Wednesday, July 28, 2010

0 Repost: The Marrow Theology - The Error of Monocovenantalism

One of the objections raised in recently in Federal Vision circles is an objection to the nature of the prelapsarian relationship between God and Adam as covenantal - or at least that such a relationship cannot properly described by a covenantal arrangement that differs from that in which we are engaged with God as believers. This leads to all kinds of problems, as was noted in yesterday's reposted article.

It is clear from Scripture that we are conceived condemned. That is, people are conceived covenantally guilty before God, even having done nothing, because of Adam's sin. Adam is the head of all the human race, as Paul makes quite clear in Romans 5 - and the headship is a covenantal headship as is made plain in that passage. We aren't talking mere "organic biology", but covenantal headship. We ALL, the Word says, sinned in Adam. Period. We are held accountable for his sin, and it is every bit as much our OWN sin, as it would have been had we been in his place.

Now if Adam, pre-fall, was in relationship with God under the terms of the same covenant that we are... then what does his breaking of that covenant do? Paul makes clear that we are guilty before God of Adam's sin. If his sin was a failure of faith, then we cannot be justified through faith. We cannot somehow supercede Adam's failure with our own success and sit just before God. We are conceived UNJUST - and therefore in need of a DIFFERENT covenantal arrangement.

The headship of Adam in covenant relationship with God implies, for his posterity, that in whatever the arrangement was, since he failed and broke that covenant, we, too, have broken that covenant. If there is to be a new covenant relationship such that people can be saved and brought into eternal relationship with God, then that new covenant CANNOT have BOTH the same promise and same conditions as the previous covenant. (else how is it new?) That covenant between God and Adam in the garden is done. Gone. Broken for all men who proceeded naturally from Adam, as he, their head failed to uphold its terms.

Monocovenantalism simply FAILS on the face of it. There is no way that Adam faced the same covenantal obligations in the garden, prior to his fall, that believers do today, post-fall. To argue this is to completely misread Genesis 3 and Romans 5 (among other places). To argue this is to destroy the covenant headship of Adam, and to twist the covenant headship of Christ into something unrecognizable.

What's coming next in The Marrow of Modern Divinity is the discussion of the promise of God. In that promise was revealed several important things: Thomas Boston, in the notes presented on page 68 of the version one can purchase here, writes:
"In this promise was revealed, 1. Man's restoration unto the favour of God, and his salvation; not to be effected by man himself, and his own works, but by another. For our first parents, standing condemned for breaking of the covenant of works, are not sent back to it, to essay the mending of the matter, which they had marred before; but a new covenant is purposed,—a Saviour promised as their only hope. 2. That this Saviour was to be incarnate, to become man, "the seed of the women." 3. That he behoved to suffer; his heel, namely his humanity, to be bruised to death. 4. That by his death he should make a full conquest over the devil, and destroy his works, who had now overcome and destroyed mankind; and so recover the captives out of his hand: "he shall bruise thy head, viz: while thou bruisest his heel." This encounter was on the cross: there Christ treading on the serpent, it bruised his heel, but he bruised its head. 5. That he should not be held by death, but Satan's power should be broken irrecoverably: the Saviour being only bruised in the heel, but the serpent in the head. 6. That the saving interest in him, and his salvation, is by faith alone, believing the promise with particular application to one's self, and so receiving him, forasmuch as these things are revealed by way of a simple promise." (p. 68, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
This promise is simple news - the gospel - good news of God's redeeming work, which He accomplished in the sending of His Son for His people. This ancient gospel, the covenant of grace first announced in Genesis 3:15, and subsequently revealed progressively through the history of God's covenant people, by announcements from prophets and priests (and kings), is the next subject of the Marrow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

0 Repost: The Marrow Theology - The Depth and Extent of Adam's Sin

In the beginning of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, we find Nomista (the legalist) and Evangelista (the pastor) discussing the Covenant of Works. One of the plainest and most concise treatments of the Covenant of Works ensues, in which several of the objections some in the church today (particularly those in the Federal Vision camp) have against the notion of a covenant of works in the garden are dealt with. Among these are

1) Nowhere is the word 'covenant' used to describe the situation of Adam in the Garden and the obedience required of him.

To this objection, Evangelista replies:
"Evan. Though we read not the word 'covenant' betwixt God and man, yet have we there recorded what may amount to as much; for God provided and promised to Adam eternal happiness, and called for perfect obedience, which appears from God's threatening, Gen. ii.17; for if a man must die if he disobeyed, it implies strongly that God's covenant was with him for life if he obeyed. (p. 53, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Several of the above-mentioned disputers with the doctrine of the Covenant of Works argue that, in fact, Adam was subject to the requirement of faith, and not of works.... an objection with which I cannot agree or really understand. What is presented in Genesis is CLEARLY a covenant requiring perfect, flawless obedience.

2) that regardless of any covenant, man owed God perfect obedience anyway... so that there is no need to speak of any covenant. It's fair, I think, to say that ANYONE who has read the Bible at all and understands the creature-creator distinction realizes that yes, indeed, had there been no covenant at all in the Garden, Adam would have been bound to perfectly obey. The point is, though, as Evangelista makes it, that God did in fact append promising and threatening to Adam's obedience/disobedience - and this is key.
"Evan. Yea, indeed: perfect and perpetual obedience was due from man unto God, though God had made no promise to man; for when God created man at first, he put forth an excellency from himself into him; and therefore it was the bond and tie that lay upon man to return that again unto God; so that man being God's creature, by the law of creation he owed all obedience and subjection to God his Creator.

Nom. Why, then, was it needful that the Lord should make a covenant with him, by promising him life and threatening him with death?

Evan. For answer hereunto, in the first place, I pray you understand, that man was a reasonable creature; and so, out of judgment, discretion, and election, able to make choice of his way, and therefore it was meet there should be such a covenant made with him, that he might, according to God's appointment, serve him after a reasonable manner. Secondly, It was meet there should be such a covenant made with him, to show that he was not such a prince on earth, but that he had a sovereign Lord: therefore, God set a punishment upon the breach of his commandment; that man might know his inferiority, and that things betwixt him and God were not as betwixt equals. Thirdly, It was meet there should be such a covenant made with him, to show that he had nothing by personal, immediate, and underived right, but all by gift and gentleness: so that you see it was an equal covenant, which God, out of his prerogative-royal, made with mankind in Adam before his fall." (pp. 54-55, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Adam indeed owed perfect obedience to God as a creature of God... that is certainly agreed to by all. However, the covenant of works has many distinct reasons for being - among them are the points given above... almost pedagogical and certainly revelatory characteristics. God revealed particular things to us by means of the institution of the Covenant of Works, and, importantly, promised Adam eternity of life and happiness contingent upon his obedience under the terms of this covenant. What is often denied by those who dispute the existence of the Covenant of Works is that Adam's eternal state, had he obeyed in perpetuity, would ever have changed.

We have to remember that Adam was created posse peccare et posse non peccare - able to sin, able not to sin. He was freely able to choose sin or not. To be suspended in such a condition for eternity would NOT be the eternal and free bliss that was promised him, nor is it the eternal and free bliss that we are to enjoy upon glorification. That free and eternal state is characterized by the phrase non posse peccare - not able to sin. Confirmed in righteousness, in other words - never to be subject again to the possibility of sinning. That was not Adam's state in the Garden, ever... yet we know from the way the Bible describes the eternal state that it is God's design that His people eternally be free from sin. And so shall we be. This existence was promised upon Adam's "passing the test" as it were. Given the promise, upon obedience - given the threat, upon disobedience... there was something more in the Garden between God and Adam than the mere creature-Creator relationship.

Finally, I want to turn ahead a little bit because the treatment of Adam's breach of the covenant of works is interesting. Yes, he had but one commandment - but as the author argues, all the Law was wrapped up in that one commandment. Adam's breach was therefore of immense proportion - almost impossible to imagine its magnitude:
"Evan. Though at first glance it seems to be a small offence, yet, if we look more wistfully 5 upon the matter it will appear to be an exceeding great offence; for thereby intolerable injury was done unto God; as, first, His dominion and authority in his holy command was violated. Secondly, His justice, truth, and power, in his most righteous threatenings, were despised. Thirdly, His most pure and perfect image, wherein man was created in righteousness and true holiness, was utterly defaced. Fourthly, His glory, which, by an active service, the creature should have brought to him, was lost and despoiled. Nay, how could there be a greater sin committed than that, when Adam, at that one clap, broke all the ten commandments?" (p. 57, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
All? Yes, all. We are so ready to accept a brief, woodenly literalistic interpretation of the ten commandments such that only something designated as the literal telling of a falsehood is a breach of commandment #9 - and only a crafting of a carved idol to which one bows down and worships as a god in its own right is a breach of commandment #2. This hardly captures the meaning of the ten commandments, which encompass EVERY sin. There is not a single sin that can be committed that is not covered by the ten commandments... and as Evangelista argues, Adam's breach of the command in the garden not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a breach of the WHOLE law, in every part.
"Nom. Did he break all the ten commandments, say you? Sir, I beseech you show me wherein.

Evan. 1. He chose himself another God when he followed the devil.

2. He idolized and deified his own belly; as the apostle's phrase is, "He made his belly his God."

3. He took the name of God in vain, when he believed him not.

4. He kept not the rest and estate wherein God had set him.

5. He dishonoured his Father who was in heaven; and therefore his days were not prolonged in that land which the Lord his God had given him.

6. He massacred himself and all his posterity.

7. From Eve he was a virgin, but in eyes and mind he committed spiritual fornication.

8. He stole, like Achan, that which God had set aside not to be meddled with; and this his stealth is that which troubles all Israel,—the whole world.

9. He bare witness against God, when he believed the witness of the devil before him.

10. He coveted an evil covetousness, like Amnon, which cost him his life, (2 Sam 13), and all his progeny. Now, whosoever considers what a nest of evils here were committed at one blow, must needs, with Musculus, see our case to be such, that we are compelled every way to commend the justice of God, and to condemn the sin of our first parents, saying, concerning all mankind, as the prophet Hosea does concerning Israel, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself," (Hosea 3:9)." (pp. 57-58, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)

Every one. Adam failed at every point to uphold the perfection of obedience required of him. And we fell in him, with him, under him as our head. Thus the beginning of the "bad news".

The "bad news" is quite substantial - all of us, from the least to the greatest, rich or poor, sick or healthy, ALL are conceived in this state of utter failure, having already broken the Law of God, standing already guilty before we have done anything. The greatness of Adam's guilt and sin and effects thereof are exceeded only by the greatness and effects of Christ's righteousness and the substitutionary atonement whereby God's elect are covered with the full righteous robes of Christ - having the penalty of the Law satisfied on their behalf, and the rightoeusness of a perfect record of obedience, required of them through the covenant of works, also satisfied for them. Christ in our room - in our stead - and we in Him, accepted of the Father. How glorious is our God and gracious is He.

Monday, July 26, 2010

1 The Marrow Theology: Further Discussion on Adam and Us

A little further on, in Boston's footnotes to the latter half of Chapter 1 of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, the topic of the Covenant of Works is again brought up - this time, in terms of our human tendency to seek reward by works rather than to humbly receive our own brokenness and cry out for grace as our only hope.

In a section entitled No Recovery by the Law, or Covenant of Works, Fisher's character Nomista asks,

"had it not been possible for Adam both to have helped himself and his posterity out of his misery, by renewing the same covenant with God, and keeping it afterwards?" (p. 58, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Again, if Adam was not in a special covenantal relationship with God prior to the Fall - one which required his obedience to the command given him as condition - then we must understand Adam not as covenant head of humanity (a la Romans 5), but as one like us under the same covenant with God as we are. In such a case, then, the Fall is hard to understand - and naturally, one might argue, together with Nomista, that this covenant could very well have been renewed.

Point is, of course, that Adam broke the pre-lapsarian covenant he was in for ALL humanity. All are guilty of it, and are condemned by that covenant. It cannot be renewed - and we cannot be saved through its stipulations, for it already lies broken. (not to say that we do not still live under obligation to obey our Creator - sin is still sin, now as it was in the beginning - the moral law is eternal and perpetual)

Evangelista gives some excellent counsel to his friend in response to his question, saying
"When he had once broken it, he was gone forever; because it was a covenant between two friends, but now fallen man was become an enemy. And besides it was an impossible thing for Adam to have performed the conditions which now the justice of God did necessarily require at his hands; for he was now become liable for the payment of a double debt, viz. the debt of satisfaction for his sin committed in time past, and the debt of perfect and perpetual obedience for the time to come; and he was utterly unable to pay either of them. (p. 58, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Boston adds some important further comments:
"The covenant of works could by no means be renewed by fallen Adam, so as thereby to help himself and his posterity out of his misery, the which is the only thing in question here; otherwise, indeed, it might have been renewed, which is evident by this sad token, that many do actually renew it in their covenanting with God, being prompted thereto by their ignorance of the high demands of the law, their own utter inability, and the way of salvation by Jesus Christ. And from the same principle our legalist here makes no question but Adam might have renewed it, and kept it too, for the after-time; only, he questions whether or not Adam might thereby have helped himself and his posterity too, out of the misery they were brought into by his sin." (p. 62, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Again - it is merely a matter of misunderstanding the nature of Adam's relationship to the rest of humanity - as covenant head, once the covenant in which he was representative head was broken, that's it. All parties to the covenant - all humanity - lie in brokenness, forever. Nothing but a new covenant and new covenant head, instituted by God, can save.

Now, having noted these few things, I'm going to repost a few articles I wrote the first time I was going through the Marrow, last summer, before proceeding into the next sections.

0 The Marrow Theology: Adam and Us

In The Marrow of Modern Divinity, Edward Fisher (together with Thomas Boston, through his margin notes) provides an excellent discussion concerning the Covenant of Works that is particularly timely considering the on-going controversy of the Federal Vision in conservative presbyterian circles. As I have picked up The Marrow again to read through, I am only going to make a couple of brief points, before reposting some articles that I posted a year ago.

It is interesting to me, but not surprising, that Fisher's character Nomista, the legalist, is opposed to the doctrine of the Covenant of Works. His view is very like that going around in some circles today: Adam owed God consistent and perpetual obedience simply as a creature of His, and nothing more. According to Nomista, no covenant in the Garden prior to the Fall was necessary because creatures naturally are expected to obey their Creator's laws. (see p. 54 of the Christian Focus edition) While it is certainly true that obedience to his Creator is true for any creature, this merely natural creaturely obedience owed the Creator is not the point of this discussion.

If all Adam is guilty of is failing in this creaturely obedience that is naturally owed his Creator, rather than being guilty of breaking a Covenant in which he was head and we are parties as his posterity, then there is no basis for our being held accountable for that sin as Paul does hold us in Romans 5. If Adam is not covenant head over humanity, then one makes hash of Romans 5:12-21, and bad hash at that. It really is that simple.

Furthermore, if there were no particular covenant relationship requiring perfect obedience to God prior to the Fall, as Nomista asserts, then we are apparently expected to believe that Adam had set before him a life wherein he would perpetually be suspended between life and death, always hanging on the precipice of losing it... In what sense could he be secure? In what sense could he ever truly enjoy life? We know that the Christian is promised life everlasting, a life of secured righteousness. It is not a return to Eden that the Christian is promised - a return to fellowship with God, but with a mutable condition. No, no - Adam was mutable. Such is not the future the elect look forward to - and neither was it the future Adam had before him, had he obeyed.

Further, if mere creaturely obedience is what kept Adam in communion with God, and was to be his perpetual requirement, whereby he would forever be standing or falling on his own doing, what has changed after the Fall? If, as is the case in Nomista's worldview, Adam is not covenant head over humanity, what is the upshot? Are we not therefore in the same covenant as Adam, subject to the same terms? It seems to me to this conclusion is both obvious from the premises, and also shockingly bad. (and I've heard this very thing said, though usually with the gloss that Adam's covenant was really a covenant requiring faith, not works!)

If this premise is granted - that is, if Adam is not seen as our representative covenant head, as I've said, the conclusions stemming therefrom are dreadful. After the Fall, we have no hope of salvation, unless Adam's identity as our original covenant head under a covenant of perfect and continual obedience (a la Romans 5:12-21) is upheld. I don't think anyone really wants to go there... for if Adam isn't our covenant head in the sense that we fell in him, then Christ (again, referencing Romans 5) is not our covenant head in the sense that we are raised with Him. Romans 5 clearly presents Christ as the second Adam - as standing over His covenant people in the same way as head, as representative, of His people, just as Adam was. One man's disobedience (Adam's) plunged all his people into death. One man's obedience (Christ's) brought forth life for all His people. If the former is denied, the latter cannot be sustained. This is grievous.

Finally, and this, too, is no minor point, though it pales in comparison with the immediately preceding one: if Adam and we are in the same relationship with God, and therefore if he is not our head under a pre-fall covenant, then Christ is merely an example for us. Christ then becomes the "first Christian" in some sense, rather than the covenant Head of a new covenant - that promised in Genesis 3:15. This, too, is a grievous conclusion.

Thanks be to God that Scripture does in fact portray something very different than Nomista's ideas. Christ, the Second Adam, performed what the first Adam could not and did not - and brought to life - the ultimate eschatological end set before Adam in the beginning, and set before God's elect in Christ now - His people, living up to the name given Him before His birth: namely, Jesus - he who saves His people from their sins.

Monday, July 12, 2010

0 Worship and the Corporate Praise of (all) God's attributes

A humble question thrown out there for response... What should we expect might be the impact in the church if music that is sung before the Lord in worship is limited to what might be called in contemporary music circles "praise" music? I thought of this this morning as I read Psalm 9 - a psalm that covers a large range of attributes of God as David offers the Lord praise. The first two verses, I would say, are similar to songs that are frequently heard:
[9:1] I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
[2] I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
(Psalm 9:1-2 ESV)
There are songs I know of that are built around this kind of thought - praise for God's works and an expression of joy in being able to sing to offer worship to the almighty king. No question that such is a Biblical subject for praise and worthy of being sung corporately as the church gathers to praise God. As I read this morning, though, through the rest of the Psalm, I see the wisdom of it all as David wrote it - and, again, the thought came to me concerning the rest of what God is praised for. I've never heard, for instance, a contemporary song that takes verses 5 and 6, for instance, and built a song around them.
[9:1] I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
[2] I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
[3] When my enemies turn back,
they stumble and perish before your presence.
[4] For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.
[5] You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
[6] The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
their cities you rooted out;
the very memory of them has perished.
[7] But the LORD sits enthroned forever;
he has established his throne for justice,
[8] and he judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with uprightness.
[9] The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
[10] And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
[11] Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion!
Tell among the peoples his deeds!
[12] For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
[13] Be gracious to me, O LORD!
See my affliction from those who hate me,
O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
[14] that I may recount all your praises,
that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
I may rejoice in your salvation.
[15] The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
[16] The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment;
the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah
[17] The wicked shall return to Sheol,
all the nations that forget God.
[18] For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.
[19] Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail;
let the nations be judged before you!
[20] Put them in fear, O LORD!
Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah
(Psalm 9 ESV)
Now, not wishing to get into a protracted criticism of contemporary music, but just musing about this. It certainly must be granted that not all psalms range far and wide praising God for such attributes as wrath and mercy, righteousness and vengeance, grace and sovereingty. Some are very brief, like Psalm 117, and deal with just a narrow aspect of God's being:
[117:1] Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
[2] For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 117 ESV)
So certainly it cannot be argued that if one is not going to practice exclusive Psalmody, one must praise God for a wide array of His attributes in every single song that is sung. The Psalms don't give that model. HOWEVER... I do think it worthwhile to think about what occurs when God's attributes of vengeance, wrath, holy hatred of sin, etc., are never sung about in corporate worship. Certainly if one sings the Psalms exclusively, there is a high degree of likelihood that God will in fact be praised in a full-orbed sense, for all his holy attributes. I do believe the range of attributes (as well as the range of human emotion and attitude!) that are reflected in the Psalms should give pause to those who want all worship music to be uplifiting to the Christian's heart and to produce joyful response. The Psalms just don't do that... hence worship music shouldn't have that exclusive focus (as it often does).

Thoughts? If a church practices worship in such a way that worship song is limited to joyful praises of God's goodness and mercy (and neglects His other glorious attributes, particularly the ones that are 'hard to sing about'), what impact might that have on the people's conception of God and of their relation to Him? Maybe I'm out in left field, but I don't think it's got a negligible effect...

Thursday, July 08, 2010

0 Interview with John Bower on the Westminster Larger Catechism

This afternoon, Bill and I had a wonderful discussion with Dr. John Bower, author of a new book, "The Larger Catechism: A Critical Text and Introduction, published by Reformation Heritage Books in March. Dr. Bower is an active contributor to the Westminster Assembly Project, whose chief editor is Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn of Oxford University. The main purpose of the Westminster Assembly Project is the dissemination of works concerning the Assembly and its documents, its members and their correspondence and writings. The Project has many sub-projects in view, one of which is the publication of six works in a series entitled "Principal Documents of the Westminster Assembly", of which the work he wrote is the first.

We spoke at length about the Westminster Assembly and the principal documents they produced, and in particular the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Confession. Please check the Covenant Radio website soon, or subscribe via iTunes for this program.


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