A Concise Definition of Calvinism, its Relation to the Gospel, and its juxtaposition to Arminianism

Taken, adapted, and condensed from an ‘Introductory Essay to John Owen’s “Death of Death in the Death of Christ”’
Written by, J.I. Packer

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There is no doubt that Evangelicalism today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement…

In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and of equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.” Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for His sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not “helpful”; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered; it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem). However this may be (and we shall say more about it later), the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of His redeeming work as if He had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe. But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need. And it is at this point that Owen’s treatise on redemption can give us help.

“But wait a minute,” says someone, “it’s all very well to talk like this about the gospel; but surely what Owen is doing is defending limited atonement—one of the five points of Calvinism? When you speak of recovering the gospel, don’t you mean that you just want us all to become Calvinists?”

These questions are worth considering, for they will no doubt occur to many. At the same time, however, they are questions that reflect a great deal of prejudice and ignorance. “Defending limited atonement”—as if this was all that a Reformed theologian expounding the heart of the gospel could ever really want to do! “You just want us all to become Calvinists”—as if Reformed theologians had no interest beyond recruiting for their party, and as if becoming a Calvinist was the last stage of theological depravity, and had nothing to do with the gospel at all. Before we answer these questions directly, we must try to remove the prejudices which underlie them by making clear what Calvinism really is; and therefore we would ask the reader to take note of the following facts, historical and theological, about Calvinism in general and the “five points” in particular.

First, it should be observed that the “five points of Calvinism,” so-called, are simply the Calvinistic answer to a five-point manifesto (the Remonstrance) put out by certain “Belgic semi-Pelagians” in the early seventeenth century.

The Five Points of Arminianism

The theology which it contained (known to history as Arminianism) stemmed from two philosophical principles:

First, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility;
Second, that ability limits obligation. (The charge of semi-Pelagianism was thus fully justified.)

From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions:

First, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible human act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him;

Second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following positions:

(1.) Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him, nor

(2.) is he ever so completely controlled by God that he cannot reject it.

(3.) God’s election of those who shall be saved is prompted by His foreseeing that they will of their own accord believe.

(4.) Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift); what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they believe.

(5.) It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost. Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him.

 The Synod of Dort Responds With Five Points of Calvinism

The Synod of Dort was convened in 1618 to pronounce on this theology, and the “five points of Calvinism” represent its counter-affirmations. They stem from a very different principle—the biblical principle that “salvation is of the Lord”; and they may be summarized thus:

(1.) Fallen man in his natural state lacks all power to believe the gospel, just as he lacks all power to believe the law, despite all external inducements that may be extended to him.

(2.) God’s election is a free, sovereign, unconditional choice of sinners, as sinners, to be redeemed by Christ, given faith and brought to glory.

(3.) The redeeming work of Christ had as its end and goal the salvation of the elect.

(4.) The work of the Holy Spirit in bringing men to faith never fails to achieve its object.

(5.) Believers are kept in faith and grace by the unconquerable power of God till they come to glory.

These five points are conveniently denoted by the mnemonic TULIP:
     Total depravity,
     Unconditional election,
     Limited atonement,
     Irresistible grace,
     Preservation of the saints.

Now, here are two coherent interpretations of the biblical gospel, which stand in evident opposition to each other. The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content.

One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God Who enables man to save himself. One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind—election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit—as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s gift of salvation, the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, Who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the “five points,” as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the points at which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance.

However, it would not be correct simply to equate Calvinism with the “five points.” Five points of our own will make this clear.

In the first place, Calvinism is something much broader than the “five points” indicate. Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world’s Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of His will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own Word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible—the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of His great preordained plan for His creatures and His church. The five points assert no more than that God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that He is sovereign everywhere.

Then, in the second place, the “five points” present Calvinistic soteriology in a negative and polemical form, whereas Calvinism in itself is essentially expository, pastoral and constructive. It can define its position in terms of Scripture without any reference to Arminianism, and it does not need to be forever fighting real or imaginary Arminians in order to keep itself alive. Calvinism has no interest in negatives, as such; when Calvinists fight, they fight for positive Evangelical values. The negative cast of the “five points” is misleading chiefly with regard to the third (limited atonement, or particular redemption), which is often read with stress on the adjective and taken as indicating that Calvinists have a special interest in confining the limits of divine mercy. But in fact the purpose of this phraseology, as we shall see, is to safeguard the central affirmation of the gospel—that Christ is a Redeemer who really does redeem. Similarly, the denials of an election that is conditional and of grace that is resistible, are intended to safeguard the positive truth that it is God Who saves. The real negations are those of Arminianism, which denies that election, redemption and calling are saving acts of God. Calvinism negates these negations in order to assert the positive content of the gospel, for the positive purpose of strengthening faith and building up the church.

Thirdly, the very act of setting out Calvinistic soteriology in the form of five distinct points (a number due, as we saw, merely to the fact that there were five Arminian points for the Synod of Dort to answer) tends to obscure the organic character of Calvinistic thought on this subject. For the five points, though separately stated, are really inseparable. They hang together; you cannot reject one without rejecting them all, at least in the sense in which the Synod meant them. For to Calvinism there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners. God—the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father’s will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing. Saves—does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies. Sinners—men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, unable to lift a finger to do God’s will or better their spiritual lot. God saves sinners—and the force of this confession may not be weakened by disrupting the unity of the work of the Trinity, or by dividing the achievement of salvation between God and man and making the decisive part man’s own, or by soft-pedaling the sinner’s inability so as to allow him to share the praise of his salvation with his Savior. This is the one point of Calvinistic soteriology which the “five points” are concerned to establish and Arminianism in all its forms to deny: namely, that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory forever; amen.

This leads to our fourth remark, which is this: the five-point formula obscures the depth of the difference between Calvinistic and Arminian soteriology. There seems no doubt that it seriously misleads many here. In the formula, the stress falls on the adjectives, and this naturally gives the impression that in regard to the three great saving acts of God the debate concerns the adjectives merely—that both sides agree as to what election, redemption, and the gift of internal grace are, and differ only as to the position of man in relation to them: whether the first is conditional upon faith being foreseen or not; whether the second intends the salvation of every man or not; whether the third always proves invincible or not. But this is a complete misconception. The change of adjective in each case involves changing the meaning of the noun. An election that is conditional, a redemption that is universal, an internal grace that is resistible, is not the same kind of election, redemption, internal grace, as Calvinism asserts. The real issue concerns, not the appropriateness of adjectives, but the definition of nouns. Both sides saw this clearly when the controversy first began, and it is important that we should see it too, for otherwise we cannot discuss the Calvinist-Arminian debate to any purpose at all. It is worth setting out the different definitions side by side.

NOTE 1: God’s act of election was defined by the Arminians as a resolve to receive sonship and glory a duly qualified class of people: believers in Christ. This becomes a resolve to receive individual persons only in virtue of God’s foreseeing the contingent fact that they will of their own accord believe. There is nothing in the decree of election to ensure that the class of believers will ever have any members; God does not determine to make any man believe. But Calvinists define election as a choice of particular undeserving persons to be saved from sin and brought to glory, and to that end to be redeemed by the death of Christ and given faith by the Spirit’s effectual calling. Where the Arminian says: “I owe my election to my faith,” the Calvinist says: “I owe my faith to my election.” Clearly, these two concepts of election are very far apart.

NOTE 2: Christ’s work of redemption was defined by the Arminians as the removing of an obstacle (the unsatisfied claims of justice) which stood in the way of God’s offering pardon to sinners, as He desired to do, on condition that they believe. Redemption, according to Arminianism, secured for God a right to make this offer, but did not of itself ensure that anyone would ever accept it; for faith, being a work of man’s own, is not a gift that comes to him from Calvary. Christ’s death created an opportunity for the exercise of saving faith, but that is all it did. Calvinists, however, define redemption as Christ’s actual substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners, through which God was reconciled to them, their liability to punishment was forever destroyed, and a title to eternal life was secured for them. In consequence of this, they now have in God’s sight a right to the gift of faith, as the means of entry into the enjoyment of their inheritance. Calvary, in other words, not merely made possible the salvation of those for whom Christ died; it ensured that they would be brought to faith and their salvation made actual. The Cross saves. Where the Arminian will only say: “I could not have gained my salvation without Calvary,” the Calvinist will say: “Christ gained my salvation for me at Calvary.” The former makes the Cross the sine qua non of salvation, the latter sees it as the actual procuring cause of salvation, and traces the source of every spiritual blessing, faith included, back to the great transaction between God and His Son carried through on Calvary’s hill. Clearly, these two concepts of redemption are quite at variance.

NOTE 3:  The Spirit’s gift of internal grace was defined by the Arminians as “moral suasion,” the bare bestowal of an understanding of God’s truth. This, they granted—indeed, insisted—does not of itself ensure that anyone will ever make the response of faith. But Calvinists define this gift as not merely an enlightening, but also a regenerating work of God in men, “taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.” Grace proves irresistible just because it destroys the disposition to resist. Where the Arminian, therefore, will be content to say: “I decided for Christ,” “I made up my mind to be a Christian,” the Calvinist will wish to speak of his conversion in more theological fashion, to make plain whose work it really was:

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off: my heart was free:
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”

Clearly, these two notions of internal grace are sharply opposed to each other.

Now, the Calvinist contends that the Arminian idea of election, redemption and calling as acts of God which do not save cuts at the very heart of their biblical meaning; that to say in the Arminian sense that God elects believers, and Christ died for all men, and the Spirit quickens those who receive the word, is really to say that in the biblical sense God elects nobody, and Christ died for nobody, and the Spirit quickens nobody. The matter at issue in this controversy, therefore, is the meaning to be given to these biblical terms, and to some others which are also soteriologically significant, such as the love of God, the covenant of grace, and the verb “save” itself, with its synonyms. Arminians gloss them all in terms of the principle that salvation does not directly depend on any decree or act of God, but on man’s independent activity in believing. Calvinists maintain that this principle is itself unscriptural and irreligious, and that such glossing demonstrably perverts the sense of Scripture and undermines the gospel at every point where it is practiced. This, and nothing less than this, is what the Arminian controversy is about.

There is a fifth way in which the five-point formula is deficient. Its very form (a series of denials of Arminian assertions) lends color to the impression that Calvinism is a modification of Arminianism; that Arminianism has a certain primacy in order of nature, and developed Calvinism is an offshoot from it. Even when one shows this to be false as a matter of history, the suspicion remains in many minds that it is a true account of the relation of the two views themselves. For it is widely supposed that Arminianism (which, as we now see, corresponds pretty closely to the new gospel of our own day) is the result of reading the Scriptures in a “natural,” unbiased, unsophisticated way, and that Calvinism is an unnatural growth, the product less of the texts themselves than of unhallowed logic working on the texts, wresting their plain sense and upsetting their balance by forcing them into a systematic framework which they do not themselves provide. Whatever may have been true of individual Calvinists, as a generalization about Calvinism nothing could be further from the truth than this. Certainly, Arminianism is “natural” in one sense, in that it represents a characteristic perversion of biblical teaching by the fallen mind of man, who even in salvation cannot bear to renounce the delusion of being master of his fate and captain of his soul. This perversion appeared before in the Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism of the Patristic period and the later Scholasticism, and has recurred since the seventeenth century both in Roman theology and, among Protestants, in various types of rationalistic liberalism and modern Evangelical teaching; and no doubt it will always be with us. As long as the fallen human mind is what it is, the Arminian way of thinking will continue to be a natural type of mistake. But it is not natural in any other sense. In fact, it is Calvinism that understands the Scriptures in their natural, one would have thought, inescapable meaning; Calvinism that keeps to what they actually say; Calvinism that insists on taking seriously the biblical assertions that God saves, and that He saves those whom He has chosen to save, and that He saves them by grace without works, so that no man may boast, and that Christ is given to them as a perfect Savior, and that their whole salvation flows to them from the Cross, and that the work of redeeming them was finished on the Cross. It is Calvinism that gives due honor to the Cross. When the Calvinist sings:

“There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all;
He died the we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good;
That we might go at last to Heaven,
Saved by His precious blood.”

—he means it. He will not gloss the italicized statements by saying that God’s saving purpose in the death of His Son was a mere ineffectual wish, depending for its fulfilment on man’s willingness to believe, so that for all God could do Christ might have died and none been saved at all. He insists that the Bible sees the Cross as revealing God’s power to save, not His impotence. Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people. His precious blood really does “save us all”; the intended effects of His self-offering do in fact follow, just because the Cross was what it was. Its saving power does not depend on faith being added to it; its saving power is such that faith flows from it. The Cross secured the full salvation of all for whom Christ died. “God forbid,” therefore, “that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now the real nature of Calvinistic soteriology becomes plain. It is no artificial oddity, nor a product of over-bold logic. Its central confession, that God saves sinners, that Christ redeemed us by His blood, is the witness both of the Bible and of the believing heart.

The Calvinist is the Christian who confesses before men in his theology just what he believes in his heart before God when he prays. He thinks and speaks at all times of the sovereign grace of God in the way that every Christian does when he pleads for the souls of others, or when he obeys the impulse of worship which rises unbidden within him, prompting him to deny himself all praise and to give all the glory of his salvation to his Savior. Calvinism is the natural theology written on the heart of the new man in Christ, whereas Arminianism is an intellectual sin of infirmity, natural only in the sense in which all such sins are natural, even to the regenerate. Calvinistic thinking is the Christian being himself on the intellectual level; Arminian thinking is the Christian failing to be himself through the weakness of the flesh. Calvinism is what the Christian church has always held and taught when its mind has not been distracted by controversy and false traditions from attending to what Scripture actually says; that is the significance of the Patristic testimonies to the teaching of the “five points,” which can be quoted in abundance. (Owen appends a few on redemption; a much larger collection may be seen in John Gill’s The Cause of God and Truth.)

So that really it is most misleading to call this soteriology “Calvinism” at all, for it is not a peculiarity of John Calvin and the divines of Dort, but a part of the revealed truth of God and the catholic Christian faith. “Calvinism” is one of the “odious names” by which down the centuries prejudice has been raised against it. But the thing itself is just the biblical gospel.

Understanding the Framework of Covenant Theology

Taken from, INTRODUCTION: ON COVENANT THEOLOGY” (Packer’s Introduction to Witsius and De Oeconomia)
Written by, J. I. Packer,

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I

The name of Herman Wits (Witsius, 1636-1708) has been unjustly forgotten.

He was a masterful Dutch Reformed theologian, learned, wise, mighty in the Scriptures, practical and “experimental” (to use the Puritan label for that which furthers heart-religion). On paper he was calm, judicious, systematic, clear and free from personal oddities and animosities. He was a man whose work stands comparison for substance and thrust with that of his younger British contemporary John Owen, and this writer, for one, knows no praise higher than that! To Witsius it was given, in the treatise here reprinted, to integrate and adjudicate explorations of covenant theology carried out by a long line of theological giants stretching back over more than century and a half to the earliest days of the Reformation. On this major matter Witsius’s work has landmark status as summing up a whole era, which is why it is appropriate to reprint it today. However, in modern Christendom covenant theology has been unjustly forgotten, just as Witsius himself has, and it will not therefore be amiss to spend a little time reintroducing it, in order to prepare readers’ minds for what is to come.

 

II

What is covenant theology?

The straightforward, if provocative answer to that question is that it is what is nowadays called a hermeneutic — that is, a way of reading the whole Bible that is itself part of the overall interpretation of the Bible that it undergirds. A successful hermeneutic is a consistent interpretative procedure yielding a consistent understanding of Scripture in turn confirms the propriety of the procedure itself. Covenant theology is a case in point. It is a hermeneutic that forces itself upon every thoughtful Bible-reader who gets to the place, first, of reading, hearing, and digesting Holy Scripture as didactic instruction given through human agents by God himself, in person; second, of recognizing that what the God who speaks the Scriptures tells us about in their pages is his own sustained sovereign action in creation, providence, and grace; third, of discerning that in our salvation by grace God stands revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, executing in tripersonal unity a single cooperative enterprise of raising sinners from the gutter of spiritual destitution to share Christ’s glory forever; and, fourth, of seeing that God-centered thought and life, springing responsively from a God-wrought change of heart that expresses itself spontaneously in grateful praise, is the essence of true knowledge of God. Once Christians have got this far, the covenant theology of the Scriptures is something that they can hardly miss.

Yet in one sense they can miss it: that is, by failing to focus on it, even when in general terms they are aware of its reality. God’s covenant of grace in Scripture is one of those things that are too big to be easily seen, particularly when one’s mind is programmed to look at something smaller. If you are hunting on a map of the Pacific for a particular Polynesian island, your eye will catch dozens of island names, however small they are printed, but the chances are you will never notice the large letters spelling PACIFIC OCEAN that straddle the map completely. Similarly, we may, and I think often do, study such realities as God’s promises; faith: the plan of salvation; Jesus Christ the God-man, our prophet, priest and king; the church in both testaments, along with circumcision, Passover, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the intricacies of Old Testament worship and the simplicities of its New Testament counterpart; the work of the Holy Spirit in believers; the nature and standards of Christian obedience in holiness and neighbor-love; prayer and communion with God: and many more such themes, without noticing that these relational realities are all covenantal in their very essence. As each Polynesian island is anchored in the Pacific, so each of the matters just mentioned is anchored in God’s resolve to relate to his human creatures, and have us relate to him, in covenant — which means, in the final analysis, a way for man to relate to God that reflects facets of the fellowship of the Son and the Spirit with the Father in the unity of the Godhead. From this, perhaps, we can begin to see how big and significant a thing the covenantal category is both in biblical teaching and in real life.

“The distance between God and the creature is so great,” says the Westminster Confession (VII.I), “that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.” Exactly! So biblical doctrine, first to last, has to do with covenantal relationships between God and man; biblical ethics has to do with expressing God’s covenantal relationship to us in covenantal relationships between ourselves and others; and Christian religion has the nature of covenant life, in which God is the direct object of our faith, hope, love, worship, and service, all animated by gratitude for grace. 

Our theme is the life-embracing bedrock reality of the covenant relationship between the Creator and Christians, and it is high time we defined exactly what we are talking about. A covenant relationship is a voluntary mutual commitment that binds each party to the other. Whether it is negotiated, like a modern business deal or a marriage contract, or unilaterally imposed, as all God’s covenants are, is irrelevant to the commitment itself; the reality of the relationship depends simply on the fact that mutual obligations have been accepted and pledged on both sides. Luther is held to have said that Christianity is a matter of personal pronouns, in the sense that everything depends on knowing that Jesus died for me, to be my Savior, and that his Father is my God and Father, personally committed to love, nurture, uphold, and glorify me. This already is covenant thinking, for this is the essential substance of the covenant relationship: God’s covenant is precisely a matter of these personal pronouns, used in this way, as a basis for a life with God of friendship, peace and communicated love. 

Thus, when God tells Abraham, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you . . . to be your God . . . I will be their God” (Gen. 17:6-8), the personal pronouns are the key words: God is committing himself to Abraham and Abraham’s seed in a way in which he does not commit himself to others. God’s covenant commitment expresses eternal election; his covenant love to individuals sinners flows from his choice of them to be his for ever in the peace of justification and the joy of glorification. The verbal commitment in which electing sovereignty thus shows itself has the nature of a promise, the fulfillment of which is guaranteed by God’s absolute fidelity and trustworthiness — the quality that David Livingstone the explorer celebrated by describing God as “an honorable gentleman who never breaks his word.” The covenant promise itself, “I will be your God,” is an unconditional undertaking on God’s part to be “for us” (Rom. 8:31), “on our side” (Ps. 124:1-5), using all his resources for the furthering of the ultimate good of those (“us”) to whom he thus pledges himself. “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God” (Ex. 6:7), the covenant promise constantly repeated throughout both testaments (Gen. 17:6-8; Ex. 20:2, 29:45 f.; Lev. 11:45; Jer. 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20, 34:30 f., 36:28; 2 Cor. 6:16-18; Rev. 21:2 f.; etc.), may fairly be called the pantechnicon promise, inasmuch as every particular promise that God makes is packed into it — fellowship and communion first (“I will be with you,” “I will dwell among them,” “I will live among you,” etc.), and then the supply of every real need, here and hereafter. Sovereignty and salvation, love and largesse, election and enjoyment, affirmation and assurance, fidelity and fullness thus appear as the spectrum of themes (the second of each pair being the fruit of the first as its root) that combine to form the white light, glowing and glorious, of the gracious self-giving of God to sinners that covenant theology proclaims.

The God-given covenant carries, of course, obligations. The life of faith and repentance, and the obedience to which faith leads, constitute the covenant-keeping through which God’s people receive the fullness of God’s covenant blessing. “I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:4 f.). Covenant faithfulness is the condition and means of receiving covenant benefits, and there is nothing arbitrary in that; for the blessings flow from the relationship, and human rebelliousness and unfaithfulness stop the flow by disrupting the relationship. Israel’s infidelity was constantly doing this throughout the Old Testament story, and the New Testament makes it plain that churches and Christians will lose blessings that would otherwise be theirs, should covenant fidelity be lacking in their lives.

 

III

From what has been said so far, three things become apparent. First, the gospel of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame.

Jesus Christ, whose saving ministry is the sum and substance of the gospel, is announced in Hebrews the mediator and guarantor of the covenant relationship (Heb. 7:22, 8:6). The gospel promises, offering Christ and his benefits to sinner, are therefore invitations to enter and enjoy a covenant relationship with God. Faith in Jesus Christ is accordingly the embracing of the covenant, and the Christian life of glorifying God by one’s words and works for the greatness of his goodness and grace has at its heart covenant communion between the Savior and the sinner. The church, the fellowship of believers that the gospel creates, is the community of the covenant, and the preaching of the Word, the practice of pastoral care and discipline, the manifold exercises of worship together, and the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper (corresponding to circumcision and Passover in former days) are all signs, tokens, expressions, and instruments of the covenant, through which covenantal enrichments from God constantly flow to those who believe. The hope of glory, as promised in the gospel, is the goal of the covenant relationship (Rev. 21:2 f.), and Christian assurance is the knowledge of the content and stability of that relationship as it applies to oneself (Rom. 5:1-11, 8:1-39). The whole Bible is, as it were, presented by Jesus Christ to the whole church and to each Christian as the book of the covenant, and the whole record of the wars of the Word with the church as well as the world in the post-biblical Christian centuries, the record that is ordinarily called church history, is precisely the story of the covenant going on in space and time. As artists and decorators know, the frame is important for setting off the picture, and you do in fact see the picture better when it is appropriately framed. So with the riches of the gospel; the covenant is their proper frame, and you only see them in their full glory when this frame surrounds them, as in Scripture it actually does, and as in theology it always should.

Second, the Word of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame.

Covenant theology, as was said above, is a biblical hermeneutic as well as a formulation of biblical teaching. Not only does it spring from reading the Scriptures as a unity, it includes in itself specific claims as to how this should be done. Covenant theology offers a total view, which it is ready to validate from Scripture itself if challenged, as to how the various parts of the Bible stand related to each other. The essence of the view is as follows. The biblical revelation, which is the written Word of God, centers upon a God-given narrative of how successive and cumulative revelations of God’s covenant purpose and provision were given and responded to at key points in history. The backbone of the Bible, to which all the expository, homiletical, moral, liturgical, and devotional material relates, is the unfolding in space and time of God’s unchanging intention of having a people on earth to whom he would relate covenantally for his and their joy. The contents of Scripture cohere into a single consistent body of truth about God and mankind, by which every Christian — indeed, every human being — in every generation is called to live. The Bible in one sense, like Jesus Christ in another, is God’s word to the world.

The story that forms this backbone of the Bible has to do with man’s covenant relationship with God first ruined and then restored. The original covenantal arrangement, usually called the Covenant of Works, was one whereby God undertook to prolong and augment for all subsequent humanity the happy state in which he had made the first human pair — provided that the man observed, as part of the humble obedience that was then natural to him, one prohibition, specified in the narrative as not eating a forbidden fruit. The devil, presented as a serpent, seduced Adam and Eve into disobeying, so that they fell under the penal sanctions of the Covenant of Works (loss of good, and corruption of nature). But God at once revealed to them in embryo a redemptive economy that had in it both the covering of sin, and a prospective victory for the woman’s seed (a human Savior) over the serpent and his malice. The redemptive purpose of this new arrangement became clearer as God called Abraham, made a nation from his descendants, saved them from slavery, named himself not only their God but also their King and Father, taught them his law (the family code), drilled them in sacrificial liturgies, disciplined their disobedience, and sent messengers to hold up before them his holiness and his promise of a Savior-King and a saving kingdom; which in due course became reality. The Westminster Confession summarizes what was going on in and through all this.

“Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by (the first) covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. . .

“This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel; under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore signifying Christ to come, which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old Testament.

“Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper . . . in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations” (VII. iii. v. vi).

So the unifying strands that bind together the books of the Bible are, first, the one covenant promise, sloganized as “I will be your God, and you shall be my people,” which God was fulfilling to his elect all through his successive orderings of covenant faith and life; second, the one messenger and mediator of the covenant, Jesus Christ the God-man, prophet and king, priest and sacrifice, the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament proclamation; third, the one people of God, the covenant community, the company of the elect, whom God brings to faith and keeps in faith, from Abel, Noah and Abraham through the remnant of Israel to the worldwide New Testament church of believing Jews and Gentiles; and fourth, the one pattern of covenant piety, consisting of faith, repentance, love, joy, praise, hope, hatred of sin, desire for sanctity, a spirit of prayer, and readiness to battle the world, the flesh, and the devil in order to glorify God . . . a pattern displayed most fully, perhaps, in Luther’s “little Bible,” the Psalter, but seen also in the lives of God’s servants in both Testaments and reflected more or less fully in each single one of the Old and New Testament books. Covenant theologians insist that every book of the Bible in effect asks to be read in terms of these unities, and as contributing to the exposition of them, and is actually misunderstood if it is not so read.

Third, the reality of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame. 

Who is God? God is the triune Creator, who purposes to have a covenant people whom in love he will exalt for his glory. (“Glory” there means both God’s demonstration of his praiseworthiness and the actual praising that results.) Why does God so purpose? — Why, that is, does he desire covenantal fellowship with rational beings? The most we can say (for the question is not one to which God has given us a direct answer) is that the nature of such fellowship observably corresponds to the relationships of mutual honor and love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the unity of the divine being, so that the divine purpose appears to be, so to speak, an enlarging of this circle of eternal love and joy. In highlighting the thought that covenantal communion is the inner life of God, covenant theology makes the truth of the Trinity more meaningful than it can otherwise be.

Nor is this all. Scripture is explicit on the fact that from eternity, in light of human sin foreseen, a specific agreement existed between the Father and the Son that they would exalt each other in the following way: the Father would honor the Son by sending him to save lost sinners through a penal self-sacrifice leading to a cosmic reign in which the central activity would be the imparting to sinners through the Holy Spirit of the redemption he won for them; and the Son would honor the Father by becoming the Father’s love-gift to sinners and by leading them through the Spirit to trust, love and glorify the Father on the model of his own obedience to the Father’s will. This covenant of Redemption, as it is commonly called, which underlies the Covenant of Grace, clarifies these three truths at least: 

(1) The love of the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit, to lost sinners is shared, unanimous love. The tritheistic fantasy of a loving Son placating an unloving Father and commandeering an apathetic Holy Spirit in or save us is a distressing nonsense.

(2) As our salvation derives from God’s free and gracious initiative and is carried through, first to last, according to God’s eternal plan by God’s own sovereign power, so its ultimate purpose is to exalt and glorify the Father and the Son together. The man-centered distortion that pictures God as saving us more for our sake than for his is also a distressing nonsense. 

(3) Jesus Christ is the focal figure, the proper center of our faith-full attention, throughout the redemptive economy. He, as Mediator of the Covenant of Grace and of the grace of that covenant, is as truly an object of divine predestination as are we whom he saves. With him as our sponsor and representative, the last Adam, the second “public person” through whom the Father deals with our race, the Covenant of Grace is archetypally and fundamentally made, in order that it may now be established and ratified with us in him. (“With whom was the covenant of grace made?” asks question 31 of the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the prescribed answer is: “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.”) From the vital union that we have with Christ through the Holy Spirit’s action flows all the aliveness to God, all the faith, hope and love God-ward, all the desire for him and urges to worship him and willingness to work for him, of which we ever were, are, or will be conscious; apart from Christ we should still be spiritually dead (objectively, lifeless; subjectively, unresponsive) in our trespasses and sins. Christ is therefore to be acknowledged, now and forever, as our all in all, our Alpha and Omega, so far as our salvation is concerned — and that goes for salvation subjectively brought home to us, no less than for salvation objectively obtained for us. The legalistic, sub-spiritual Roman Catholic theology of Mass and merit, whereby Christians are required by the Father, and enabled by the Son, to take part in the achieving of their own salvation, is a further distressing nonsense.

These three truths together shape the authentic biblical and Reformed mentality, whereby God the Father through Christ, and Christ himself in his saving ministry, are given all the glory and all the praise for having quickened us the dead, helped us the helpless, and saved us the lost. Writes Geehardus Vos: “Only when the believer understands how he has to receive and has received everything from the Mediator and how God in no way whatever deals with him except through Christ, only then does a picture of the glorious work that God wrought through Christ emerge in his consciousness and the magnificent idea of grace begin to dominate and form in his life. For the Reformed, therefore, the entire ordo salutis [order of salvation], beginning with regeneration as its first stage, is bound to the mystical union with Christ. There is no gift that has not been earned by him. Neither is there a gift that is not bestowed by him and that does not elevate God’s glory through his bestowal. Now the basis for this order lies in none other than in the covenant of salvation with Christ. In this covenant those chosen by the Father are given to Christ. In it he became the guarantor so that they would be planted into his body in the thought-world of grace through faith. As the application of salvation by Christ and by Christ’s initiative is a fundamental principle of Reformed theology, this theology has correctly viewed this application as a covenantal requirement which fell to the Mediator and for the fulfilling of which he became the guarantor” (Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980, p. 248). The full reality of God and God’s work are not adequately grasped till the Covenant of Redemption — the specific covenantal agreement between Father and Son on which the Covenant of Grace rests — occupies its proper place in our minds.

Thus it appears that, confessionally and doxologically, covenant theology brings needed enrichment of insight to our hearts; and devotionally the same is true. Older evangelicals wrote hymns celebrating the covenant of grace in which they voiced fortissimos of the triumphant assurance of a kind that we rarely hear today — so it will be worth our while to quote some of them. They merit memorizing, and meditating on, and making one’s own; ceaseless strength flows to those saints who allow these sentiments to take root in their souls. Here, first, is the eighteenth-century leader, Philip Doddridge:

‘Tis mine, the covenant of his grace,
And every promise mine;
All sprung from everlasting love,
And sealed by blood divine.
On my unworthy favored head
Its blessings all unite;
Blessings more numerous than the stars,
More lasting, and more bright.

And again:

 My God! The covenant of thy love
Abides forever sure;
And in its matchless grace I feel
My happiness secure.
Since thou, the everlasting God,
My Father art become
Jesus, my Guardian and my Friend,
And heaven my final home;
I welcome all thy sovereign will,
For all that will is love;
And, when I know not what thou dost,
I wait the light above.

Also in the eighteenth century, Augustus Toplady wrote this:

 A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,
My person and offering to bring.
The terrors of law, and of God,
With me can have nothing to do:
My Savior’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.
The work which his goodness began
The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now
Not all things below or above,
Can make him his purpose forego,
Or sever my soul from his love.

Then, a hundred years later, Frances Ridley Havergal gave us the following:

Jehovah’s covenant shall endure,
All ordered, everlasting, sure!
O child of God, rejoice to trace
Thy portion in its glorious grace.
‘Tis thine, for Christ is given to be
The covenant of God to thee;
In him, God’s golden scroll of light,
The darkest truths are clear and bright.
O sorrowing sinner, well he knew,
Ere time began, what he would do!
Then rest thy hope within the veil;
His covenant mercies shall not fail.
O doubting one, Eternal Three
Are pledged in faithfulness for thee
Claim every promise sweet and sure
By covenant oath of God secure.
O feeble one, look up and see
Strong consolation sworn for thee:
Jehovah’s glorious arm is shown
His covenant strength is all thine own.
O mourning one, each stroke of love
A covenant blessing yet shall prove;
His covenant love shall be thy stay;
His covenant grace be as thy day.
O Love that chose, O Love that died,
O Love that sealed and sanctified,
All glory, glory, glory be,
O covenant Triune God, to thee!

One way of judging the quality of theologies is to see what sort of devotion they produce. The devotional perspective that covenant theology generates is accurately reflected in these lyrics. Readers will make up their own minds as to whether such devotion could significantly enrich the church today, and form their judgment on covenant theology accordingly.

IV

Earlier it was said that the Bible “forces” covenant theology on all who receive it as what, in effect, it claims to be — God’s witness to God’s work of saving sinners for God’s glory. “Forces” is a strong work; how does Scripture “force” covenant theology upon us? By the following four features, at least.

First, by the story that it tells. The books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, are, as was said earlier, God’s own record of the progressive unfolding of his purpose to have a people in covenant with himself here on earth. The covenantal character of God’s relationships with human beings, first to last, has already been underlined, and is in fact reflected one way and another on just about every page of the Bible. The transition in Eden from the covenant of works to the covenant of grace, and the further transition from all that was involved in the preliminary (old) form of that covenant to its final (new) form, brought in through the death of Jesus Christ and now administered by him from his throne, are the key events in the covenant story. The significance of the fact that God caused his book of instruction to mankind to be put together with the history of his covenant as its backbone can hardly be overestimated. Covenant relationships between God and men, established by God’s initiative, bringing temporal and eternal blessings to individuals and creating community among them, so that they have a corporate identity as God’s people, are in fact the pervasive themes of the whole Bible; and it compels thoughtful readers to take note of the covenant as being central to God’s concern.

Second, Scripture forces covenant theology upon us by the place it gives to Jesus Christ in the covenant story. That all Scripture, one way and another, is pointing its readers to Christ, teaching us truths and showing us patterns of divine action that help us understand him properly, is a principle that no reverent and enlightened Bible student will doubt. This being so, it is momentously significant that when Jesus explained the memorial rite for himself that he instituted as his people’s regular form of worship, he spoke of the wine that they were to drink as symbolizing his blood, shed to ratify the new covenant — a clear announcement of the fulfilling of the pattern of Exodus 24 (Jesus echoes directly the words of verse 8) and the promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34. It is also momentously significant that when the writer to the Hebrews explains the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ as the only source of salvation for sinners he does so by focusing on Jesus as the mediator of the new covenant and depicts him as establishing this prophesied relationship between God and his people by superseding (transcending and thereby cancelling) the inadequate old covenant institutions for dealing with sins and giving access to God. It is also momentously significant that when in Galatians Paul tells Gentiles that their faith in Christ, as such, has already made them inheritors of all that was promised to Abraham, he makes the point by declaring that in union with Christ, as those who by baptism have “put on” the Christ in whom they have trusted so as to become his own people, they are now the seed of Abraham with whom God has made his covenant for all time (Gal. 3) . . . the covenant that brings liberty from law as a supposed system of salvation and full fellowship forever with God above (Gal. 4:24-3 1). Such Scriptures require us to interpret Christ in terms of God’s covenant, just as they require us to interpret God’s covenant in terms of Christ, and this fact also alerts thoughtful readers to the centrality of the covenant theme.

The third way in which Scripture directs us to covenantal thinking is by the specific parallel between Christ and Adam that Paul draws in Rom. 5:12-18; 1 Cor. 15: 21 f., 45-49). The solidarity of one person standing for a group, involving the whole group in the consequences of his action and receiving promises that apply to the whole group as well as to himself, is a familiar facet of biblical covenant thought, usually instanced in the case of family and national groups (Noah, Gen. 6:18, 9:9; Abraham, Gen. 17:7; the Israelites, Ex. 20:4-6, 8-12, 31:12-17 (16); Aaron, Lev. 24:8 f.; Phinehas, Num. 25:13; David, 2 Chr. 13:5, 21:7; Jer. 33:19-22). In Rom. 5:12-1 8 Paul proclaims a solidarity between Christ and his people (believers, Rom 3:22-5:2; the elect, God’s chosen ones, 8:33) whereby the law-keeping, sin-bearing obedience of “the one man” brings righteousness with God, justification, and life to “the many,” “all;” and he sets this within the frame of a prior solidarity, namely that between Adam and his descendants, whereby our entire race was involved in the penal consequences of Adam’s transgression. The 1 Corinthians passages confirm that these are indeed covenantal solidarities; God deals with mankind through two representative men, Adam and Christ; all that are in Adam die; all that are in Christ are made alive. This far-reaching parallel is clearly foundational to Paul’s understanding of God’s ways with our race, and it is a covenantal way of thinking, showing from a third angle that covenant theology is indeed biblically basic.

The fourth way in which Scripture forces covenant theology upon us is by the explicit declaring of the covenant of redemption, most notably (though by no means exclusively) in the words of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John. All Jesus’s references to his purpose in the world as the doing of his Father’s will, and to his actual words and works as obedience to his Father’s command (Jn. 4:32-34, 5:30, 6:38-40, 7:16-18, 8:28 f., 12:49 f., 14:31, 15:10, 17:4, I9:30); all his further references to his being sent by the Father into the world to perform a specific task (3:17, 34, 5:23, 30, 36, 38, 6:29, 57, 7:28, 29, 33, 8:16, 18, 26, 9:4, 10:36, 11:42, 12:44, 13:20, 14:24, 15:21, 16:5, 17:3, 8,18, 21, 23, 25, 20:21, cf. 18:37); and all his references to the Father “giving” him particular persons to save, and to his acceptance of the task of rescuing them from perishing both by dying for them and by calling and shepherding them to glory (6:37-44, 10:14-16, 27-30, 17:2, 6, 9,19, 22, 24); are so many testimonies to the reality of the covenant of redemption. The emphasis is pervasive, arresting, and inescapable: Jesus’ own words force on thoughtful reader’s recognition of the covenant economy as foundational to all thought about the reality of God’s saving grace.

 

V

Historically, covenant theology is a Reformed development.

Huldreich Zwingli, Henry Bullinger, John Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus, Caspar Olevianus, Robert Rollock, John Preston, and John Ball, were among the contributors to its growth, and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms gave it confessional status. Johann Koch (Cocceius) was a Dutch stormy petrel who in a Latin work, The Doctrine of the Covenant and Testament of God (Summa doctrinae de foedere et testamento dei, 1648) not only worked out in detail what we would call a biblical-theological, redemptive-historical perspective for presenting covenant theology (three periods — the covenant of works, made with Adam; the covenant of grace, made with and through Moses; the new covenant, made through Christ), but muddied his exegesis by allegorical fancies and marginalized himself by needless attacks on the analytical doctrine-by-doctrine approach to theological exposition that was practiced by his leading contemporaries in Holland, Maccovius, Maresius, and Voetius. It seems clear with hindsight that his method and theirs were complementary to each other, and that both were necessary then, as they are now. (Today we name the Cocceian procedure “biblical theology” and that which he opposed “systematic theology,” and in well-ordered teaching institutions students are required to study both.) But for more than half a century following the appearance of Cocceius’ book clouds of controversy hung over Holland as Cocceians and Voetians grappled with each other, each side trying to prove the illegitimacy and wrong-headedness of what the other was attempting.

Within this embattled situation, Witsius tries to have the best of both worlds — and largely succeeds. His full title (The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: comprehending a complete Body of Divinity) might seem to claim too much; but it is clearly a friendly wave to the Cocceians, who were insisting that the only way to organize theology and set out Christian truths was in terms of the historical unfolding of God’s covenant dealings. His four books, the first on the Covenant of Works, the second on the Covenant of Redemption, the third on the Covenant of Grace, and the fourth on covenant ordinances at different times, and on the knowledge and experience of God’s grace that these conveyed, are a journey over Cocceian ground, in the course of which Witsius, excellent exegete that he is, manages to correct some inadequacies and errors that poor exegesis in the Cocceian camp had fathered. But he treats each topic analytically, and draws with evident happiness on the expository resources produced by systematicians during the previous 150 years including, be it said, much deep wisdom from the Puritan-Pietist tradition, which is particularly evident in Book Three. This is a head-clearing, mind-forming, heart-warming treatise of very great value; we possess nothing like it today, and to have it available once more is a real boon. I thank the publishers most warmly for taking a risk on it, and I commend it enthusiastically to God’s people everywhere.

 

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Introduction by J. I. Packer to “The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: Comprehending A Complete Body of Divinity”. HermanWitsius. REPRINTED 1990. Escondido. California: The den dulk Christian Foundation. DISTRIBUTED by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey.

WHAT IS THE GOSPEL MESSAGE?

Written by, J. I. Packer

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IN a word, the evangelistic message is the Gospel of Christ and Him crucified…

…the message of man’s sin and God’s grace, of human guilt and divine forgiveness, of new birth and new life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a message made up of four essential ingredients.

1. The Gospel is a message about God.

It tells us who He is, what His character is, what His standards are, and what He requires of us, His creatures. It tells us that we owe our very existence to Him; that for good or ill, we are always in His hands and under His eye; and that He made us to worship and serve Him, to show forth His praise and to live for His glory. These truths are the foundation of theistic religion; and until they are grasped, the rest of the Gospel message will seem neither cogent nor relevant. It is here with the assertion of man’s complete and constant dependence on his Creator that the Christian story starts.

We can learn again from Paul at this point. When preaching to Jews, as at Pisidian Antioch, he did not need to mention the fact that men were God’s creatures. He could take this knowledge for granted, for his hearers had the Old Testament faith behind them. He could begin at once to declare Christ to them as the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes. But when preaching to Gentiles, who knew nothing of the Old Testament, Paul had to go further back and start from the beginning. And the beginning from which Paul started in such cases was the doctrine of God’s Creatorship and man’s creaturehood. So, when the Athenians asked him to explain what his talk of Jesus and the resurrection was all about, he spoke to them first of God the Creator and what He made man for. “God…made the world…seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made…all nations… that they should seek the Lord” (Act 17:24-27). This was not, as some have supposed, a piece of philosophical apologetic of a kind that Paul afterwards renounced, but the first and basic lesson in theistic faith.

The Gospel starts by teaching us that we, as creatures, are absolutely dependent on God…

…and that He, as Creator, has an absolute claim on us. Only when we have learned this can we see what sin is, and only when we see what sin is can we understand the good news of salvation from sin. We must know what it means to call God Creator before we can grasp what it means to speak of Him as Redeemer. Nothing can be achieved by talking about sin and salvation where this preliminary lesson has not in some measure been learned.

2. The Gospel is a message about sin.

It tells us how we have fallen short of God’s standard, how we have become guilty, filthy, and helpless in sin, and now stand under the wrath of God. It tells us that the reason why we sin continually is that we are sinners by nature, and that nothing we do or try to do for ourselves can put us right or bring us back into God’s favor. It shows us ourselves as God sees us and teaches us to think of ourselves as God thinks of us. Thus, it leads us to self-despair. And this also is a necessary step. Not until we have learned our need to get right with God and our inability to do so by any effort of our own can we come to know the Christ Who saves from sin.

There is a pitfall here.

Everybody’s life includes things that cause dissatisfaction and shame. Everyone has a bad conscience about some things in his past, matters in which he has fallen short of the standard that he set for himself or that was expected of him by others. The danger is that in our evangelism we should content ourselves with evoking thoughts of these things and making people feel uncomfortable about them, and then depicting Christ as the One who saves us from these elements of ourselves, without even raising the question of our relationship with God. But this is just the question that has to be raised when we speak about sin. For the very idea of sin in the Bible is of an offense against God that disrupts a man’s relationship with God. Unless we see our shortcomings in the light of the Law and holiness of God, we do not see them as sin at all. For sin is not a social concept; it is a theological concept. Though sin is committed by man, and many sins are against society, sin cannot be defined in terms of either man or society. We never know what sin really is until we have learned to think of it in terms of God and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of His total demand on our lives.

What we have to grasp, then, is that the bad conscience of the natural man is not at all the same thing as conviction of sin.

It does not, therefore, follow that a man is convicted of sin when he is distressed about his weaknesses and the wrong things he has done. It is not conviction of sin just to feel miserable about yourself, your failures, and your inadequacy to meet life’s demands. Nor would it be saving faith if a man in that condition called on the Lord Jesus Christ just to soothe him, and cheer him up, and make him feel confident again.

Nor should we be preaching the Gospel if all that we did was to present Christ in terms of a man’s felt wants: “Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Do you want peace of mind? Do you feel that you have failed? Are you fed up with yourself? Do you want a friend? Then come to Christ; He will meet your every need”—as if the Lord Jesus Christ were to be thought of as a fairy godmother or a super-psychiatrist…To be convicted of sin means not just to feel that one is an all-round flop, but to realize that one has offended God, and flouted His authority, and defied Him, and gone against Him, and put oneself in the wrong with Him. To preach Christ means to set Him forth as the One Who through His cross sets men right with God again…

It is indeed true that the real Christ, the Christ of the Bible, reveals Himself to us as a Savior from sin and an Advocate with God, does in fact give peace, and joy, and moral strength, and the privilege of His own friendship to those who trust Him. But the Christ who is depicted and desired merely to make the lot of life’s casualties easier by supplying them with aids and comforts is not the real Christ, but a misrepresented and misconceived Christ—in effect, an imaginary Christ. And if we taught people to look to an imaginary Christ, we should have no grounds for expecting that they would find a real salvation. We must be on our guard, therefore, against equating a natural bad conscience and sense of wretchedness with spiritual conviction of sin and so omitting in our evangelism to impress upon sinners the basic truth about their condition—namely, that their sin has alienated them from God and exposed them to His condemnation, and hostility, and wrath, so that their first need is for a restored relationship with Him…

3. The Gospel is a message about Christ—Christ, the Son of God incarnate;

Christ, the Lamb of God, dying for sin; Christ, the risen Lord; Christ, the perfect Savior.

Two points need to be made about the declaring of this part of the message:

(i) We must not present the Person of Christ apart from His saving work. It is sometimes said that it is the presentation of Christ’s Person, rather than of doctrines about Him, that draws sinners to His feet. It is true that it is the living Christ Who saves and that a theory of the atonement, however orthodox, is no substitute. When this remark is made, however, what is usually being suggested is that doctrinal instruction is dispensable in evangelistic preaching, and that all the evangelist need do is paint a vivid word-picture of the man of Galilee who went about doing good, and then assure his hearers that this Jesus is still alive to help them in their troubles. But such a message could hardly be called the Gospel.

It would, in reality, be a mere conundrum, serving only to mystify…the truth is that you cannot make sense of the historic figure of Jesus until you know about the Incarnation—that this Jesus was in fact God the Son, made man to save sinners according to His Father’s eternal purpose. Nor can you make sense of His life until you know about the atonement—that He lived as man so that He might die as man for men, and that His passion, His judicial murder was really His saving action of bearing away the world’s sins. Nor can you tell on what terms to approach Him now until you know about the resurrection, ascension, and heavenly session—that Jesus has been raised, and enthroned, and made King, and lives to save to the uttermost all who acknowledge His Lordship. These doctrines, to mention no others, are essential to the Gospel…In fact, without these doctrines you would have no Gospel to preach at all.

(ii) But there is a second and complementary point: we must not present the saving work of Christ apart from His Person. 
Evangelistic preachers and personal workers have sometimes been known to make this mistake. In their concern to focus attention on the atoning death of Christ as the sole sufficient ground on which sinners may be accepted with God, they have expounded the summons to saving faith in these terms: “Believe that Christ died for your sins.” The effect of this exposition is to represent the saving work of Christ in the past, dissociated from His Person in the present, as the whole object of our trust. But it is not biblical thus to isolate the work from the Worker. Nowhere in the New Testament is the call to believe expressed in such terms. What the New Testament calls for is faith in (en) or into (eis) or upon (epi) Christ Himself—the placing of our trust in the living Savior Who died for sins. The object of saving faith is thus not, strictly speaking, the atonement, but the Lord Jesus Christ, Who made atonement. We must not, in presenting the Gospel, isolate the cross and its benefits from the Christ Whose cross it was. For the persons to whom the benefits of Christ’s death belong are just those who trust His Person and believe, not upon His saving death simply, but upon Him, the living Savior. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” said Paul (Act 16:31). “Come unto me…and I will give you rest,” said our Lord (Mat 11:28).

This being so, one thing becomes clear straight away: namely, that the question about the extent of the atonement, which is being much agitated in some quarters, has no bearing on the content of the evangelistic message at this particular point. I do not propose to discuss this question now; I have done that elsewhere. I am not at present asking you whether you think it is true to say that Christ died in order to save every single human being, past, present, and future, or not. Nor am I at present inviting you to make up your mind on this question, if you have not done so already. All I want to say here is that even if you think the above assertion is true, your presentation of Christ in evangelism ought not to differ from that of the man who thinks it false.

What I mean is this: it is obvious that if a preacher thought that the statement, “Christ died for every one of you,” made to any congregation, would be unverifiable and probably not true, he would take care not to make it in his Gospel preaching. You do not find such statements in the sermons of, for instance, George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon. But now, my point is that, even if a man thinks that this statement would be true if he made it, it is not a thing that he ever needs to say or ever has reason to say when preaching the Gospel. For preaching the Gospel, as we have just seen, means [calling] sinners to come to Jesus Christ, the living Savior, Who, by virtue of His atoning death, is able to forgive and save all those who put their trust in Him. What has to be said about the cross when preaching the Gospel is simply that Christ’s death is the ground on which Christ’s forgiveness is given. And this is all that has to be said. The question of the designed extent of the atonement does not come into the story at all…The fact is that the New Testament never calls on any man to repent on the ground that Christ died specifically and particularly for him.

The Gospel is not, “Believe that Christ died for everybody’s sins, and therefore for yours,” any more than it is, “Believe that Christ died only for certain people’s sins, and so perhaps not for yours”…

We have no business to ask them to put faith in any view of the extent of the atonement. Our job is to point them to the living Christ, and summon them to trust in Him…This brings us to the final ingredient in the Gospel message.

4. The Gospel is a summons to faith and repentance.

All who hear the Gospel are summoned by God to repent and believe. “God…commandeth all men everywhere to repent,” Paul told the Athenians (Act 17:30). When asked by His hearers what they should do in order to “work the works of God,” our Lord replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Joh 6:29). And in 1 John 3:23 we read: “This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ…”

Repentance and faith are rendered matters of duty by God’s direct command, and hence impenitence and unbelief are singled out in the New Testament as most grievous sins.

With these universal commands, as we indicated above, go universal promises of salvation to all who obey them. “Through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Act 10:43). “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Joh 3:16). These words are promises to which God will stand as long as time shall last.

It needs to be said that faith is not a mere optimistic feeling, any more than repentance is a mere regretful or remorseful feeling.

Faith and repentance are both acts, and acts of the whole man…faith is essentially the casting and resting of oneself and one’s confidence on the promises of mercy which Christ has given to sinners, and on the Christ Who gave those promises. Equally, repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as King in self’s place…Two further points need to be made also:

(i) The demand is for faith as well as repentance. It is not enough to resolve to turn from sin, give up evil habits, and try to put Christ’s teaching into practice by being religious and doing all possible good to others. Aspiration, and resolution, and morality, and religiosity, are no substitutes for faith…If there is to be faith, however, there must be a foundation of knowledge: a man must know of Christ, and of His cross, and of His promises before saving faith becomes a possibility for him. In our presentation of the Gospel, therefore, we need to stress these things, in order to lead sinners to abandon all confidence in themselves and to trust wholly in Christ and the power of His redeeming blood to give them acceptance with God. For nothing less than this is faith.

(ii) The demand is for repentance as well as faith…If there is to be repentance, however, there must, again, be a foundation of knowledge…More than once, Christ deliberately called attention to the radical break with the past that repentance involves. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me…whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Mat 16:24-25). “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also (i.e., put them all decisively second in his esteem), he cannot be my disciple…whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luk 14:26, 33). The repentance that Christ requires of His people consists in a settled refusal to set any limit to the claims that He may make on their lives…He had no interest in gathering vast crowds of professed adherents who would melt away as soon as they found out what following Him actually demanded of them. In our own presentation of Christ’s Gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness. In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything; or else our evangelizing becomes a sort of confidence trick. And where there is no clear knowledge, and hence no realistic recognition of the real claims that Christ makes, there can be no repentance, and therefore no salvation.

Such is the evangelistic message that we are sent to make known.

Justification by Faith, its Heritage, its Necessity, and its Attackers

By J. I. Packer

Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiæ—the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling.

00000By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, as it was in mediaeval Catholicism, the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death. The reason why the Reformation happened, and Protestant churches came into being, was that Luther and his fellow Reformers believed that Papal Rome had apostatised from the gospel so completely in this respect that no faithful Christian could with a good conscience continue within her ranks.

Justification by faith has traditionally, and rightly, been regarded as one of the two basic and controlling principles of Reformation theology. The authority of Scripture was the formal principle of that theology, determining its method and providing its touchstone of truth; justification by faith was its material principle, determining its substance. In fact, these two principles belong inseparably together, for no theology that seeks simply to follow the Bible can help concerning itself with what is demonstrably the essence of the biblical message. The fullest statement of the gospel that the Bible contains is found in the epistle to the Romans, and Romans minus justification by faith would be like Hamlet without the Prince.

A further fact to weigh is that justification by faith has been the central theme of the preaching in every movement of revival and religious awakening within Protestantism from the Reformation to the present day. The essential thing that happens in every true revival is that the Holy Spirit teaches the church afresh the reality of justification by faith, both as a truth and as a living experience. This could be demonstrated historically from the records of revivals that we have; and it would be theologically correct to define revival simply as God the Spirit doing this work in a situation where previously the church had lapsed, if not from the formal profession of justification by faith, at least from any living apprehension of it.

This being so, it is a fact of ominous significance that Buchanan’s classic volume [THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION, An Outline of its History in the Church and of its Exposition from Scripture], now a century old, is the most recent full-scale study of justification by faith that English speaking Protestantism (to look no further) has produced. If we may judge by the size of its literary output, there has never been an age of such feverish theological activity as the past hundred years; yet amid all its multifarious theological concerns it did not produce a single book of any size on the doctrine of justification. If all we knew of the church during the past century was that it had neglected the subject of justification in this way, we should already be in a position to conclude that this has been a century of religious apostasy and decline. It is worth our while to try and see what has caused this neglect, and what are the effects of it within Protestant communities today; and then we may discern what has to be done for our situation to be remedied.

The doctrine of justification by faith is like Atlas: it bears a world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of saving grace. The doctrines of election, of effectual calling, regeneration, and repentance, of adoption, of prayer, of the church, the ministry, and the sacraments, have all to be interpreted and understood in the light of justification by faith. Thus, the Bible teaches that God elected men in eternity in order that in due time they might be justified through faith in Christ. He renews their hearts under the Word, and draws them to Christ by effectual calling, in order that he might justify them upon their believing. Their adoption as God’s sons is consequent on their justification; indeed, it is no more than the positive aspect of God’s justifying sentence. Their practice of prayer, of daily repentance, and of good works—their whole life of faith—springs from the knowledge of God’s justifying grace. The church is to be thought of as the congregation of the faithful, the fellowship of justified sinners, and the preaching of the Word and ministry of the sacraments are to be understood as means of grace only in the sense that they are means through which God works the birth and growth of justifying faith. A right view of these things is not possible without a right understanding of justification; so that, when justification falls, all true knowledge of the grace of God in human life falls with it, and then, as Luther said, the church itself falls. A society like the Church of Rome, which is committed by its official creed to pervert the doctrine of justification, has sentenced itself to a, distorted understanding of salvation at every point. Nor can these distortions ever be corrected till the Roman doctrine of justification is put right. And something similar happens when Protestants let the thought of justification drop out of their minds: the true knowledge of salvation drops out with it, and cannot be restored till the truth of justification is back in its proper place. When Atlas falls, everything that rested on his shoulders comes crashing down too.

How has it happened, then, we ask, that so vital a doctrine has come to be neglected in the way that it is today?

The answer is not far to seek. Just as Atlas, with his mighty load to carry, could not hover in mid-air, but needed firm ground to stand on, so does the doctrine of justification by faith. It rests on certain basic presuppositions, and cannot continue without them. Just as the church cannot stand without the gospel of justification, so that gospel cannot stand where its presuppositions are not granted. They are three:

1. The divine authority of Holy Scripture,

2. The divine wrath against human sin, and

3. The substitutionary satisfaction of Christ.

The church loses its grip on these truths, loses its grip on the doctrine of justification, and to that extent on the gospel itself. And this is what has largely happened in Protestantism today.

Let us look at this in detail. Take the three doctrines in order.

1. The divine authority of the Bible.

To Reformation theologians—among whom we count the Puritans, the early Evangelicals, and theologians like Buchanan—what Scripture said, God said. To them, all Scripture had the character claimed for itself by biblical prophecy—the character, that is, of being the utterance of God spoken through human lips. The voice that spoke was human, but the words spoken were divine. So with the Bible: the pen and style were man’s, but the words written were God’s. The Scriptures were both man’s word and God’s word; not just man bearing witness to God, but God bearing witness to Himself. Accordingly, theologians of the Reformation type took the biblical doctrine of sin and salvation exactly as it stood. They traced out the thoughts of Paul, and John, and Peter, and the rest of those who expounded it, with loving care, knowing that hereby they were thinking God’s thoughts after Him. So that, when they found the Bible teaching that God’s relationship with man is regulated by His law, and only those whom His law does not condemn can enjoy fellowship with Him, they believed it. And when they found that the heart of the New Testament gospel is the doctrine of justification and forgiveness of sins, which shows sinners the way to get right with God’s law, they made this gospel the heart of their own message.

But modern Protestants have ceased to do this, because they have jettisoned the historic understanding of the inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture. It has become usual to analyse inspiration naturalistically, reducing it to mere religious insight. Modern theology balks at equating the words of the Bible with the words of God, and fight shy of asserting that, because these words are inspired, they are therefore inerrant and divinely authoritative. Scripture is allowed a relative authority, based on the supposition that its authors, being men of insight, probably say much that is right; but this is in effect to deny to Scripture the authority which properly belongs to the words of a God who cannot lie. This modern view expressly allows for the possibility that sometimes the biblical writers, being children of their age, had their minds so narrowed by conditioning factors in their environment that, albeit unwittingly, they twisted and misstated God’s truth. And when any particular biblical idea cuts across what men today like to think, modern Protestants are fatally prone to conclude that this is a case in point, where the Bible saw things crooked, but we today, differently conditioned, can see them straight.

So here. Modern man, like many pre-Christian pagans, likes to think of himself as a son of God by creation, born into the divine family and an object of God’s endless paternal care. The thought appeals, for it is both flattering and comforting; it seems to give us a claim on God’s love straight away. Protestants of today (whose habit it is to take pride in being modern) are accordingly disinclined to take seriously the uniform biblical insistence that God’s dealing with man are regulated by law, and that God’s universal relation to mankind is not that of Father, but of Lawgiver and Judge. They grant that this thought meant much to Paul, because of his rabbinic conditioning, and to the Reformers, because legal concepts so dominated the Renaissance culture of their day; but, these Protestants say, forensic imagery is really quite out of place for expressing the nature of the personal, paternal relationship which binds God to His human creatures. The law-court is a poor metaphor for the Father’s house. Paul was not at his best when talking about justification. We, in our advanced state of enlightenment, can now see that God’s dealings with His creatures are not, strictly speaking, legal at all. Thus modern Protestantism really denies the validity of all the forensic terms in which the Bible explains to us our relationship with God.

The modern Protestant, therefore, is willing to see man as a wandering child, a lost prodigal needing to find a way home to his heavenly Father, but, generally speaking, he is not willing to see him as a guilty criminal arraigned before the Judge of all the earth. The Bible doctrine of justification, however, is the answer to the question of the convicted lawbreaker: how can I get right with God’s law? How can I be just with God? Those who refuse to see their situation in these terms will not, therefore, take much interest in the doctrine. Nobody can raise much interest in the answer to a question which, so far as he is concerned, never arises. Thus modern Protestantism, by its refusal to think of man’s relationship with God in the basic biblical terms, has knocked away the foundation of the gospel of justification, making it seem simply irrelevant to man’s basic need.

The second doctrine which the gospel of justification presupposes is:

2. The divine wrath against human sin.

Just as modern Protestants are reluctant to believe that man has to deal with God, not as a Father, but as a Judge, so they are commonly unwilling to believe that there is in God a holy antipathy against sin, a righteous hatred of evil, which prompts Him to exact just retribution when His law is broken. They are not, therefore, prepared to take seriously the biblical witness that man in sin stands under the wrath of God. Some dismiss the wrath of God as another of Paul’s lapses; others reduce it to an impersonal principle of evil coming home (sometimes) to roost: few will allow that wrath is God’s personal reaction to sin, so that by sinning a man makes God his enemy. But Reformation theologians have always believed this; first, because the Bible teaches it, and, second, because they have felt something of the wrath of God in their own convicted and defiled consciences. And they have preached it; and thus they have in past days laid the foundation for proclaiming justification. But where there is an unwillingness to allow that sinners stand under the judicial wrath of God, there is no foundation for the preaching of deliverance from that wrath which is what the gospel of justification is about. Thus in a second way modern Protestantism undercuts that gospel, and robs it of relevance for man’s relationship with God.

The third presupposition is:

3. The substitutionary satisfaction of Christ.

It is no accident that at the time of the Reformation the penal and substitutionary character of the death of Christ, and the doctrine of justification by faith, came to be appreciated together. For in the Bible they belong together. Justification is grounded on the sin-bearing work of the Lamb of God. It is the second, completing stage in the great double transaction whereby Christ was made sin and believing sinners are made ‘the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:211). Salvation in the Bible is by substitution and exchange: the imputing of men’s sins to Christ, and the imputing of Christ’s righteousness to sinners. By this means, the law, and the God whose law it is, are satisfied, and the guilty are justly declared immune from punishment. Justice is done, and mercy is made triumphant in the doing of it. The imputing of righteousness to sinners in justification, and the imputing of their sins to Christ on Calvary, thus belong together; and if, in the manner of so much modern Protestantism, the penal interpretation of the Cross is rejected, then there is no ground on which the imputing of righteousness can rest. And a groundless imputation of righteousness to sinners would be a mere legal fiction, an arbitrary pretense on God’s part, an overturning of the moral order of the universe, and a violation of the law which expresses His own holy nature—in short, would be a flat impossibility, which it would be blasphemous even to contemplate. No; if the penal character of Christ’s death be denied, the right conclusion to draw is that God has never justified any sinner, nor ever will. Thus modern Protestantism, by rejecting penal substitution, is guilty of undermining the gospel of justification by faith in yet a third way. For justification cannot be preached in a way that is even reverent when that which alone makes moral sense of it is denied. No wonder, therefore, that the subject of, justification is so widely neglected at the present time.

What must we do to reinstate it in our pulpits and our churches? We must preach it in its biblical setting; we must re-establish its presuppositions. We must reaffirm the authority of Scripture, as truth from the mouth of God. We must reaffirm the inflexible righteousness of God as a Judge, and the terrible reality of His wrath against sin, as Scripture depicts these things. And we must set forth against this black background the great exchange between Christ and His members, the saving transaction which justification completes. The good news of Christ in our place, and we in His, is still God’s word to the world; it is through the foolishness (as men call it) of this message, and this message alone, that God is pleased to save them that believe.

Taken from the Preface of: “THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION, An Outline of its History in the Church and of its Exposition from Scripture,” by JAMES BUCHANAN, D.D., LL.D.  Preface written by J. I. Packer.