A Wee Bit More

A couple of very reasonable posters have urged me to spend my time on more fruitful endeavors than trying to persuade Dr. Clark of my orthodoxy. While I have no intention of conducting a debate like this ad infinitum, I do believe it is fruitful now. While it would be wonderful to persuade Dr. Clark, the exchange of views can be entirely successful otherwise. If it persuades a significant number of people in the audience of the true state of affairs, it will have been worth it. This is what Luke says about the debating prowess of Apollos. He vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate. And what was the result? He was an encouragement to those who through grace had believed. I am convinced that there are many in the Reformed community who are still making up their minds on federal vision issues, and this kind of exchange can be very profitable for them. So I don’t intend to debate this issue world without end. But I am going to keep it up for a wee bit more.

Soup to Nuts

My conversation with Dr. Clark goes on. I asked him to cite some examples of where I have said that God considers the moral quality of my faith (as having been formed by love) as the basis or foundation for justifying me. I deny teaching this. To his credit, Dr. Clark acknowledges that I am at least trying to deny it, but that I am haplessly falling into error on this subject anyway.

At any rate, when I requested a “for instance,” Dr. Clark replied this way:

“I did, in fact, quote Mr Wilson and I’ll do it again: ‘Faith cannot but partake of the qualities of its source.’ To be sure, this statement would be true if it were referring to the function of faith in sanctification, but because Mr Wilson does not make this distinction and because it is the role of faith in the act of justification that is in question, I understand him to be referring to the role of faith in the act of justification. Nothing he has said since, by way of complaining gives me any reason to change my opinion.”

Now it is quite true that I was talking about faith at the moment of justification. But I was talking about the nature of this faith when I said that it partook of the qualities of its source (the regenerate heart). I was not talking about the role of faith in the eyes of God when He justifies me. Dr. Clark quotes this sentence, points out things that I failed to include in that sentence, and assumes certain things about the reasons I must have had for failing to include them. This is not quotation. It is not responsible. It doesn’t establish anything.

I also used the example of the eyeball, and I thought Dr. Clark’s response to this was very telling. I had said:

“True faith is an eyeball and cannot look to itself. True faith sees Christ alone. But unless it is is a living eyeball, it cannot see. Dead eyeballs have no vision. So this life is necessary but is in no fashion meritorious. God does not give living faith so that it might admire itself in the mirror. If you would like me to say this any more clearly — I don’t know, throw in some more adjectives or something — I will be happy to do it. As I as said in my post, we do have disagreements, but whether God reckons any of my virtues into His calculations as He justifies me is not one of them.”

Dr. Clark responded to this:

“All analogies break down and in this context, the analogy has the same problems as the language above. The analogy fails, because, in this case, the one should have to say that it is the object of vision that makes the eye function as it does, but I think an eye is an eye and it’s alive or not whether it has an object of vision or not.”

The object of vision creates the eyeball first, which means that the object of vision is active in this before it is seen. God gives us eyes and then we see. He, being gracious, gives us eyes that function, that are alive. That is the first thing. Then the living eyeball blinks a couple times (repentance) and secondly it sees (faith). What does it see? The object out there, which in this case is Christ. This should not be difficult.

Let me explain what I think is going on here. “About time!” somebody cries. Dr. Clark has made a big point out of the uses of words like because and is. And I keep trying to agree with him, at least on this point. Our justifying faith is alive. God does not reward with justification because we have an alive faith. Okay? Amen.

But there are different uses of the word because. If a mother said to her son, “I am going to give you ice cream because you were a good boy today,” this is a merit system. He could have been otherwise, but he wasn’t, and so he got the ice cream. Some people want to go to heaven this way but they can’t.

But what about this? “I saw Christ in His glory because God gave me a faith that could see Him.” Now what? If someone thinks this means he was justified “on account of what a fine boy he was for having living faith,” then he deserves whatever the Reformed confetti-counters do to him. But if he simply means that had God given him any kind of faith other than the living faith that He did give, and that he was justified because he had been given that kind of faith (instead of the other kind), this is simply Reformed orthodoxy. This is the difference between necessity and merit. It is necessary for me to have living faith, for if I do not, I will be blind to Christ, the sole ground of my justification. But there is no merit in my faith that God uses as a reason for justifying me.

Now notice how thinly Dr. Clark has to slice it here. He admits that faith partakes of the quality of its source when we are talking about sanctification, but he says that to admit that faith partakes of the quality of its source in justification amounts to a denial of the Reformation. But this is like saying that the eyeball is dead and blind when it looks to Christ in justification but mysteriously alive again when it looks to Christ in sanctification. This makes no sense; it is all the same faith. The faith that is the instrument of justification is also the faith that is the instrument of sanctification. I don’t get one kind of disposable faith in order to justified, and then a replacement faith in order to be progressively sanctified. The entire Christian life, soup to nuts, is from faith to faith (Rom. 1:17). The just shall live by faith. But Dr. Clark is insisting that justifying faith has to be considered as ontologically distinct from sanctifying faith. For if you say that it partakes of the nature of its source (while justification is occuring), then you have denied the Reformation. This means that faith at the moment of justification, according to Dr. Clark (if he were consistent), has to be unholy, blind, and dead. For if it were holy, it would be partaking of the holiness of the new heart which produced it.

One other thing. To say that all our sanctity is “evidence only” has a serious problem with the traditional Reformed ordo. What does this do with definitive sanctification? When a man is given the new heart that produces a holy repentance and an (unholy? Dr. Clark?) faith, this happens when he is in an unjustified state. But somewhere in there, love and repentance and holiness are going on, and they are not proceeding from the man’s justification, which according to the traditional ordo, has not happened yet. So all post-justification acts of love are “evidence only” and nothing else. But what are the pre-justification stirrings of love? You can’t deny their existence without denying the reality of regeneration. The new heart hates sin and loves God. That love is not meritorious, and God does not reward it when He justifies a man. But it is sure enough there.

Dr. Clark’s dilemma is not resolved by taking Dr. Gaffin’s solution (although I appreciate what Gaffin says on this point) because even if the ordo is not taken as a chronological business (measured with a stop watch), it still represents the logical order of things as the Reformed have historically understood it. The ordo rightly protects monergism in salvation, and, to borrow a phrase, Dr. Clark is “fiddling” around with this.

Lord”s Day Prayer 82

Father and gracious Lord, we praise and glorify Your name, and ask You to glorify it yet again in our celebration here. We pray that You would bless the labor that put this meal together, and bless our enjoyment of it. We ask that You would use this food to strengthen us, and prepare us for worship in the morning. We thank You for the food, for the wine, for the fellowship. Guard and keep us, we ask, in the strong name of Jesus, and amen.

Worth Knowing

“At least 40 millions Muslim youth in the Muslim world’s religious schools, called madrasas, are avidly memorizing the entire Koran plus a generally extremist body of related traditions—the hadiths” (Don Richardson, Secrets of the Koran, p. 69).

Sometimes They Argue

“The Reformers did not dredge Scripture for prooftexts. The Bible’s light and clarity were not so much a doctrinal source or a blueprint for structural change. Rather, when we read their sermons and pamphlets we find biblical personalities and images swimming up to the surface of their minds. An irruption, explosion, eruption of the biblical imagination of the patriarchs, prophets, psalmists and apostles took place” (Matheson, p. 42).

The first rank of Reformers were a victorious regiment, men who achieved a great triumph in a far country. Coming home afterwards, they marched for us in a jubilant New York ticker tape parade, and it was a time of great joy. The custodians of the Reformation came in after the parade, and swept up all the confetti. They carted it off to warehouses, where they have spent a lot of time and energy sorting out that confetti by size and color. In order to establish some connection between themselves and the warriors they honor, sometimes they have fierce arguments among themselves.

Pietism and Art

“In contrast, from the Middle Ages through the time of the Reformation up to around 1800 when spiritualistic pietism began to drive beauty out of the church (as if one can have inward beauty without the outward signs of it), there may have been simplicity but always beauty in the things Christians did. That was not an artificially imposed process; it was just the natural way of doing things; art had not yet become Art” (H.R. Rookmaaker, Art Needs No Justification, p. 19).

High Preaching

“Any reformation of the church depends upon a high view of preaching. But a high view of preaching by itself, apart from a scriptural basis for that high view, will lead only to puffed-up and conceited preachers. Personal bombast and dogmatism are not the need of the hour. But neither do we need preachers who think that they are in the pulpit on the basis of their own boyish good looks — men who chat, tell anecdotes, or share. Peter tells us in the plainest possible terms that the one who speaks should do so as the very oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11)” (Mother Kirk, p. 67).

Don”t Be Righteous Over Much

“Though justice were to be managed by the most holy, wise, self-denying, and meek men upon the earth, yet there would be much danger in winding it up to the highest. For it is administered by men full of infirmities; there God will not have it strained too high. He will rather have charity to be above justice than justice to be above charity” (Burroughs, Irenicum, p. 83).