Thursday, November 01, 2007

Analysis 8 - The Gifts of the King

Conquering kings their titles take,
from the foes they captive make;
Jesus, by a nobler deed,
from the thousands he hath freed.
- Nevers Breviary, 1727, trans. John Chandler, 1837.

In the last two Analyses (‘Calvin’s Stroke of Genius’ and ‘Losing Sight of the Insight’ and earlier, in Analysis 4, ‘Bishop N. T. Wright’s ordo salutis’ ) I have tried to show that mere logical consequences may have important theological ramifications. Here we bring this theme to a conclusion, for the time being at least.

According to Calvin, although justification and sanctification are inseparable, they are distinct.

In reflections on the creation in Book XII of his Confessions, Augustine wrote
When a song is sung, the sound is heard simultaneously. It is not that unformed sound comes first and is then shaped into song. And sound that is made first passes away, and you will find no remnant of it which you can recover to impart coherence to it with artistic skill. That is why a song has its being in the sound it embodies, and its sound is its matter. The matter is given form to be a song.
No sound, no song. But not first sound and then, later, song. The song is embodied in the sound. The sound is the 'matter' of the song. Similarly (according to Calvin) no justification, no sanctification. But not first justification and then, later, sanctification. Sanctification is embodied in justification. Justification is the 'matter' of sanctification. Like the sound and the song, they are inseparable. One two-aspect gift from the Giver,

This is not the multiplication of logical distinctions for their own sake, mere logic chapping. Observing this mere logical point safeguards the important biblical truth that justification is not sanctification, and also retains their strong connectedness: not mere coincidence, or concomitance, but an inseparability that is rooted at least in the divine decree to have it so, and perhaps in deeper principles of justice and love. Here we reflect a little on the doctrinal and exegetical consequences of this. Logic, like a pebble thrown in the lake, causes ripples.

The work of Christ

The work of Christ is habitually thought of as what he has done for sinners: incarnation, suffering and atonement, his so-called active and his passive obedience. Particularly the focus is upon his death and resurrection. And, as regards his death, it is upon his work as penal substitute, though other motifs – victory, drama, example – are not ruled out. But the narrative of the work of Christ stops at Easter Sunday. The Ascension , Session and Intercession of Christ form a kind of addendum to that, but are not central. They are the steps by which he leaves the human stage. All this is redemption accomplished.

And at that point most systematicians turn their attention to ‘redemption applied’, to the work of Christ’s spirit. And so we come to have formed in our minds the thought that the work of Christ, redemption accomplished, has to do with justification, with while redemption applied has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit, with sanctification, with subjective renewal.

Very neat. But in view of Calvin’s thought that the work of Christ has procured for us a two-fold gift, is it not a bit too neat? Is not the granting of his gifts also a work of Christ? Is it not something that he does? Of course it is not atonement, it is the result of atonement, the result of leading captivity captive. But in giving his gifts, and especially in giving the supreme gift, justification and sanctification, Christ is at work.

Bavinck is good on this:

[Christ] took on himself the task of really and fully saving his people. He will not abdicate as mediator before he has presented his church – without spot or wrinkle – to the Father. The application of salvation is not less an essential constituent of redemption than his acquisition of it. ‘Take away its application and redemption is not redemption’. In heaven, therefore, Christ continues his prophetic, priestly and royal activity. The application of salvation is his work. He is the active agent. By an irresistible and inadmissible grace, he imparts himself and his benefits to his own. (Reformed Dogmatics, III 523-4)

The idea of salvation as a gift is very prominent in the thought of Paul. Salvation, viewed comprehensively, ‘freely given to us by God’. (I Cor. 2.1.12) The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Salvation is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. God’s ‘free gift’ brings justification (Rom. 5.16), and righteousness. (17) More importantly, Christ is a giver of gifts. This is very prominent in Ephesians 4. Christ gives graces, the grace of several kinds of office for the church. When did he do this? When he ascended, Ascended where? Far above all heavens, filling all things. (Not really off the scene, then.) Is that all that Christ gives? Is the more comprehensive gift, the gift of salvation itself, now given by him? It would be hard to think of a reason why not, other than one prompted by a very rigid understanding of the economy of salvation.

So – here is my suggestion – that if we are faithfully to follow the contours of the New Testament and especially the Pauline teaching at this point, then what we refer to as ‘the work of Christ’ is not to be artificially confined to the Cross and the Resurrection. It ought also to include what the Cross has accomplished. Christ, the risen and ascended Christ, gives gifts. Is this giving part of the accomplishing of our redemption? No. Is it redemption applied? Yes. Is it the work of the Spirit? Yes. But it is not only or chiefly the work of the Spirit, it is chiefly the work of Christ, for he has procured these gifts, and he is the giver of them. So within the scope of the work of Christ there is not only redemption, atonement, but also his work of giving, his donation. Christ the donor.

I Corinthians 1. 30-1

Analysis 4 was devoted to discussing Bishop N.T. Wright’s ordo salutis. We saw there that objecting as he does to the Reformed doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and thinking of righteousness chiefly in terms of covenant membership which is accredited to those who have heard the gospel and have responded with ‘the obedience of faith’. (‘New Perspectives on Paul’ in Justification in Perspective ed. Bruce L. McCormack, 2006, 253), he naturally enough thinks of justification as something that follows conversion.

In the course of making his case against justification as the imputation of righteousness Bishop Wright says this,

Only two passages [from Paul] can be invoked in favour of imputed righteousness being that of God or Christ. The first proves too much, and the second not enough. The first is I Corinthians 1.30-31, where Paul says that Christ has become for us wisdom from God, and righteousness, sanctification and redemption. Wisdom is the main point he is making, and the other three nouns come in as a way of saying, ‘and everything else as well’. ‘Yes, all I need, in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come’; this line sums it up well. I doubt that this will sustain the normal imputation theology, because it would seem to demand equal airtime for the imputation of wisdom, sanctification and redemption as well. (252)

[Bishop Wright cannot find justification as the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in Romans, but we cannot follow this important claim here. For discussion of imputation in the context of Bishop Wright’s views see, for example, Cornelis P. Venema, The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ, (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 2006, Ch.9)]

No doubt wisdom is the main point that Paul is making, but also power and weakness, (17. 18, 24, 25, 26, 27). Christ is the source of our life. (30) He is made by God our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. These are various expressions of divine power. And how are they to be understood? Calvin says that Paul includes Christ’s ‘entire excellence, and every benefit that we receive from him’. Among these are righteousness, the righteousness of faith which ‘consists in remission of sins and a gracious acceptance’, and sanctification, by which we are ‘renewed unto holiness, that we may serve God’.

From this, also, we infer, that we cannot be justified freely through faith alone without at the same time living holily. For these fruits of grace are connected together, as it were, by an indissoluble tie, so that he who attempt to sever them does in a manner tear Christ in pieces….Observe, on the other hand, that these two offices of Christ are conjoined in such a manner as to be, notwithstanding, distinguished from each other. What, therefore, Paul here expressly distinguishes, it is not allowable mistakenly to confound.
These are things ‘freely given us by God’. On Calvin’s understanding I Cor 1.30-31 may not by itself prove the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, but it is certainly consistent with such imputation in a sense which does not also require us to think of every gift of God’s power as being given by imputation. There is no reason, as Wright supposes, that if that passage is used to support the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, we must imagine that everything else mentioned in it must also be regarded as imputed. Paul’s basic category is not ‘imputation’ but ‘gift’.