It cannot be the case that all who are covenantally “in Christ” by virtue of baptism are in exactly the same position as regards the grace and favor of God—with no distinction save that some persevere. To think that having “all grace” except for persevering grace is somehow reassuring is to have a wildly skewed sense of priorities. “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” How is God’s withholding of perseverance not a refusal of grace? If we say that the grace was forfeited by those who subjectively resisted His work in their lives “too much,” then why did God withhold from them the gift of “not resisting too much?”
Jim Jordan has helpfully shown the connection between the ten commandments and Ezekiel’s heart of stone, and this appears to be a connection St. Paul makes also. But this does not really weaken the need for individual regeneration. How could it? The apostolic treatment concludes with an indictment of individual covenant members. “But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart” (2 Cor. 3:14-15).
Blindness is a condition which covenant members then and now can certainly have. If the change in a person is simply relational, then how can these covenant members be described as blinded and having a veil on their hearts? Relationally, they would be identical to the elect.
In reponse to the question, “What more can there be than union with Christ?” the answer would appear to be permanent union with Him. And this idea of permanence is one which the Lord certainly talks about. Servants come and go, but sons are forever.
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (John 8:31-36).
The problem with our Auburn opponents is that they wanted to talk about passages like this one, or the wheat and tares, and ignore the passages like John 15. But we don’t want to be guilty of the reverse problem, camping out in John 15 and failing to treat the fact that many of the illustrations indicate an ontological difference between the elect and reprobate within the covenant as one existing the entire time. Tares are weeds the entire time, the sow that is washed is a clean pig but still has a natural affinity for the mire, the dog that vomited is still a dog. On the other side, all the branches are true branches, including those to be cut out, etc. I simply want to affirm all the passages at face value, and let God sort it out. The only way I can do this is affirm the objectivity of the covenant, affirm that ontological differences exist between the elect and the reprobate whether the covenant is involved or not, and affirm that we should not pry too closely into it. We should teach that these things are so, not that we know what and where and how they are so.
I want to affirm this kind of ontological anthropology because the Bible repeatedly does, but it does so in terms of the nature of the ancestry. It speaks of thornbushes, vipers, the devil’s children, and so on, and it does this frequently when addressing those covenant members whose spiritual ancestry (and therefore nature) ought to have been different than it was.