The Authority of God’s Law Today

Antinomianism – 1. lawlessness, 2. in theology, it is the idea that members of a particular religious group are under no obligation to obey the laws of ethics or morality as presented by religious authorities or by the religion’s holy book.

Josiah Reading the Newly Found Book of the Law

The manner in which the Old Testament speaks to New Testament ethics is a object of great dispute in the Reformed world. It would frankly be a waste of time for this post to honestly become involved in unpacking how the Law is handled in different contexts within Christendom. That is why I would like to focus on the charge, made by both some in the Reformed camp themselves and by those outside who condemn Justification by Faith Alone as being anathema to the vision of James, ergo “Faith Without Works is Dead”. Those who do make this charge within the Reformed world often are members of the heterodox New Perspectives and/or the Federal Vision theologies which make the charge that those of us who hold to the Biblical understanding of Justification allow for a faith that denies the necessary nature of our own works in justification. As opposed to the traditional and orthodox belief that Christ’s Active Obedience to the Law (both its positive and negative declarations) during his earthly life is/was imputed to us in order that we might be saved from God’s wrath. Jesus thereby fulfilled the Covenant of Works and received the covenant blessings that result from this Active Obedience. Through the Covenant of Grace we partake in this (both active and passive sense) Christ is our substitutional covenant head, we are subsumed under Christ’s reign as his sheep and are saved by His righteousness alone and his advocation for us at the throne of judgment.

But what does this all have to do with the authority of God’s Law today?

We as members of the “New” Covenant of Grace are now no longer held under condemnation by the Law but are free to follow its precepts. Simply put Paul in Romans 6 begins by saying, “May be continue in sin that Grace may abound? May it never be!” continuing his discussion in chapter 5 on the benefits of this union with Christ, in other words the results of our justification which closes with:

The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as (sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” — Romans 5:20-21

So what is the Law then? Paul in Romans 3:20b & 7:7 says:

…for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”… “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.”

So the Law not only acts as a convicting agent but also as a moral guide for how the born Christian is to live under the New Covenant. The curse of the Law has been removed so we could now follow the Law as an act of obedience. However we must be clear to say it i not our obedience that saves but as Martin Luther is reported as remarking Good Works does not a righteous man make but a righteous man will not fail to do Good Works. Westminster Larger Catechism question # 24 defines sin as “…any want or conformity unto, transgression of any Law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.” and Question # 91 defines the duty of man to the Law as “…obedience to the revealed will [of God].”

Now what is this “revealed will” to which if we transgress it is seen as a disobedient act towards the Holy person of God?

Well that will be the purpose of tomorrow’s post. See you then.


Now That The Frivolities are Over… L.A., Part 3

We can get back to more serious matters (j/k honey, honestly ;))…

Going back to looking at Limited Atonement I want in this post to focus on the logical implications of accepting an unlimited atonement. In other words for the Reformed Christian what would be the problems associated with taking an understanding of the cross and its efficacious manner for all of humanity in light of how us Reformed folk hermeneutically read the Scripture’s structure and overall composition.

1) Unlimited Atonement denies Unconditional Election

This is a pretty big statement if I might say so myself so I better figure out a way to defend it. So here we go.

As election is understood as God’s unconditional selection (John 6:65) of certain human beings to be glorified through Christ’s righteousness and death it cannot be that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection could be both efficient and sufficient for all people and then God only elect a few of the righteous to be saved. So if this last clause be true then there must be something we need more than Christ’s imputation and therefore another way we come to salvation outside of Christ’s own righteousness. This means for the Christian man or woman that we must add something to Christ’s work to be saved. This is an untenable position for anyone outside of Rome, Constantinople, and Arminius (and therefore Biblical Christians) to hold. Unconditional Election means what it says, that we bring nothing to the table insofar as our own righteousness is concerned. In other words we bring a peanut to a gun fight and can add nothing to the work Christ has accomplished and applied on or behalf to satisfy the justice that God the Father seeks for our rightful condemnation under the inheritance we receive as being sons and daughters of Adam. Unconditional Election, as John Calvin notes in the Institutes of Christian Religion, 3.21.7:

Although it is now sufficiently plain that God by his secret counsel chooses whom he will while he rejects others, his gratuitous election has only been partially explained until we come to the case of single individuals, to whom God not only offers salvation, but so assigns it, that the certainty of the result remains not dubious or suspended…We say, then, that Scripture clearly proves this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction. We maintain that this counsel, as regards the elect, is founded on his free mercy, without any respect to human worth, while those whom he dooms to destruction are excluded from access to life by a just and blameless, but at the same time incomprehensible judgment. In regard to the elect, we regard calling as the evidence of election, and justification as another symbol of its manifestation, until it is fully accomplished by the attainment of glory. But as the Lord seals his elect by calling and justification, so by excluding the reprobate either from the knowledge of his name or the sanctification of his Spirit, he by these marks in a manner discloses the judgment which awaits them.

Here we see Calvin marking the distinction that for whom Christ died God has elected through no effort or previous worth of the individual but only through the free and unconditional grace of God.

2) Unlimited Atonement denies Justification by Faith Alone

We touched on this a little bit in the previous section but I want to draw it out a little bit more. First to define Justification by Faith Alone we’ll let the originator, God, speak for himself in Romans 10:9, “That if you shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” O.K., seems plain enough. But for clarification lets take a look at Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” One more for good measure, Galatians 2:21 “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” So we see that we are saved not by works or any addition upon Christ’s work that can possibly come from us. Therefore how can we say that that Christ’s work on the cross is not enough to separate the sheep from the goats? If we say that Christ died for all yet only some are saved that Christ’s righteousness is not enough for salvation.

3) Unlimited Atonement implies Universal Salvation

In other words unlimited atonement logically implies universal salvation. Again if one believes in Justification by Faith Alone then one must believe that nothing can be added to Christ’s imputed righteousness that can lead to our protection from God’s righteous wrath against those who hate his law and mock his Son therefore being condemned themselves by their works to Hell except for Christ’s atoning death. It cannot be stated and restated enough in my opinion. Unlimited Atonement implies and logically must mean Universal Salvation if one holds to an orthodox understanding of Justification and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the elect.

Chapter XI. Of Justification — Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)

I. Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

Images of the Godhead and the Second Commandment, Part 7

One more from the “experts” on the Pictorial imagery of the Godhead then I’ll post my thoughts. Article can be found here.

Pictures of Christ

By John Murray

The question of the propriety of pictorial representations of the Saviour is one that merits examination. It must be granted that the worship of Christ is central in our holy faith, and the thought of the Saviour must in every instance be accompanied with that reverence which belongs to his worship. We cannot think of him without the apprehension of the majesty that is his. If we do not entertain the sense of his majesty, then we are guilty of impiety and we dishonor him.

It will also be granted that the only purpose that could properly be served by a pictorial representation is that it would convey to us some thought or lesson representing him, consonant with truth and promotive of worship. Hence the question is inescapable: is a pictorial representation a legitimate way of conveying truth regarding him and of contributing to the worship which this truth should evoke?

We are all aware of the influence exerted on the mind and heart by pictures. Pictures are powerful media of communication. How suggestive they are for good or for evil and all the more so when accompanied by the comment of the spoken or written word! It is futile, therefore, to deny the influence exerted upon mind and heart by a picture of Christ. And if such is legitimate, the influence exerted should be one constraining to worship and adoration. To claim any lower aim as that served by a picture of the Saviour would be contradiction of the place which he must occupy in thought, affection, and honour.

The plea for the propriety of pictures of Christ is based on the fact that he was truly man, that he had a human body, that he was visible in his human nature to the physical senses, and that a picture assists us to take in the stupendous reality of his incarnation, in a word, that he was made in the likeness of men and was found in fashion as a man.

Our Lord had a true body. He could have been photographed. A portrait could have been made of him and, if a good portrait, it would have reproduced his likeness.

Without doubt the disciples in the days of his flesh had a vivid mental image of Jesus’ appearance and they could not but have retained that recollection to the end of their days. They could never have entertained the thought of him as he had sojourned with them without something of that mental image and they could not have entertained it without adoration and worship. The very features which they remembered would have been part and parcel of their conception of him and reminiscent of what he had been to them in his humiliation and in the glory of his resurrection appearance. Much more might be said regarding the significance for the disciples of Jesus’ physical features.

Jesus is also glorified in the body and that body is visible. It will also become visible to us at his glorious appearing “he will be seen the second time without sin by those who look for him unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).

What then are we to say of pictures of Christ? First of all, it must be said that we have no data whatsoever on the basis of which to make a pictorial representation; we have no descriptions of his physical features which would enable even the most accomplished artist to make an approximate portrait. In view of the profound influence exerted by a picture, especially on the minds of young people, we should perceive the peril involved in a portrayal for which there is no warrant, a portrayal which is the creation of pure imagination. It may help to point up the folly to ask: what would be the reaction of a disciple, who had actually seen the Lord in the days of his flesh, to a portrait which would be the work of imagination on the part of one who had never seen the Saviour? We can readily detect what his recoil would be.

No impression we have of Jesus should be created without the proper revelatory data, and every impression, every thought, should evoke worship. Hence, since we possess no revelatory data for a picture or portrait in the proper sense of the term, we are precluded from making one or using any that have been made.

Secondly, pictures of Christ are in principle a violation of the second commandment. A picture of Christ, if it serves any useful purpose, must evoke some thought or feeling respecting him and, in view of what he is, this thought or feeling will be worshipful. We cannot avoid making the picture a medium of worship. But since the materials for this medium of worship are not derived from the only revelation we possess respecting Jesus, namely, Scripture, the worship is constrained by a creation of the human mind that has no revelatory warrant. This is will worship. For the principle of the second commandment is that we are to worship God only in ways prescribed and authorized by him. It is a grievous sin to have worship constrained by a human figment, and that is what a picture of the Saviour involves.

Thirdly, the second commandment forbids bowing down to an image or likeness of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. A picture of the Saviour purports to be a representation or likeness of him who is now in heaven or, at least, of him when he sojourned upon the earth. It is plainly forbidden, therefore, to bow down in worship before such a representation or likeness. This exposes the iniquity involved in the practice of exhibiting pictorial representations of the Saviour in places of worship. When we worship before a picture of our Lord, whether it be in the form of a mural, or on canvas, or in stained glass, we are doing what the second commandment expressly forbids. This is rendered all the more apparent when we bear in mind that the only reason why a picture of him should be exhibited in a place is the supposition that it contributes to the worship of him who is our Lord. The practice only demonstrates how insensitive we readily become to the commandments of God and to the inroads of idolatry. May the Churches of Christ be awake to the deceptive expedients by which the archenemy ever seeks to corrupt the worship of the Saviour.

In summary, what is at stake in this question is the unique place which Jesus Christ as the God-man occupies in our faith and worship and the unique place which the Scripture occupies as the only revelation, the only medium of communication, respecting him whom we worship as Lord and Saviour. The incarnate Word and the written Word are correlative. We dare not use other media of impression or of sentiment but those of his institution and prescription. Every thought and impression of him should evoke worship. We worship him with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God. To use a likeness of Christ as an aid to worship is forbidden by the second commandment as much in his case as in that of the Father and Spirit.

John Murray (1898-1975) is Former Professor of Systematic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary.

The Holiness of God

A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson The Holiness of God

The next attribute is God’s holiness. Exod xv ii. ‘Glorious in holiness.’ Holiness is the most sparkling jewel of his crown; it is the name by which God is known. Psa cxi 9. ‘Holy and reverend is his name.’ He is ‘the holy One.’ Job vi 10. Seraphims cry, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.’ Isa vi 3. His power makes him mighty, his holiness makes him glorious. God’s holiness consists in his perfect love of righteousness, and abhorrence of evil, and cannot look on iniquity.’ Hab I 13.

I. God is holy intrinsically. He is holy in his nature; his very being is made up of holiness, as light is of the essence of the sun. He is holy in his Word. The Word bears a stamp of his holiness upon it, as the wax bears an impression of the seal. ‘Thy Word is very pure.’ Psa cxix 140. It is compared to silver refined seven times. Psa xii 6. Every line in the Word breathes sanctity, it encourages nothing but holiness. God is holy in his operations. All he does is holy; he cannot act but like himself; he can no more do an unrighteous action than the sun can darken. ‘The Lord is holy in all his works,’ Psa cxlv 17.

II. God is holy primarily. He is the original and pattern of holiness. Holiness began with him who is the Ancient of Days.

III. God is holy efficiently. He is the cause of all that is holiness in others. ‘Every good and perfect gift comes from above.’ James i 17. He made the angels holy. He infused all holiness into Christ’s human nature. All the holiness we have is but a crystal stream from this fountain. We borrow all our holiness from God. As the lights of the sanctuary were lighted from the middle lamp, so all the holiness of others is a lamp lighted from heaven. ‘I am the Lord which sanctify you.’ Lev xx 8. God is not only a pattern of holiness, but he is a principle of holiness: his spring feeds all our cisterns, he drops his holy oil of grace upon us.

IV. God is holy transcendently. ‘There is none holy as the Lord.’ I Sam ii 2. No angel in heaven can take the just dimensions of God’s holiness. The highest seraphim is too low of stature to measure these pyramids; holiness in God is far above holiness in saints or angels.

[1] It is above holiness in saints. It is a pure holiness. The saints’ holiness is like gold in the ore, imperfect; their humility is stained with pride; he that has most faith needs pray, ‘Lord, help my unbelief:’ but the holiness of God is pure, like wine from the grape; it has not the least dash or tincture of impurity mixed with it. It is a more unchangeable holiness. Though the saints cannot lose the habit of holiness (for the seed of God remains), yet they may lose some degrees of their holiness. ‘Thou hast left thy first love.’ Rev ii 4. Grace cannot die, yet the flame of it may go out. Holiness in the saints is subject to ebbing, but holiness in God is unchangeable; he never lost a drop of his holiness; as he cannot have more holiness, because he is perfectly holy; so he cannot have less holiness, because he is unchangeably holy.

[2] The holiness of God is above the holiness of angels. Holiness in the angels is only a quality, which may be lost, as we see in the fallen angels; but holiness in God is his essence, he is all over holy, and he can as well lose his Godhead as his holiness.

But is he not privy to all the sins of men? flow can he behold their impurities, and not be defiled?

God sees all the sins of men, but is no more defiled with them than the sun is defiled with the vapours that rise from the earth. God sees sin, not as a patron to approve it, but as a judge to punish it.

Use one: Is God so infinitely holy? Then see how unlike to God sin is. Sin is an unclean thing, it is hyperbolically evil. Rom i 23. It is called an abomination. Deut vii 25. God has no mixture of evil in him; sin has no mixture of good, it is the spirit and quintessence of evil; it turns good into evil; it has deflowered the virgin soul, made it red with guilt, and black with filth; it is called the accursed thing. Josh vii 11. No wonder, therefore, that God hates sin, being so unlike to him, nay. so contrary to him: it strikes at his holiness; it does all it can to spite God; if sin could help it, God should be God no longer.

Use two: Is God the Holy One, and is holiness his glory? How impious are they that are haters of holiness! As the vulture hates perfumes, so they hate the sweet perfume of holiness in the saints; their hearts rise against holiness; as a man’s stomach at a dish he has an antipathy against. There is not a greater sign of a person devoted to hell, than to hate one for the thing wherein he is most like God. Others are despisers of holiness. They despise the glory of the Godhead. ‘Glorious in holiness.’ The despising holiness is seen in deriding it; and is it not sad that men should deride that which should save them? Sure that patient will die who derides the physic. Deriding the grace of the Spirit comes near to despising the Spirit of grace. Scoffing Ishmael was cast out of Abraham’s house. Gen xxi 9. Such as scoff at holiness shall be cast out of heaven.

Use three: Is God so infinitely holy? Then let us endeavour to imitate God in holiness. ‘Be ye holy, for I am holy.’ 1 Pet i i6. There is a twofold holiness; a holiness of equality, and a holiness of similitude. A holiness of equality no man or angel can reach to. Who can be equally holy with God? Who can parallel him in sanctity? But there is a holiness of similitude, and that we must aspire after, to have some analogy and resemblance of God’s holiness in us, to be as like him in holiness as we can. Though a taper dots not give so much light as the sun, yet it resembles it. We must imitate God in holiness.

If we must be like God in holiness, wherein does our holiness consist?

In two things. In our suitableness to God’s nature, and in our subjection to his will.

Our holiness consists in our suitableness to the nature of God. Hence the saints are said to partake of the divine nature, which is not partaking of his essence, but his image. 2 Pet i 4. Herein is the saints’ holiness, when they are the lively pictures of God. They bear the image of God’s meekness, mercifulness, heavenliness; they are of the same judgment with God, of he same disposition; they love what he loves, and hate what he hates.

Our holiness consists also in our subjection to the will of God. As God’s nature is the pattern of holiness, so his will is the rule of holiness. It is our holiness when we do his will, Acts xiii 22; when we bear his will, Micah vii 9; when what he inflicts wisely we suffer willingly. Our great care should be, to be like God in holiness. Our holiness should be qualified as God’s; as his is a real holiness, ours should be. ‘Righteousness and true holiness.’ Eph iv 24. It should not be the paint of holiness, but the life; it should not be like the Egyptian temples. beautified without merely. but like Solomon’s temple, gold within, Psa xlv 13. ‘The king’s daughter is all glorious within.’ That I may press you to resemble God in holiness consider,

How illustrious every holy person is. He is a fair glass in which some of the beams of God’s holiness shine forth. We read that Aaron put on his garments for glory and beauty. Exod xxviii 2. when we wear the embroidered garment of holiness, it is for glory and beauty. A good Christian is ruddy, being sprinkled with Christ’s blood; and white, being adorned with holiness. As the diamond to a ring, so is holiness to the soul; that, as Chrysostom says, they that oppose it cannot but admire it.

(2.) It is the great design God carries on in the world, to make a people like himself in holiness. What are all the showers of ordinances for, but to rain down righteousness upon us, and make us holy? What are the promises for, but to encourage holiness? What is the sending of the Spirit into the world for, but to anoint us with the holy unction? I John ii 20. What are all afflictions for, but to make us partakers of God’s holiness? Heb xii 10. What are mercies for, but loadstones to draw us to holiness? What is the end of Christ’s dying, but that his blood might wash away our unholiness? ‘Who gave himself for us, to purify unto himself a peculiar people.’ Titus ii 14. So that if we are not holy, we cross God’s great design in the world.

(3.) Our holiness draws God’s heart to us. Holiness is God’s image; and God cannot choose but love his image where he sees it. A king loves to see his effigies upon a piece of coin. ‘Thou lovest righteousness. Psa xlv 7. And where does righteousness grow, but in a holy heart? Isa lxii 4. ‘Thou shalt be called Hephzibah, for the Lord delighteth in thee.’ It was her holiness that drew God’s love to her. ‘They shall call them the holy people.’ Verse 12. God values not any by their high birth, but their holiness.

(4.) Holiness is the only thing that distinguishes us from the reprobate part of the world. God’s people have his seal upon them. ‘The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his. And let all that name the name of Christ depart from iniquity. ‘2 Tim ii 19. The people of God are sealed with a double seal. Election, ‘The Lord knows who are his:’ and Sanctification, ‘Let every one depart from iniquity.’ As a nobleman is distinguished from another by his silver star; as a virtuous woman is distinguished from a harlot by her chastity; so holiness distinguishes between the two seeds. All that are of God have Christ for their captain, and holiness is the white colour they wear. Heb ii 10.

(5.) Holiness is our honour. Holiness and honour are put together. I Thess iv 4. Dignity goes along with sanctification. ‘He hath washed us from our sins in his blood, and hath made us kings unto God.’ Rev i s. When we are washed and made holy, then we are kings and priests to God. The saints are called vessels of honour; they are called jewels, for the sparkling of their holiness, because filled with wine of the Spirit. This makes them earthly angels.

(6.) Holiness gives us boldness with God. ‘Thou shalt put away iniquity far from thy tabernacles, and shalt lift up thy face unto God.’ Job xxii 23, 26. Lifting up the face is an emblem of boldness. Nothing can make us so ashamed to go to God as sin. A wicked man in prayer may lift up his hands, but he cannot lift up his face. When Adam had lost his holiness, he lost his confidence; he hid himself. But the holy person goes to God a child to its father; his conscience does not upbraid him with allowing any sin, therefore he can go boldly to the throne of grace, and have mercy to help in time of need. Heb iv i6.

(7.) Holiness gives peace. Sin raises a storm in the conscience; ubi peccatum ibi procella [where there is sin, there is tumult]. ‘There is no peace to the wicked.’ Isa lvii 21. Righteousness and peace are put together. Holiness is the root which bears this sweet fruit of peace; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

(8.) Holiness leads to heaven. It is the King of heaven’s highway. ‘An highway shall be there, and it shall he called the way of holiness.’ Isa xxxv 8. At Rome there were temples of virtue and honour, all were to go through the temple of virtue to the temple of honour; so we must go through the temple of holiness to the temple of heaven. Glory begins in virtue. ‘Who hath called us to glory and virtue.’ 2 Pet I 3. Happiness is nothing else but the quintessence of holiness; holiness is glory militant, and happiness holiness triumphant.

What shalt we do to resemble God in holiness?

Have recourse to Christ’s blood by faith. This is the lavacrum animae [the washing of the soul]. Legal purifications were types and emblems of it. 1 John i 7. The Word is a glass to show us our spots, and Christ’s blood is a fountain to wash them away.

(2.) Pray for a holy heart. ‘Create in me a clean heart of God.’ Psa li 10. Lay thy heart before the Lord, and say, Lord my heart is full of leprosy; it defiles all it touches; Lord, I am not fit to live with such a heart for I cannot honour thee; nor die with such heart; for I cannot see thee. Oh create in me a clean heart; send thy Spirit into me, to refine and purify me, that I may be a temple fit for thee the holy God to inhabit.

(3.) Walk with them that are holy. ‘He that walketh with the wise shall be wise.’ Prov xiii 20. Be among the spices and you will smell of them. Association begets assimilation. Nothing has a greater power and energy to effect holiness than the communion of the saints.

From A Body of Divinity. Published by Banner of Truth Trust.