Ron DiGiacomo

John MacArthur’s Lordship Salvation

MacArthur redefines fiducia by turning the volitional component of justifying faith into something other than child like receiving and resting in Christ for salvation. For MacArthur fiducia is not the disposition of trust in Christ (or to believe into Christ) but rather the work of bringing our righteous to Christ in deeds of forsaking, commitment and surrender.

In this post I addressed the aberrant view that justifying faith is assent alone apart from trusting in Christ. Therein I made a passing reference to another extreme view of faith – the “Lordship Salvation” gospel whose advocates not only define justifying faith without reference to the Reformed view of trust, but also add forsaking oneself, commitment of life and surrender to justifying faith, which in turn eclipses the gospel by confusing how one might appropriate Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel.
It is notable that John MacArthur, the most significant proponent of this view, does not subscribe to historical Reformed theology. In that respect, MacArthur is unchecked with respect to confessional theology in the Reformed tradition. Aside from having a baptistic ecclesiology and a dispensational view of the covenants, MacArthur has gotten the doctrines of justification and justifying faith wrong. I address those errors here.
Saving Faith According to John MacArthur:
Forsaking oneself for Christ’s sake is not an optional step of discipleship subsequent to conversion; it is the sine qua non of saving faith. (The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 142)
By “saving faith” MacArthur means justifying faith. We may infer this because he is speaking of the faith that is tied to conversion. Accordingly, sanctifying or persevering faith is not in view. What is also noteworthy is MacArthur cites “forsaking oneself” as an essential element of justifying faith, which is radically different than how the Reformed tradition defines justifying faith:
Justifying faith is a saving grace wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation. Westminster Larger Catechism, #72 What is justifying faith?
The most significant Confession in the history of the Protestant tradition defines the faith that justifies differently than MacArthur. At the heart of justifying faith is receiving and resting upon Christ, which is absent in MacArthur’s ordo salutis. Worse more, to add forsaking one’s life to the simplicity of faith is another gospel because it adds works to justifying faith. But not only does MacArthur add forsaking one’s life to faith, he also asserts that personal commitment is essential to justifying faith.
Commitment is the disputed element of faith around which the lordship controversy swirls. No-lordship theology denies that believing in Christ involves any element of personal commitment to Him. (Faith Works, The Gospel According To The Apostles, p. 43-44)
MacArthur contends that justifying faith, the faith that appropriates the benefits of Christ, entails “forsaking oneself” and “commitment.” It is not MacArthur but the Westminster Shorter Catechism that has it right when it states:
Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, he is offered in the gospel.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, #86 What is faith in Jesus Christ?)
It escapes MacArthur that personal commitment and forsaking one’s life are works of righteousness, which if done in faith are fruits of sanctification and not elements (or principal acts) of justifying faith. MacArthur seems to miss that justifying faith is merely an instrument by which the unrighteous lay hold of Christ’s righteousness. (Westminster Shorter Catechism #73)
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GRACE Report and Tenth Presbyterian Church

If GRACE operated according to biblical precepts, they would not be as quick and confident to meddle with the peace and administrative functions of the church, or make inquiries that can become the occasion for the vulnerable an unlearned to violate the Ninth Commandment.

I found the GRACE report to be an abomination. It drudged up many past hurts and sins that were in the end dealt with biblically and in accordance with the gospel, even with censures issued by session and presbytery when appropriate.
Perhaps the most egregious part of the GRACE report is how GRACE suggests that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper may be withheld from the penitent as a form of ongoing consequences for past sins. That is most telling of this sham ministry. Indeed, there can be severe consequences for sins after repentance and reconciliation, but those consequences are to come in the form of things like restitution, incarceration, and withholding restoration to specific service-privileges and responsibilities that may have been enjoyed prior to falling into sin. Notwithstanding, the sacraments are never to be used as a tool for dishing out further consequences to those the elders believe have repented. Of course, GRACE would understand this basic gospel tenet if they weren’t a Christian organization in name only. Furthermore, GRACE suggests that restoration to the Supper should not be too soon lest others who share in the communion meal aren’t given adequate time to heal. That’s a fencing of the table foreign to Scripture. Yet even allowing for it – it would seem that GRACE would not have wanted a particular repented sinner-saint they cited in the report, at the time he was restored to table fellowship, to have received Christ in the sacrament at any church of which he would have been a stranger. (It’s noteworthy that from a biblical perspective one is to be denied the Supper for his own spiritual protection, not the perceived emotional good of others.)
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Strict Merit vs. Pactum Merit and Union with Christ

It is not merely according to covenantal promise, forgiveness and imputed righteousness that we receive our inheritance in Christ but as justified sinners who by grace have been adopted in union with the Son. Believers are fitted for heaven because of all the entailments of union with the last and faithful Adam who as Son is very God of very God. Accordingly, it is in Christ we are justified and sons of the Most High.

Let’s consider afresh the relationship of pactum merit with respect to Adam in the covenant of works and how that relates to strict merit in redemption. With respect to Adam the reward of living forever would have been disproportionate to the finite work performed.
In other words, the justice of life-eternal would not have been according to strict justice but rather according to a sovereignly imposed covenantal compact to over reward Adam for obedience; a pact of sorts was at play. That is to say, the value of Adam’s obedience would not have been of intrinsic worth as it relates to the meritorious reward of unending life.
I do find, however, that in the economy of redemption our reward, though received by grace alone, is according to principles of strict justice. Where we might locate the appropriateness (or congruity) of the forever-reward is the question.
Framing the issue:
Let me try frame the dilemma and then try to offer a solution by drawing from the ordo salutis. In so doing, I’ll try to address the easier part first, having to do with strict justice as it relates to Christ’s passive obedience and our demerit.
The one time sacrifice of Christ was sufficient to satisfy God’s strict justice, render God propitious, and reconcile God to the elect in Christ. Although Christ is the kinsman redeemer, Christ’s divine nature was necessary for redemption accomplished and for there to be intrinsic worth as it relates to Christ’s mediatory work. Our demerit needed the incarnate Son of God to pay for our sins, for one thing to keep the human nature from sinking under the wrath of God. Christ could render God propitious and provide full satisfaction for the sins of many because Christ is both God and man. That’s the more obvious part. No issues there I trust.
The passive obedience part of redemption, which for our purposes narrowly deals with sinners’ demerit and payment for sins, is more obvious perhaps. Yet when it comes to what positively fits redeemed sinners for heaven, I find that to narrowly focus on Christ’s active obedience as a human being is to overlook the broader ground upon which the reward of everlasting life and inheritance can be found.
The dilemma:
The eternal Son eternally assumed the terms of the covenant of works that offered disproportionate reward of life for work done as a human being. So, regarding the active obedience part, pactum merit cannot be avoided and strict justice obtained if what fits us for glory is predicated solely on Christ fulfilling the original terms of the covenant and we grant that those original terms were according to pactum merit. That would appear to be the implication of a position that limits our standing before God to that which we receive only by the active and passive obedience of Christ. If the Son took on the terms of the original covenant of works and if those terms offered disproportionate reward via pactum, then it stands to reason that what fits us for glory is not according to what is strictly congruous but only according to pactum unless something beyond the merit gained through the last Adam’s obedience is included.
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Subtle Yet Significant Differences between Molinism and Theological Determinism. Does It Really Matter to the Reformed Tradition?

The subtle yet significant difference between Molinism and Theological Determinism lies chiefly in how God knows what would freely occur under all possible circumstances. The objects of such knowledge either influence the decree (middle knowledge) or are part of the decree (free knowledge).  

After writing this article, a number of questions came my way from committed Calvinists. This brief installment is a result of some of those correspondences.
Molinism affords a strong view of divine providence along with a principle of free will such that if Luis freely chooses the chili dog at the carnival, then it is possible that he not choose the chili dog at the carnival. In other words, what would freely occur might not occur. And although Luis is free in a libertarian sense, God no less foreordains Luis’ free choice.
Because for the Molinist God knows what Luis would freely choose under all sets of circumstances, by sovereign decree God can weakly actualize Luis’ free choice of the chili dog by strongly actualizing conducive circumstances over which God has control. So, without causing Luis to choose the chili dog at the carnival, God can guarantee Luis’ free choice by ensuring sufficient circumstances obtain. Luis would end up freely choosing the outcome that God foreordains.
For the Molinist God’s decree takes into account his prior knowledge of what Luis would freely choose if at the carnival and presented a chili dog. Given the decree, God now knows what Luis will freely choose because God already knew what Luis would freely choose in all possible circumstances that God could orchestrate. Therefore, God knows what Luis will freely choose because God knows which possible world he has decreed and all the features therein. Those features include each would-counterfactual that God decreed to bring to pass by strongly actualizing the conditions that would result in the weak actualization of the free choice counterfactuals.
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Of God’s Eternal Decree in Light of Four Commentaries on WCF 3.2. Have We Drifted?

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Reformed theology is its doctrine Of God’s Eternal Decree. Whereas Rome and Protestant denominations can find substantive agreement on the Person of Christ, Theology Proper, and with varying degree formal agreement on the sacraments – when it come to the Reformed doctrine Of God’s Eternal Decree Trinitarian communions are on a collision course. Indeed, one’s understanding of the divine decree will inform one’s understanding of free will, moral accountability, the fall of man, providence, faith and repentance, and more. This doctrine, also, has profound pastoral implications in a world of sin and suffering. We can’t afford to get this doctrine wrong.

It has been my contention for many years that the doctrine of God’s eternal decree is widely misunderstood, even unwittingly denied, within the Reformed tradition. Having served on a pastoral search committee in the OPC and candidates and credentials team in the PCA at the presbyterial level, I’ve seen a fair share of candidates for licensure, ordination and pastoral calls not be able to distinguish themselves from Molinists when it comes to the decree of God. My experiences that inform my conclusion go beyond serving in those capacities. That is to say, I believe my concerns are considerably informed on this matter. In an effort to get others to perhaps share my concern, so that maybe a small sphere of influence might gain heightened awareness, I have surveyed the theology of four commentaries spanning 150 years on an essential portion of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), specifically WCF 3.2 (hereon referred to as 3.2). Below I offer observations by way of comparison. I believe the one contemporary commentary on 3.2 distinguishes itself from the other three commentaries and is, I believe, representative of the general understanding of the doctrine of the divine decree in the Reformed church today.The first two commentaries were written and published in the mid 1800s. The third was first published in 1964, so it’s relatively new (though nearly sixty years old). The final commentary is from this century, published in 2014. I find striking similarities between the first three regarding their respective interpretations of 3.2 as well with their emphases. Whereas the contemporary commentary is, I believe, more than a bit troubling with respect to theological and philosophical concepts, and the subsequent doctrine put forth. The doctrine put forth not only overlooks the distinctly Reformed points of the other three, it actually opposes them.
Before we get to the commentaries, it might be a useful exercise to just ask yourself what would it take for someone to convince you that he embraced a Reformed view of the divine decree? What diagnostic questions might you ask to tease out what one believes on this matter? Or more simply considered, how would you distinguish a Reformed theology of the decree from a non-Reformed Christian theology of the decree? Because it might come as a surprise, Molinists (which for our purposes are very sophisticated Arminians) believe God is sovereign and that by decreeing whatsoever comes to pass has foreordained all of history. Perhaps surprising to most, non-Reformed theology makes room for statements such as:
God has a purpose for all that occurs. In fact, God hasn’t just allowed evil in the world, God has sovereignly decreed a world with evil, but God will use it for his own glory. Indeed, God could have brought into existence (or actualized) any number of possible worlds, as his choices were truly infinite, but God was pleased to sovereignly decree this one. In accordance with God’s decree some were chosen in Christ and predestined according to the purpose of God’s will.
HYPOTHETICAL CONFESSION
As you might gather, other traditions can on the surface offer very attractive forms of God’s sovereignty and human freedom. With that observation comes a significant takeaway. It’s inadequate to consider such a generic confession of the divine decree as sufficiently Reformed. The question is, what is meant by certain words and phrases, and what key features, if any, are absent? Words and phrases like predestined, elect, chosen, and predeterminate counsel, are plainly put forth in Scripture. So much so, Calvinists and non-Calvinists cannot avoid incorporating them into their discourse. Consequently, it’s not very informative for one to say she believes God is sovereign, or that “God has a purpose in all of this”. Even the phrase “It was God’s will that this happened” does not disclose what one believes about God’s will. Much of what is written and spoken today by confessing Calvinists about God’s decree, providence and electing grace is insufficient to convict or acquit one on the charge of Calvinism.
There is a vast difference between (a) God having allowed something to occur that he could have prevented and (b) God having determined that something occur. Both ideas entail God’s sovereign will, but only the second explicitly puts forth a Reformed picture of the divine decree. The Reformed and non-Reformed can agree on the first expression of God’s will and sovereignty, but not on the second one.
Our key passage in the Westminster standards:
Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
3.2
Regarding 3.2, Robert Letham notes:
Both Helm and Fesko correctly identify Molinism as the target of the final clause. Following Luis de Molina (1535-1600), this was the proposition that God’s decrees were based on his knowledge of all possible future actions.*
The Westminster Assembly: Reading its Theology in Historical Context (pages 184-185)
If the target of the final clause is Molina’s Molinism, then the “knowledge of all future actions” refers to scientia media (middle knowledge). Consequently, the Confession opposes any view of the decree that includes God receiving knowledge about any contingency, including the free choices of men.
Comments on four commentaries:
The commentators will simply be referred to as C 1, 2, 3 and 4. Their works are widely known in Reformed circles and I see no purpose in drawing attention to the authors. My particular hope is to heighten awareness and foster further interest in a doctrine that should invoke our highest praise as it reflects God’s matchless glory. To that end, I believe due attention should be given to how far we have drifted from our theological predecessors, assuming C4 is an adequate reflection of contemporary thinking among those who profess to be Reformed.
Unfortunately, I believe certain teachings must be addressed with critical precision. It’s in that spirit I proceed without pleasure, other than with the hope that this exercise might bear fruit.
Commentator 1:
Out of the blocks, C1 equated the divine decree with God’s determination of things that will occur. “By the decree of God is meant his purpose or determination with respect to future things.” In other words, C1 was a theological determinist. Which is to say, God does not merely permit the free choices of men. Rather, God determines their outcomes independently of the creature. “If God be an independent being, all creatures must have an entire dependence upon him…”
Secondly, C1 recognized that had God not determined all that would come to pass, God could not foreknow the future as certain. For C1, God’s exhaustive omniscience is predicated upon his sovereign and independent determination of would-counterfactuals including the actual future free acts of men. “God could not foreknow that things would be, unless he had decreed they should be…” For C1, if it were otherwise the case, there could be no surety of outcome. “…for if they had not been determined upon, they could not have been foreknown as certain.”
Thirdly, C1 believed man has free will when he “acts without any constraint, and according to his own free choice…” Consequently, and lastly, C1 was a compatibilist. C1 believed man’s free choices are compatible with God’s determination of them: “that the divine decree…while it secures the futurition of events, it leaves rational agents to act as freely as if there had been no decree.…” As a compatibilist, C1 rejected an indeterminist view of freedom, which entails a philosophy of freedom that grounds contingency in the creature as opposed to in God’s free determination. In other words, C1 rejected that a choice that would occur might not occur because of indeterminate creaturely freedom: “the execution of the decree of God is not suspended upon any condition which may or may not be performed.”
Commentator 2:
C2 took things to another level by expounding more deeply on the points he had in common with C1. Like C1, C2 mapped the certainty of future events to the sovereign determination of them: “while at the same time, [the decree] makes the entire system of events, and every element embraced in it, certainly future.”
Secondly, C2 understood that for God to know that an event would occur, God must causally determine the event to ensure its future outcome. “But the all-comprehensive purpose of God embraces and determines the cause and the conditions, as well as the event suspended upon them… Calvinists affirm that he foresees them to be certainly future because he has determined them to be so.”
Thirdly, C2 specifically argued that God determines the relationship of cause to effect. In other words, for C2, it is the decree of God that makes even contingent events contingent! “The decree, instead of altering, determines the nature of events, and their mutual relations. It makes free actions free in relation to their agents, and contingent events contingent in relation to their conditions.” (In contemporary philosophical parlance, there are no brute facts. God pre-interprets the particulars and wills their relationship of cause and effect.)
Lastly, because C2 understood that man acts freely, C2 believed freedom is compatible with the robust determinism he avowed. “Now, that a given free action is certainly future, is obviously not inconsistent with the perfect freedom of the agent in that act: Because all admit that God certainly foreknows the free actions of free agents, and if so, they must be certainly future, although free…”
These pastors and theologians based the certainty of God’s exhaustive omniscience upon the guarantees afforded to him by a deterministic decree. They did not yield an inch to the idea that God knows what men will do because of a supposed middle knowledge that is logically prior to his creative decree. When one reads these men, the most striking feature is their unwavering conviction that divine determinism is at the heart of the divine decree. Without it, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to have portrayed the Reformed view of the divine decree. Determines or predetermines is throughout each of the expositions of 3.2. One commentary included seventeen references to a form of the word determine in his exposition along with a couple of synonyms! Ironically, divine determinism is rarely mentioned anymore in Reformed circles today unless it’s being questioned or denied.Commentary 3:
In an economy of words, C3 taught “that God has predetermined all things that happen.” C3 understood that God’s sovereign determination of choices does not destroy genuine freedom. For C3, “The free actions of men are also predestined by God. Please note: these acts are both free and predestined…” And as his predecessors from the century before, C3 grounded God’s foreknowledge of future contingencies in the sovereign determination of God. “God knows that a thing is certain to happen before it happens, we may then ask, what makes it certain? There can be but one answer: God makes it certain. We are unable to escape the conclusion that God foresees with certainty only because he guarantees with certainty.”
Like those who preceded him in the tradition, C3 was a theological determinist and compatibilist, which is to say he affirmed free will while denying indeterminism and, consequently, the ability to choose otherwise (libertarian freedom).
All 3 commentators:
These pastors and theologians based the certainty of God’s exhaustive omniscience upon the guarantees afforded to him by a deterministic decree. They did not yield an inch to the idea that God knows what men will do because of a supposed middle knowledge that is logically prior to his creative decree. When one reads these men, the most striking feature is their unwavering conviction that divine determinism is at the heart of the divine decree. Without it, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to have portrayed the Reformed view of the divine decree. Determines or predetermines is throughout each of the expositions of 3.2. One commentary included seventeen references to a form of the word determine in his exposition along with a couple of synonyms! Ironically, divine determinism is rarely mentioned anymore in Reformed circles today unless it’s being questioned or denied.
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The PCA’s Principle on Non-communing Members – A Halfway Covenant?

Membership through baptism includes the privilege to warnings that are to precede ever being placed outside the church, which presupposes de facto member-status in the church. But what about unbaptized adult members of the church? How can one who has never been received into the church ever be placed outside the church for not “embracing Christ and thus possessing personally all benefits of the covenant”?

The PCA Book of Church Order (BCO) teaches that children of professing believers are members of the visible church and, therefore, are entitled to baptism. Indeed, per BCO 56-1 baptism should not be unnecessarily delayed!
However, what the BCO does not teach is that a refusal to baptize one’s covenant child is great sin that entails a cutting off from the assembly. But should it? Should the BCO teach that to deny baptism to a covenant child is to deny a covenant child non-communing membership in the visible church? Or, is the BCO correct that children can remain unbaptized yet members of the visible church? In other words, in the face of pastoral oversight and instruction, should a parent’s refusal of the covenant entitlement of Christian baptism be met with the denial of the child’s covenant-keeping status? That is the principle beginning with Abraham, then dramatically punctuated through Zipporah’s intervention unto the saving of Moses’ life. (Genesis 17:14; Exodus 4:24-26)
BCO, a halfway covenant?
Does the BCO offer a half-way covenant that divides non-communing members into two classes?
A baptized child is to be distinguished from the world and considered a member of Christ’s body unless covenant incongruity is manifested either in delinquency of doctrine or manner of life. In other words, baptized children are to be given the judgment of charity with respect to their covenant standing in the church. In a word, Christian baptism is in the name of the triune God, by which the Lord himself places his name upon a covenant child.
The BCO teaches that an unbaptized covenant child remains a member of the visible church even without an intention of a believing parent to have his or her child received into membership through the sign of covenant membership. Consequently, it’s hard to understand how the BCO does not divide child membership in the visible church between non-received members and received members.
By implication, has the visible church become something other than a manifestation of members united by one faith and one baptism?
The halves and the halves not:
It would seem that two classes of covenant children are established by BCO 57-1, whereby non-communing members include not only (a) unbaptized children born of a member, but (b) especially those presented for baptism. Yet per BCO 56-4(g) it is not by birthright but baptism that children are “received into the bosom of the visible church, distinguished from the world… and united with believers.” Therefore, not all members are actually received into the church as members of Christ’s body.
Trying to make sense of things:
PCA ecclesiology distinguishes unbaptized child-members of the visible church from first class child-members who by baptism are especially members of the church; been received into her bosom; been distinguished from the world; and united to believers.
Put negatively and perhaps more strikingly, by implication the BCO teaches there are true members of the visible church – even adult members – who are “federally holy” yet not especially members of the visible church because they have not been received into her bosom and been distinguished from the world by being united to other believers in baptism.
Questions, implications:
What is it to be a visible member of the church while outside her bosom? What covenantal standing is there for non-bosom members who aren’t “especially” members of Christ’s church (because they have not been distinguished from the world, having not been united to other members of the church in Christian baptism)?
Has the BCO blurred the spiritual meaning of church membership, possibly by downplaying the theological significance of the sacrament when it comes to Baptist theology? At the very least, to be united to other members of Christ’s body is to be united to Christ in baptism. (In passing let it be noted that consistent Baptists will not be offended by the exclusion of their children from church membership for they do not consider their own children members of the visible church, otherwise Baptists would dedicate their children in baptism.)
Further ramifications, a reductio of sorts:
The practice of trying to maintain a two tiered membership for children leads to further difficulties with respect to non-baptized members upon coming to an age of discretion.
BCO 6-1 teaches that “children of believers are, through the covenant and by right of birth, non-communing members of the church. Hence they are entitled to Baptism, and to the pastoral oversight, instruction and government of the church, with a view to their embracing Christ and thus possessing personally all benefits of the covenant.” (emphasis mine) The reference to instruction and in particular to government can suggest entitlement to the discipline of the church. Perhaps BCO 6-1 presupposes baptism has been administered (given that it’s an entitlement), especially in light of BCO 6-3.
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Covenant, Election and Realized Eschatology

Biblical eschatology contemplates not that the kingdom of this world would be replaced by the kingdom of Christ, but rather a coexistence of two kingdom realities until the summing up of all things in Christ. (Ephesians 2:19ff; 1 Corinthians 15:22-28). What the Jews missed is something that too often escapes many evangelicals as well – that Christ’s kingdom is a present reality as the former things are passing away.

The four part drama of creation, fall, redemption and consummation is not just soteriological but eschatological and covenantal. This is to say, the whole of redemptive history is according to promise and fulfillment. Yet perhaps less familiar to many of us is that redemption in Christ has made the future now present.
With respect to promise and fulfillment, at the heart of God’s redemption is a foretaste of things to come – a spiritual reality that is enjoyed now in proportion to the extent in which it is perceived and believed. As we await the final adoption of our bodies on the last day, believers have already entered into the age to come. As enlightened believers who are born from above, the communion of saints on earth already taste of the heavenly gift, the word of God, and even the powers of the world to come as members of Christ’s body who share in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:23; Hebrews 6:4-5)
Back to the garden, a refresher on how it all began:
The first covenant God entered into with man was a covenant of works. (Hosea 6:7) Although life was promised to Adam and his posterity upon the condition of one man’s perfect and personal obedience, the terms of the covenant were nonetheless a matter of divine condescension. Adam was the recipient of unmerited favor by virtue of having been created in original righteousness, holiness and with natural religious affections. Perpetual faithfulness would have ultimately resulted for Adam and his offspring in further blessedness, perhaps even consummated communion with his Maker. Yet in God’s unsearchable wisdom, Adam fell from his original state of sinlessness according to God’s eternal and unchangeable design.
After our first parents plunged themselves and the human race into sin, misery and death, God revealed his eternal decree pertaining to the redemption of creation. In the protoevangelium God speaks into existence a deep seated enmity between two seeds, Christ and Satan. As a result of the fall and by divine fiat, the spiritual antithesis would now extend beyond the King of Kings and the prince of darkness unto their respective spiritual offspring – God’s ordained objects of divine mercy and wrath. (Genesis 3:15; 2 Corinthians 11:3; WSC 13)
Grace without the sacrifice of righteousness:
The second covenant, more commonly known as the Covenant of Grace, was established with the incarnate Son and, through eternal identification, those chosen in him. Christ, the second Adam by divine appointment, would be the chosen race’s new representative before God. It is Christ who would perfectly obey God’s law, even vicariously on behalf of those given to him by his Father. Accordingly, the terms of the second covenant were not discounted. There was nothing cheap about the second covenant compact. Christ would indeed earn the redemption of his people, even as life was offered to Adam beforehand. (Genesis 17:7; Galatians 3:16,29; Romans 9:8; WLC 31)
Similarities with striking differences:
Although the second covenant is called a Covenant of Grace, its gracious nature would not pertain to the second Adam but only to the recipients of his vicarious work on their behalf. The difference between the two covenants is all the more striking precisely because its righteous demands were not lessened. The incarnate Son took on the demands of the covenant of works on behalf of sinners, even in an oath of self-malediction. (Genesis 15:17)
Yet with the fall of man life alone could no longer be offered, for there were none righteous from below. Any offer of life would now have to be accompanied by an offer of deliverance from sin’s penalty and power. If life were to be offered, it would be accompanied by salvation through One who must come from above.
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Justified by Belief Alone? (Assent Alone and the Gospel)

If assent and trust were synonyms, then either both would mean cognitive conviction or else volitional reliance. Conviction of truth (assent) could never give way to reliance upon truth (trust). If assent and trust are indistinguishable concepts and, therefore, mean the same thing, then it would be unintelligible to say that we rely upon anything we believe; nor would it be sensible to think that we believe anything we rely upon. Intellectual assent without reliance leaves no room for trusting in Christ.

It has been argued by some Arminians (usually antinomians) and Calvinists (usually Clarkians) that we are justified by belief alone and that receiving and resting in Christ unpacks what it is to believe. In other words, receiving and resting in Christ is considered a figure of speech by which belief in Christ can be defined. It’s alleged that trusting in Christ alone does not complete justifying belief because trust is synonymous with belief. Therefore, to add receiving and resting in Christ to belief is either redundant or to add something additional to the instrumental cause of justification. The first deviation from the aberrant assent-alone view would be considered by those who hold to it a matter of muddled thinking, but the gospel would remain intact although jumbled. Whereas the second construct would undermine the grace by which we are saved, appropriated by belief alone.
Those who promote the belief alone view are sometimes met with tedious rejoinders such as the false dichotomy “we’re saved by Christ not propositional belief.” Notwithstanding, more serious objections have been raised against the belief alone position aimed at the group’s insistence upon reducing justifying faith to mere assent. This is where things get a bit nuanced.
Not All Beliefs Involve the Will
Most of the things we assent to, whether a priori or a posteriori, are not volitional. One does not will to believe that God exists any more than one wills to believe the rose is red. These are mental assents that are not discursive; they are immediate and without reflection. The will is bypassed.1 However, the gospel always engages the will as the unbeliever counts the cost and by grace abandons all hope in himself while looking to Christ alone, finding rest in Him. Accordingly, it is inadequate to reduce justifying faith to belief alone when belief is reduced to intellectual assent without remainder.
Equivocal Language Confuses
It is at this point some assert that assent is synonymous with trust in Christ. In this context it is opined that to assent to Christ dying on the cross for my sins is to trust the proposition is true. Albeit the premise is true, this observation turns on a subtle equivocation over the word trust. Indeed, to trust a proposition is true is no different than to assent to its truth. So, in that sense trust and assent are synonyms. However, to trust that something is true is not the same thing as to trust in that something. The latter idea of trust carries the meaning of reliance, whereas the former use of trust merely conveys an intellectual assent that might or might not be accompanied by the reliance sort of trust. Accordingly, to argue that trust and assent are synonymous is to deny the need to willfully trust in Christ alone for salvation.
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Knowing the Incomprehensible God

We receive the eternal reality of the Son through created means: God is knowable. If nothing else, by revelation we know God is incomprehensible(!), but by grace and pure condescension we know much more. For God has spoken to us in Christ, who is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. (Heb. 1:2,3)

Regarding the creator-creature distinction, there is no disagreement among Christians as to whether God knows a greater number of propositions relative to man, or whether God understands how all bits of knowledge exhaustively relate to each other in a mode or manner not available to created beings. Indeed, there is a quantitative difference between God’s knowledge and man’s. God simply knows more stuff. But as just alluded to, the mode or manner of how God knows is radically different than how man knows. We may say that God’s knowledge is original and intuitive whereas man’s knowledge is derivative and receptive. No Christian demurs.
Where things get a bit trickier is over the content of what God and man know. Does the proposition God is Spirit have the identical meaning for both God and man? If not, then how can man know God given that for true knowledge to obtain man’s thoughts must intersect the mind of God? Must man know univocally in order to know God?
Revelation, an accommodation:
The object of our knowledge is God’s revelation of himself, which is a replication (or divine interpretation) of the original, intended to accommodate finite creatures. In other words, God reveals himself to created beings through created things – for instance language, laws of inference and categories of thought. Yet the propositions of revelation pertaining to God that are processed through the human mind are not themselves God. They are suitable accommodations to our finitude. Although God knows himself originally and intuitively, he lisps his revelation of himself to us in a manner fitting to our creaturely capacities.
With respect to mode or manner, God cannot have us know him in the same way in which he knows himself. We’d have to share in the divine essence to know God that way. Accordingly, our descriptions of God will be proportional to what God desires us to know through the revelatory mode in which he has allowed us to know him. But again, must man know univocally to know God? If not, then how can man truly know God even partially?
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Parents And the Apostasy of Covenant Children

Among what these principles teach is that when a parent loves his family first and foremost, he neither loves God nor his family aright. One loves his children above God by pursuing their happiness rather than their Godliness, their respectability rather than their need for righteousness in Christ. Even to seek equally both happiness and Godliness is to deny God. It is to deny the primacy of a biblical pursuit of God, and that all blessings beyond knowing Christ are incidental to seeking first the kingdom of God. It’s to pursue God’s favor apart from thirsting after Christ. What can be more subtly idolatrous for the Christian?

There is nothing more amazing than the grace of salvation conferred to those who are afar off. And although conversion of covenant children is no less a matter of grace, pious parents ought not to doubt the election and subsequent conversion of their children.
Because covenant children are not among those who are afar off but are holy in Christ and members of his church, they are rightful recipients of the sign and seal of engrafting into Christ. Indeed, discipleship begins at the font.
Believers who are mindful of their vows and careful to do the commandments, statutes, and rules that God commands may have confidence God will visit their seed with the grace of salvation. (Exodus 20:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:9,11; Nehemiah 1:15) These same covenant blessings may not be anticipated by believers who are not diligent to pursue Christ and his precepts. Whenever God saves out of obscurity it’s always amazing; yet when God grafts out covenant children, it’s not nearly as surprising.
Grace begets more grace:
Believers have broken all God’s commandments. On a scale of the faithful – from the least at one end to faithful-Christ at the other – believers are compressed toward the least of the faithful relative to Christ. In that respect, all believers are in indistinguishable when compared to Christ. Notwithstanding, because God causes one to differ from another, we may not deny that one indeed does differ from another! In other words, obedience wrought in faith is a peculiar grace that we may expect to culminate in everlasting reward in Christ. (Mark 10:37,40; 1 Corinthians 4:7)
Sowing and reaping and spiritual adultery:
God is not mocked and is often pleased to operate according to a sowing and reaping principle with respect to spiritual blessings. Accordingly, when God saves the children of believers, he is often pleased to grant positive spiritual influences (usually parental) resulting in the training up of covenant children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Sadly, these formative influences sometimes come by way of examples of church members denying the faith. As tragic as that is, the grafting out of the seed of believers can be the pedagogical means by which God gets our attention and teaches parents to protect their own from the harmful influences of this present age. The manifestation of Scripture’s warnings culminating in the apostasy of covenant children works for the good of those who love God, those who are called according to his purpose.
Examples and warnings of a perishing seed are replete in Israel’s history up to this present day. Yet such examples of apostasy are often needful for faithful Christian parents, for without which they can lose motivation to persevere and not be as intentional about avoiding covenant curses for their own households.
All believers will be tested for steadfastness and perseverance; yet those who seek but do not receive are valued by God as having wrong motives. Moreover, believers are regarded as spiritually adulterous when their pursuits entail friendship with the world and behavior that is becoming of the enemies of God. (James 1:3-4; 4:3-4)
God’s decree and our responsibility:
We must be careful as we reconcile God’s predestinating grace with parental responses to God’s covenant promises. God’s covenant of grace cannot fail for it is established with Christ and the elect in him. (Genesis 17; Romans 9; Galatians 3; WLC 31)
The faithful who run in the ways of the Lord can expect their children to be fed with the heritage of Jacob as they grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful parents can expect their children are indeed elect, will come to faith in Christ, and persevere until the end. Whereas those who as a manner of life seek their children’s interests more than God’s can claim no greater than God’s abandonment of their offspring.
God’s covenant blessings are often released by the means of parental faith and obedience, though they are not ultimately based upon faith and obedience. When God sets his sights on visiting the future generations of believers with salvation, he is often pleased to grant the commensurate parental responses to receive the promises and blessings that the covenant of grace contemplates. Although not a quid pro quo, wisdom is nonetheless vindicated in her children.
Calvinism, not fatalism:
Because God’s decree cannot be thwarted, only those chosen in Christ will be saved. From that premise, Calvinists often wrongly assume that the non-elect could not have been saved had other gospel influences come to bear. That’s fatalism, not Calvinism. It is to miss that God’s ends do not fall out apart from their appointed means. God, according to his own purposes and most wise and inscrutable counsel, has withheld the election of some covenant children accompanied by the ordaining of unfaithful parents (and spiritual overseers) whom God will hold accountable along with those who have fallen away.
We must not confuse God’s decree with God’s assessment of human culpability.

The apostle Paul was innocent of the blood of all because he faithfully declared the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27)
Jesus warns that we can cause others to stumble from the kingdom of God. And although such demise will come to pass as God has determined, woes are preached to those by whom they come. (Matthew 18:3-7)
Lastly, Jesus would have gathered the children of Israel as a hen gathers her brood under her wings if not for the sins of their parents. (Matthew 23:37)

All that to say, election presupposes how the chosen are led to Christ.
The principle of not growing weary in well doing pertains all the more to parents who have been charged (even vowed) to lead their children to Christ.
For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. And then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. GALATIANS 6:8-10
Although one cannot lose his salvation, the branch of future generations is often cut off and thrown into the fire because of spiritual neglect, over confidence, and even willful disobedience. (John 15:5-6; Romans 11:19-22)
Because being careful to keep God’s commandments is the way of grace, parents play a prominent role in leading their children to close with Christ. That God is pleased to save the children of Godly parents should induce parents unto Godliness, not complacency. Conversely, it is God’s prerogative to graft out those born of believing parents whom God has not seen fit to ordain unto the grace of parental diligence and fidelity.
Practice to reflect reality:
Scripture and life-experiences teach that God delights in saving the children of faithful parents who strive to live out the reality of their children’s positional holiness in Christ. Because covenant children are set-apart in Christ and members of the visible church, faithful parents seek to nurture a home-life that’s commensurate to the spiritual reality that covenant children are born into.
Because Christian parents are to protect the deposit of faith, parents who believe their children are set-apart can have that gospel conviction vindicated by providing a well guarded home suitable for spiritual flourishing. Parents who recognize that a child’s heart is soil for the word of God will treat it ever so tenderly and do all within their earthly power to make it fertile. This includes vigilant prayer and helping to keep one’s child unspotted from the world with all appropriateness.
Faithful Christian parents have a sanctified vision for their children and strive by grace to raise them according to their biblical convictions. The pious parent loves his children by loving God more than them. He is single-minded, and sometimes the object of extended family and Christian ridicule. (Such a parent’s reward is great!)
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. MATTHEW 6:33
The prophet Malachi proclaimed that God had cursed the offspring of the priests for not honoring his name. Judah profaned God’s covenant, yet wonders in tears and groaning as to why they have fallen out of favor with God. They had fallen out of favor with God because parents did not pursue the one thing God was seeking, a Godly offspring. (Malachi 2)
Eli honored his sons above God, which resulted in his household being cut off. His failure as a father was that he esteemed his sons more than God. This resulted in Eli’s sons being counted as worthless men for they did not know the Lord. (1 Samuel 2)
Jesus taught that anyone who loves their child more than him is not worthy of him and his inheritance. (Matthew 10:37)
Among what these principles teach is that when a parent loves his family first and foremost, he neither loves God nor his family aright. One loves his children above God by pursuing their happiness rather than their Godliness, their respectability rather than their need for righteousness in Christ. Even to seek equally both happiness and Godliness is to deny God. It is to deny the primacy of a biblical pursuit of God, and that all blessings beyond knowing Christ are are incidental to seeking first the kingdom of God. It’s to pursue God’s favor apart from thirsting after Christ. What can be more subtly idolatrous for the Christian than pursuing the gifts more than him, the giver?
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