Saturday, September 01, 2007

Analysis 6 - John Calvin's Stroke of Genius

Is Christ divided? (I Cor. 1.15)

In the Analysis for June 07 (‘Systematic and Biblical Theology’) and that for July 07 (‘Bishop N.T. Wright’s ordo salutis’) we have noted the importance for systematic theology of appreciating logical distinctions that are not temporal or causal distinctions. Here's another instance.

Calvin on justification and sanctification

John Calvin claimed that by his death and resurrection Christ procured for his people a 'double grace' . His fundamental statement on this matter is as follows:

I believe I have already explained above, with sufficient care, how for men cursed under the law there remains, in faith, one sole means of recovering salvation. I believe I have also explained what faith itself is, and those benefits of God which it confers upon man, and the fruits it brings forth in him. Let us sum these up. Christ was given to us by God's generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ's blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ's spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life. (Inst. III.11.1)

The double grace is reconciliation through Christ (justification) and sanctification.

Now if it is true - a fact abundantly clear - that the whole of the gospel is contained under these two headings, repentance and forgiveness of sins, do we not see that the Lord freely justifies his own in order that he may at the same time restore them to true righteousness by sanctification of his Spirit?
Since both kinds of grace are received by faith, as I have elsewhere proved, still because the proper object of faith is God's goodness, by which sins are forgiven, it was expedient that it should be carefully distinguished from repentance. (Inst. III.3.19)

But though the two, justification and sanctification, are to be distinguished, they are inseparable, as here:

Whomsoever God wills to snatch from death, he quickens by the Spirit of regeneration. Not that repentance, properly speaking, is the cause of salvation, but because it is already seen to be inseparable from faith and from God's mercy, when , as Isaiah testifies, "a redeemer will come to Zion, and to those in Jacob who turn back from iniquity". [Isa. 59.20] (Inst. III.2.21)
Calvin makes plain that both justification ('being reconciled to God through Christ's blamelessness) and sanctification (the cultivation 'of blamelessness and purity of life') are two aspect of the one gift of Christ. (Inst. III.11.1) In his debate with Andreas Osiander he says that 'as Christ cannot be torn into parts, so these two which we perceive in him together and conjointly are inseparable - namely, righteousness and sanctification' (Inst. III.11.6)

These benefits are joined together by an everlasting and indissoluble bond, so that those whom he illumines by his wisdom he redeems; those whom he redeems, he justifies; those whom he justifies, he sanctifies.....Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker of his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces [I Cor. 1:13]. (Inst. III.16.1)

Calvin gives the illustration of the sun which 'by its heat, quickens and fructifies the earth, by its beams brightens and ilumines it. ‘Here is a mutual and indivisible connection. Yet reason itself forbids us to transfer the peculiar qualities of the one to the other'. (Inst. III.11.6)

Commenting on the Council of Trent Calvin states that justification and sanctification
are constantly conjoined and cohere; but from this it is erroneously inferred that they are one and the same. For example: - The light of the sun, though never unaccompanied with heat, is not to be considered heat. Where is the man so undiscerning as not to distinguish the one from the other? We acknowledge, then, that as soon as any one is justified, renewal also necessarily follows: and there is no dispute as to whether or not Christ sanctifies all whom he justifies. It were to rend the gospel, and divide Christ himself, to attempt to separate the righteousness which we obtain by faith from repentance. (Tracts III.115-6.)
Inseparable yet distinct.

According to Calvin, then, justification is logically prior to sanctification. It makes sanctification possible, and also makes it necessary. Between the two there is a significant difference. So what kind of distinction is there between justification and sanctification if they are inseparable? A logical distinction, a distinction of thought, but yet a distinction of the utmost importance, for confounding the two is deadly. There is no time when a person is justified and not being sanctified. No time when a person is being sanctified and not already justified.

For we dream neither of a faith devoid of good works nor of a justification that stands without them. This alone is of importance: having admitted that faith and good works must cleave together, we still lodge justification in faith, not in works. We have a ready explanation for doing this, provided we turn to Christ to whom our faith is directed and from whom it receives its full strength'. (Inst. III.16.1)

While from the point of view of their source, the one Christ, there is symmetry, from a logical point of view justification is distinct from sanctification; they each have ‘peculiar qualities’. They are two different ideas.

This way of coupling justification and sanctification, as a double gift of the Saviour, is a stroke of genius, the genius of insight. In one bold move, grounded in the Pauline teaching of union with Christ in Romans 6, Ephesians 4, Philippians 3, and especially I Corinthians 1.30, Calvin sees that justification and sanctification are the one gift of the King, a gift with two aspects, a two-fold grace. Justification does not cause sanctification. Sanctification does not follow in time after justification. Justification is not sanctification. Sanctification is not justification. Each is given directly by the King. One is a status-matter, the other is a matter of subjective renewal. Yet they are inseparable gifts, two gifts wrapped together. In fact, one gift with two inseparable halves.

This stroke of genius makes apparent a biblical idea of wonderful simplicity. The risen and ascended King gives gifts – chief among them free justification, and free sanctification, bound inseparably together. Once it is pointed out to us, how obvious it seems! Even a child can understand this.

This way of thinking preserves the Reformation and biblical teaching of the forensic character of justification, the imputation of an 'alien righteousness'. But it also retains what is the essential truth behind the medieval misunderstanding of justification, that subjective renewal is essential; not essential to justification, but an essential consequence of it, bound inseparably to it, not something which is simply tagged on. The one gift is of two graces in parallel, though the way each gift blesses the recipient is very different.

So in considering the logical relations between justification and sanctification as Calvin teaches them we may think of 'four points’.

Justification is not sanctification, and is logically before sanctification
Always sanctification when justification
Whenever sanctification then justification
Sanctification is not justification

Thus giving us the acronym ‘JAWS’. (Not as good as ‘TULIP’, I know.)

I hope to return to this topic in Analysis 7