Archive for the ‘God who Covenants’ Category


Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949) on Infra- and Supralapsarianism

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


65. Indicate beforehand what is not at issue in the difference between the two parties.

a) The question in the first place is not whether there is a temporal sequence in God’s decrees. With Scripture everyone Reformed confesses the absolute eternity of God’s being. It is an eternity elevated above all temporal duration, in which a thousand years are as yesterday when it has passed and as a watch in the night (Psa 90 :4). In this eternity everything is present that is hidden in the depths of the divine mind or has ever passed over from it into time as a work of His creative omnipotence. What will happen at the consummation of the ages is in that respect not sooner than that which took place at the dawn of creation. Every conception as if the differing parts of God’s decree arise by stages of His observation must be rejected as incompatible with this eternity. That there would have first been a decree of creation, then of the fall, and then of predestination, or that these parts would have followed one another in reverse temporal order-both are in conflict with Scripture. It may be impossible for our thinking, bound by time, to grasp this eternity of divine life, nevertheless we must acknowledge it and may maintain nothing that is in conflict with it. To express it as briefly as possible: There are in God not many decrees, but it is one, single, completely present decree.

As a matter of fact, all this is already contained in the names of supra- and infralapsarianism. If it was a matter of a temporal order it should have been called ante- and postlapsarianism. The question would then have to be, “Do you believe in predestination before or after the decree of the fall?” Now, however, not a time but a space image has been chosen, apparently to avoid every trace of a temporal conception in conflict wi th God’s eternity.

b) Nor is the question whether creation and the fall of man fall under the decree of God. With respect to creation, nobody doubts that. But whoever would deny that for the fall would become un-Reformed instead of infralapsarian since he would abandon one of most momentous turning points in world history, on which the work of redemption is entirely dependent and with that the course of well nigh all things, to chance. Almost all the Reformed confess unanimously with Calvin, “Man falls according to God’s decree, but he falls by his own guilt.” In His decree God has not only known of and reckoned with the fall, but since all things must have their certainty and fixity in His counsel, if we do not wish to posit a second ground of things beside God, then it also cannot be otherwise for the fearful fact of sin. That, too, must receive its certainty from God’s decree. However great and however insurmountable the difficulties that follow closely on this position, still nothing may diminish it. Whoever begins to doubt here stands on the edge of a bottomless dualism. Only in the beginning, when theological perception was not entirely clear, could one remove the fall from the absolute decree of God. Augustine did this, who thought that for the events following the fall, God’s foreknowledge rested on His decree while, conversely, for the fall the decree was dependent on a foreseeing. This and the other point {the apostasy of the saints} were the two weak points in Augustine’s soteriology. Among truly Reformed theologians, only a few spoke of a foreseeing. Walaeus (Leiden Synopsis, xxiv, 23) says, “God, foreseeing with the infinite light of His knowledge how it would happen that man created after His image stood, together with his entire posterity, to misuse his free will, has deemed that it better accorded with His omnipotent goodness to show beneficence to the wicked, rather than not to allow there would be evil, as Augustine rightly reminds us.”

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1) Whether Posterity be Guilty of Death, by Reason of the Actual Sins of their Immediate Parents?

As little as is said by divines on this question, it is no over-curious or needless unprofitable subject, but weighty and needful to be understood by all Christians that can reach to the understanding of it. For as it is useful for the opening cause and nature of original guilt, so, if it should prove true that we are guilty by the sins of our immediate parents, it would be necessary that we know it, for our due humiliation, and that we may in penitent confessions and deprecations prevail with God for the pardon thereof. As it is thought a dangerous thing to deny original sin, because they that so do, will not be humbled under it, and sensible of their misery by it, nor of the necessity of God’s mercy, or Christ’s blood for the pardon of it, nor will apply themselves to God by Christ in faith, confession, and prayer for pardon, and consequently are in danger of missing of pardon, so in the present case, the same reasons will prove it as well dangerous to deny our guilt of our parents’ sins, if, indeed, we are so guilty. Which that we may inquire into, after a very brief explication of the terms of the questions, I shall lay down a few necessary distinctions, and then assert what I judge to be the truth in certain propositions, and prove such of them as most require proof.

1. By [immediate parents], we mean those that personally beget: by [posterity] we mean their children begotten. By reason of [actual sin], we mean, by the merit of those sins which our parents themselves committed, or by a resultancy from such sin compared with the rule. By guilt, we mean obligation to punishment. By death, we mean the destruction, or final misery of the creature, either death temporal or eternal.

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John Murray (1898-1975) on the Covenant of Works

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


MAN was created in the image of God, a self-conscious, free, responsible, religious agent. Such identity implies an inherent, native, inalienable obligation to love and serve God with all the heart, soul, strength, and mind. This God could not but demand and man could not but owe. No created rational being can ever be relieved of this obligation. All that man is and does has reference to the will of God.

But man was also created good, good in respect of that which he specifically is. He was made upright and holy and therefore constituted for the demand, endowed with the character enabling him to fulfill all the demands devolving upon him by reason of God’s propriety in him and sovereignty over him.

As long as man fulfilled these demands his integrity would have been maintained. He would have continued righteous and holy. In this righteousness he would be justified, that is, approved and accepted by God, and he would have life. Righteousness, justification, life is an invariable combination in the government and judgment of God. There would be a relation that we may call perfect legal reciprocity. As this would be the minimum, so it would be the maximum in terms of the relation constituted by creation in the image of God.

This relation falls short in two respects of what may readily be conceived of as higher. (1) It is a contingent situation, one of righteousness but mutably so, and likewise of justification and life. There is always the possibility of lapse on man’s part and, with the lapse, loss of integrity, justification, life, the exchange of these for unrighteousness, condemnation, death. (2) There is the absence of full-orbed communion with God in the assurance of permanent possession and increasing knowledge.

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G.C.Berkouwer (1903-1996) on the Covenant of Works

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


While we differ from Barth, we shall have to face up to a further question: Does the interrelation of the law and the Gospel have only a "salvation-historical" aspect, or does it have reference to the “lapsarian” situation o[ man’s own guilt and lostness? Can we speak of a prolapsarian state in which there was a "law"? Was there a "nomological" existence of man apart from and even prior to the distinction of the law and the Gospel. If there was, can we search there, perhaps, for the fundamental structure of what it means to be a "man"? R. Schippers, in weighing all of these questions, has affirmed that there was a law in man’s "prolapsarian state," and that that law was there apart from the Gospel!51 At the same time, we no longer may speak of this law in abstraction. Schippers’ statement has reference to the creation of God which must certainly be distinguished from man’s guilt and fallenness and therefore from the Gospel of God’s grace which saves.

It stands to reason that we may not draw conclusions concerning the relation of the law and the Gospel or build a case for the "priority" of the law on such a basis as this. Man’s original life under God’s rule cannot be regarded, for even a moment, apart from God’s love and communion. Within that communion man was subjected to God’s holy and good command; furthermore. because of that communion the commandment was never an impersonal or a statutory rule. God’s commandment expresses his lordship over life. Therefore, any discussion of the usus legus, in its various dimensions, is only conceivable in terms of this absolute goodness of God’s commandment for creaturely man. The fact that this accent was sounded so frequently in Reformation and post-Reformation times is no evidence of the darkening of the Gospel, and is no recognition of a "legal order" above or before the "order of grace." What we see in this accent is only the enigmatic nature of guilt in the face of God’s loving communion or the goodness of his rule.

Because of that fact we can never construe an antithesis between the covenants of "works" and "grace." We err if we interpret this distinction as though God’s original covenant had to do with our work or our achievement or our fulfillment of his law, while the later covenant of grace has reference to the pure gift of his mercy apart from all our works. If we assume this we are compelled to say that God’s original relation to man was strictly "legal," or that the structure of that relation was determined by man’s merit. In that case, we lose sight of the fact that man’s obedience to God’s command can never be different from a thankful response to God’s own fellowship. Therefore S. G. DeGraaf has rightly said that the concept which sees God’s favor only at the end of man’s way of obedience is open to serious dispute. Man participates in God’s favor, communion and love already at the very beginning. In that fact we see the awful reality of his guilt and apostasy.

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Chapter Eight



IN the Reformed Confessions of the sixteenth century Covenant-Terminology is seldom used. In fact there is only one example of the Covenant-concept occupying a place of prominence and that is in the title of the Second Scots Confession of 1580. This is designated the “National Covenant,” and for the first time we find a symbol of common agreement being described in this way. Probably the Old Testament record of covenants between the people and their king gave the necessary precedent for such a use.

But, although there are few explicit references to the covenant, the general Church-doctrine of Calvin was being warmly embraced. Nowhere, perhaps, does the true voice of the Reformation ring out with more joyful assurance than in the First Scots Confession of 1560. In this, the most notable of the early Reformed Confessions, there is no attempt to minimize the importance which the Church holds in the providential working of God in history. The Church is the community brought into being by God’s Promise. In the face of man’s defection, the Confession asserts, God made to Adam one most joyful promise, a promise which was made more and more clear and repeated from time to time. But those who have embraced the promise with joy, constitute the one Kirk of all the ages, a Kirk which God has preserved, instructed, multiplied, honored, adorned, and from death called to life throughout the history of mankind. This Kirk is distinguished from the rest of society by the three notes which had already become famous–the true preaching of the Word of God, the right administration of the Sacraments, and ecclesiastical discipline uprightly dispensed. These are the marks of the visible Church in the world. But the source and spring of the whole life of the Church is God’s Promise by which He called the new community into being and by which He renews and restores it from age to age.

With the turn of the century a significant change appears. The Covenant-conception begins to occupy an increasingly, important place in Reformed theology but it is interpreted in a way markedly different from that of earlier Reformed teaching. The new theory of the covenant comes to clear expression in the Irish Articles of 1615. First, reference is made to the Covenant of the Law ingrafted in man’s heart at creation whereby God did promise unto him everlasting life upon condition that he performed entire and perfect obedience to His commandments: but seeing that men broke this covenant of the Law, it was necessary for a second covenant to be inaugurated, the covenant of which Christ is the Mediator and whose purpose is man’s salvation. This is the framework which now receives ever fuller elaboration:– the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, each in its way a contract between God and man, each promising man life and salvation upon definite conditions. The outstanding difference between the covenants is to be found in the fact that whereas the first demanded unquestioning obedience, the second demanded unqualified faith. It is the same God who made each covenant and it may be assumed, therefore, that the purpose and general structure of each covenant is the same. In other words God is a God who enters into contract with men, who binds Himself to bestow blessings if only they will fulfill certain conditions. The supreme mark of His grace is that when men failed to keep the first covenant, He did not abandon them entirely. Instead He made a second compact, one moreover which might seem at first sight to demand less of man than the first. Obedience having proved impossible, obedience was replaced by faith. So the dialectic between Law and Gospel which Calvin sought to maintain is broken and instead we have two successive eras, in one of which God deals with man in one way, in the second of which He deals with him in another. In all this there is a serious danger of losing the vision of the One personal Living God who at all times and under all circumstances deals with man both in judgment and in grace.

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