Friday, April 07, 2006

The Covenant of Grace and Conditions

I have been debating with a few friends whether or not the Covenant of Grace has conditions. This debate has just popped up on line quite outside of the discussion I was having off-line. Rev. Horne tries to draw upon historical Reformed authors to indicate that they believed the Covenant of Grace has conditions.
Rev. Horne first quotes Zachrias Ursinus when he states, "This agreement, or reconciliation, is called a Covenant, because God promises to us certain blessings and demands from us in return our obedience" (pg. 97 of Commentary on HC). Yet the next sentence states, "It is called a Testament, because this reconciliation was made by the interposition of the death of Christ, the testator, that it might be ratified; or because Christ has obtained the reconciliation by his death, and left it unto us." He explains a covenant has conditions that must be met, and a testament has none. The Covenant of Grace is both. He makes a covenant with us, but Christ fulfills it. Therefore, does Ursinus truly believe there are conditions on the Covenant of Grace? Yes and no. It is hard to claim Ursinus as support, as Mr. Horne tries to do. Instead it appears that Ursinus holds the covenant fulfilled for the elect by the testator, Jesus Christ leaving no conditions for the elect. This is certainly in keeping with the Heidelberg Catechism.

Rev. Horne then goes on to Francis Turretin. He quotes Turretin in many places talking of conditions on the Covenant of Grace. While this time Horne does admit that Turretin’s position is “nuanced” he then goes on to quote Turretin as saying, "it cannot be denied the covenant is conditional" and then proceeds to list Turretin’s argument. This leaves a false impression about Turretin’s actual position. If Rev. Horne would have quoted the very next sentence on pg. 185 we would see Turretin himself deny conditions on the covenant of grace. Turretin says, "But if they are taken for the promises concerning the means (to wit, concerning faith and regeneration or repentance), they certainly cannot be conditional, but are simple and absolute because other-wise there would be granted a progression into infinity and the condition of a condition would also be demanded (which is absurd)." Even prior to this Turretin clearly states in paragraph 3 of the same page, "These things being laid down, we say first, if the condition is taken antecedently and a priori for the meritorious and impulsive cause and for a natural condition, the covenant of grace is rightly denied to be conditioned." Thus Turretin is telling us any discussion of conditions has to deny the conditions are the ‘means’ to salvation, that they are ‘meritorious’ for salvation, that they are the ‘cause’ of salvation, and that they are from the nature of the covenant. The discussion of conditions on the covenant of grace is also to speak ‘broadly and improperly’ about the covenant of grace. Turretin later tells us that the covenant of grace is only with the elect (pg. 191), which was the common opinion of the Reformed (pg. 207), and that the God "fulfills the very conditions of the covenant" for the elect. When the broad improper way of speaking about the covenant is used then they are speaking about those who are under the "external dispensation", but are not properly partaking of the essence of the covenant. Turretin soundly disagrees with Rev. Horne and the Federal Vision regarding conditions on the covenant of grace.

In the end, I believe both the early and late Reformed traditions deny conditions on the covenant of grace properly speaking. They seem to reject the usage of a conditional covenant propagated by Rev. Wilkins, Shepherd, Rev. Horne, as well as other proponents of the Federal Vision.


Anonymous said...

Lee, it would be good to deal with other things Horne has written on the same topic. Here's a quote:

Zacharias Ursinus insists that the Mosaic Covenant and that of the Christian Church are substantially the same. Since there is “one way of reconciliation, one faith, and one way of salvation for all who are and have been saved from the beginning,” the covenants are “one in substance” (p. 98). Further, Ursinus explicitly addresses the issue of obligations:

There is but one covenant, because the principal conditions, which are called the substance of the covenant, are the same before and since the incarnation of Christ; for in each testament God promises to those that repent and believe, the remission of sin; whilst men bind themselves, on the other hand, to exercise faith in God, and to repent of their sins (p. 99; emphasis added).

Ursinus goes on to assert that the Old and New Covenants agree, “in the condition in respect to ourselves,” and explains that “in each covenant, God requires from men faith and obedience” (ibid; emphasis added). “The new covenant, therefore, agrees with the old in that which relates to the principle conditions, both on the part of God and on the part of man.” The benefits of these two covenants, incidentally, are “the remission of sins and eternal life” (ibid).

Excerpt from, "The Covenant of Works, the Mosaic Covenant & the Necessity of Obedience for Salvation in the Day of Judgment

Mark said...

Your reading of history does not bother me Lee. What bothers me is that you act like I disagree with Turretin and Ursinus on matters where I like any calvinist would strongly agree. You give readers the distinct impression, for example, that I think meeting covenant conditions is a meritorious cause of salvation. I hope this is nothing more than sloppiness, but the result is a serious misrepresentation.

I teach and preach unconditional election and that the only ground of our standing before God is the person and work of Chist--his righteousness imputed to us.

Lee said...

As I said in the post, Ursinus speaks of the covenant with conditions, but also points out that in the end Christ, not man, fulfills those conditions. So the covenant is without conditions for the elect. Let us not forget the forest for the trees. The Heidelberg Catechism discusses salvation thoroughly. Q.1 says our only comfort in life and in death is that we “belong” to Jesus Christ. Nothing is mentioned of faith, repentance, or any condition we meet. The Catechism continues in Q.21 to discuss true faith and it tells us faith, knowledge and trust, is worked in us by “the Holy Ghost”. This is made even plainer after the discussion of righteousness before God. Our righteousness before God is only in Christ (60), and not on account of the worthiness of our faith (61), and works have no part in our righteousness (62). This makes it hard to fit into the catechism any idea of meeting conditions for salvation. 64 teaches us why this does not make men careless and profane, and 65 reiterates “The Holy Ghost works faith in our hearts”, so that no appearance of men meeting conditions exists. Good works are not discussed until Q.86 on thankfulness, and they are declared to be a ‘fruit’, not a condition. Q.88 is the first discussion of repentance also under the heading of thankfulness. The catechism considers repentance a good work, a fruit of salvation already wrought in us. Repentance is the dying of the old man and the making alive of the new. It is in no way a condition. It is a fruit. These definitions and distinctions must be kept in mind as one reads through his Commentary on the Catechism. Ursinus does hold that the covenant has conditions, but they are not conditions that are met by anyone other than Jesus Christ

Lee said...

Rev. Horne,

I do hope it is sloppiness on my part. My confusion on your position comes from the tone of some of your posts, comments made in books to which you have contributed, comments of others claiming the Federal Vision, which you seem to defend. These comments leave me with the distinct impression that persevering in faith and obedience is indeed a meritorious condition of justification. For example, Doug Wilson states, “men fall away because their salvation was contingent upon continued covenant faithfulness in the gospel.” (Reformed is Not Enough. Pg. 138). That makes conditions sound meritorious to me. Rev. Wilkins states that “being in covenant is being in Christ” and that “all that are in covenant are given all that is true of Christ” (Federal Vision pg. 58,60). He then talks of apostates falling out of Christ, denies the external connection advocated by Turretin and Ursinus, and states, “But the covenant is not unconditional, It requires persevering faithfulness” (Ibid., pg. 64). It seems that Wilkins and others are teaching an initial justification that does not result in final justification if you fail to meet the conditions of the covenant of grace. This cannot be described in any other way than necessary and meritorious conditions. My confusion comes in trying seeing whether or not you use the term ‘conditions’ in the way Ursinus and Turretin use it or the way the other authors of the Federal Vision use it. One of your recent posts talks of Final Justification in the title and is continuing your discussion on conditions. I do hope that this is all a result of my sloppiness, and that you join with Turretin and Ursinus in opposing the use of ‘conditions’ as some of these other writers have begun to use it. I hope that you will distance yourself from those who teach conditions as meritorious, instrumental, or necessary parts of justification. I am glad to hear you preach unconditional election and Christ righteousness as our only ground. Thank you for your comment clearing up my confusion.

Mark said...

Lee, I am not going to compare myself to your false and unwarranted idea of what "the federal vision" is. It is enough for me to have been an orthdox reformed minister, examined and received by my brethren, for many years. I affirm confess and teach that those who are truly justified never lose that status due to God's irresistible grace in their lives.

The fact that the Bible warns people who have been so blessed that, if they fall away from the faith, they will perish, has never been considered incompatible with this or other Reformed doctrines until the novel "anti-federal-vision" movement sprang up. God keeps his elect to whom he has given persevering faith in part (perhaps hopefully only a small part) by warning them not to abandon the Faith.

Bud said...

Good job, Lee. Stick to your guns. Reformed ministers come in all varieties.

Johannes Weslianus said...

Lee, I think that I have been discussing this same issue with the same friend that you have.

Leonard Rijssen gives a nice summary of the senses in which the covenant of grace is conditional and not:

"XIX. Question. Whether, then, faith and repentance are not conditions of the new covenant? Response. 1. They are conditions, meaning, demands that the law, which commands all holiness, requires in us. 2. They are conditions in relation to glory, that is, such things are required in man before he is taken to glory.
But, 1. They are not conditions that are prerequisite in man before the covenant is concluded with him or considered established with him. 2. They are not simply conditions demanded from men and not promised. 3. Nor are they properly conditions of the covenant of grace insofar as it is a covenant of grace; but they are conditions of the law which still remains under that covenant (my translation)."

Herman Witsius speaks to the same point and notes, "For whatever can be conceived as a condition, is all included in the universality of the promises...[Thus] they are not so much conditions of the covenant, as of the assurance that we shall continue in God's covenant, and that he shall be our God."

The key question, here, I believe, is whether God promises regeneration in the covenant of grace. This, we must conclude in the affirmative based on Jer. 31:31-34, Ez. 36:26-27, etc. Consequently, I conclude that the covenant of grace, strictly and properly speaking, is concluded only with the elect and that all conditions are fulfilled on the basis of prior promises and thus not, strictly speaking, conditions.

Thanks for your post.