an influential family in Orleans, began the study of law at Poitiers, and received the degree of licentiate in 1616; but the reading of Calvin's Institutio turned his mind to theology. This he studied eagerly at Saumur, under Cameron, to whom he was much attached. After serving as pastor for a short time at Saint-Aignan, he was called in 1626 to succeed Jean Daillé at Saumur, and soon became prominent. The national synod held at Charenton in 1631 chose him to lay its requests before Louis XIII., on which occasion his tactful bearing attracted the attention and won the respect of Richelieu. In 1633 he was appointed professor of theology at Saumur with De la Place and Cappel, and the three raised the institution into a flourishing condition, students being attracted to it from foreign countries, especially from Switzerland. Theological novelties in their teaching, however, soon stirred up opposition, which came to little in France; but in Switzerland, where the professors were less known, it reached such a pitch that students were withdrawn, and in 1675 the Helvetic Consensus was drawn up against the Saumur innovations. Amyraut was specially attacked because his teaching on grace and predestination seemed to depart from that of the Synod of Dort, by adding a conditional universal grace to the unconditional particular.

Amyraut first published his ideas in his Traité de la prédestination (Saumur, 1634), which immediately caused great excitement. The controversy became so heated that the national synod at Alençon in 1637 had to take notice of it. Amyraut and his friend Testard were acquitted of heterodoxy, and silence was imposed on both sides. The attacks continued, however, and the question came again before the synod of Charenton in 1644-45, but with the same result. Amyraut bore himself so well under all these assaults that he succeeded in conciliating many of his opponents, even the venerable Du Moulin (1655). But at the synod of Loudun in 1659 (the last for which permission was obtained—partly through Amyraut's influence—from the crown), fresh accusations were brought, this time including Daillé, the president of the synod, because he had defended what is called "Amyraldism." This very synod, however, gave Amyraut the honorable commission to revise the order of discipline. In France the harmlessness of his teaching was generally recognized; and the controversy would soon have died out but for the continual agitation kept up abroad, especially in Holland and Switzerland.

Amyraut's doctrine has been called "hypothetical universalism"; but the term is misleading, since it might be applied also to the Arminianism which he steadfastly opposed. His main proposition is this: God wills all men to be saved, on condition that they believe—a condition which they could well fulfil in the abstract, but which in fact, owing to inherited corruption, they stubbornly reject, so that this universal will for salvation actually saves no one. God also wills in particular to save a certain number of persons, and to pass over the others with this grace. The elect will be saved as inevitably as the others will be damned. The essential point, then, of Amyraldism is the combination of real particularism with a purely ideal universalism. Though still believing it as strongly as ever, Amyraut came to see that it made little practical difference, and did not press it in his last years, devoting himself rather to non-controversial studies, especially to his system of Christian morals (La morale chrestienne, 6 vols., Saumur, 1652-60). The read significance of Amyraut's teaching lies in the fact that, while leaving unchanged the special doctrines of Calvinism, he brought to the front its ethical message and its points of universal human interest.

(E. F. Karl Müller.)

Bibliography: E. and É. Haag, La France Protestante, i. 72-80, Paris, 1846 (gives a complete list of his voluminous works); E. Saigey, in Revue de théologie, pp. 178 sqq., Paris, 1849; A. Schweizer, Tübinger theologische Jahrbücher, 1852, pp. 41 sqq., 155 sqq.
E. F. Karl Müller, "Amyraut, Moïse," in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, eds. S. M. Jackson, et al. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1951), 1:160–61.

For more on Amyraut, see Brian Armstrong's book Calvinism and The Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seventeenth-Century France.

October 21, 2005

John Davenant's (1572–1641) Picture and Some Quotes on the Extent of Christ's Death

At the time I posted this, this was the only picture of Bishop John Davenant online.

The following are my posts that contain some of his material:

John Davenant on Colossians

Future Posts on John Davenant

John Davenant on John 3:16

(UPDATE on 8-21-07: Some of John Davenant's writings can be found online for free HERE).

There was a picture of Davenant on the SDG site, but it was low quality (Soli Deo Gloria Ministries Link).

SDG Ministries said this about Davenant:
Davenant was born in London and was educated at Queen’s College, Cambridge. He received his doctorate in 1609 and spent 12 years teaching theology there. In 1618 he was appointed by the King of England to the Synod of Dort, where he showed himself to be a moderate Calvinist, rejecting particular redemption. He was appointed Bishop of Salisbury in 1621.
It's true that he was a "moderate" Calvinist. However, it is misleading to say that he rejected "particular redemption." Davenant, who was a leading English delegate at Dort, did believe that Christ had a special intent to save the elect through His all-sufficient satisfaction, that resulted in the application of His death to the elect alone (redemption applied) through the effectual calling of the Spirit. It's just the case that He did not believe Christ only satisfied for the sins of the elect.

Notice carefully what Davenant says here:
No divine of the Reformed Church, of sound judgment, will deny a general intention or appointment concerning the salvation of all men individually by the death of Christ, on the condition if they believe. For the intention or appointment of God is general, and is plainly revealed in Holy Scripture, although the absolute and not to be frustrated intention of God concerning the gift of faith and eternal life to some persons, is special, and limited to the elect alone. So I have maintained and do maintain.—Davenant's Opinion on the Gallican Controversy.
Commenting on Colossians 1:22, Davenant says:
Now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death.

We gather from this place that a twofold reconciliation is to be seen in the Scriptures: The one general, accomplished by the sacrifice upon the cross, concerning which the Apostle speaks in a former sense, It hath pleased God to reconcile all things to himself by the blood of the cross. And John i. 29, Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. This I call general, because it is considered according to the value of the sacrifice, which is not only general, but infinite; because also it is considered according to the mode of proposing it, the preaching of the Gospel, which mode is indefinite and general; for this expiatory sacrifice is proposed and offered to all by God, according to that declaration Tit. ii. 11, The grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men. But besides this reconciliation accomplished upon the cross, and generally applicable to all, the Scripture also shews us a particular and applied reconciliation, effected in the heart and conscience of individuals; that is to say, when that sacrifice of Christ, which hath in itself an universal power of reconciling all, is actually applied to reconcile this or that man. Of this the Apostle speaks in saying You hath he now reconciled. He had before said, On the cross he hath reconciled all things to God, both which are in heaven and which are in earth, i.e. he hath paid an adequate price for the deliverance and reconciliation of all; but now he hath reconciled you by this particular and applied reconciliation (Commentary on Colossians [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2005], 254–255).
What Davenant is saying in the above quotes is that there is more than one purpose or intention that God has in sending his Son. There is a general as well as a particular intention. Davenant is not reductionistic in his view. He's a dualist with respect to the design of Christ's death. The limitation is in the special decree and in the application, and no where else (i.e. not in the extent of the satisfaction). The special design is seen in that the elect alone are granted the moral ability to believe, and thus they appropriate the benefits of Christ's work unto eternal life. This is what Charles Hodge, R. L. Dabney and W. G. T. Shedd all say, as well as many other Reformed divines.

The expressions "limited atonement", "definite atonement" and "particular redemption" can be vague. What is limited? What is meant by "redemption"? Are we talking about redemption accomplished, or redemption applied? If one means that there is a special intent in Christ's coming to die for the sake of the elect just as there is a special love for them, then Davenant does not reject that. If one wants to say that is the only intent in Christ's coming to die, then Davenant doesn't agree. If one means by "particular redemption" that Christ's death is only applied to the elect alone by the Holy Spirit through the instrumentality of faith, then Davenant would agree. If one means by "particular redemption" that Christ's death secures it's own application by a literal purchase, then Davenant would disagree.

Davenant thought of "redemption" in a two-fold sense: 1) an objective redemption (God's removal of the legal barriers through Christ that stand in the way of any sinner being forgiven) and 2) a subjective redemption (i.e. the forgiveness of sins because the benefits of the death are applied by the Holy Spirit through the instrumentality faith). The High Calvinists do not make this distinction (at least in the same way) due to their commercialistic way of thinking about Christ's death, or thinking of it in terms of a limited imputation of sin to Christ and literal purchase of things. In their view, Christ only "pays" for the sins of the elect and buys things for them such as faith, which is why they inevitably receive the purchased benefits when they exist and believe. It's as if Christ is only the last Adam for the elect (he only legally represents them since it's all seen exclusively through the eternal covenant of redemption), and they virtually die in him when he died.

Davenant is more like Wolfgang Musculus, an early Reformer, who said:
That reprobate and deplorably wicked men do not receive it, is not through any defect in the grace of God, nor is it just, that, on account of of the children of perdition, it should lose the glory and title of universal redemption, since it is prepared for all, and all are called to it.—Wolfgang Musculus Common Places, p. 151.
No one thinks William Twisse (President of the Westminster Assembly of Divines until his death) denied "particular redemption," but look at what he said about Christ's death as cited by Bellamy:
"I am ready to profess," says the famous Dr. Twisse, " and that, I suppose, as out of the mouths of all our divines, that every one who hears the gospel, (without distinction between elect or reprobate,) is bound to believe that Christ died for him, so far as to procure both the pardon of his sins and the salvation of his soul, in case he believes and repents." Again, "As Peter could not have been saved, unless he had believed and repented, so Judas might have been saved, if he had done so." Again, "John iii.16, gives a fair light of exposition to those places where Christ is said to have died for the sins of the world; yea, of the whole world, to wit, in this manner; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."—Dr. Twisse, on "The Riches of God's Love to the Vessels of Mercy," etc.
The above is quoted in "True Religion Delineated, in Two Discourses," in The Works of Joseph Bellamy, 2 vols. (New York; London, Garland Publishing, 1987), 1:294.

Unfortunately, the page reference to Twisse's work is not given in that work. Dallas Theological Seminary has a copy of this work by Twisse (with the Preface or Commendation by Owen I believe), but it is very large and the print is very bad in spots.

Even Zanchius, one who sounds like a High Calvinist at times, said this:
It is not false that Christ died for all men: for the passion of Christ is offered to all in the Gospel. But he died effectually for the elect alone, because indeed they only are made partakers of the efficacy of the passion of Christ.
Zanchius, Miscellanea Tract. de Praed. Sanct., p. 14. Quoted by Davenant, The Death of Christ (1650; repr. in his On the Colossians, ed. Allport, London, 1832), 2:548. This is also cited in Norman F. Douty's Did Christ Die Only for the Elect? (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1998), 48.

How are the elect "made partakers of the efficacy of the passion of Christ"? It is through faith in Christ, of course.

October 19, 2005

R. L. Dabney (1820–1898) on John 3:16

The following is taken from God's Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy:
We may best exemplify the manner in which the correct view applies by that most important and decisive passage, John 3:16–19. Here is the most plausible exposition of it which can be presented on the supralapsarian [Tony's comment: by "Supralapsarian" he means a version of the High Calvinist, strictly limited view] side. When "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son," "the world" must mean only the "body of the elect": 1, Because there is no greater gift that could evince any greater love to the elect; 2, Because this chief gift must include all the rest, according to Rom. 8:32; 3, Because "the world" of the whole passage is that which God sent his Son (verse 17) not to condemn but to save; 4, The foreseen preterition of many to whom the Gospel is offered expresses nothing but divine hatred, such as is incompatible with any love at all.

But now, per contra, if "the world" in verse 16 means "the body of the elect," then, 1, We have a clear implication, that some of that body may fail to believe and perish; 2, We are required to carry the same sense throughout the passage, for the phrase, "the world"—which is correct; but in verse 19, "the world," into which the light has come, working with some the alternative result of deeper condemnation, must be taken in the wider sense; 3, A fair logical connection between verse 17 and verse 18 shows that "the world" of verse 17 is inclusive of "him that believeth," and "him that believeth not," of verse 18; 4, It is hard to see how, if the tender of Christ's sacrifice is in no sense a true manifestation of divine benevolence to that part of "the world" which "believeth not," their choosing to slight it is the just ground of a deeper condemnation, as is expressly stated in verse 19. Are gospel-rejectors finally condemned for this, that they were so unfortunately perspicacious as not to be affected by a fictitious or unreal manifestation? It is noticeable that Calvin is too sagacious an expositor to commit himself to the extreme exegesis.

How shall we escape from this dilemma? Looking at the first and second points of the stricter exposition, we see that if it were question of that efficient decree of salvation, from which every logical mind is compelled to draw the doctrine of particular redemption, the argument would be impregnable. Yet it would make the Saviour contradict his own exposition of his statement. The solution, then, must be in this direction, that the words, "so loved the world" were not designed to mean the gracious decree of election (though other Scriptures abundantly teach there is such a decree), but a propension of benevolence not matured into the volition to redeem [Tony's comment: In Dabney's Systematic Theology, he makes it clear that he uses the term "redeem" to refer to the subjective application through faith, and "expiate" to refer to what Christ did when he died. See 8.2 on the LINK above where he says "Redemption is limited, i. e., to true believers, and is particular. Expiation is not limited." I, along with some other early Calvinists like Wolfgang Musculus, don't have a problem using "redemption" to refer also to the unlimited expiation as well due to the facts of 2 Pet. 2:1 et al.], of which Christ's mission is a sincere manifestation to all sinners. But our Saviour adverts to the implication which is contained even in the very statement of this delightful truth, that those who will not believe will perish notwithstanding. He foresees the cavil: "If so, this mission will be as much a curse as a blessing; how is it, then, a manifestation of infinite pity?" And the remaining verses give the solution of that cavil. It is not the tendency or primary design of that mission to curse, but to bless; not to condemn, but to save. When it becomes the occasion (not cause) of deeper condemnation to some, it is only because these (verse 19) voluntarily pervert, against themselves, and acting (verse 20) from a wicked motive, the beneficent provision. God has a permissive decree to allow some thus to wrest the Gospel provision. But inasmuch as this result is of their own free and wicked choice, it does not contravene the blessed truth that Christ's mission is in its own nature only beneficent, and a true disclosure of God's benevolence to every sinner on earth to whom it is published.
R. L. Dabney, "God's Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy," in Discussions: Theological and Evangelical, 5 vols., ed. C. R. Vaughan (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1982), 1:312–313.

The following is a taken from Dabney's Systematic Theology:
There is, perhaps, no Scripture which gives so thorough and comprehensive an explanation of the design and results of Christ’s sacrifice, as John 3:16–19. It may receive important illustration from Matt. 22:4. In this last parable, the king sends this message to invited guests who, he foresees, would reject and never partake the feast. "My oxen and my fatlings are killed, come, for all things are now ready." They alone were unready. I have already stated one ground for rejecting that interpretation of John 3:16, which makes "the world" which God so loved, the elect world, I would now, in conclusion, simply indicate, in the form of a free paraphrase, the line of thought developed by our Redeemer, trusting that the ideas already expounded will suffice, with the coherency and consistency of the exposition to prove its correctness.

Verse 16. Christ’s mission to make expiation for sin is a manifestation of unspeakable benevolence to the whole world, to man as man and a sinner, yet designed specifically to result in the actual salvation of believers. Does not this imply that this very mission, rejected by others, will become the occasion (not cause) of perishing even more surely to them? It does. Yet, (verse 17) it is denied that this vindicatory result was the primary design of Christ’s mission, and the initial assertion is again repeated, that this primary design was to manifest God, in Christ’s sacrifice, as compassionate to all. How then is the seeming paradox to be reconciled? Not by retracting either statement. The solution, (verse 18) is in the fact, that men, in the exercise of their free agency, give opposite receptions to this mission. To those who accept it as it is offered, it brings life. To those who choose to reject it, it is the occasion (not cause) of condemnation. For, (verse 19) the true cause of this perverted result is the evil choice of the unbelievers, who reject the provision offered in the divine benevolence, from a wicked motive; unwillingness to confess and forsake their sins. The sum of the matter is then. That Christ’s mission is, to the whole race, a manifestation of God’s mercy. To believers it is means of salvation by reason of that effectual calling which Christ had expounded in the previous verses. To unbelievers it becomes a subsequent and secondary occasion of aggravated doom. This melancholy perversion, while embraced in God’s permissive decree, is caused by their own contumacy. The efficient in the happy result is effectual calling; the efficient in the unhappy result is man’s own evil will. Yet God’s benevolence is cleared, in both results. Both were, of course, foreseen by Him, and included in His purpose.
R. L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 535.


October 17, 2005

John Davenant (1572–1641) on Colossians

(UPDATE on 8-21-07: Some of John Davenant's writings can be found online for free HERE).

As I mentioned before, I have received a number of hits on my blog from people doing searches on John Davenant. In case any of you are interested, Banner of Truth has recently put out his commentary on Colossians in their Geneva Series of Commentaries. It does not contain his Dissertation on the Death of Christ. However, one can buy that out of print material from Dr. Curt Daniel for $25.

Here's the link to Christian Books:

Added on 10-19-05:

NKJ Colossians 1:14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
It demonstrates also the infinite love of God towards the human race, who willingly sent his own Son to redeem miserable mortals. Let this inflame us with reciprocal love; let this excite us to every kind of obedience.

It must also be observed, that the Apostle does not say we have redemption by the Son of God, but in him. For by Christ the whole world is said to be redeemed, inasmuch as he offered and gave a sufficient ransom for all; but in him the elect and faithful alone have effectual redemption, because they alone are in him.

Hence we learn that no one hath, or can have, any fruit of the redemption procured by Christ, unless he be in Christ. But we are engrafted in Christ through faith by the Holy Spirit. Therefore salvation is not derived to us unless from Christ our Head; for when he becomes our Head, and we his members then we are in him, then his saving virtue extends to us; but not before: For he is the Savior of his body, Ephes. v. 23.
John Davenant, An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul to the Colossians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2005), 163–164.

October 9, 2005

Discerning Truth's Unity

No one truth is rightly held till it is clearly conceived and stated, and no single truth is adequately comprehended till it is viewed in harmonious relations to all the other truths of the system of which Christ is the center.
A. A. Hodge, The New Dictionary of Thoughts, 688.

October 7, 2005

John McCarty's Prayer

A friend of mine, John McCarty of Foothills Fellowship Bible Church, sent an email with the following message:

Ye call Me Master and obey not, Ye call Me Light and see Me not, Ye call Me Way and walk not, Ye call Me Life and desire Me not, Ye call Me Wise and follow Me not, Ye call Me Fair and love Me not, Ye call Me rich and ask Me not, Ye call Me Eternal and see Me not, Ye call Me Noble and serve Me not, Ye call Me Mighty and honor Me not, Ye call Me just and fear Me not.

May God grant us the grace to obey Him, the light to see Him, to walk with Him, desire Him, follow Him, love Him, ask of Him, serve Him, Honor Him, fear Him, and glorify Him in the way we live our lives.

In His love & grace,

Neil Chambers on "Unbelief as a Sin Atoned For"

At the conclusion of the triple choice argument Owen, to rule out the possibility that there could be any sense in which Christ could be said to have died for all men, asks the general redemptionists why, if Christ did die for all men all are not saved?
You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not; if so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins? Let them choose which part they will.
Clifford has made a number of criticisms of this argument in relation to its impact on the guilt of unbelief, its depriving “general exhortations to believe of all significance”, and the tension it establishes with Owen’s commitment to common grace which need not be repeated here. What needs to be seen is that Owen’s argument defeats itself by proving too much. If, in Owen’s terms, Christ died for all the sins of some people, the elect, then he must also have died for their unbelief, where ‘died for’ is understood to mean having paid the penalty for all their sins at Calvary. If this is the case, then why are the elect not saved at Calvary? If Owen replies that it is because the benefits of Christ’s death are not yet applied to them, then I would ask what it means for those benefits not to be applied to them? Surely it means that they are unbelieving, and therefore cannot be spoken of as saved. But they cannot be punished for that unbelief, as its penalty has been paid and God, as Owen assures us, will not exact a second penalty for the one offense. If then, even in their unbelief, there is no debt against them, no penalty to be paid, surely they can be described as saved, and saved at Calvary. That being the case, the gospel is reduced to a cipher, a form of informing the saved of their blessed condition.

These last two conclusions are positions that Owen would deny, for he is committed to the necessity and integrity of the universal gospel call and the indissoluble bond between faith and salvation. There is then a real tension in Owen’s position brought about by a number of factors. The first is what might be called polemical reductionism in his consideration of ‘unbelief’ here, for unbelief is not just an offense like any other, it is also a state, which must be dealt with not only by forgiveness but by regeneration. Owen recognizes this in relating the cross to the causal removal of unbelief as a state, but unbelief regarded as a sin and unbelief as a state bear a different relation to the cross. Sin bears a direct relation to the cross, which is the enduring of the penalty for sin; the change of state an indirect relation, dependent upon preaching and regeneration by the Spirit. To acknowledge that reality Owen would have to say that Christ died for all the sin, including the unbelief, of those who believe, and for none of the sins of those who won’t believe. But for polemical force he ignores the distinction which might seem, in its introduction of belief and unbelief, to place too much weight on human response and exposes his argument to criticism.
Neil Chambers, A Critical Examination of John Owen’s Argument for Limited Atonement in the Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Th.M. thesis, Reformed Theological Seminary, 1998), 235–236. This thesis is available at Tren.

October 5, 2005

Richard Owen Roberts Sermons

When I think about what it must have been like to sit under the preaching of the Puritans, I think that Richard Owen Roberts provides an example. I heard him several times while at Criswell College, and one senses the Holiness of God being conveyed through Roberts' sermons. I even had the priviledge of having lunch with him one day with Dr. Alan Streett and his son Daniel Streett. I recall Richard Roberts recommending the works of Thomas Manton and Stephen Charnock, two outstanding Puritan authors.

Here is a link to several sermons and videos of Richard Owen Roberts.

October 3, 2005

The King Crucified

One of my favorite sermons is now posted at Believers Chapel. It's from the Matthew series, and it is entitled The King Crucified by Dr. S. Lewis Johnson.

Ephesians 2:4-6 and Real Union

NKJ Ephesians 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Several days ago, Steve Costly and I were discussing Eph. 2:5 with another friend. Our High Calvinist friend read this passage as referring to what happened when Jesus died, rather than what happened when we were converted. Is Paul referring to a merely decretal or federal union idea in this text when it says we were "made us alive together with Christ"? Or does he have real union in view? Our friend stated that Richard Gaffin held his view (as well as Geerhardus Vos), but I read him otherwise. Here's the section from Gaffin's book Resurrection and Redemption:

The single problem to be faced now in this and related passages concerns the temporal reference of the verb "to raise with" and other closely associated verbs in the aorist tense. Specifically, do they refer solely to what took place in the historical experience of Christ or do they apply as well to what has happened in the actual life experience of the individual believer? Note that this question does not posit a disjunction. For, in view of the significance of Christ’s resurrection as the "firstfruits," a reflection on solidarity with him in his emergence from the tomb can hardly be eliminated from these expressions. The issue then is whether something more is in view. Is Paul referring as well to a specific occurrence in the actual experience of the believer?

Within Reformed exegesis, opinion is divided along geographical lines, so far as representative figures are concerned. The Dutch exegetes emphasize the presence of the redemptive-historical aspect to the exclusion of individual experiential considerations. Ridderbos, for instance, comments on verses 4-6: "From the final words it appears unmistakably that Paul again thinks christologically and redemptive-historically and not in terms of anthropology and the ordo salutis." On the other hand, British-American interpretation, while recognizing an allusion to the solidarity with Christ in his historical work, maintains that Paul’s distinguishing interest here is the transformation of the individual.

While the language employed surely reflects Paul’s redemptive-historical outlook in these verses, the conclusion that he is describing what has taken place for believers existentially is difficult to avoid. The enlivening and resurrection spoken of refer directly to the death mentioned in verse 5a. Clearly this "being dead" is not solidaric involvement with Christ in his death, for it is "being dead in transgressions." In view is the actual, existential deadness of Paul and his readers. The verses immediately preceding confirm this point. Verse 5a together with verse 4 resumes the thought begun in verse 1 which was temporally interrupted. Verses 2 and 3 are a parenthetical insertion, expanding on the transgressions in verse 5. Specifically, they provide an extended description of the former moral depravity and guilt of Paul and his readers. Among other things, they "walked" or conducted themselves according to the standards of this evil (cf. Gal. 1:4) age, according to the spirit of disobedience (v. 2); they "walked" in the lusts of the flesh, by doing the desires of the flesh (v. 3). Such language requires that the deadness mentioned in verse 5 not only involves but refers primarily to individual moral depravity. Consequently, the enlivening and resurrection (vv. 5f.), which took place when they were dead as just defined, at least includes the initial experience of transformation and ethical renewal.

Further, in verse 10, the enlivening and resurrection with Christ mentioned in verses 5f. are described as being "created in Christ Jesus" (cf. II Cor. 5:17). The express purpose of this new creation in Christ is "good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." "Walking" here is a key word, specifying the integrating theme in this section (vv. 1-10). Having begun with a reference to a "walk" in trespasses and sins, Paul ends by mentioning its counterpart, a "walk" in good works. Accordingly, the decisive pivot of this experiential reversal, effecting this about-face in "walk," is being raised with Christ.

Conclusion. In verse 6, resurrection with Christ refers to the transition in the actual life history of the individual Christian from being by nature an object of wrath (v. 3) to becoming a recipient of God's mercy and love (v. 4). While the apostle's perspectives are certainly heilshistorisch, his primary interest is decidedly heilsordelijk.

Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul's Soteriology (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1978), pages 41-43.

It's good to remind readers of this blog about one of the issues Peter Toon described in his definition of Hyper-Calvinism. He says they put "excessive emphasis on acts belonging to God's immanent being – the immanent acts of God, eternal justification, eternal adoption, and the eternal covenant of grace." This is not the complete definition, but this is a part of it.

What he is saying is that their minds automatically leap back into (and emphasize) those immanent acts of God in systematic theology and biblical interpretation. This is not only true of hypers, but of high Calvinists as well. When some of them read Eph. 2:5, they automatically assume that "with Christ" refers to our virtual union with him in the first century. It seems odd to them to see the "with Christ" (a dative of association) timing as referring to when we are converted. In Ephesians 2, Paul is talking about REAL UNION with Christ. The entire context bears that out. Our conversion is spiritually typified in what happened to Christ when he died, but the timing of "with Christ" references real union.

The same thing can be said of John 17:9. Jesus says he prays for those "given" to him. The higher Calvinists automatically leap back into the immanent acts of God and think of the "given" (or giving) back in the the eternal decrees. It seems strange to them to see it as referencing the timing of conversion or discipleship. Jesus is actually saying that he is praying for those "given" to him by the Father WHEN THEY BELIEVED IN HISTORY and became his disciples (He's thanking and praying to the Father about his existing disciples who believe). He's not talking about the giving of non-existent people back in the eternal decrees. That may be in view in other passages, but not in 17:9. The contrast between those "given" and the "world" is between believers and unbelievers. It's not contrasting elect and non-elect.

While it's true that all those who believe in history were ultimately given to Christ back in eternity, that's not the point of the John 17 passage. It's the same problem that occurs with Eph. 2:5 and Romans 5:9 (as if Paul is saying the elect were "justified" when Christ died) as well. The minds of some interpreters immediately slip into the decretal (or atemporal for some) realm. This is what Peter Toon is talking about above.